No! Non! Nein! Nyet! NO!

You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.

Pope Francis

I have a serious problem with this statement.  God is Just.  God MUST be just or He is not completely perfectly righteous.  If someone doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t seek the walk of faith, then they have no part in heaven.  It seems completely unfair since not everyone has a chance to hear the Gospel, but God is just.  His law is not negotiable, nor does it make special exceptions or exemptions for acts of good conscience.  You can not work your way into God’s grace and mercy because we are unrighteous, unholy beings and everything we do on our own is tainted by our sin-state.

This thinking that we have any say in our salvation aside from acceptance of and adoration for the Savior Himself is the essence of sin itself – it is selfish pride – that we can be good enough!

Ha!  If it came from someone lesser, it wouldn’t offend me as much… but still… I’m sorry if you like Pope Francis, but on this HE. IS. WRONG.

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

John 14:6

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Loving Your Neighbor

~ Radical thoughts to follow. ~

So many Christians these days are stuck in thinking of God as the almighty Creator of the universe, the final judge and authority on everything good, and they fear this powerful deity enthroned in unfathomable power.  They get so caught up in the God who utterly crushed Sodom and Gomorrah, caused the ground to swallow up disobedient men whole, and sent bears to maul dozens of “youths” in response to a curse by His prophet after their “teasing” of him.  If that is the God you know, you are missing Him… essentially in a forest for the trees moment.

Now let me get this straight – the God I’m talking about did all of those things, but He is so much more.  The God I’m talking about is not vengeful and destructive – He is creative, He is merciful, He is loving.  He is not hovering somewhere up in space ready to cast down lightning and hurl giant hailstones at you if you stumble and fall in trying to serve Him.

This is why the concept of God the Father is so important.  Think to your own children if you have them.  As a father, we only want the very best for them.  We teach them, guide them, influence them, discipline them, and love them as much as we can before we turn them loose on the world.  God the Father is no different, except that He doesn’t want us to ever get turned loose, but rather to turn back to Him – to love Him in return and to become not just His child, but rather also His friend.

Few men in the Bible were ever credited as friends of God – Abraham, Moses, David. These men didn’t go on and do measly things either. Abraham is the forefather of two great peoples – Jews through Isaac (by extension Christians) and Muslims. Moses became the first civil rights leader the world has ever seen – he led an entire nation from slavery to freedom.  David established Israel as a nation-state and also provided the family lineage for the Son of God to be born with a royal bloodline.  These men also give us a stark contrast though because of their friendship with God – Moses talked God out of destroying the idol worshiping Israelites, but He also repeatedly angered God as well to the point where he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land at the end of the decades-long journey to freedom.  David had a man killed because he thought his wife was smoking hot and wanted her for himself.  Neither of these men were perfectly moral, but they sought and loved God for who He was and unconditionally on their parts.

It is friendship with God that brings with it God’s unconditional mercy.

Instead of fearing God because of His righteousness, power, and judgment, we should strive to befriend God because He is right there waiting for us to do just that.  It’s all that He wants as our Father…. the absolute best for us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Matthew 22:37

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberty and Tyranny

I see the debate is framed here as it is in my own country; as a struggle between liberalism and conservatism.

Yet no matter how the struggle turns out, both the liberals and the conservatives feel frustration, no matter who “wins”, neither seem to enjoy the victory as “their” party fails to live up to its promises once in power.

You see there is another, less obvious, struggle at work in the body politic, and that is tyranny verses liberty. Tyranny is the natural course of professional politicians, whilst liberty is the heart’s cry of the populace.

Tyranny lives in the professional politician’s desire to remain in power, to increase his own personal power, and therefore the power of the central government over the people. He sells this through offering to lift the heavy burden of personal responsibility from off the shoulders of the populace.

The amount of this tyranny you allow is entirely based on the amount of personal responsibility you refuse to bear; for personal responsibility is the cornerstone of personal liberty. Surrender your personal responsibility to anyone or anything else, and that other controls your actions.

The true struggle of politics is therefore, how best to balance government control with personal responsibility. And the level of tyranny a people will abide is inversely proportional to their moral ability to shoulder personal responsibility.

Archbishop Cranmer

This is the essential issue at root in terms of our fight for maintaining liberty.  Every year, every election, every political cycle removes us more from our founding principles and ultimately will mutate this society from one of self-reliance, faith, and prudence, but to one of dependence, apathy, and lustful pursuits.

Someone once asked me why I think that the Second Amendment is the most important right codified in the Constitution. Why are guns so important?

Guns, weapons of war held in private citizens’ hands, are the ultimate manifestation in the modern age of personal responsibility and sovereignty, and once the people abdicate or curtail their personal responsibility and sovereignty, then they will have fallen further into tyranny and exposed themselves to more of it in the coming age.

The simple truth is that, while I remain armed and able to exercise lethal force not just in defense of myself, but of others, and of liberty as an whole, tyranny will be stopped.

In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.

Isaiah 54:14

Uplifted

My wife and I are embarked on a journey to read the entire Bible in a year.  We’re reaching the parts about David prior to the establishment of his kingship over Israel and I am reminded how divinely provident so many of the actions and coincidences in his life were.  David was extremely cognizant of the divine nature of these things, and I find myself wondering how many instances of divine providence that I’ve encountered in my life?  How many did I recognize at the time?  How many days, week, months, or years later?  How many did I fail to see at all?

In all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Romans 8:28

A few nights back, I watched the movie Machine Gun Preacher.  I tried to put myself in the main character’s (Sam Childers) shoes.  He was an outlaw, a man as far from God as light is from dark.  He is at the absolute bottom of the pit.  He can’t see his way out, and isn’t sure there is a way from him to get out.  Long story short, he comes to find Christ and begins to turn his life around.  He becomes inspired some years later to build a church for men and women like him – people at their absolute worst who need Christ’s saving grace and forgiveness, and to begin using that church to support his passion of saving the children and orphans of the ghastly civil war in Sudan.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

1 Timothy 1:15

The divine providence evident in this man’s life (since the movie is based on the real Sam Childers) was incredibly portrayed.  While in prison, his wife and daughter find Christ, which opens the door for him to find Christ as well.  Once he is starting to get his feet under him, he goes on a mission trip to Uganda and convinces a soldier to help him go to the front lines of the war because he feels called to help those in need.  There he sees the plight of the children who live in constant fear.

Newly built, the village and orphanage he built are burned to the ground by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan.  He becomes despondent and discouraged.  He calls his wife and she says “Get off your butt, stop your crying, and build it again.”

This man poured his life and spirit into his passion to build something for the glory of God and to help the children and he earned a price for his head.  His response was that he “must be doing something right then.”

Every step in this man’s life along the way prepared him to be a man willing to live with a price for his head.  That is great faith.  I envy that faith.  Despite all of Sam’s failings, Christ reached down into that pit of despair, of drugs, of violence, vulgarity, and wretched sin and grabbed this man and pulled him up.  He washed him clean and used him in such a way as to glorify Himself.

Paul called himself the worst amongst sinners, and he was saved by grace and became one of the most righteous and faithful men to have ever lived.  David lived a fallen life, replete with sin and failings, yet God loved him and provided for him at every turn.

It doesn’t matter where you are or how far down you have fallen, Christ can reach you. Christ will reach for you.  You just have to be willing to take his hand.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3

 

Thirst

Are you thirsty today?

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:2

My oldest son is being used by God to show me something and it’s not subtle.  Everyone is born with fundamental questions within their soul that need to be answered.

Where do I come from?

Why I am I here?

Where am I going?

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Why is the world like this?

Is there a God?

What is good?

What is evil?

What is truth?

How can I be happy?

When you boil down every world religion and philosophy, they are all attempting to answer these questions.  There is a thirst for knowledge and truth within us all and the driving element in our life is our attempt to answer these questions.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1

My oldest son has an intense focus on books and puzzles. Being four years old, he studies things incredibly and remembers the smallest details about these things that capture his interest.  He will spend hours in his room quietly playing with a single puzzle, memorizing every single piece to the point where I believe he could assemble it in the dark if he really wished to do so.  My son’s thirst is well-developed and he is attempting to quench it.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

For Christmas, my son received a gift to help quench this thirst and encourage it to grow within him.  He received a bible for Christmas (mind you, he is not quite four years old yet).  Most kids would put the bible aside and attack the toys still waiting under the tree or already unwrapped.  He on the other hand promptly sat down and started to read.  It has only been a few short weeks since he received this gift, but he is addicted.  If this is the addiction (and we all have one) he suffers from in his life, praise be to God.

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

John 7:37-38

My son truly clings to the Word.  He wants to know where it is always.  He wants to bring it with him to everything we do (eating dinner, playing with cars on the floor, to the gym, or to Nana’s house).  He wants the Word close to him as often as possible.

Shouldn’t we all feel that way?  When the trials of life hit us, we may turn to the Word for reassurance, but do we do it daily?  Do we cling to it?  I thought I understood what Christ meant when he said the following.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Matthew 19:14

Children are able to put such amazing faith into things.  They believe them fully – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Spiderman, and untold numbers of other completely fictional creations, but there is something else… children are not yet corrupted by pride or personal success, they have a thirst that seems so unquenchable that when they are exposed to the Wellspring, they fear to leave it behind as it is exactly what their souls need – knowledge, truth, strength, courage, faith, righteousness, perfection.

My son CLINGS to the Word at just shy of four years old.  Do I?

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.

Isaiah 55:1

Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

John 4:14

spring-water

 

Old Acquaintance

Looking back at this year, many amazing things happened.  They far outweighed the bad.  Even looking forward and the uncertainty of the next year politically, socially, culturally, and financially, I have nothing but praise for God for all the blessings He grants me every single day.

So looking forward, despite the uncertainty, I have great hope in another blessed year.  Whatever may come… I will walk forward into the next year with faith in His grace and faithfulness.

May the Lord of all creation grant you the same.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

pine_sun

For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13

impressive

What Can We Do?

Yesterday, I wrote about persecution.  I’ll admit, this is not your typical Thanksgiving Week topic, but I think it is prescient to cover because how can we be truly thankful unless we have a crystal clear picture of the world we live in and the blessings we have received.

If you accept the premise that we all face some form of persecution, whether it is violent in nature (like those subject to Sharia law in Islamic countries or violent crackdowns in countries like North Korea or China), cultural, or personal, then the question that begs to be asked is how should we respond?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

It is hard to love your enemies.  They hate you. They want to destroy you in some capacity.  This is a pretty steep command.  What context should we apply to this?  How should we love them?  Should we hug our own executors?

They will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

Luke 21:12

Christ is hinting at something in the passage from Matthew and he elaborates more in the passage for Luke.  Christ is saying that persecution, decidedly not a good thing for those afflicted by it, is something that God uses for good.  If we were to respond wrongly in these circumstances out of prideful arrogance and self-worth rather than humility and Christ-likeness, we would short-circuit God’s subtlety in these circumstances.

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

John 15:20

Persecution is explicitly allowed by God to further His influence throughout the world.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:4

So we are to not only called to endure persecution in order that we might exemplify the Truth through our actions, but also to actively bless those that persecute us.

In theory this is great, but how does this work in practice you might ask?

Let’s lay out one crucial basic then.  I have written of how we have nothing to fear, that the victory itself has already been delivered for those of us that believe.  So in those beliefs lies the answer – that nothing human hands or words do ultimately can hurt me.  Yes, they will cause temporary suffering.  Their words will cut.  Their threats will haunt.  Their violence will cause pain.  It is all for the glory of God.  If you remain steadfast in your faith and continue to stand up in the face of persecution, you will begin to wear them down.

This won’t be a boxing match. You won’t go punch for punch with them, but you will upper cut them and knock them to their knees eventually (metaphorically that is).  See, you are invincible.  They will eventually come to realize that everything that they throw at you is futile.  Then the door will be opened because they will ask “How can this be?  How are they able to just take this?  I would have given in long ago.”

That is when you get to be the blessing.  Your willingness to suffer, to die, for Christ is a more potent tool and weapon than any that they can use against you.  You will show not only obedience to Christ, but love for your fellow man.  Whether he slanders you, curses you, spits on you, strikes you, or kills you…. HOW you receive it and respond matters more than anything else.  Respond with love.  Respond with mercy.  As Christ said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

When the local atheist activist chapter attacks your Christmas Nativity scene, respond with love.  When someone scoffs at you reading your Bible in the library, say a quick prayer for them.  When you are struck either physically or verbally because of your faith, do not respond in anger and confront them harshly, but with an open heart.  Do not argue with them, but show them your inner confidence and your faithfulness by refusing to stoop to their level.  If you are arrested for Christ, go willingly and be like Paul – openly praising God in your prison cell – His design may be that you are to witness to a fellow prisoner,  a guard, or even the warden.  If you are to be tortured or executed, look with mercy on the men who live in darkness and ignorance.

You see that you are truly free.  Free of anything that the world can hurl at you.  Christ’s blood shields you completely.  Be confident.  Be strong.  Be courageous.  You have nothing to fear.

If you respond out of love, you never know who might be listening or watching.  Your persecution may be their first brush with the Truth.  If you let Christ work through you in that moment, amazing things will happen.

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?

Isaiah 50:4-9

 

 

 

The Law

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

1 Timothy 1:8-11

What is the law?

The Apostle Paul was a highly educated man, so it is understood that he was talking about the Old Law here, the Judaic norms, practices, etc.  This is an interesting passage though because of the phrase “the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels…”

It is fairly well understood as well as in my observation that the law was instituted so man would understand that he could never live up to the righteousness necessary to be in God’s presence.  The law’s purpose was to convict the people in their hearts of their need for grace.

 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Romans 7:4-6

So Paul, again, was writing that striving for obedience to the law only bore “fruit for death.”  Why is that?  If the law is God-given, isn’t it holy and just?  How could attempting to adhere to it cause “sinful passions” to be aroused?

Paul goes on and states:

I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.

Romans 7:7-8

Is Paul saying that he would not have known how to sin or what was a sin if it were not for the law?

So is the law there to bind our behavior?

Imagine a metaphor.  As a father, I have to lay down rules of behavior for my children.  My children, before these rules are laid down would just go on not knowing that anything they were doing was “wrong” in my eyes.  The rules I laid out were designed to constrain certain behavior, but they did not put an end to it.  Rather, they provide a guideline for them – if you do X, you will be punished.  This doesn’t mean that such behavior is instantly curtailed, but rather they test the limits of this new rule in any number of ways.  They also do their best to get away with the behavior and hope that they don’t get caught.  How are we any different as children of God?

If the law is meant for the ungodly, then it is meant for people that are spiritual infants at best.  They need direction on how to be and how to act.  They need that direction that touching something hot will mean you get burned so don’t touch it.

Does this excuse the rest of us that have come by faith to Christ and mean that sin is no longer an issue for us because the law no longer binds us?  Not at all.  If you take Christ’s commands to love your neighbor as yourself and love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul, then you will act in accordance with the law of God without needing the law to convict you daily.  Instead of striving to obey the law, you will strive to love fully, and by doing so you will fulfill the law as Christ did with his death and resurrection.

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