Lord, Don’t Let Me Fall

Falling isn’t fun, whether it’s caused by clumsy feet or weak spiritual will. By God’s grace, however, the latter isn’t necessarily fatal. Psalms 37: 23-24 says, The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (NKJV)

Lots of people try to avoid sinning because they’re afraid of going to hell; they view God as the Heavenly Parole Officer, just waiting to slap the eternal cuffs onto their weak wrists. The Lord’s apostle John took a different view: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 ESV) According to that powerful passage, we are not to fear God’s punishment. But how can be “perfected in love”? Verse nineteen gives us the answer to that key question. We love because he first loved us.  (4:19)

So then, loving God is automatic for Christians. Right? Wrong! Just because we’ve, “decided to follow Jesus,” doesn’t mean we know of God’s love in giving His Son over to ridicule, torture, and death to free us from the eternal penalty of our sin’s guilt. To know of God’s love we must at least begin to know God, and only His Holy Spirit, working through our ever-deepening understanding of His Word by prayer and meditation, can give us that knowledge. But heed Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some in the Corinthian church understood the liberty we have in Christ, but they were proud of that knowledge and ridiculed the “weaker brethren” without such understanding. Bible knowledge alone makes us no better than Satan’s minions. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!  (James 2:19)

While I’m not afraid of going to hell—praise God! Jesus took care of that—I am petrified of damaging my Savior’s holy name through my thoughtlessness and sin. When I pray, “Lord, don’t let me fall,” I’m deadly serious. I love my Lord and will not besmirch His name.

 

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.

Be Careful What You Say

Thumper

Zack Locklear posted an excellent statement about Christians judging those of the world, and it describes a general principle to which all who claim Christ’s name must adhere: Jesus died to save sinners, not to condemn them (John 12:47-48). The most telling part of that passage is verse 48, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Jesus’ statement here couldn’t be more clear; it tells who will be judged, and by what standard.

So, who will be judged? Not adulterers. Nor thieves. Nor liars. Nor murderers. Not even homosexuals or pedophiles. On the last day, God’s Word will judge all who reject Jesus and refuse to receive His words. All other sins are only symptoms of that damning sin.

But, what of those who claim to belong to God through our Lord Jesus Christ? Can they get away with sinning, “that grace may increase?” Apostle Paul emphatically answered (Romans 6), “May it never be!” Then, in Romans 8:29, the apostle wrote, “For those He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn of many brothers.” Predestination and eternal security controversies aside, those who prefer habitually sinning to seeking Christlikeness are not God’s chosen people.

Finally, Apostle Paul told us what attitude we are to display toward non-believers: Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:5-6) If you don’t have anything redemptive to say, don’t say anything at all (apologies to Disney’s Thumper character).

My Infinitesimal Understanding

A few minutes ago I let my mind wander to God while relaxing on my bed, and I thought about how much I’ve learned about God over the past few years. As I lay there contemplating my infinite, eternal Lord, I realized that my vast knowledge <(8-P) amounts to nothing compared to all that He is. Yes, His Word tells us all we need to know about Him. And yes, His Holy Spirit reveals His personal message of truth to each of us. But my pea-brain is woefully ill-equipped to grasp even the most elementary understanding of His infinite Being.

In view of that humbling truth, I wonder how other Christians can boldly stand so cock-sure of their ideas about God and His Word. Face it, any embellishment of God’s Word, such as commentaries and systematic theologies, are only some human being’s conclusions, regardless how carefully they’ve studied it. So taking Luther’s, Wesley’s, or Calvin’s statements as tantamount to Holy writ is foolish in the extreme. Remember the two builders that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7:24-27? The wise builder built on the Rock, not on his ideas about it. Our understanding of anything is nothing more than shifting sand.

Agreeing to disagree is not compromising on God’s truth. Standing, immovable, on ones personal understanding smacks of personal pride, and remember, “I” is at the center of both pride and sin. So, if you’re absolutely convinced that your personal understanding of God and His Word is spot on, you’d better dig down to the Rock for your foundation, or great will be your fall.

Mom’s Colored Maid

Mom’s colored maid

Whoa there, egalitarian*! I hail from a solid Catholic/Democrat family. You have to understand that Political Correctness hadn’t yet been born in the ’50s and ’60s. People of color were just beginning to strive for basic human rights, and I applaud their sacrificial efforts. Truthfully, I am also a person of color: Pink, with blue undertones (According to the makeup expert I used to work with.).

Mom’s “colored maid” was a portable dishwasher painted in coppertone—no, not the tanning lotion—and equipt with a detailed set of instructions for its proper use. What brings me to this distant memory is the dirty dishes I found in my apartment’s dishwasher, after the wash cycle had finished. Their state contrasts starkly with the photos of sparkling clean dishes illustrated in the promotional material that dishwasher and detergent manufacturers publish to sell their wares. The problem? My housemate failed to follow the instructions faithfully. You know, the one about rinsing everything thoroughly before placing it into the dishwasher. And conversely, never try to wash items encrusted with dried-on food in the dishwasher, if you hope to have them come out sparkly-clean, as per the promotional material.

Perhaps you’ve guessed that this post isn’t about sanitizing dishes. It’s about following our Manufacturer’s instructions, such that our souls will come out of this life sparkly-clean.

Jesus and His letter-writing apostles gave us perfectly clear instructions as to how we must conduct ourselves to please His Father, and live with Him in life eternal. If you want to meet Jesus sparkling clean, you must follow His User Manual to the best of your ability; shortcuts will leave you encrusted with dried-on sin, unfit for His use.

Now that sounds pretty severe, I’ll admit. Without God’s loving grace, none of us would have a marshmallow’s chance in a dishwasher of joining our Savior in eternity. Please don’t risk missing out by taking God’s grace for granted. You’ll never be perfect in your body of flesh, but to be satisfied with your imperfection means you just don’t get it.

Any questions? Read 1 Peter 1:13-16 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (14) As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, (15) but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44)

Solution

Thanks to my good friend Andy, I see the need to expand on my previous post, “Critique.” While the title reflected only a movie review, it included the question, “Do you ever wonder why so many good church kids graduate from college as lukewarm Christians, or even atheists?” What follows is my answer, in the form of a scathing indictment of Christian pulpits and parents, including myself.

The Problem

Can we prevent our children from going astray? Of course not. They are as individual as we are. Without starting battles we can’t win, though, we must prepare them for their inevitable interaction with this corrupt world system. But how?

The Solution

Desensitizing our youth to the world’s lies begins with the pulpit. And the fault for failing to do so also begins with the pulpit. Parents must understand that allowing our children to face the world unprepared is the worst kind of sin, predisposing them to stumble when faced with life’s inevitable faith-challenges. The fault also lies with us parents, who choose to remain weak in God’s Word and prayer, often demonstrating before our children the worldly attitudes that the Bible prohibits. We also cause them to stumble through our example of self-indulgence, enjoying the very entertainments that weaken their fledgling faith.

The popular church cliche is none-the-less true for its overuse: Sitting in church no more makes you a Christian than sitting in a car lot makes you an automobile. We make our kids attend church and Sunday school, which are good things, but good things aren’t necessarily the best things. Our best and most important work is not drilling Bible passages or catechism answers into them, but modeling Christ’s love when life seems to bury us in its refuse, and we can only do that by maintaining an intimate and teachable relationship with our Father God. As with any relationship, that requires constant, proactive maintenance, and is what following Christ is all about.

Click here for a commentary on Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter twelve, wherein he outlines some essential principles for authentic, Christian living.

And remember, discipling our children in Christ’s love is not optional (Proverbs 22:6).

Rwanda Genocide

A Hutu warrior

Yes, I realize this is a downer of a topic, but today’s guest preacher brought a vivid depiction of that horrible time, with a description of the extreme care that missionaries must exercise in bringing the gospel to those countries darkened by Communism’s and Islam’s bloody fists.

The church in Rwanda nearly suffered extinction during the genocide of 1994. The church in America is suffering right now, but only spiritually, from internal decay.

Jesus’ Revelation to John admonishes the Ephesian church:

Rev 2:1-5 NASB “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: (2) ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; (3) and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. (4) ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (5) ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.

This could have easily been addressed to the church in America. We have indeed toiled, but our toil is largely focused on our religious practice and maintaining an appearance of godliness while not seeking His power (2 Timothy 3:5). We have persevered,and even grown, but what credit is that when our trials are so trivial? Yes, we can’t tolerate evil men in the world, but we wink at sin in the church, especially among those who support it financially. And we readily follow false teachers who tickle our ears with pietistic platitudes and a social gospel.

I feel like both a broken record and a hypocrite as I hit the topic of the church’s sin so often, yet struggle with it personally. I mourn our having left our first love for religion’s seductive materialism. Yes, there is a remnant of vital saints, but they often aren’t the ones making the most noise in worship because of a moment’s emotional high. They’re the brethren who walk and speak their praise every waking moment, and not necessarily with religious-sounding rhetoric. They love every living thing, just as their Father does. They expend themselves in service to those who are unlovely, and even to family, when they reject their witness. They find their personal fulfillment in obeying their Savior’s Law of Love, rather than seeking worldly power and personal gratification.

I pray that God will grow me, and all His people, into that kind of saint. Only then will we fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission.

Caution! Lone wolves are always hungry.

Often I forget that sin is sin; despite our personal attitudes about sinful acts, there are no little sins or big sins. As I grew up Catholic, I embraced the teaching that mortal sins send us directly to hell when we croak (Do not pass GO! Do not collect 200 indulgences!), but venial sins only buy us a stay in purgatory. I suspect that’s the source of the church’s commonly held belief that there is a hierarchy of sins, and that God, in His Infinite Grace, will wink at our minor mistakes if we don’t majorly foul up.

God gave us an important conditional promise in Apostle John’s first letter to the church, bracketed by two statements that are essential to properly understanding the promise:

1Jn 1:8-10 NASB
(8) 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.

Please note that he didn’t discriminate between mortal and venial sins; we must confess all sin if we are to gain His forgiveness.

Perhaps I need to define the word, “Sin.” A dictionary might say, “Sin is a conscious transgression of God’s law.” As with most simple statements, however, its true meaning is anything but simple. Many volumes attempting to define that apparently simple three-letter word collect dust on library shelves, but I find another simple statement presents a principle that covers all sin: “I” is at the center of sin. Coincidentally, “I” is also at the center of pride. Think about it.

If we care enough about spending eternity with God to tread the sawdust trail, it only follows that we will care enough to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). I love that passage because it apparently contradicts the doctrine of grace, and because I know God’s Word never contradicts itself I feel compelled to either discover how it fits in, or simply take it on faith. That bothers me not in the least, because much of His Word seems incomprehensible to individual Christ-followers. Through His Holy Spirit, different passages are understood by, and speak to, different people. In fact, one important purpose of Christ’s Body is to corporately discern God’s full counsel. Lone-wolf believers are nearly always unbalanced in their personal beliefs because they lack that broader insight into God’s Word.

There, I finally worked around to my title for this piece.

Are You Veridical?

How do you respond when the spotlight of truth shines on you?

A natural reaction to my question would be, “What the heck is that?”

If I answered, “Why, it’s simply the product of my virtually endless vocabulary,” I would not be veridical; I would be a liar. Veridical is one of the words I’ve received from Dictionary dot com’s Word of the Day. This particular word is noteworthy because it succinctly encapsulates (okay, now I’m just showing off) a character trait that I long to embody, just like Jesus did.

An example of varidicality cites the George Washington mythos that has the six-year-old little man chopping down a cherry tree, and when his father Augustine challenges him about it, little George is reputed to have said, “I cannot tell a lie; I did cut it with my hatchet.” As he sported the very highest of manly character from an early age, his taking a swing at his father’s cherry tree seems unlikely indeed, though if he had, he certainly would have confessed it.

Speaking of confessions, I must not tell a lie: I am a natural a liar. Truth has always seemed a luxury I couldn’t afford when it would expose me to my actions’ consequences. Even since accepting Christ’s Lordship and realizing the necessity of truth-telling, the temptation to lie has plagued me. Temptation, however is not a sin, so when I feel that old urge to polish the truth just a smidge, the prospect of violating my Savior’s sacred trust repulses me.

Truth is such a rare commodity in this fallen world that it seems like a luxury when just a little white lie could smooth life’s path. When you’re tempted to to polish the truth, just remember what Jesus said to the self-righteous, religious Jews in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Notice how Jesus grouped lying with murder, for lying indeed murders the truth.

So, am I veridical? Truth be told, not at all in my own power. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

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.