Leave The Shack on the Shelf

 

When The Shack came out in theaters, I knew a lot of my people would go watch it. I also knew that there were a lot of conservative Christian blogs that were decrying The Shack’s interpretation of the Christian faith. I refrained from reading any of these blogs because I was determined to go see it for myself in order to provide my own objective review. Well, I was providentially hindered from seeing it in the theater, however, I did rent it when it came out on DVD last week.
 
I know this review is coming too late for many. Many of you have already seen the movie and formed your opinions. Others have already decided to buy or rent The Shack. Late or not, I felt it urgent to point out several problems with The Shack.
 
1. The Shack causes confusion concerning the Trinity. The Trinity, God existing in three persons– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a difficult enough concept in itself, but the Bible teaching on it is not ambiguous. In Scripture, all three persons of the Trinity have a specific role.
 
The Father is not a human being but a Spirit and that is all He ever will be. He never changes form. The Son is the person of God with a human form. He is God in the flesh. God who is personal and relatable. The Holy Spirit is also not a human being. He is the comforter and the giver of gifts that we might know Christ and advance the gospel in the world. The Spirit leads us to faith in the Son, and the Son, by faith, leads us to know the Father who is invisible. The Shack confuses this biblical truth by depicting all three persons of the Trinity as human beings.
 
2. The Shack teaches that “we are all God’s children.” I know you are probably thinking, “but aren’t we all God’s children?” According to The Shack, yes. According to Scripture, no. Scripture teaches that we are all hopeless reprobates apart from Christ. It is only when we receive Him that we are then given “the right to be called children of God” (John 1:12). All who have not received Christ and believed in Him as their Savior are children of the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3).
 
I am not splitting hairs here. John 3:17 teaches that God sent Jesus to a world that was already condemned. This is why His sending of Jesus into the world was such a mighty expression of His love. This is why grace is amazing. Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection He became a father to the fatherless who believed.
 

 

 

3. Shack does away with the Biblical doctrine of Hell and depicts a God who is unjust. In one important scene, the main character is asking a woman, who is supposed to be the personification of wisdom, why God would not punish the murderer of his daughter. Wisdom then speaks to the character and asks him which of his two remaining children would he choose to be cast into hell. The man indicates that he would rather die than to send either of his children to hell.
 

 

Here is the problem with that scene and other scenes in the Shack that teach this principle, the Bible teaches that God loves justice. He is a just judge. Those who refuse faith and repentance, refuse forgiveness. When they die, they die in their sin. He sends them to hell. To do otherwise would be unjust.

 

It is not His desire that any should perish in the fire of hell. He loved them so much that He sent His only Son to die so that they would not have to. Still, there are many who reject His love, and they do so by their own free will. This is why a place like Hell is necessary.

 

The movie depicts some good ideas and concepts. This is what makes The Shack so dangerous. Like many heretical teachings, there is just enough truth there to attract and hook the weak minded. Once hooked, it leads its hearers to confusion at the very least. Worse, it even leads some to reject the God of the Bible for an idol who is more palatable. My suggestion is that if you are curious about who God is, then read your Bible. Leave The Shack on the shelf.

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How Can We Not Go Tell Part 2

 

Continued from last week…
 

He said, “people like you treat non-Christians like a second class of human being.” The statement was served with a harshly pointed tone. I was not angry. Internally, I was thanking God for the opportunity he was giving me to answer honest questions from my new friend. I have talked about liberal theologians before, but I had never had an honest conversation with one. I was sure that he had done his share of bashing people like me to his students, but now he was getting to talk with me.

 

I explained that we did not treat nonbelievers as second-class human beings. On the contrary, we think everyone from every background should be introduced to the hope that is in us. The Bible says that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). To keep this message of salvation to ourselves is to practice the worst kind of hate. If we say we love everyone and if we really believe what we say we believe, how can we not plead with everyone to trust in Jesus and be saved from a devil’s hell?

 

I thought that was going to be it. I had stated my Christ-centered argument clearly, and biblically. I just knew he was going to have no choice but to tell me I was right, and he was wrong. However, my new friend was not swayed at all. What he said next made it that he had not heard a single word of my well-constructed argument.

 
 “You know who you people remind me of,” he asked, “the Pharisees. Jesus told them in Matthew 23:15, ‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across land and sea to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’”
 
When I pressed him to defend his harsh tone, he explained that Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and other civilized religions are all pathways to the one true God. The religions themselves were not really substantive. Their doctrines and practices were mere expressions of the tradition and customs of their cultures. These traditions and customs lead the followers to God, and in turn, leads them to become good moral people which is all that really matters anyway. He argued that my mission team proselytizing followers of other religions amounted to nothing more than us manipulating people into replacing their traditions with our traditions.
 
I explained that we do not seek to disrupt anyone’s customs or traditions. We simply introduce them to the person and work of Jesus. We do this because according to the scriptures, Jesus is the only way to God the Father. The only way anyone can have a relationship with God is by coming to know His Son and trusting in what He did for mankind on the cross.
 

The back and forth went on for just a little while longer. It was obvious that neither one of us was going to budge from our positions. He eventually excused himself to continue his critique of his student’s dissertation on Athanasius and the Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century.

 

As he worked, I reflected on our conversation. None of my conservative Christian friends would dare say that there are multiple ways to God, that being a good moral person is all that really matters anyway. They would not say that it is inconsequential what religion one practices. However, I know many conservative Christians who preach this message with their actions.

 

There is no good reason not to introduce everyone we know to Jesus, the Savior of the world, but the truth is that most Christians generally refrain from proselytizing. We tell ourselves that most people we know are good moral people anyway. We convince ourselves that this is all that really matters, and they are going to be okay. This is false teaching.

 
 Scripture teaches that no one is good. All people, even the best of them, have turned aside to their own way. Their hearts are deceived. The truth is that they will never believe in Him whom they have not heard, and they will never hear without someone telling them. How can we not go and tell knowing that the good people we love will go to hell apart from Christ?

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How Can We Not Go Tell?

 

I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to a Theology professor from a very prestigious private university on a long flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. He is very well known in his circle and was even named Professor Emeritus of his department. He was recently retired, living in the Netherlands, and flying back to the U.S. to hear one of his last students defend his dissertation.
 
Here is how I learned his story. I noticed him reading the dissertation on the Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century. Being sort of a church history buff, I immediately wanted to ask him about two hundred questions. When the stewardess brought our next meal, he cleared the dissertation from his seat tray and prepared to eat. That is when I said, “I could not help but notice you were reading about Athanasius and the Trinitarian controversy.” He absolutely lit up. I could tell he does not get to talk about church history very often with people outside his circle.
 
We hit it off. He told me all about his career. He asked about my work and my church. He told me several stories about students that he had from the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts, and how fond he was of southerners. This conversation went on for about an hour and a half.
 
The discussion began to turn, though, when he asked about the work I had been doing in Uganda with my friends from Jackson County. When I told him how the followers of Islam in Uganda were very open and receptive of the gospel, he asked me if I had considered how “disruptive” our work could be to the Muslim community. I explained that I would not call it “disruptive” that people were being introduced to the hope that is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
What became evident in the ensuing discussion was that he and I held different views on the Great Commission and a fundamentally different theology. His understanding of the Great Commission was that Jesus called His first followers to take the gospel to the nations, and they were obedient. Now that the message of Christ was out there, people could choose for themselves whether to believe or not believe the gospel. For him, there was no need to go to peoples who were already grounded in another faith, as doing so would only disrupt their community and the culture. He believed that we all generally worship the same God anyway. As long as the God of one’s choosing led them to be nice people, they would have eternal life.
 
At the height of our disagreement, he said, “people like you treat non-Christians like a second class of human being.” The statement was served with a harshly pointed tone. I was not angry. Internally, I was thanking God for the opportunity he was giving me to answer honest questions from my new friend. I have talked about liberal theologians before, but I had never had an honest conversation with one. I was sure that he had done his share of bashing people like me to his students, but now he was getting to talk with me.
 
I explained that for a truth to be true it must be true for all, and it must be timeless. I explained that people like me, believe the Bible to be the word of God, and we believe it to be truth. In the first century, it was truth both for those who believed and those who did not believe, and it remains today truth for all. All have the option to believe or not believe, but those who do believe are given hope for eternal life.
 
I explained that we did not treat nonbelievers as second-class human beings. On the contrary, we think everyone from every background should be introduced to the hope that is in us. The Bible says that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the gentile” (Romans 1:16). To keep this message of salvation to ourselves is to practice the worst kind of hate. If we say we love everyone and if we really believe what we say we believe, how can we not plead with everyone to trust in Jesus and be saved from a devil’s hell?
 
To be continued…

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Perspectives of a Third World Traveler

 

I just returned from my third trip to Uganda. Certain things about coming home have gotten easier. I have learned how to beat the jetlag that comes with an eighteen-hour flight by staying up at the right times and sleeping at the right times on the plane. It has gotten easier to navigate security at the airports.
 
There is one thing that has not gotten easier about coming home and that is the culture shock. You can probably imagine that being immersed in a third world country for two weeks and then coming back into the first world gives you a unique perspective. It is this perspective that I hope to share with you this week. Here are some things I have learned about coming home.
 
1. Americans are not “more blessed” than Ugandans, we are just blessed in different ways. Americans definitely have more money, better infrastructure, more freedom, and greater opportunities. However, the pace of life here in America is lightning speed compared to Uganda. In Uganda, the people soak up every moment of life. They have time for one another, and because of that they build stronger more loyal relationships. They are not constantly worried about the next thing they have to do, the next place they need to go, and the next person they need to see. This more relaxed pace is definitely a blessing. It is difficult for an American to switch into, and equally difficult to switch out of after coming home.
 

2. We waste more food, water, gas, and money than the Ugandans use. This can be more than a little irritating to adjust to after coming home. I have had to learn to temper my reaction when I see my children leave more food on their dinner plate than many of my Ugandan friends eat in one day. Every time I shower, I think about all the women and children I saw carrying Geri Cans of water on their heads for miles. Many people have more clothes in their closet with tags still attached than a Ugandan has ever owned in their lifetime. We could make the world a better place if we could find a way to bless others instead of wasting our blessing.

 
3. American men are more macho than necessary. This one was a huge challenge for me on my first visit to Uganda. Ugandan men are not uncomfortable to sit shoulder to shoulder even when the sitting area is not crowded. They hold each other’s hands. They speak softly, respectfully, and affectionately to one another. They hug, and a stranger’s handshake for them can last as long as a full minute. I am sure that just reading this makes American males uncomfortable, but brotherly affection is deeply engrained in Ugandan culture. I have concluded that since their culture is older than ours, they have a better handle on masculinity than Americans. In my three trips, I have developed many deep and meaningful relationships with other Ugandan men, and I miss their brotherhood whenever I come home.
 
4. Ugandans find it hard to believe that there are poor people in America. For them, being poor and hungry is the norm and being rich is exceptional. They sacrificially share with on another what little they have. For us, being rich is the norm and being poor is exceptional, yet we are not as sharing. They cannot understand why there are so many orphans in the U.S. when so many have rooms to spare in their homes, or why there is homelessness in a country that is so rich.
 
The most common comment that people make to me when I get back is, “I bet seeing what you saw over there makes you thankful to live in America.” It does, but visiting Africa also causes my heart to break for my own country. I wish we saw our blessings for what they are—opportunities to be a blessing to others. I wish we wasted less and gave more. I wish we cared more about others than ourselves. I wish we worked as hard at building relationships with one another as we do at building empires. I do not mean to bemoan my citizenship in the greatest country in the world, but it is my earnest prayer that we would grow closer to Christ and make a greater impact on the world through Him.

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Enjoy the Journey

 

Acts 1:8 is a promise. It says that when we receive the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be His witnesses in all the earth. Indeed, my life is a testimony to this promise. I never dreamed I would be a pastor. In my high school and college years, I would never have imagined standing in the pulpit preaching the gospel week after week, officiating weddings, conducting funerals, and serving as Jesus’ witness in so many different ways. There is no explanation other than that the power of the Holy Spirit came upon me. All that I do to serve as His witness today is just an outworking of the Holy Spirit in me.
 
Last week, God added to the list of all the things that I never dreamed I would do. While on a mission trip to northern Uganda, I loaded up in a Toyota Land Cruiser with a missionary and 6 friends from Jackson County, MS. We drove up into the Metu Mountains that form Uganda’s border with South Sudan. The road was treacherous, to say the least. It was a journey that could not have been attempted in a lesser vehicle. Even the land cruiser struggled to climb the mountain road. The slightest slip of the tire on the sharp rocks would have resulted in them being shredded. The top heaviness of the vehicle combined with the steep slopes in the road was a constant threat to rolling us over.
 
After a couple of hours of climbing the mountain in the Cruiser, the road ended and turned into a foot trail through the forest and down the other side of the mountain. All I could think as we were carefully stepping down the rocky trail was that we were going to have to climb that same trail out. After about a mile or so we reached the bottom, and the trail led us into a beautiful fertile valley.
 
As we traveled through the valley, the trail narrowed. Soon the path all but disappeared, as we followed our missionary through cassava and corn fields, across streams, and through the jungle. It was one careful step after another as our missionary told stories about encountering pythons on the same path just weeks earlier. We were advised to stay on the narrow path to avoid the many baboon traps that had been set in the fields.
 
Now we had been told that at the end of the footpath there was a small village of about one hundred people or less who had never heard the name of Jesus until just a few months ago. After about two hours  hours and as many miles of walking, I was sure that we had been lied to. I could not imagine people surviving in such a remote place. The presence of cultivated crops in the valley may have been the only evidence for truth in our guides’ story.
 
All of the sudden I could see a group of round grass thatched roofs in the distance. As we drew closer we all started to notice the nine by six-foot bamboo and tarp building with a group of about twelve people gathered and waiting for us. The looks on their faces told me that they were as shocked to see us as we were to see them. We could not believe that they really existed, and they could not believe that we had really come.
 
As we took our seats in the small shelter, it was explained that this building was their church building. They were all brand new Christians who were planning to be baptized soon. There were some there who were still not yet believers. Our group was the most white people they had ever seen gathered in one place.
 
We took turns sharing the gospel with them and encouraging them. One lady trusted in Jesus and was saved. They fed us their very best cassava, mutoke, and chicken soup. We embraced as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we made our long journey out.
 
It was truly a surreal experience in every sense of the word. I share it with you to encourage you. When you become a follower of Jesus, He really will take you to the end of the earth. He will also take you across the street and everywhere in between. Just be open to His leadership. Enjoy the journey.

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What happened after the resurrection?

 

We just finished celebrating the greatest miracle of the Christian faith, the day that Jesus rose from the dead winning victory over sin and death for all who would believe. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus led his followers up to the Mount of Olives the place where significant events always seemed to happen.
 

The disciples must have been able to feel the significance of the moment. They asked Him if he was going to “at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Act 1:6). They imagined that from the Mount of Olives, He would call down legions of angels from heaven, and they would come, overthrow the Roman occupiers, and deliver the Kingdom of Israel into Jesus’ hand.

 

The disciples were least expecting of what happened next. Jesus was lifted up as He answered, “it is not for you to know the time or the seasons that the Father has set, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” When He had finished saying this, a cloud came and carried Him up into heaven (Acts 1:7-9).

 

The urgency of their assignment was made apparent by the angels’ warning to them as they stood gazing up into heaven in wonder. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you will come back in the same way that you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11 paraphrased). In other words, they had better get a move on, start praying and preparing because as swiftly and unexpectedly as He left, He would also return.

 

In response to the angels’ warning, they left the Mount of Olives and traveled into Jerusalem, which was a short distance away. They gathered together in the upper room and began to pray in one accord for direction. The first thing that they were led to do was to choose a replacement for Judas, who was now deceased following his betrayal of the Christ. Matthias was chosen as the twelfth apostle.

 

For ten days leading up to Pentecost, a Jewish holiday also known as the feast of weeks, they prayed. That is when the Holy Spirit, “like a mighty rushing wind” and “tongues of fire” came to rest on each disciple. Just as Jesus promised, they began to bear witness for Jesus. Since it was a holiday in Jerusalem, there were people of every people tribe and tongue present. Miraculously, they all heard the gospel in their own languages.

 

Many believed. To the number of disciples, “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). What did these new Christians do? Well, they gathered together daily to be taught by the apostles, fellowship with one another, pray, and break bread together. They would go into the temple daily to praise God with great joy in their hearts. They were in absolute awe of what God had done, and the world was in awe of them (Acts 2:43).

 

From here the church would explode with growth. Especially after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 and the onset of widespread persecution in Jerusalem, Christians would scatter across the empire. Guess what happened everywhere they went? Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they bore witness for Jesus wherever they found themselves, whether in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the whole known world. Having had their hearts activated by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they could not help but testify of Him in every nation.

 

What was happening in the first century continues to this day. The same message is being preached. Those who respond give testimony of the same Jesus. More and more come to know Him each day. The Church may not be who she was in the first century, but she is still beautiful. She is still loved by her husband, Jesus, and He is perfecting her more and more every day.

 
Take a moment to consider whom He might be leading you to share the gospel with today. Remember, like the first-century disciples, you are not a passive observer but rather an active participant in what He is doing to bring reconciliation to the world.

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Rethinking the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

 

This year at First Baptist Church, we are working through 12 spiritual disciplines seeking to draw closer to the Lord and more devoted to Him. Each month we emphasize a new spiritual discipline. We studied meditation in January, worship in February, prayer in March, and this month we are studying the discipline of fasting.
 

Fasting is not the most popular of the Christian disciplines. If the spiritual disciplines were a family, meditation would be that weird uncle that you learn to love. Worship would be that patriarch of the family that everyone names their children after and aspires to. Prayer would be the matriarch that everyone loves, but never finds time to go visit. Fasting would be like the black sheep, that no one really likes and only loves them because they have to.

 

At First Baptist, though, we have begun to rethink the discipline of fasting and it has been a tremendous blessing to our family of faith. I hope you will consider the practice as well. Here are some things that came out of our study and practice of fasting.

 
 
1. When you fast you are practicing the devotion of your body to the Lord. In Mark 12:30, Jesus instructed His disciples that this was the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That last item, “all your strength,” involves the devotion of your very body. Often times this is the most overlooked aspect of devotion.
 
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” This insinuates that it is possible to devote your heart, mind, and soul to the point that you are preaching the gospel to others, and still neglect the devotion of your body (strength) to Him. This can result in you being “disqualified” despite your perceived devotion. Fasting is a good way to discipline your body so that you do not fall into this trap.
 
2. When you fast, you join the camp of the who’s who of the Bible and church history. Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, and Jesus all fasted on occasion. In addition to these Bible characters, there were also many church fathers who fasted regularly including, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Johnathan Edwards, and Charles Finney to name a few. Why should we not also make fasting a regular part of our devotional life just like worship, prayer, and giving?
 
3. When you fast, pride is exposed and you learn humility. We have a tendency to get moody when we go without food for an extended period of time. Some call it “hanger.” However, there is another way of looking at hunger induced anger. Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, explains that what we might call hanger is really our pride making its way to the surface. Most of the time we keep this pride suppressed with food and other substances. When those substances are removed, pride rears its ugly head where it can be repented of and forgiven.
 

4. When you fast, you are doing what Jesus expected that you would do as His disciple. If you look at Jesus teaching on fasting, you will find that while He never commanded us to fast per se, He did expect that we would fast as a part of our devotion to Him. Many people like to point out that Jesus condemned the Pharisee’s fasting, however, He did not condemn the discipline of fasting. His condemnation was for the way that they made a show of their fasting. His instruction began with these three words, “when you fast…” which assumes that you, as a disciple, would be fasting at some point as part of your personal devotion to Him.

 

I do not mean to suggest that you should just launch into fasting today. Certainly, there are some who are not healthy enough to fast. If you have any doubts, then you should speak to a Doctor first. There are also a wealth of books on the topic. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a good place to start. I only suggest that you rethink the black sheep of the spiritual disciplines.


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The untold story of the thief on the cross.

The story of the repentant thief on the cross is mentioned only briefly and only in Luke’s gospel (23:39-43). I took some creative liberty in constructing a plausible backstory to help the reader understand the significance of the moment and the kind of people that Jesus came to save.
 
Getting caught was always a possibility. That old saying came to his mind, robbers have to get lucky all the time, but the authorities only need to get lucky once. This time his luck had run out. He hung there, bleeding from the nails in his hands and feet, struggling through his last breaths just like the other two condemned men to his right.
 
The temptation was too much when he spotted the young couple distracted by the money changer at the temple. A quick hard blow to the husband’s head was all it took to loosen his grip on the bag that held the family’s valuables. The wife, so stunned at the sight of her husband laying knocked out and bleeding on the cobblestone walkway, did not even notice the assailant snatching the bag and running away.
 
It was a crime he had perpetrated many times before that day. He made a fast escape hoping to find a safe place to examine his loot. While the victim lay bleeding and slipping farther and farther away from his beloved wife, the thief ran. Suddenly, he felt the crushing blow of a guard’s club into his windpipe.
 
Several guards who were posted around the temple complex witnessed the whole ordeal. The bag of belongings was returned to the victim’s grieving widow. The sentence was handed down by Pilate, the governor of the province. He knew his sentence even before he was told by the prison guards, death by crucifixion, a punishment that would be swiftly rendered that very day.
 
As he hung there on the cross struggling to breathe, knowing that death was imminent, he considered his life of crime. How many times had he gotten away with the very crime for which he was now condemned? He knew he had earned for himself the very worst of punishments from a just God. As his body weakened with every passing minute, his heart broke for what he had done.
 

He thought about the man to his right, this Jesus, over whom the city was so stirred up. Jesus did not seem like a criminal, though the plank above His head proclaimed the treasonous charge, “Jesus, King of the Jews.” He had witnessed Jesus’ trial through the bars of his cell. There, Jesus behaved like no criminal he had ever known. This Jesus did not even plead his own case. It was as though he believed it his destiny to die as one unjustly condemned.

 
From his cross, the condemned robber remembered something mentioned at the trial. Jesus had told his followers that some of them would not pass away before they saw him coming into his kingdom. Could he really be the divine King? Could he be the Christ? If the man had been honest about his innocence, there was no reason to think he was lying about being the Christ.
 
In the midst of these, what he believed were his last thoughts, he heard the other criminal, two crosses over, railing on Jesus who hung between them.
 
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
 
The introspective and repentant criminal lashed back at his guilty counterpart, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we, indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
 
Then turning to Jesus, his breath now shallow so that he can barely form the words, his esophagus still swollen from the guard’s blow. He pulls against the nails in his hands to remove the pressure off his collapsing lungs. He speaks the words that reveal the faith that has been wrought in his heart, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
 

Jesus uses the same technique, pulling against the nails in his hands so as to draw a deep enough breath to form the words, “truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


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It is time to forgive.

 

Unwanted pain is part of the human experience in this fallen world. We are all born with a sin nature that despises God and hates others. We are able to love God and love others only because He first loved us and caused us to be born again. The new creature that we become in Christ is able by the grace of God to love Him and love others.
 

Still, we struggle. The pain that we inflict on one another is real. I have known many men who were driven to the brink of insanity by a wife who has left. I have seen the pain in the eyes of a child who has been abused. I have experienced the pain of being betrayed by friends. In too many of these situations, pain shortly gives way to anger, and anger gives way to sin.

 

All of us probably have some wrong that has been done to us that occasionally stirs our anger. When that righteous indignation kindles and starts to grow warm, that is the time we must forgive. Here are a few reasons why:

 
1. You have been forgiven much more than you will ever be asked to forgive. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of a king who decided to call on his debtors to pay what they owed. One debtor owed an exorbitant amount, ten thousand talents (a talent was equivalent to a labor’s wage for twenty years). The debtor could not pay, so he begged the king to give him more time to pay back what he owed. His pleas moved the king to totally cancel the debt. That same servant then went and found a fellow servant that owed him a much smaller amount, (less than three months wages), seized him, and began to choke him telling him to pay what he owed.
 
The king heard what happened. He was indignant with the unforgiving debtor and threw him in prison until he could pay back every talent he owed. Jesus concluded the story with this statement, “So also my heavenly father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
 
Christian, do you need to be reminded how much you have been forgiven? Is it right to hold your debtors to what they owe, whose debt is nothing in comparison to the debt you owed the Father? It is time to forgive.
 
2. You cannot be forgiven until you forgive. After teaching His disciples to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” Jesus said, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
 
What if God only forgave you in the same measure that you forgive others? It is a terrifying question to consider. Even more terrifying is the fact that this is not a hypothetical question. This is indeed what the Savior has said. Do not expect to be forgiven if you will not forgive.
 
Christian, how much do you want God to forgive you? Do you want to be completely absolved of the guilt of sin? Do you want Him to show you mercy? Then you must be willing to show others mercy. It is time to forgive.
 
3. Unchecked anger gives way to all kinds of evil. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to write, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (12:15). Bitterness gives way to jealousy and selfish ambition. James says that these behaviors are “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic” (3:13-18).
 
No one sets out to be captured by the devil to do his work, but they become quickly ensnared, who allow bitterness to grow unrestrained. Christian, do you want to follow Christ or the devil? Do you want to produce a harvest of righteousness, or leave death and destruction in the wake of your life? It is time to forgive.
 

It is time to let go. I do not mean to minimize your pain. It is there and it is real. What is also real, however, is the pain you are inflicting on yourself, on others, and on God by your unforgiveness. Please, it is time to forgive.


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When Someone You Love Dies Without Christ

 

Two weeks ago I wrote a devotion for people who had lost believing loved ones explaining the bliss of life in heaven. I received a great response in the way of phone calls, texts, and personal visits by so many that were encouraged. It quickly became my most popular blog post to date on the church website. It has since crossed my mind, though, what about people who are grieving loved ones who they believed to be separated from Christ and doomed to eternal torment?
 
Here are three things I always like to remind people mourning the loss of an unbeliever:
 
 
1. God is good. He is working all things out for His glory, and He does not make mistakes. You hurt now, but there will come a day when it will all make sense. In the end, we will see how God turned every heartbreaking event around for His glory and praise. I am not saying that all evil is really good. I am saying that God is able to turn every evil around for good because He is good.
 
If you have trouble accepting that even hell is ordained by God for His glory, then accept this—He is good. He does not leave us in our mourning, regardless of the eternal standing of the one we mourn. When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:2), He was speaking to all who mourn. Psalm 34:17-18 reads, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Rest assured, if you as His child by faith will turn to Him for comfort, then He will answer in His good time.
 

 

2. Following Christ is a personal decision that you cannot make for others even when you want to. You can love them and show them the right way, but you cannot force them to walk the right path. If you are entertaining the idea that you somehow “failed to save them,” don’t. If you feel that you failed to be obedient to share with them, then know that God raised others up to share with them too. Even if you were less than faithful then it is in the past. Jesus does not want you to dwell on it. Keep pressing on to what lies ahead. Keep holding the ground you have gained and gain some more.
 
Paul’s words to the Philippians are applicable here: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:12-16).
 

 

3. You cannot know another person’s heart. You can scarcely know your own heart. You sure can’t know someone else’s. I am barely secure that I am a believer myself. I am reasonably sure that I know some people who are strong believers, but I cannot know for certain. Hence, you will never know for certain, this side of eternity, anyone’s eternal destiny. You’d like to be able to have reasonable assurance, and it is great when you do. But you cannot beat yourself up over uncertainties.
 

I have known many people who have this hang up about Christianity: “how can a loving God create such a terrible place as hell and send people there?” The real question is, how could a good and just God ever allow any of us into His presence. God has ordained a way for all who will believe to be reconciled to Him through faith in the person and work of His Son. There is no reason that anyone should perish, nor is it God’s will that some do. Heaven or hell is a choice that everyone makes for themselves.


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