Nevertheless

Jesus used that long word (or the Aramaic word translated as such) in His prayer while sweating blood in Gethsemane. He knew exactly what would happen in just a few hours. And He hated it.

So, why did He hate what was about to happen? Why did His sweat become “like great drops of blood falling down to the ground“? (Luke 22:44) The man Jesus saw His Father God turning away from Him, forsaking Him because He bore the world’s sin-guilt. “Nevertheless,” Jesus knew it was not a betrayal of His love, but that God—the Almighty God in whose palm rests the entire universe—had no choice but to turn away.

“Nevertheless,” the man Jesus resolved to endure all that sinful man could do to Him. Betrayed by those He existed to save, abandoned by His friends, mocked, tortured and crucified by the reprobate Roman garrison, yet perfectly innocent, He became the true Lamb of God.

You’ve no doubt heard this story hundreds or thousands of times. “Nevertheless,” we must all keep fresh in our minds the single most powerful proof of God’s unconditional love for His wayward creation, and realizing that, resolve to love our families, our brethren, and yes, our enemies as He loves us, who were His enemies. We must love—the action, not the feeling—in every deed, in every word, in every thought, because we want to be like Him.

C.S. Lewis on the Attractiveness of True Holiness

Here’s an excerpt from a letter that Uncle Jack wrote in 1953:

I am so glad you gave me an account of the lovely priest. How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once), it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end? (from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. III)

How right he is. I’ve walked the path toward holiness—note, I didn’t say I’ve achieved it—for much of my adult life, and I’m seldom bored. Apostle Paul told us that we are dead to sin. Why, then, is living without sinning impossible for me? And I think it’s not just my own personal problem; Apostle John told us that … well, I’ll let him speak for God directly:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV)

Anyone who says John wrote that to non-believers hasn’t read its context. While we are dead to sin, temptations and their resulting sins still plague us. So, if we are dead to sin, which God says we are through Jesus’ redemptive act, why do we still sin? Looking back to Romans 6:2, the apostle says, “How shall we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

Please know that this isn’t a cop out, but there’s a huge difference between living in sin and occasionally sinning. I make sense of it by comparing my attitude toward sin before I was saved, to that of after I was saved: From shortly after my birth to when I confessed my sinfulness and asked God to have His way with me, I sought out opportunities to sin. It was my way of life, and I didn’t want it any different. While my horrendous sins were relatively minor compared to some, I came to realize that God doesn’t grade on a curve. A deliberate lie is just as damning as adultery or murder, and I was a liar from early childhood.

Thing is, we’re habitual critters, and the life we live before we come to understand and accept the gospel leaves us with certain … ah … regrettable behavioral patterns. But God understands that and grants us grace as long as we refuse to take it for granted, striving to grow ever closer to God and live in a way that glorifies Him. And believe me, that is anything but boring.

Deathbed Repentance

R.C. Sproul dealt with that question here, but of course I have to add my own spin to his sage words. Deathbed, or foxhole, conversion is a sticky wicket. God knows our inmost motives, the thoughts and intents of our hearts, and if a last minute conversion is genuine in His sight, He is the Judge.

That said, I would venture that the vast majority of such “conversions” amount to trying to cop a plea with the Big Guy upstairs. They want to gorge themselves on the world’s cake and still have it for eternity. That’s called presumption, and the all-knowing God won’t buy into your little con game.

The bottom line is really quite simple; if you know you’re a sinner, and that Jesus is the way to the Father, don’t wait to do what you know you have to do. 2 Timothy 3 has something to say about that:

1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

That’s called loving the world more than God, and refusing to give it up.

Only God knows which breath will be your last, and because of our human need to practice denial, it always comes by surprise. So don’t be a fool. It’ll bite you in the end.

Other-Worldly Phenomena

Reporting supernatural-sounding and appearing phenomena has become all the rage, but I can’t help being skeptical. Ignorance of cause brings about all kinds of hysterical reactions and explanations. I tend to go with the “pranksters” explanation until more data is available. People can be ingenious when creating hoaxes, and there are more than enough high-power audio systems throughout the world capable of generating other-worldly sounds.

On another tack, secret scientific research may explain such things, but I can’t imagine it being so wide-spread unless it is in the area of transportation. New forms of propulsion may generate loud, unheard of, noises, and spread it far and wide.

If these were supernatural phenomena, I suspect they would be more widespread. On the other hand, prophets of the Bible explained what they saw and heard according to their limited frame of reference. They may well have previewed what is happening today and were unable to explain it.

If these manifestations are of the end-times variety, worrying about it will profit us nothing; our only sensible response is to obey God’s clear commands and be ready when He comes. If you aren’t sure of your eternal destiny, God’s Word will tell you all you need to know to assure your eternal salvation, and here’s a link to a common-sense gospel presentation. Why fear the unknown, when our Savior knows all and loves all?

Sweet and Bitter

da Vinci’s concept of Jesus’ agony.

Matthew’s gospel, chapter twenty-seven, reports Jesus’ torment and torture at the Roman soldiers’ hands. The executioners gave their prisoners wine before nailing them to the cross beam and hoisting them into the vertical position, but in Jesus’ case they mixed gall with the wine to make it intolerably bitter. Why did they take that extra step to make him even more miserable?

Every aspect of Jesus’ torture and death has symbolic implications, and sweet wine mixed with gall is not an exception. While the wine’s alcohol might have offered some small relief from crucifixion’s agony, Jesus’ tormentors wanted to show Him no compassion at all, so they made the wine impossible to drink. I think Jesus wouldn’t have drunk the wine even without the gall, as he wanted to fully experience the pain and humiliation of crucifixion and the sin it represented. Also, taking even that small amount of bitter gall into his mouth symbolized His tasting sin’s bitterness.

That thought brings me to another application of sweetness versus bitterness: harmony versus discord. We find those qualities in every area of life, from music to culinary arts. Everyone prefers harmonious to discordant sounds, architectural lines, artistic works, flavors and human relationships, to name just a few categories we encounter daily. After all, every relationship will involve some combination of those two qualities. God created Man to relate to Him harmoniously, but to make it a voluntary relationship gave His creation one simple choice: obey or disobey.

Well, we know how that worked out. Eve, and then Adam, chose to disobey God, ultimately sending Him to suffer and die to end sin’s dominion over us, and then to be resurrected from the grave, giving His eternal life to everyone who accepts that sacrifice for themselves. The world’s stereotype of God as the scowling, bearded old Judge peaking over a cloud’s edge to catch us doing something wrong couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is full of accounts of God’s patience with His people Israel, all leading up to His ultimate redemptive act.

God created nothing but harmony. We introduced discord into the world, and God longs to restore that harmonious relationship with each and every human being.

HOW COULD GOD DO THIS TO ME?

Have you ever heard yourself asking that question when something goes totally wrong in your life? It is a question born of desperation, a response to the need for someone to blame. Obviously, you’re innocent of any wrongdoing that would warrant such punishment. Right? So God is wrong and you are as pure as the driven snow. If you’re a Christian you’ve heard a gospel presentation or two. Among the Roman Road pamphlet’s Bible passages are Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 3:10-11 “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.'” For Christians, of course, all that is old hat; you may have heard it a thousand times in Sunday school. But another passage—not in Romans—brings the idea home to us: 1 John 1:8-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” Apostle John directed that assault toward first century believers. You know, the ones who suffered persecution for their faith. If they were sinners, what does that make you? And if you’re angry with God for your troubles, that means you are judging Him for His unrighteous judgment. That, my friend, is blasphemy, pure and simple. God doesn’t need defending, but one Bible passage lays out an apt comparison between God and us: Isaiah 55:8-9 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. Oh, yeah. There’s also Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Care to rethink your question?

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

Lessons From the Rich, Young Ruler

Today’s Our Daily Bread title is, “Giving It To God.” So, what is, “It,” and why? Let’s put the account of, “The Rich, Young Ruler,” under a magnifying glass to find out.

All three synoptic gospels cover this event, so we know it is note-worthy. Luke said the guy was a ruler, though he didn’t mention his jurisdiction. Matthew and Mark said he was young, which agrees with his inquisitiveness. As an aside, have you ever noticed that as we age we tend to “know” everything worth knowing? Truth is, when we quit learning we quit growing, and anything that has quit growing is dead. You may think you’ve quit growing because you haven’t grown taller in years, but your cells keep reproducing to replace any damaged or dead cells, or if you’re a body builder you are growing muscle mass (to impress the opposite sex or enhance your self-worth?). Anyway, let’s see what we can learn from that inquisitive leader.

  • The young man ran up and knelt before Jesus (Mark 10:17), showing that he was desperate to learn, and considered Jesus his superior.
  • He called Jesus, “good Teacher,” showing his esteem for him.
  • He said, “What shall I do …?” which from the outset was the wrong question. So Jesus answered it anyway, but not in the way the young man would have preferred.
  • He used the phrase, “inherit eternal life,” demonstrating that he realized simply being a religiously faithful Jew didn’t entitle him to gain eternal life.
  • Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but one: God.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus gave him the choice of either retracting his “good” statement, or admitting that Jesus was God. But Jesus left that hanging, as he narrowed in on his instruction.
  • Jesus said, “You know the commandments ….” And Matthew’s narration has him saying, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man follows that with, “Which ones? (Mark 10:19)
  • Then Jesus obliges him with six of the Ten Commandments (five in Luke). Matthew adds part of the Great Commandment, making it seven (Matthew 19:18-19). Mark’s account extrapolates “Do not covet,” to “Do not defraud,” in the spirit of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • Matthew’s account quotes the young man as replying, “All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?” Mark and Luke leave out the question, which is implied. We can safely infer that the religious young man sensed he was falling short of God’s requirements, despite his faithful obedience to Moses’ Law. That speaks … no … screams of religion’s impotence in the spiritual realm. Matthew’s inclusion of, “love your neighbor as yourself,” plows even closer to God’s true requirements for receiving eternal life, but it’s still no cigar (so to speak). So, what in this guy’s religious observance is still lacking?
  • “Sell what you have,” as in, liquidate your possessions, “and give to the poor.” Please note that Jesus didn’t say, “make the check out to, J-E-S-U-S–S-O-N–O-F–J-O-S-E-P-H.” So, where would the money have gone? Straight to heaven, via the stomachs of those who couldn’t otherwise eat. That’s what “love your neighbor as yourself” truly means. Should Jesus have considered the possibility of creating a welfare class of “po folks” who feel entitled to support? Of course not! In those days people were rarely poor due to their own laziness. Unlike today, able-bodied people always found at least menial work sufficient to keep themselves from starving.
  • So, how did this rich young ruler respond to Jesus’ advice? He walked away dejected, as it was just too much to ask. His response typifies today’s attitude toward possessions. Of course, that’s only the unbelievers’ attitude. Right? Sorry, but wrong. Simply persuading today’s pew-sitters to tithe is a major chore, let alone prying them loose from their excess possessions. Most churches have to beg and plead for the funds necessary to keep the lights on and the preacher’s kids in shoes. This should not be!

Have we learned nothing over the years of hearing this true story from our pulpits? Apparently, most of us have missed Jesus’ lesson. We conservatives constantly bellyache about our federal welfare state, yet few of us are willing to sacrifice our affluent lifestyles to give genuinely needy people a godly alternative. Are cars, entertainment systems, toys, recreational activities and “financial security” really important enough to disobey our Lord Jesus for them?

We call ourselves “Christian,” but we ignore Jesus’ Great Commandment. How does that work?

We praise God with emotional tears and uplifted hands, but we refuse to glorify him with our abilities, and the funds we derive from them. We act like self-made men, owing nothing to anyone—including God—for what we can do, and still we wonder why God’s church is stalled in its advance against hell’s gates.

I find myself asking, “Do I truly belong to heaven, standing in Jesus’ presence for eternity? Or does my self-centered attitude actually belong in hell?”

C.S. Lewis on The Worst Kind of Sin

Uncle Jack must have been a carpenter, as he continually “hits the nail squarely on the head.” From Mere Christianity:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

I’m afraid Uncle Jack was a smidge off hitting this particular nail squarely. The generalization with which he opened this excerpt is wrong; most Christians do regard unchastity as the supreme vice, completely missing the the attitudinal sins Lewis mentions later on. Even if you’re reborn into a new person by faith in Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, you still have to deal with the sin-habit you’ve developed over the years before you came to faith.

When we’re first saved we all marvel at the sensation that freedom from sin-guilt gives us. But just as all changes become mundane after a while, we begin taking the freedom that Jesus so dearly bought for granted. The sensation fades, as does our revulsion to sin, and   (name your poison)   doesn’t seem so bad after all.

I love Lewis’ categories of sin: Animal, and Diabolical. Or, maybe I should say I hate them, as I recognize their icky feelers trying to creep into my life. All that stands in the way of those embryonic buggers is God’s Holy Spirit working through his Word and prayer; no Word, no prayer, no protection.

Any sin, regardless how slight, if unconfessed, will open the door for those buggers. And diabolical sins of attitude are the worst because they’re almost invisible.

Do you think you’re free from attitudinal sin? That’s the primary symptom of having a bad case of them. Think of homeowners; termites are never a problem until the homeowners get their house inspected by the pros. Attitudinal sin is even more destructive than termites, and God’s Holy Spirit is the Pro you need to consult for finding those diabolical, soul-chewing sin-buggers.

If you’re not read-up and prayed-up, you’ll soon become fed-up with your lackluster Christian walk. You may hang onto “a form of godliness,” but your profession will be a lie.

Free Love

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11

A social movement existed in the ’60s and ’70s called, “the Free Love Movement.” In fact, it was quite social indeed, producing rampant “social” diseases and unwed pregnancies, and millions of broken hearts. I know that because I would have liked to be part of it, but I’ve never been a candidate for the “World’s Greatest Lover” prize; I was way too shy to go after that one. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a true social movement like the feminist and civil rights movements, but simply flaunted promiscuous sexual practices that had always been hidden for the benefit of polite society.

Also strictly speaking, “free love,” as in sexual promiscuity, was never free. Besides the costs listed above, it enabled the HIV/AIDS virus to freely spread from Africa to the more developed nations, and then to expand at epidemic rates here.

But there is another kind of “free love” that is truly free, and oddly enough, the most costly of all loves.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

In case you’ve forgotten, the Son that Jesus spoke of is Jesus himself, the eternal Word of God made flesh. And to what did God give him over? Only the worst torture and death that both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman occupiers could devise.  And why did Jesus have to suffer so? Because he was the only one who could fulfill for us the absolute righteousness that God requires, without which we have no hope for salvation.

In simple terms, Jesus traded his righteousness for our unrighteousness, then submitted to God’s wrath in payment for the guilt-debt we had accrued. He actually loves me, you, and all of humanity, that much.

Hard to believe, eh? That’s why God’s Holy Spirit gives us just a glimpse of our depraved condition (that’s called “conviction”), and enough of a faith-boost to think that, just maybe, his salvation is for you and me. Then, if you grab that hope and run the race he has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2) throughout the New Testament, faithful to the end, his promise is yours … forever.