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Sunday, March 17, 2019

And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:24 ESV)

What Would You Say?

It used to be when someone asked me if I believed God would send them to hell I really did not know what to say outside of “Yes, that's what the Bible says.” It was a weak response in the fact it did not open a dialogue to discuss the question and share the gospel.

Today my response is, “I believe because you even asked that question that you must have at some point really thought about this. I'll be glad to answer you, but first let me ask you a question for clarification's sake. 'If you had the opportunity to stand before a holy and perfectly pure God knowing the things you've done in your life, would you take it?'” If the person is honest they would say “No.” I then ask “Why wouldn't you take the opportunity?” It usually comes down to admitting they are too impure in their thinking or lifestyle.

I will add, “You see, if a person dies in their sin then they have to be permanently separated from a perfect and holy God for He would never allow sin to live in His presence. And wouldn't permanent separation from God be a kind of hell in itself? A person would be left in eternal darkness and despair with no hope of escape.”

Jesus gives us a glimpse of the horror of hell in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, that speaks of great heat and torment. Some say this is just another one of Jesus' parables (stories that illustrate a truth) and really isn't an actual occurrence. But it is something to reckon with that Jesus as Eternal Deity (John 17:5) would have known such things. He never said or even hinted His account was just an illustration.

At this point some have said “You're just trying to scare me into believing in Christ.” My response is “You should be scared. If a holy and perfect God exists then because of sin and rebellion there would have to be a hell. To answer your question, yes, if you reject Christ and die in your sins, God, according to His word, would have no other choice but to put your soul into separation in hell. But no matter where you find yourself right now you can achieve pardon, love, and acceptance by believing in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Luke 23:40-43). Will you trust Jesus? What have you got to lose?”

At this point whether they chose to believe in Christ or not I joyfully share the elation, astonishment, and awe of heaven and knowing God and His life-changing Christ for all eternity. That's the message of the gospels and one I love to tell. No matter what a person has done there is complete forgiveness and relief from guilt and shame through believing in Christ. And I might add, hell will be a place never to be experienced.


Monday, March 11, 2019

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1)

Staying Power

Someone once said “The only trouble with being a living sacrifice is it wants to keep crawling off the altar.”

Being a sacrifice doesn't necessarily mean being martyred but that can be one definition. A sacrifice is giving something willingly that is of great cost to the giver. In this context Paul is speaking of living a life of total consecration to God, sacrificing our sinful natures and desires on the altar of consecrated devotion.  Not just simply to living a “good and moral life” but to inclusion into a living relationship with God. 

But being a spiritual sacrifice hurts and runs counter to our physical and spiritual comforts. The highest and purest example of sacrifice is our Heavenly Father offering His only begotten and perfect Son as the once-for-all forfeit for every sin. That had to hurt and grieve the Father to a depth beyond our comprehension. Jesus said of the sacrificial life to “take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

The cross is death. Taking it up means being willing to die yet in its essence can simply mean “Today, I will obey the law of the land by driving the posted speed limit.” We do it to honor the One who ordained physical law and order (Romans 13:1-2). Doing it as slaves of Christ even when no cop is in sight, remembering the eye of Christ is consistently watching.

The altar of sacrifice was set before us when we first believed. The choice to be on it is ours. Christ put Himself on that altar for us despising the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12:2) receiving all honor, glory, and dominion through it (Jude 1:25).

Crawling onto the altar may mean sacrificing areas of our lives that may be holding us back from the fullness of God's interaction in our lives. Faith and trust in the Holy Spirit's power can keep us on the Altar. Not getting on it might be easier but staying on it will certainly bring spiritual growth and the sweetest communion.


Monday, March 4, 2019

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)

Pardon Revealed-No Stigma Entailed

My background is in Human Resources. When I was first starting hiring I was contacted by an agency that placed ex-felons in entry-level positions to give them an entry point back into society. That really appealed to me and I enthusiastically brought the agency to my manager's attention. She immediately told me “No, we can't do that.” I told her they were entry-level positions we would be hiring for adding it would give a hand up to people that needed it. Her response was “They can't be trusted” She was the boss so that ended it. That's stigma.

Christ doesn't do stigma. The account of the woman taken in adultery demonstrates it in a deeply touching and personal way (John 8:3-11). The Prophet Micah wrote 'He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot, You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea' (7:18-19). Believers on Christ are forgiven of every sin. Every mistake. Permanently.

God joys over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). He already knows what you need as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. Jesus said He gives abundant life (John 10:10). Is there something you need to confess to Him sincerely and with a repentant heart? He sees it and forgives you before you ask.

Neither Jesus nor our heavenly Father hold resentment and He never looks back. When the books of our lives are open before Christ, all we will hear is “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Inheritance speaks of adoption. Perfect love, perfect forgiveness. There is never any stigma in that.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Sticks and Stones

Ever wonder why people can talk about God without getting nettled, but bring Jesus into the conversation and people become defensive and angry? I've been verbally abused in past conversations about Jesus Christ by people who knew absolutely nothing about Him above being a curse word. And yes, it can hurt. Speaking of God is generic in the sense many religions believe in “God”, just not the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible. Bringing Jesus into the equation can lead them to make some very ignorant and injurious comments. The old saying that sticks and stones can never hurt is plainly untrue. Verbal stones can hurt deeply.

Jesus is specific in His teaching of the kingdom of heaven and is inflexible in that everyone must go through Him to have salvation and fellowship with the God of the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures. He is the only way and that tends to get folks riled up.

But what kind of man would utter such an incredible statement as Jesus did? The only way? He even claimed to be God. The Jews understood that and picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy (John 10:30-39). No wonder He made that statement. He had authority from the Father that sent Him (John 7:16, 12:49).

Speaking of Christ stirs up rebellion and hatred in hearts that they must believe only on Him as the only way to God or that they must believe at all. Nobody tells me what to do. Jesus does and with authority, even to keeping them from eternal separation from God. If they choose to deny Jesus they will be found to be without excuse (Romans 1:19-20).

We can stand strong in the power of the Holy Spirit that God's word never returns empty (Isaiah 55:11). All we need to do is speak the truth of Christ in love and don't sweat the outcome. It goes out of our hands and into the hands of the Holy Spirit. He will do everything He can to work in people's lives. Maybe metaphorically speaking, unbeliever's sticks and stones may break our bones. But we can be certain that Christ has the last word on the subject and that Word always heals.


Monday, February 18, 2019

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3

The Banks of the Sacramento

Many years ago I taught a weekly noontime Bible study where I worked. It was done, surprisingly, at the request of our CEO, who was a believer. A few of the ladies in my study were always pressing me to tell the story of my conversion to Christ. I told them simply that I was raised and guided by my godly Mother in a fundamental Christian home as a child and believed on Christ at that time. But for many years it bothered me to tell my story.

Being part of the 'Jesus Movement' of the 1970s I'd heard dramatic testimonies of young people being freed from addictions to drugs, sex (termed 'free love,') and of their rebellion against God. Their testimonies had a very dramatic effect that people seemed to relish. It was a 'Wow' experience for many. I'd always looked at mine as a 'Yawn' experience.

My inferiority on the matter was changed one Sunday morning when my pastor (who came out of Jesus Movement, incidentally) spoke directly to those of us who didn't have dramatic stories of conversion. He said we could delight in the fact of Christ's holding power that kept us walking in His commandments and teachings up to now. That was a 'Wow' moment for me.

For those of us that might feel we have weak and ineffective conversion testimonies remember God did not let us grow in the wilderness as wild trees but planted us beside the water. We have endured storms and sunshine through the years yet by His grace we have remained steadfast in His loving power and grown into mature trees that bears fruit.

When I read today's verse I'm always reminded of a family reunion I attended at my uncle's home in Northern California. His backyard border were the banks the Sacramento River. It was a clear and gently flowing part of the river bordered by many trees. A beautiful teaching moment from Psalms 1. The point here is the strength and maturity of the tree. It stands firm by the water and is never moved. It might be blown about harshly at times by wind and storm but always comes out standing strong where it was planted.

Christ Jesus is the creator of all things, both visible and invisible and all things are upheld by Him (Colossians 1:16-20). No matter your testimony of faith you have been kept by His glorious and holy power.

You have something to take great joy in that you have always walked in the Light of the Master Gardner that planted you in the right place at the right time. The next time you see a tree standing strong beside the water be reminded that you stand in the Savior's strength just like that. Your leaf will not wither and by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ you will bear your fruit in due season.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1st Corinthians 15:51-52)

Faster Than Lightenin'

Author and pastor Hal Lindsey, wrote a book called The Rapture. He said learning about it after becoming a believer was the most exciting thing about his new found faith in Christ. The Rapture is the taking of the Bride of Christ (the Church) to Himself, all living believers including the resurrection of dead believers before the beginning of the dreadful Great Tribulation spoken of by the Prophet Daniel and the Apostle John. It will happen as quickly as the 'twinkling (Blink) of an eye.' Faster than a flash of lightening.

The word 'rapture' isn't in the Bible. It describes the taking up to Christ in the clouds. The word comes from the Latin Rapturo (caught up) taken from the Greek word Hapazo which means to 'snatch up' or 'seize upon by force.' Christ will bring believers to Himself instantly and with great power. Paul explains the rapture at length in 1st Corinthians Chapter 15 and 1st Thessalonians 4:13-17. He did not think these things up alone or receive them from men. He received all he knew of the Christian faith through revelation from Christ Himself (Galatians 1:11-12). You will be excited as you read and contemplate these Scriptures.

The consensus by most theologians is the teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture only first appeared between AD 1812-1830.

Didn't the early Church Father's have anything to say about the taking out of the church before the Great Tribulation or has it only been taught since the 19th century? The Christian writer and poet Ephraem the Syrian (AD 306-373) who lived in what is now Turkey, taught of a pre-tribulation Rapture of believers, a Great Tribulation, and the Antichrist as early as the fourth century (AD 373). It is not a 'recent' teaching.

Paul and Peter both wrote of a great falling away in the last days of people's belief in God and the evil it would bring. We are currently seeing many scoffing at belief in God and the promise of the return of Christ. There is great evil in society today (2nd Timothy 3:1-5, 2nd Peter 3:1-7). As bad as it gets we can take heart in the promises of God and His dependability to do them. He is faithful.

The Rapture is a major biblical promise of this hope. Today the world seems to be pushing itself beyond the point of redemption. It is only a matter of time before God's judgment falls upon the wickedness of the world. However the redeemed can live in a climate of hope in Christ. He will keep His promises. Yes, let us be comforted with these words. Christ will return as promised to take us to Himself and make things right to His Glory and Honor. “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”


Monday, February 4, 2019

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1st Peter 5:8


Are you aware just how savage lions can be? British Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson, DSO, wrote a book of his experiences hunting and killing two man-eating lions at the Tsavo River in 1898. The Britons were building a railroad in British East Africa (now Kenya) and had come to the Tsavo River where crews (mostly Indian nationals) began constructing a bridge.

According to Patterson, for nine months there was a period of terror where the lions systematically killed 135 persons in the area including 28 Indian construction workers. Some of the workmen were stalked and others dragged from their tents at night by the beasts and eaten. The situation became so terrifying that all the workers abandoned the worksite blaming the attacks on Patterson as they had begun shortly after he arrived at the river. Some even threatened to kill him. After the crews deserted the worksite Patterson remained, eventually killing both of the man-eaters at great personal risk. Over the years Hollywood has made three movies based on Patterson's book. The last was the 1996 film The Ghost and the Darkness. The mounted bodies of the 'Lions of Tsavo' are on display at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.

Most people in the secular world like to think of Satan as a comical, chummy little guy with horns and a pointy beard that stands on the shoulder, whispering temptations of hidden pleasure. Is that how the devil really is? A funny little man in a red suit? Or is he a savage lion? I believe his brutality and viciousness go far beyond that.

Taken in its overall context the Bible teaches Satan is the latter. He is in rebellion against God, hating Him and the human race. Jesus said Satan was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). His rage and disposition to disruption and destruction is compared to a vicious lion seeking to destroy prey.

Satan isn't funny in spite of how movies and TV commercials like to show him. When it comes to Adam's race he and his fallen angels are cruel and barbaric man-eaters without a shred of mercy.

But were you aware there is another Lion? One that loves Adam's Race? He is the holy Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ, who has received from God absolute power, authority, and dominion over all things (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 1:21-22). He is the head of the church.

Paul said though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. Our war is against spiritual (Satanic) forces. He goes on to say the weapons we fight him with are not fought through fleshly means but are mighty in God to the pulling down of strongholds (2nd Corinthians 10:3-4).

The Christian faith must remain militant against spiritual powers in heavenly places that war against us. Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God in our fight, giving us the strategy for the Battle (Ephesians 6:13-18). While Satan can still be a formidable foe, when the Lion of Judah is near his roar is reduced to a mewl. Christ, as the Lion of Judah reigns supreme. His roar is not frightening but a wonderful consolation to believers, leaving the man-eaters trembling in their dins (James 2:19).