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“But I Think”

“I the Lord do not change…(Malachi 3:6).”

The W.W. Mayo family before John Lister‘s discovery

The mirror tells me I have changed; sometimes it shouts.  Time affects everything, except God.  We call this attribute Immutability, and it’s linked to His revealing Himself to us in a stunning Creation (Romans 1:20), His Word (Matthew 5:18), and the Incarnation–when our Creator became flesh and blood as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1-4; Hebrews 13:8).

The weight of our differences from Him is not only that we change, but our opinions that are based on capricious authorities and influences fluctuate too, which affects how we see God’s truth, or even care to.  When discussing spiritual things, most folks have lots of opinions, so I like to ask, “What do you base that on?”  Invariably it’s, “But I think….”

Many years later…William Worrall Mayochanged

We, the fallible, become the authority, but can you trust yourself?  Truth varies with cultures.  Ancient Rome and Greece allowed sex with children and goats, Aztecs ate their heartless human sacrifices, Canaanites burnt babies, and scientists err (Copernicus critics, bleeding as a cure, Lister and sterile surgeries, Darwin’s theory as fact, or Pluto as our ninth planet).  Truth and authority are in flux because we are always changing.  

So what you base your opinion on, especially in spiritual matters, matters a great deal.  God (Jesus) should not be based on opinion or a mere man’s religious dogma.  So God gave us an absolute true north; an immutable authority that confirms what is objective, unchanging Truth, the Bible (not a religion or sect).

John’s Gospel, chapters 18-19, discusses this truth and authority.  Pontius Pilate, Rome’s authority in Jerusalem, asked Jesus, “What is truth?”  Later, Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given to you from above.”  These were critical moments that revealed God’s absolute Truth, and the Authority behind it.

John’s eyewitness account

Your eternal destiny should not dangle on the thread of an opinion, but you can be sure, and have “true north” on this journey and not get lost, forever (1 John 5:13).  Is the Bible supernatural, God-inspired words to know Him?  Was Jesus God?  Did He rise from the dead to prove these claims?  Why won’t being good make you righteous (just knowing, without repentance, is not a saving faith, James 2:19)?  The Bible explains all of this. 

A friend told me, “My philosophy is to do good to people.”  I replied, “That’s great, but what about your sins?”  The Bible says that goodness won’t save you (James 2:10).  For God to be unchanging, He cannot ignore sin and must stay righteous in His immutability (or He’d be like a bribed judge).  So, He provided Himself, became sin to save us, and took the judgment we deserved.  Love and Justice met at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Hanging by a thread...are you?

Truth came into History and conquered Death as proof of His absolute Authority.  Jesus ended “but I think” opinions when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father, but through Me (John 14:6).”  Or maybe Jesus lied, but I’m human, been wrong before, so I’ll take His Immutability over what I think, every time.  

Jesus meets Rod Steiger

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“Remember When…?”

“God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death…(Acts 2:24).”

My Father and his Father at the Mule Barn

I don’t remember reading this verse in the Book of Acts.  I know I have, it’s underlined in my Bible, but it never hit me like it did until today.  It’s the whole Bible, in just 13 words.

At 60, I’m more forgetful, waxing nostalgic more and more, especially kid memories––building forts, rock fights, baseball games every day, trees climbed to scary heights, or playing Three Wishes…get a million bucks, meet Al Kaline, and become an astronaut.  

A wish granted in 1969

But now, as an adult, if we’re honest, what we really want is to cheat death, to be able to say, “Hey, remember when…I was dead?”  Our death in the past tense (was dead).  Doubt it?  I’ll prove it with your own Yes and No, respectively, to my next two questions.

First, think you’ll die someday?  And, knowing that you will die, do you think about it much?  That’s odd.  You know you’ll die, but you avoid considering the afterlife.  Why?

Solomon said, “It’s better to go to funerals than parties because death is the end of every man and the living take it to heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2).”  Funerals force you to ponder what you won’t think about…a kind of warning light.  And Jesus, who cheated death, proving He was God in the flesh, is also something we avoid giving any serious consideration.  See a weird pattern here?  We ignore our biggest problem and Jesus, the only solution.    

For some reason, we do not want to think about our death, or consider the one person who ended death when “God raised Him up again.”  Can you explain that avoidance?  There are a lot of answers, but I’ll throw one out from my own childhood.  Fear!

Fred and I on Christmas Day

One day, I got caught stealing some pretty significant items and I hid from my Father, knowing full well he’d punish me (and rightfully so).  I hid in the basement under our pool table.  I had to return the items, and it was embarrassing, but I cannot remember him punishing me.  My fear was unfounded.  The next day I was still his son!  Nothing changed, and for 70 years he was my Dad.  He never mentioned it ever, and loved a thief.

I submit that you know you’re guilty too, fear your Heavenly Father will punish you, and so you avoid facing Him…ignorance is bliss, but if your car’s brakes are broken you can be ignorant, in bliss, and dead.  Your brake light, like a funeral, is a warning to respond.

Grinning today, my Dad accepted Christ before his death

I further submit that you’re wrong about our Heavenly Father, just as I was about my Dad.  “For God so loved the world (that’s you, guilty), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever (you again) believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Twenty-five words to say He loves you, almost twice those in Acts 2:24, which should make you think twice about responding.  Repent, believe and He’ll forgive you, and then 150 years from now you can wax nostalgic with, “Hey, remember when…I was dead?”  

Awaiting the Resurrection…Normandy, France

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“October is Coming”

“He found nothing but leaves (Mark 11:13).”

What Titus left of the Temple in 70 AD

October is a long way off, but I love that season because our apple trees make the best applesauce.  I protect those apples all year, but once the trees are picked I ignore them, and so do the pesky animals because now they have no real value.  Mark can relate.

Mark’s record here in chapter 11 is one of the two times that Jesus destroyed something in nature (the other was the demons He cast out into a herd of pigs that ran over a cliff).  This fig tree had no fruit, “nothing but leaves,” and He cursed it.  Seems extreme, but it was symbolic of what He had found in Israel…no spiritual fruit on the tree of Israel.  

With days before His death and the New Covenant, Jesus was done with their lip service (Mark 7:6), and wanted a heart change that He did not find (Mark’s next section is the second time He threw out the moneychangers from the Temple, which Israel’s leaders had turned from a worship center into big profits).  They had drifted too far from God.

Religious hypocrites are nothing new.  Good riddance to fakers with green leaves and no real value, but it’s also a good reminder…one day Jesus will inspect your life for fruit too.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).”    

Not “fruit” like being good or going to church (Isaiah 64:6, Titus 3:5), but real repentance as Jesus’ baptizing cousin said in Matthew 3:8, “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.”  He wants a change of heart, a surrender of your rebellious attitude of indifference to your sin and His love for you.  Jesus wants you back, but your sin separates you from God (Isaiah 59:2).  

So who cares about fruit and repentance?  Well, you should care because you are going to meet Jesus and He won’t care a fig about church or being good.  His standard is perfection, absolute holiness, and the absence of sin (Habakkuk 1:13, Matthew 5:48).  It makes sense since Heaven has no sin, but no one is that pure, so is it even possible? 

All are infected and die, the great and the average

“Nobody’s perfect, and He can’t really expect me to be holy?  If I’m honest, I’ve lied, cheated, stolen, lusted, and busted just about every commandment in thought, word, or deed.  So if He wants to have an impossible standard, I don’t care.  I’m guilty, so be it, and if I’m honest, not really very good either…if ‘good’ means holy, then I’m lost.”   

God knew our broken-helplessness, His responsibility to be just and punish lawbreakers, and so He provided Himself…a lamb.  Only God can meet His holy standard, and that’s why God became a man.  Jesus, the sinless man, was that perfect payment for us.  God loved us, reconciled us, and remained just by having His Son die in our place.  His sacrifice made us as righteous as God (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This good news is free, but you must choose it.  Fall seems a long way off, but October is coming (Hebrews 9:27).  

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“Empty”

“If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).” 

My brother pulled the trigger on this buck.

I was afraid to pull the trigger.  Older than dirt, this gifted shotgun looked like it had not been fired in 60 years, so I bravely did what any real guy would do…I took it to a gunsmith. After a few months, he said it was fixed and safe to fire.  Today, it’s still empty.  I have not pulled the trigger…yet.  

For me, it’s a matter of trust that this guy (who I don’t know) says it’s safe, but is it, really?  Popping a 20-gauge shell in the chamber, putting it up to my cheek, and pulling the trigger is a big step of faith on just his say-so.  Unlike a plastic surgeon, talk is cheap.  

If I really believe, I’ll act on his promise.  Believing is that simple, and that hard.  

The gun that Booth pulled the trigger on with Lincoln

And so it is with Jesus.  Faith to take Him at His word, believing that His death on the cross pays for your sins, and that His tomb is empty is easy…to say.  But is just “saying” real saving, eternal faith, or is it just an intellectual assent (like believing in Napoleon or Lincoln)? How can you be sure your faith is genuine and not just acknowledging a fact? 

The Apostle James, and half-brother of Jesus, said, “faith without works is dead.” If you really believe, they’ll be a transformation because the Holy Spirit enters your body, and good works will flow from your faith.  God uses outward and visible faith proofs of this inward and invisible change to tell the world, you “pulled the trigger.”  What proofs?  

In the Old Testament, circumcision was a faith proof, but Israel could not even keep the Ten Commandments, let alone the extensive Jewish Law.  The Law was really a spiritual thermometer to show how sin-sick we all are, that being right with God isn’t about doing good works.  Besides, if it made lawbreakers right and holy, why did Jesus have to die?   

The Jerusalem Temple where many circumcisions happened.

Do you know how to never break the Law?  The only way is to have no Law to break.  So that’s what Jesus did.  Jesus was the only one to keep the Law with a sinless life, and as a perfect man, and God, His sacrifice freed us from trying (to be good, keeping the Law), to instead just believing in His work.  But again, what is genuine pulling the trigger faith? 

Action. In the New Testament, baptism was faith proof of your unseen belief, but getting wet doesn’t save you anymore than circumcision made an Israelite a believer.  God has always operated on faith and grace; beginning with Abraham’s faith, long before the Law was given to Moses (Romans 4).  Again, what else constitutes saving faith? Repentance.  

The Dead Sea (near where the Scrolls were found).

James says, “Even the demons believe.”  If they believe in Jesus, and they aren’t going to Heaven, what’s the difference in your faith and theirs?  The answer is…surrendering your will (repent means to change your mind). So stop trying to be good (you can’t keep the 10 Commandments either).  Ask Him to forgive you, once and for all, based on His work. 

Inside The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

Now, I’ve changed my mind, and by faith…I’m going to go fire my gun.  Happy Easter! 

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“When the Deal Goes Down”

At the Bob Dylan concert at MSU (2019)

“Jesus…abolished Death and brought Life and Immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).” 

A good friend lies in the ICU right now, and will most likely be dead before this column goes to press.  Eternity looms for Jeff, as it did for Paul when he wrote these words, his last letter to Timothy before Rome chopped off his head.  Immortality finally revealed.

Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air, Tomorrow keeps turning around
We live and we die, we know not why, But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down 

Fortunately, Jeff’s a Christian (and a fellow Bob Dylan fan).  We went to see Dylan at the Wharton Center last year (our third time seeing him together since Bob became a Christian) and Jeff wondered if this was the last time we’d see Bob (since Dylan is 79). Sadly, it was.  

The midnight rain follows the train, We all wear the same thorny crown
Soul to soul, our shadows roll, And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

Bob has a song, “When the Deal Goes Down” that talks about not being alone in Death for the Christian.  Jeff is living these lyrics right now.  What an immense comfort to his wife who sits by his side tonight, praying, knowing their separation is only momentary.  And, that Jesus will usher him into eternity to be safe from any harm.  Death abolished.

More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours, That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies,And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

Jeff at 40 (celebrating first birth)

Warren Weirsbe once said, “If you’re born once, you die twice; born twice and you die only once.”  In other words, Death cannot hold you in the grave if you’re born again by the Spirit.  But if you ignore Jesus, the one who conquered Death, and are only born physically, then a Second Death awaits you to pay for your own sin.  It’s your choice.

In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain, You’ll never see me frown
I owe my heart to you, and that’s sayin’ it true,And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down 

The Groom is waiting for you to accept His proposal

Those are some excerpts from Dylan’s classic song, and now I’ll take a shot at a verse:

The rich and the poor, they always want more, Immortality too far from shore.  They cut and they duck, but Death still runs amok, and stands alone at their door.  Asleep at the switch, there’s always some itch, thinking there’s bound to be more.  But the road always ends, with no payment for sins, they’re left alone, when the deal goes down.

Jeff and his sister (first birth)

Maybe I’m not Dylan, but we both know without Jesus you haven’t got a chance in your ICU.  If Jesus rose from the dead, and revealed Life and Immortality, can you give me one good reason why you wouldn’t bend your knee tonight and repent?  I can see Jeff, a man “Forever Young,” offering a thumbs-up right now on that ICU bed.  Choose Life. 

* Jeff saw Jesus on the Sunday this was published. His second birth celebrated by His Friend…and got shelter from the storm.

 

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“Merry Christ!”

“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).” 

Naughty or Nice?

Christmas is preparation.  For weeks, I’d pore over a Sears catalog, preparing my Santa list to be perfect. It’s a wondrous memory, recalling the gut-twisting joy that these toys might be under my tree!  “Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow” was totally me as a child.

And how about you?  If you could have anything now, what tops your list and makes it “hard to sleep tonight?” A billion dollars; wisdom; an island in the Bahamas; President of the United States; a loved one resurrected? What would be your all-time top gift?  For me, it’s easy…really knowing God, personally, as my best friend (Jeremiah 9:23-24).  

O, Tannenbaum, Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

Imagine knowing the Creator of the universe–who made you, knows everything, can do anything, even give you those five things above–as your best friend. He’s the absolute greatest gift. If you agree, then I’ve got some real “glad tidings,” because it’s possible (1 John 5:11-13).  The carols we sing now, like “God and sinners reconciled,” reveal it all.

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate Deity.”  God became a man, but why?   “To ransom captive Israel” and give us “peace on Earth” with complete forgiveness, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But sin blocked this union, “long lay the world, in sin and error pining,” so He became sin and took our punishment (2 Corinthians 5:21).  His love and justice merged on the cross, and our Judge became our Father. God’s friendship is under your tree right now (Romans 6:23)!  So how do you get it?

Christmas is here, but only if you take the gifts!

You’ve practiced it every Christmas…just grab the gift…in simple faith, admit your sin, ask forgiveness, and change your attitude (God calls that repentance, changing your mind).  Our attitude is conceit; we don’t think we’re that bad, or we’re good enough as is, but then why did Jesus have to die?  In short, we don’t get holiness.  God requires perfection, and clearly, nobody’s perfect.  Even one sin stops this relationship (James 2:10), and just “believing” mentally is not a saving repentance…even demons believe and they’re not going to Heaven (James 2:19).  So what do we do?  

Real faith is action, but a meek action (grabbing this gift means genuine surrender).  “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”  Repent, believe, and ask Jesus to “enter in” your body. God made a way, but His love isn’t forced.  He wants you to love Him, in humility to choose Christ, and put God back on top of your life.

Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” might be the best backstory ever (see comments below)

Speaking of on top, did you know you top His list?  That’s why He came…He loves you to death, literally.  Even though you broke His heart, your repentance can be a thank you gift.  “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  Christmas still means preparation, but in your heart, so please take His gift and make Him a very Merry Christ!  

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“Precious”

“Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me.” 

The great Alastair Sims as Scrooge

So says a now fully aware Ebenezer Scrooge to his last visitor, a Grim Reaper apparition who is unmistakably Death himself.  Like a masked executioner, Scrooge pleads with him to be quick, and calls his dwindling time “precious.” 

Precious isn’t used much nowadays, but a fitting description as the currency slipping through his stingy fingers is the only commodity Death trades in – Time. Do not miss Dickens’ meaning here. This Phantom is taking a life, and specifically, Scrooge is tonight’s main transaction. 

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is, word for word, the one holiday story you should read before you die.  It is brilliantly brief, but do not mistake his lean writing for folly…it is timeless, pregnant with genius, and his reclamation tale takes only two hours to read! What’s two hours?

Here’s a link to it:

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm

So, what exactly is precious…to you?  Think hard on that.  Decide what is your most precious thing, and then consider how to safeguard it.  If you’re honest you’ll see it can only be Time, and like Scrooge you are losing it…right now, this very minute slips away.

And what would God (who is outside of Time) consider precious?  He says our faith in Jesus and His dripping blood (1 Peter 1:7 and 19), His promises (2 Peter 1:4), His love (Psalm 36:7), and the death of his godly ones (Psalm 116:15).  These all fit hand and glove into Dickens’ choice, and bring to mind two other “precious-conscious” writers. 

Dickens’ desk at his London home

In Tolkien’s TheLord of the Rings, Gollum calls his magic Ring “Precious,” and its power transforms his desire into deadly lust and corrupts him. Sin changes him into a horrific monster, as it does to all of us.  Thankfully, Tolkien’s friend, C.S. Lewis persuaded the doubtful author to publish his Hobbit tale, and then Lewis wrote of another “Precious.”

Gollum was once a Hobbit

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.  It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, and civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”  

The great Clive Staples Lewis

Souls are precious too, and intimately linked to Time and reclamation.

Dickens got it exactly right.  Time is precious, and the holidays remind us of that, but Lewis reminds us that only Jesus can help us get more Time, through faith in His precious blood sacrifice you get life eternal.  Time is no longer a factor for us in Christ Jesus. And that’s what Ebenezer means in Hebrew, Stone of Help. A reminder that He is your only Help in time of need.

Here’s my favorite film version, a classic!

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“Was Dead.”

“I was dead (Revelation 1:18).” 

Copying the Wright brothers famous pic at their home

We were too late, but Joe was still warm.  Seeing someone dead, in this case my brother, is very unnerving. They look asleep, like at any moment they’ll pull a Halloween prank and sit up, eyes wide, and shout, “BOO!” But he was really gone. That hurt, bad. 

Later on, two funeral guys came and wheeled him out of his house with a flag draped over his body.  That was so sad, so final, and so unstoppable.  Two strangers took him, and Joe had no say in it.  We stood and watched.  Just watched…and cried.  Death won.

Swimming with our Father

Jesus watched a dead man get carried out too, but He brought him back to life (Luke 7:11-17).  I think on that in a more personal way now.  He was dead.  Not many people can say, “Remember when I was dead?”  But…now…we all have a choice, a way out, because Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18).”  Death is not the end.

“Death Is Not the End” by Bob Dylan

Jesus came to end the death curse, restore us to God by cancelling our sin debt, so death is no longer winning because “was dead” is totally possible.  Death lost!  Though we will all die (Hebrews 9:27), and that death is from our sin, we can have empty graves just like Jesus (Colossians 2:13-14).  

Often this newspaper column (converted to a blog post), Religious Thoughts, is situated next to the Obituaries. It’s sobering for me to see that. Here are words of hope to defeat death, make peace with God, and live forever, placed right next to faces of our local dead.  Did they know, really know Jesus, and now see Him eye to eye (2 Corinthians 5), or not (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)?

A young man with a bright future

Someday, you’ll be wheeled out, your picture next to this column.  How is it that you know you’re taking this same trip and make no reservations?  Friend, take some time and read the New Testament.  Find a modern translation and read just two of the 27 books…the Gospel of John and Romans, and see if it rings true.   

Off to Vietnam

Read each book slowly, thoughtfully, and in one sitting.  John’s Gospel is only 21 short chapters; Romans is less, only 16 quick chapters.  At the most, it will take you two hours.  Two words that rarely go together, “was dead,” hang in the balance, your balance.    

Married…almost 50 years ago!

But before you start, ask God to show you if this is true, if He’s real, and if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.  That’s it.  Just ask Him to open your eyes, and see if His Spirit won’t lead you to Himself.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote these inspired words in the Old Testament, “If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me (chapter 29, verse 13).” 

Raising a family

That’s a promise from God to you.  If you really want to miss out on death, and say, “I was dead,” then truly seeking Him will result in finding Him.  He promised to reveal Himself to you.  All it takes is a speck of faith to put death in your past…tense. 

Wilbur and Orville Wright

I sure miss my three brothers, and my folks. Death is so horrible. Praise God He rescued us so we can enjoy Him forever in Paradise and can say, like Jesus said in Revelation, “I was dead.” Please be sure to accept His free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Eternity looms….

Joe and Karen’s wedding with my family

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Grammar God

“It is finished (John 19:30).” 

Ain’t he just the dangest eituc-eip?

I have a confession.  Without Donna Keller, I would not have gotten through my Seventh Grade English class.  She reluctantly helped me, and many more times I looked over her shoulder to copy her answers. Wherever you are, thanks Donna! I’m in your debt.  

As a writer, this is a humbling admission.  I still don’t get nominative or objective personal pronouns.  Grammar is not my strength, but those rules do matter.  Why?  Our home serves as a perfect example of why rules are so important (and debt has a penalty).  

Which one is Donna?

In Greek, the New Testament’s language, tetelestai means, “It is finished.” But this verb is in the “perfect tense,” which means not only is it done in the past, but also that the result is still ongoing.  This past action is continuous.  A “past tense” verb is over and done, but the perfect tense continues…like our home is paid off now, and tomorrow too. 

On Tuesday, we paid off our mortgage early.  It’s a great feeling to be debt-free!  When I spoke with the woman at the bank she said we’d get a satisfaction letter confirming that “it is finished.”  I immediately thought of Jesus’ last words on the cross.  Tetelestai.

https://www.ciu.edu/content/it-finished-look-greek

Digging Deeper on Tense

But His dying words seem off, maybe even bad grammar. “I am finished” makes more sense, unless…He’s paid off a debt too, and that’s precisely what Jesus did. In New Testament times, tetelestai was used on documents to show that a bill had been paid in full.  So what did God-in-the-flesh pay off if He’s holy and has no sin?  He paid our debt.

Nobody’s perfect (Romans 3:23).  We’ve all sinned, but this sin-debt is lethal; it makes all of us spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), separates us from a holy God (Isaiah 59:2), and results in physical death (Ezekiel 18:20).  We don’t like death talk, but it’s inescapable.  My brother died a few weeks ago and it was so very final. The key, however, is not to die with your sin-debt outstanding or the penalty is eternal death (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  

Joe’s wedding 50 years ago, my brother Jack assisting

But is God fair to judge us with His holy standards if nobody’s perfect? Yes, a good judge punishes lawbreakers, but a loving judge would be heartbroken.  God solved this problem when He said, “It is finished.” Debt paid in full, in love. Done deal?  Not quite.

In the Greek

God’s gift will erase your past, present, and future sin-debts, but like a Christmas gift under the tree it can only be opened if you receive it (John 1:12). Since it’s a gift you can’t earn it (Ephesians 2:4-9).  It’s free, but knowing it’s there is not receiving it.  It’s not yours until you take it out from under the Christmas tree and open it.  That’s the rule.  

Hebrews Chapter 10

Grammar also functions on rules, and so does God.  If you break His Law, He must be righteous and deal with it. Thankfully, He loved us enough to take our penalty Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He acted on His love (Romans 5:8).  Now you must act too.  Just confess, a humble “Donna Keller” admission, and the free gift is yours (Romans 10:9). 

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Forewarned is Forearmed

“The greatest danger occurs at the moment of victory.”  –Napoleon  

Screen Shot 2020-08-18 at 1.54.09 PMThe RNLI Flood Rescue Team

 

The hardest man to rescue is the one who thinks he’s safe.

We’ve all seen that ending in a movie.  Oblivious to the danger (but we see it coming), they lose it all because they think they’re safe, lulled into a false sense of security.  Convinced of victory, as Napoleon warns, they lose.  If you think you’re spiritually safe, read no further.  But…if you want assurance for that happy Hollywood ending, then consider these four warnings.

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My favorite Hollywood happy ending

 

You think you’re safe because of your religion. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-15).” Jesus gave only one requirement that had nothing to do with denominations.  Jesus told Nicodemus, the religious expert with the “right” religion, that you must be born again.  He did not say be Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant. He said you must be born again. So what is born again exactly?

We are born physically, but cursed with a spiritual cancer called Sin.  Sin is fatal (we die) and it is only radiated if you are made again, recreated by a second spiritual birth, when you choose to let Him come inside your body.  He will only invade upon invitation, if you vacate the throne in your heart, which is repentance (you acknowledge your sin, your helplessness, and give up your will to Him).

If not, then the second death is your ending, which is your choice too, to pay for your sins yourself (Hell).  His love is never forced, but He must be your Lord (Luke 6:46).

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The most perfect sculpture still flawed

 

You think you’re safe because you’re not that bad. “If you keep the whole Law, and break just one commandment, you are guilty of all (James 2:10).”  If you are trusting in you…your efforts, your religion, your denomination, your ancestry, then Jesus died for nothing (Galatians 2:21).  God’s standard is perfection, not just being good enough because just one sin means you’re guilty of all, imperfect. You trying is impossible because you are a spiritual corpse, dead in your un-radiated sin (Ephesians 2:1).

Screen Shot 2020-08-18 at 2.13.11 PMJump up and down trust

 

You think you’re safe because you believe. “Even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).”  The demons saw Him, so what’s the difference in your faith and their faith? They are not going to Heaven. If your belief is not a saving, eternal faith, and just head knowledge, an intellectual assent, then you’re not safe.  Believing is not trusting.  You can believe a rickety old bridge over a canyon will hold you up, but running out on it is genuine trust.

 

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CS and Cleese

John Cleese’s Screwtape Letters

 

You think you’re safe because you asked for forgiveness. Forgiveness does not happen because you ask for it.  Forgiveness is on His terms.  You must come to Him broken; sorry, and admitting your good works are useless.  Ask Him to come inside and save you because of His sacrifice in your place (John 1:12-13).  Four warnings and forewarned.  A happy ending is assured to all who give up (John 5:24).  Surrender your crown to the One who loved you so much, He died in your place.  Be saved or be safe.

 

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A rescued Bob Dylan

Dylan’s surrendered crown

 

 

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