For God So Loved…

A famous verse from the Bible. Even if you’ve been spending time on Mars or refusing to watch football games (like me). The one you see on signs on youtube videos from sporting events (even if you’re not watching the game). John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

Usually this is foisted upon people like some sort of magical elixir. “All you have to do is believe in Jesus, and you’ll be saved!” goes the sentiment. Of course, this depends on how you define “belief,” because, after all, the demons also “believe” and shudder. But they ain’t saved.

However, I wanted to look at this a little different. God loved us so much He gave His only begotten Son over to be cruelly tortured and murdered for our sake. How about if I were to write a similar type of verse to God? “For Bruce so loved God that He gave”….what? “That he gave” a few Sundays to sitting in a building listening to some overstuffed overpaid preacher harangue me into sleep? “That he gave” a few bucks in the plate? “That he gave” some time in the choir for the Christmas play, or helped with coffee at the sunrise service? “That he gave” a few minutes to say “grace” for a meal or two? (Oh, and a couple times he even “gave” the grace for a meal in an actual restaurant where everyone could see him!) “That he gave” a grudging few minutes a year to actually reading God’s Words squeezed in between episodes of his favorite TV shows when he had the time and wasn’t too busy with grasping after the world’s kingdoms?

Or would I say, “I looked everywhere for your words. I hungered and thirsted after them. I ate them and drank them as if they were life itself. I took the huge amount of ‘grace money’ or ‘talents’ (way more than ten talents of gold) you gave me through the blood of my friend and made more out of it. I changed my diet as you asked. I celebrated the holidays you gave me. I worked six days as you commanded and rested one, where we met together every week. These were little enough to do considering the eternal life in your Son you gave me. After a while, wonder of wonders, the “small things” and “shadows” you commanded helped me to also give you the weightier actions of mercy, justice and compassion. In short, instead of just singing about giving my life to you, I really gave it. Instead of just proclaiming the wonders of your love by chasing people down and thumping them with a Bible verse through the TV I made your love and commands the priority of my life. The light you caused to shine in me through those commands made a greater impact on others than all my words put together.”

What would I give in return for the mountain of forgiveness, grace and love poured out to me from the source of all light, life and love? All I’ve got was given to me, so all I can do is give it back. All of it. Every scrap. Throw myself on the ground in abject humility in front of His throne and give Him the crown He has given me. Not sit in judgment on which of His words I will deign to follow and which I will not. Not clutter them up with all sorts of tradition and theology that blocks access to Him. Those don’t make for much of return on the “God so loved” investment, I don’t think. I can do better than that. He made it possible. Other not-so-famous verses give the clues:

“…yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

Shalom

Abraham Intercedes for Sodom?

In Genesis 18 around verse 16 or 22 (depending on the version) there is a subtitle in the ESV, the NKJV, and the NIV84 that reads “Abraham Intercedes (Pleads) for Sodom.” This is not correct, according to the text.

 

The scene is after a BBQ Abraham put on for two angels and Jesus (the LORD), where a son has been promised to the happy couple (okay, they were laughing anyway). The men leave, but as Abraham is walking with Jesus the LORD stops to tell him that it looks like Sodom and Gomorrah are going to be toasted. Abraham intercedes, not for Sodom, but for the possible righteous living in those cities. Abraham asks, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (18:23). He starts off with the number 50, and bargains God down to 10. Jesus says if He can find 10 righteous He will not destroy the cities.

 

This is important because current modern sentiment would have us believing that we are to run around asking God to forego judgment on wicked people. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is a popular summary of this idea. Sometimes this text is cited for proof. But the sentiment is biblically out of whack. Judgment is not only for the recipient, but also for any others around watching the proceedings. God’s judgment on sin is part of God’s love. It is why Jesus had to die. Abraham is not concerned with the cities. He is concerned that the righteous be not condemned with the wicked. He does not argue for postponing judgment, he only wants the righteous saved (probably thinking of his nephew Lot).

 

It’s true that we shouldn’t wish for God’s judgment to fall on anyone. His judgment is awful and final. We want to pray for the conversion of our enemies, and ask God for His mercy. He is, I think, happy to grant it, but the key is to repent. The repentant sinner is welcomed with open arms, but the unrepentant stay locked on the path of judgment. So biblically we would say, “Love the repentant sinner, and hate the sin.” Too many in modern times want to stretch the mercy of God to cover wicked people assembling with them or residing in their homes. This is a misunderstanding. We are not to approve, accept or tolerate the sinner.

 

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32, ESV)

 

Removing the unrepentant sinner from our midst is about the best thing we can do for them. It is the ultimate gesture of love. A little bit of judgment now that might help the sinner repent is much better than a whole lot later when it is too late. By isolating them (a very tiny gesture of judgment) we hope they will see the folly of their ways and repent. Then they can be restored to full fellowship. Letting them go on and on down the path of death because we are afraid of “hurt feelings,” the loss of friendship or the loss of family members is an act of hate. I know of a Messianic synagogue who had a key elder announce a divorce to his wife on Yom Kippur. They did not boot him out of the congregation. As a result in my opinion, the divorce went ahead. Later, the congregation split over this and other things. I think the lady is better off, but that is not the point. I know the temptation was to “love the sinner” but what they did was “love” him right into wicked behavior.

 

Peter seems to tell us that God does not want anyone to perish. A reasonable idea, and perhaps close to the mark. However, a closer reading will give us insight more in line with Abraham’s intercession for the righteous.

 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

 

See how the Lord is patient “toward you?” (believers – see verse 1:1). He does not want any of His children to perish, but that all should reach repentance. Full repentance is not reached until death. We have to repent, and stay repented (or repent again if we fail). We help each other to repent by any means available. Believers have to keep believing. Not all who call Him “Lord, Lord” will be with Him in the kingdom.

 

The only intercession we can make for the wicked is that they would take advantage of the patience of God and repent. We, like God, would love it if they would do so.

 

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4, ESV)

 

So repent already. It’s easy now. Later, not so much.
Shalom
Bruce

Book review: The Harbinger

I was pointed to this book by a friend of our Facebook page, Darlene. My wife checked it out of the library and we both went through it pretty quick. She was so interested she finished it in a day.

 

I think it’s a good read. Keeps your interest to the end. I think he stretches a bit to connect things together, and I don’t think we have to go that far to realize that America (and the rest of the world) is in the process of being judged for departing from God’s ways. The point of the book, however, is not to report facts. It is a fiction book in a narrative form (conversations) that is meant to dramatically use facts to present a repentance message. And it does a great job.

 

As most readers of this blog know, I am all for repentance messages. We’re sliding down a greased pole into hell right now, and Jonathan Cahn is one other who is trying to arrest that slide as best he can. He’s not trying to be a prophet, though he uses some prophetic terms and imagery, so we can’t accuse him of error. The facts are historically accurate, so we can’t accuse him of making stuff up. His message is good, and the vehicle for delivery entertaining and thought provoking. It’s also a best seller, meaning he’s earning a good living which I don’t object to one bit, but also meaning he’s reaching a lot of people. That’s also a good thing.

 

For those who want to stick their heads in the sand because the realization of judgment scares them, you might want to avoid this book. But for those who have a suspicion that events now unfolding are warnings to change our course, this book will be right in the alley somewhere. We need to be careful how we match current events with Scripture, but I think Mr. Cahn is careful. His bottom line is the same as mine: wake up and repent before it is too late. If you need some help warning other people too, this book might be a good boost.

 

The only thing I would add to the book is specifics on what to turn to. I, of course, would say that we need to take up all of the Word. Practice every little scrap you can work into your life, including as many details of the Law as we can apply. Start with a day off a week (Sabbath). Eliminate pork and shellfish as our loving Father so graciously warned. Work in the feasts and festivals. Tie some tassels on your garments to help remind you to choose His Ways over your own knowledge. This means we take every word from His mouth seriously. From the easier things (above) we can then maybe take seriously the weightier commands of justice and mercy. Maybe if we go back to taking the whole Book seriously we can turn the tide of the coming judgment.

 

Shalom
Bruce

Father of Mercies, God of Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5, ESV)

 

It’s tough to find comfort in the middle of sadness, and it is usually tough to offer comfort too. My mother-in-law passed away recently after a few years of not knowing who her family was and not hardly being able to feed and dress herself. Comfort was a little easier in her case because she had lived a pretty full life. My dad died from a brain disease at 62, a nephew died by his own hand recently at 30, and a friend died from cancer a few years ago in middle age after adopting five children. A six year-old girl I know is fighting leukemia. I have trouble finding comfort in understanding sometimes, but I do find comfort in the Father of mercies and God of comfort.

 

Believers have comfort because we know this life is not all there is. Our hope is that we will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before. This life is hard and death abounds because of sin, but it’s not going to stay that way forever. God is righteous, just, merciful and loving and has offered us a way out of the eternal consequences of sin.

 

It is a comfort to realize in a way that we MUST die once in order to enter eternal life. Sometimes it happens sooner than we want, but it must happen. None of us is getting out of this alive. We have a resurrection hope, that even if we lose life in this age we will regain it in the next. It is a comfort that God is in control, and He knows what He is doing.

 

Pagans are a different story in the comfort department. It’s a super tragedy when someone dies without God. There is no hope there, except perhaps that we might be wrong, they really did have God, and maybe God will look with favor on them somehow. The other hope is that people will be moved to make their own position with God secure by accepting His mercy in the form of His only begotten Son Jesus the anointed.

 

Before we get uptight about bad things happening to good people, we really should make sure of our definitions of bad and good. We can take comfort in the fact that just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it really is. And we might think we are good, but is that really true? Are we really doing everything we can to pursue His kingdom? Yet even if we are good, we live in a sinful, wicked world and sometimes we suffer because of other people’s sin. In all of it believers find comfort that God is a God of reason and all things work together for good for those of us who love Him.

 

The bottom line is the mercy of God. We need to recognize that He doesn’t owe us anything. We owe Him everything. Pagans don’t acknowledge this (even though they owe Him everything too) so they have no comfort. Believers do, so we throw ourselves on His mercy and ask humbly for things to be different. If not, then we continue in comfort knowing that we are in the household of the Father of mercies. We suffer as sons and daughters of the most High God, brothers and sisters to the Messiah who makes adoption possible, and have the mercy of eternal life. In 10,000 years or so, we will look back on this life as a wisp of a memory, and only our walk with Him will remain.

Forgiveness

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7, ESV)

 

God forgives sin, and expects us to do the same. “Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:2). Colossians 2:13-14 says that God has forgiven all our trespasses in Christ, cancelling the record of debt that stood against us. For those who enter into the new covenant, God will be merciful toward our iniquities, and will remember sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

 

Sin is lawlessness or iniquity (1 John 3:4). It creates a debt against us. It’s like causing damage to someone as in an auto accident or having your bull gore someone else’s (Exodus 21:28-36). It’s not hurting someone’s feelings, though hurt feelings might be a part. It’s not violating what someone else thinks is right or wrong. Sin goes against the life and love of God. We always incur a debt to God for sin, and we owe people we sin against too. Sometimes the sin is private or internal, meaning no other people were harmed (sin always hurts), but we still owe a debt to God. Forgiveness comes when we confess that we’ve sinned and repent or change direction away from the sin and towards righteous behavior God expects from us.

 

We see some examples of forgiveness in the monetary sense in the laws of the Sabbath year (Deuteronomy 15 “you shall grant a release…every creditor to his neighbor”), collateral (Deuteronomy 24:10) and the above mentioned ox. These laws help illustrate for us the concepts of forgiveness and restitution.

 

My take on forgiveness then is to dismiss the debt. When someone has sinned against me, I forgive when I relinquish my claim to payment. In other words, forgiveness means I am not owed anything. When I think of the debt again, I have to remember that the person doesn’t owe me anything. I can only dismiss the debt against me, however. I cannot dismiss the debt that others might have with each other, nor can I dismiss any debt for others that is owed to God. Only Jesus can do that, and only on the basis of believing in Him. Believing doesn’t mean just to acknowledge His existence. It means to abide in His Word, trusting and obeying in all things, especially in forgiveness.

 

Sometimes I forgive a person, but I still don’t want anything to do with them. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to hang around them. There are stories that make the rounds in different forms about rattlesnakes or scorpions getting carried out of danger, and they always end up biting or stinging the person who helped them. The moral of those stories is, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” So just because I forgive someone, doesn’t mean I don’t know what they are. I might forgive the poisonous snake, but I don’t hang around waiting for them to strike. I know what they are, and don’t even stay in their neighborhood.

The Word is a Mirror

Some try to peddle the falsehood that because there is some “bad stuff” in the Bible that it is God who is promoting or responsible for it. Bad stuff is different for different people. Some don’t like God’s judging of homosexuals. Some think that because bad people did bad things like rape or murder it must be God’s fault because He didn’t stop it. But every person who makes this kind of judgment gets it wrong. They blame God when they should be blaming people for not following what God, the source of life and love, commands.

If a person thinks God is hard, or mean, or unjust, or approves evil, it’s because those things are in their own hearts. The Bible merely reflects what is inside. Since God doesn’t sit or roll over or jump through hoops or bark on command like a circus dog for them, they pass judgment on His methods and motives as if they were in His place. Secretly they buy into Satan’s vision of “be like God,” and judging Him is one way of trying to get there.

People have one of two reactions when they read His Word – humility or pride. The prideful heart looks in the mirror, rejects the reflection of his own heart, judges God and says, “I will not accept what you are saying about me.” The humble heart sees his evil reflected and says, “Father, have mercy on me a sinner. Forgive me for the sake of your Son’s sacrifice.”

All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2, ESV)