The Gospel Is Not About You

This hit me the other day and I think I should share it with the blogosphere: The Gospel is not about us. It’s natural to think of everything as revovling around us, and our best interest. I’ve heard a well-known Midwestern pastor say, “When God says ‘don’t’ He means ‘don’t hurt yourself!'” Another one I’ve heard, this time from out in California, “God saw the value in you” in terms of why He died for our sins.

Both of those sound very good. They appeal to me. I like the thought of viewing God’s Law in terms of whether it is hurtful to me. It’s appealing to think that God saw a value in me that, honestly, I don’t see in myself much of the time.

The problem is this: If it appeals to the comfort of our flesh, if it affirms what we really want to believe, it’s probably wrong, Biblically.

That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of truth to these statements. After all, all lies stay pretty close to the truth, or contain a grain of it. That’s why we believe them. It’s true that when we violate God’s Law, we’re hurting ourselves. It’s true that we have value as the pinacle of God’s Creation, His image bearers!

The danger in taking those ‘truths’ too far is that we begin to nod our heads and say, it really is about me!

Instead, we need to remember that God’s Law is designed for us to do one thing, primarily: Honor the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength!

If you don’t, you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re affirming your rebellion against God and will be the subject of His wrath. I guess saying, “When God says ‘don’t’ He means ‘Don’t earn my wrath!'” wouldn’t play so well.

Although we’re created in God’s image, we’re fallen. We’re born in the image of Adam, like Seth. We are in need of a new nature. Our sinful nature is abhorrent to God. His Holiness cannot abide sin.

The beauty of Grace is that He loved us when we were completely unlovable, even hateful. While we were yet sinners, He died for us. Think about that. Would you die for the person you find most detestable? Do you love the person who irritates and angers you?

God’s definition of love is so vastly different than ours. He didn’t need something in us to like in order to rescue us. In fact, He did this for Himself. For His Glory. He has called a people for His Name (think Nature). It is who He is, and that’s why He did it. God is absolute Goodness and Love.

This is why the Gospel is all about God and our salvation was purchased because of the immense value of God’s nature, not ours. The Gospel restores our value, it doesn’t find it in us.

One last remark: God is also perfect Justice. This means that those who reject His perfect Love in the Gospel and go on living their lives the way they want, thinking they are good and don’t really need His sacrifice, then they must be punished.

If you’ve read this far and have not turned from running your own life, gotten on your knees before Jesus and acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior, I urge you to do that today.

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The “Big Price” in Trump’s Tweet

It’s true, there’s a ‘Big Price’ for what happened in Syria. It is also true that what happened is evidence of a big price we all face.

It’s tempting to see the horrors in the world, or even the misfortunes, pain and struggles we face in our daily lives as being ‘of the devil.’ We see wrong and we cast a judgment. There are three groups:

Those who acknowledge (the Judeo-Christian) God will often say, “this isn’t from God.” This group sees the horror that happened in Syria as evidence of Satan working in the world.

Those who do not confess there is a God (Judeo-Christian or otherwise) will see this as supporting evidence that God does not exist. After all, how could a “good” God stand by and let this sort of thing happen?

The third group–which also acknowledges the Christian God–sees this not only as evidence to prove God’s existence, but as support for the Gospel, and our dire need for it.

As I’ve said already, I agree that there is a big price for what has been done. No one commits evil and gets away with it. It may seem that someone sins with impunity. After all, our very own President has allegations of immoral behavior, yet he sits in the chair of one of the most powerful offices in our modern world. Though many hope to see “justice” served according to their own agendas, there is no indication that their version of justice will be served.

Likewise, the election that Trump won had a true “lesser of two evils” dynamic unlike any we’ve seen in my lifetime. No candidate wore the “white hat” here.

The people in Syria who ordered and carried out the chemical attack on its citizens will not go un-punished. They face a God who has commanded that we treat life as sacred. More importantly, those people–long before they ever had the ability to carry out such genocide–have been gnashing their teeth at God in open rebellion against Him from birth.

It’s natural for a child to view a broken toy as the worst thing in the world. Likewise, it is natural for us to view the chemical attacks and the brutality committed as the more heinous crime. And yet, that’s not how God sees it.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Mat 10:28

In Matthew, Jesus tells the people not to fear those who can only kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Mat 10:28. 

This anticipates the martyrdom of Christs’ followers. Indeed, the annals of the world drip with the blood of Christians. The deaths of Christians do not get the tweets and condemnation of the world as other deaths and atrocities do. Today, there are Christians in hiding throughout the world. They are prohibited from gathering and studying God’s word. They are imprisoned under false pretenses. They are brutally killed. No one takes notice. It’s as if it doesn’t happen.

These Christians have paid a ‘big price’ in gratitude for the ‘big price’ that was paid on their behalf.

And that’s the ‘Big Price’ that President Trump, the leaders of Syria, and every human on the planet owes. It is the price for our rebellion against God. And we’re born that way. From the moment we open our eyes and with every breath thereafter, we believe we sit on the throne of our lives. We focus on what’s good for ME. I have RIGHTS. No one talks to ME that way.

Such is our main view of justice. When something happens that appears to trample on personal rights, we demand that payment be made. If we trample on someone else’s feelings, rights or person, they probably just got in our way. I’m quite sure the people who dropped the barrels of toxic poison on the women and children in Syria can justify their actions. We’re pretty good at explaining how what we do is justified.

Just like we excuse ourselves from the first, and most important commandment: Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul and strength.

If that is the first, and most important commandment, the one from which all others flow, we fail. And it is that commandment–or the breaking thereof–for which we all must pay a big price.

In Syria we’ve seen the power of those who can kill the body. But, one day, we will see the power of Him who can not only kill the body, but also has providence over our souls. It is this judgment that should cause us all to tremble in fear.

I’ll admit, I don’t tremble as I should. I have more of an intellectual fear of it than an experiential fear. I remember the time I started an outboard motor while it was in gear. It started up and threw me back, over the rails. Somehow I flipped around, my feet dangling in the water, reached up and managed to shut off the motor. Afterward, I trembled as I realized my feet were probably inches from the spinning propellor and that I could have fallen over and been chopped up. That was experiential fear and trembling.

We don’t have that because we are enjoying God’s common grace. We experience His mercy, which tempers the judgment we deserve. No matter our condition in life, we are experiencing far better than what we deserve.

It is tempting to say, “but I’m a Christian! I have stepped forward in faith and should be blessed!” And yet, the Bible never extends us the promise of material wealth or honor in this life. It’s actually the opposite. Psst. That’s how you can tell a false prophet, by the way–they usually promise earthly prosperity and health.

God’s favor and blessing on us is based solely on Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection. I can make no claim to God’s favor on my own obedience. He paid the ‘big price’ for me. My obedience–such that it is–is in thankfulness and love, not out of paying a debt.

I read that Mother Teresa lived her simple, austere life because she believed that in doing so, she removed some of the suffering of Christ on the cross. While some may offer a little happy frown and say, “that’s so sweet,” it’s actually blasphemous. Remember Peter who told Jesus that He shouldn’t die, and Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan, you savor the things of men!” Or when Peter said that He would die before he would deny Christ, and Jesus said, “Would you die for me?”

We are not God. Our hands are covered in the worst guilt–our own–and we cannot remove the suffering Christ paid on our behalf. To suggest this is lowering the sacrifice, the big price, to something far less than what it was. When we do that, we lower our offense to something like a misdemeanor rather than the death penalty we owe. This effectively tells God, your honor and glory is a small thing and you shouldn’t be upset. In other words, we become the judge of God, rather than the other way around.

When we understand that God is not absent in the horrors of this world. He’s not asleep at the wheel. He directs all things, including these atrocities. We see death of ‘innocent’ children as appalling, and we should. But, instead of shaking our fist at God and saying, “Where were you?” we should humble ourselves and give Glory to God and say, “how could we?”

How could we blaspheme and neglect honor to God? How could we run off to violate His moral law? How could we usurp His role in our lives, setting ourselves up as the ones in charge?

When we see sin on display in the world it’s a cop-out to say, “that’s evil” and yet exempt ourselves from that indictment. That is evil. And our failure to glorify God for His pure, righteous, holy, good, faithful and powerful character only contributes to the evil in this world. How does it contribute? Because we’re feeding the enemy. We’re allowing the wound in creation to fester. We’re believing that our little, selfish ‘good deeds’ are able to pay what we owe.

Like the master in Jesus’ parable about the servants, we have been given a way to have our debt canceled out. We’ve been forgiven. Yet, when we assume that those around us are worse than us, and demand that they ‘pay us what they owe us,’ we essentially reject the gospel and forfeit the forgiveness we can have.

Let me explain that lest you think I’m suggesting there shouldn’t be consequences for sin in this life: There should be. A murderer should be brought to justice. The people responsible in Syria should pay a hefty price.

What I’m pointing out is that we shouldn’t regard evil, demand justice, and think we’re doing okay. There should be justice carried out in this life. We should ‘do justice’ in reverence to God, who is just. But we should examine ourselves and recognize that we fall far short of giving God glory. We are in need of His payment on the cross every day, every hour, every minute, every second. We cannot contribute one blink of an eye toward our own salvation. Any attempt to do so (with that as its goal) is actually evil (like a bribe).

We have a big price. But the beauty of the Gospel is that it has been paid. Our response should be humility and devotion to the Lord, as much as we can offer, knowing that it is less than a penny in the offering plate to God, but more than all the riches of the self-righteous who believe they are earning their way to Heaven.

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Salvation is so easy, even a caveman could do it! Salvation is so easy, what are you waiting for? Just believe. Right? Get your fire insurance. It’s free. Well–actually–it’s not. I can hear the ‘just believe’ crowd chambering rounds … let me explain. Your life literally depends on this.

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Is The Gospel for Here And Now?

Precious in the sight of the Lord are the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15. I’ll say what comes to mind–that seems harsh! Maybe this is just a bad translation. Could the deaths of the Lord’s saints really be precious in His sight? Honestly, it’s one of those things I’ve wrestled with. If you’d like to join me, let’s take this to the mat together.

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Was Job Just a Miserable Pawn?

“Job cursed God,” a seminary student told a group of us. I was in college and had decided to attend an on-campus Bible Study. That was the first, and last time I attended. I pointed out, rather sheepishly (not really) that if Job cursed God, then the whole point of the book would be lost! Of course, the seminary student chuckled at my lack of proper understanding (like of Job 1:22 and 2:10, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”). But then, I recently started going through the book again ….

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Doctrines of Demons – Do You Agree?

I’ve written before about sorcery. I refused to go to the multiplex to be entertained by Marvel’s Doctor Strange because–though it is “Marvel’s” sorcery–it softens us to accept sorcery overall. I also have written about whether or not witches have real power, or whether we secretly practice paganism. But, if you care about whether Jesus is actually your Lord and Savior, you may want to delve into His word to see the nature of what Paul calls Doctrines of Demons.

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What is ‘Real Love?” Part 2

The Apostle Paul gives us benchmarks for what define true love in 1 Corinthians 13. As I noted in part 1, none of us can claim to show perfect love all the time. A big reason for this is that in our fallen natures we are rebels against God, who is love. The more we resemble the Lord, the more we will show true love (which is what Paul is getting at with the Corinthians).

The first characteristic was patience, or long-suffering. The next is kindness. We have to be careful with these because the Bible isn’t written so we can tell when everyone else is failing. It’s written to reveal our own hearts to ourselves so that we can repent and follow the Lord, reflecting His glory more perfectly.

Here’s what Matthew Henry says about this trait:

It is kindchrēsteuetai. It is benign, bountiful; it is courteous and obliging. The law of kindness is in her lips; her heart is large, and her hand open. She is ready to show favours and to do good. She seeks to be useful; and not only seizes on opportunities of doing good, but searches for them. This is her general character. She is patient under injuries, and apt and inclined to do all the good offices in her power. And under these two generals all the particulars of the character may be reduced.

Benign, bountiful, courteous and obliging. That paints a picture, but I like the part about seizing on opportunities to do good, searching for them, in fact.

Do we look for ways we can help those around us? Do we anticipate someone’s feelings or needs and then try to meet them to the best of our ability?

Or, are we mostly focused on what interests us and everyone else needs to get with that program?

Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Jesus tells of a man who was overcome by thieves and ravaged, left for dead. That’s you and me at various points in our lives. We are ravaged by the temptations of this world, we’re beaten by the desires of our flesh, we’re left alone to die. The Pharisees and the people who have human religion and are full of pride will walk by, pretending not to see us. We, will walk by, pretending not to see our neighbor, friend or spouse. That’s their issue, and they need to work it out!

But, the heart of love looks with compassion on the person who–some might say–got themselves into that mess. Love is kind and will look to do good for people.

This shows up in little things. We teach our kids that if they see a mess in the kitchen, don’t just walk by–help clean it up. Take out the trash, keep the bathrooms looking nice. But this is easier taught than put in practice. It’s not in the human nature (mostly) to look for something good to do that doesn’t impact our own immediate needs. After all, someone else made the mess, and why should it be me to clean it up?

Love is kind. It thinks of the good it can do, then does it at great cost. God could have scrapped the whole creation, sending us all to Hell. And it would have been just to do so. But since God is love, He made a way that we can be given freedom from the sentence of death that is justly ours. He did the most good, the most benign thing, the most compassionate thing, and actually took the penalty for our sin.

Shouldn’t we be able to show such kindness to those around us who may be equally as wicked as we were toward God? Perhaps we should imitate God more in our daily life and let the kindness of His love work through us.