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A few years ago, Laurie and I lived for a year in Mexico. We made friends with a man who owned and operated a bakery and coffee shop, and we enjoyed his delicious mochas. Once while there, we ran into a man named Peter from Germany. He was delightful to talk to. In our first encounter we talked for about two hours and did the same the very next day. After I mentioned Christianity, however, he turned a bit sour. He dismissed Christianity entirely. I don’t remember all that was said except for his parting shot out on the sidewalk after we’d said our good-byes. “Be human,” he said, as he turned and walked away.

There wasn’t time for a rejoinder, which would have required more discussion, starting with, “What does ‘Be human’ mean”? He had told us earlier about when he was in north Africa and lost his wallet. A Bedouin on a camel eventually caught up to him and returned it. He was impressed by this act of honesty and sacrifice. I would have been, too, and I thought honesty would surely have fit into Peter’s definition of “be human.”

I was reminded about this encounter in Mexico when I read the recent rejections of Jesus by former Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson and former pastor Joshua Harris. If I had the chance I would ask the same questions I didn’t have opportunity to put to Peter that day.

Here is the latter part of the former worship leader’s post: “All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”1

In his rejection of Christianity, he finishes up by laying out the ground rules for the life he wants to live and is recommending for others. Here are the tenets he listed:

Love and forgive absolutely.

Be kind absolutely.

Be generous and do good to others absolutely.

Some things are good no matter what you believe.

What will happen to us if we don’t obey this man’s advice to love, be kind, and do good to others or if we don’t obey Peter’s admonition to “be human”? Will I be punished if I don’t? What moral authority do these men have to lay a moral law upon us?

The answer to the first question: Nothing will happen to us.

The answer to the second question: No moral authority whatsoever.

But there is One who does have moral authority to command us, and that is the One they reject to their peril.

But why should I obey Jesus’ commands to love, be kind, and do good to others among more? (There is no command to “Be human,” by the way, whatever that means.)

These men and much of the world maintain that you will be fine if you reject Jesus.

But you won’t be fine. I’m sure these men aren’t lying, but they are tragically ignorant.

Why do I obey the Lord? Simple answer: Because I love Him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).2

But I love Him not only because He told me to do so. I love Him because He gave me life—not just life and purpose and meaning here in this life, but life eternal. He has given me a relationship with Himself, liberating sinlessness, a sonship, a shared inheritance with Jesus and in His kingdom, in which I will live forever. He humbled Himself in death to accomplish this.

All free. All free. I did nothing to earn any of it.

The “Be human” and “Be kind” bromides are boxed up in flimsy fairy ships crowded with cultural philosophers and dreamy unicorns. They happily toss these Hallmark cards and shallow bumper stickers to others as they navigate sad lakes, devoid of truth. Ships of fools.

Therefore, we call upon these three men to repent and come home to Jesus. Although you have tossed Him away as so much nonsense, He remains your sovereign Judge—who loves you. Disembark from the lost ship you think you navigate. The rainbows on your horizon are false angels of light concealing the darkness and evil that lay ahead.

Come home.

 

1https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2019/august/im-genuinely-losing-my-faith-hillsong-worship-leader-rejects-christian-beliefs.

2The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

 

 

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Nicodemus didn’t understand the idea of being born again. We Christians might consider exercising more grace toward this man, since we struggle with comprehending it ourselves.

Nicodemus came to Jesus one night cloaked by the darkness of night because he was feared he might lose his position and status. Nevertheless, he jeopardized himself because he wanted to know more about the Savior. And, just like you and me, he didn’t know what he didn’t know, which was—and let’s be honest, is—a common conundrum concerning our relationship with God in the flesh. How many times have you read Jesus’ response to someone in the Gospels and asked, “What do you mean, Lord?”

When Nicodemus found Jesus, he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). What do you think Jesus’ response to this would be? How about, “I only do the works that I see the Father doing so He may be glorified.”

Nope. Not even close. Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).1

Right. Okay. That must mean that Nicodemus, although acknowledging that Jesus was from God, was nevertheless unable to see the kingdom. Well, Nicodemus, to his credit, went with the flow, even though He did not understand what Jesus was talking about. “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” (John 3:4).

Let’s be fair here. If you had never heard of being born again, wouldn’t this be a natural question to ask? Here are Jesus’ three responses to Nicodemus’ question:

First, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5). Jesus is elucidating the idea of being born again to enter God’s kingdom. It’s a birth that involves being “born of” water—we’re thinking water baptism here—but it’s more than that. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it’s a spiritual thing.

Second, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (verse 6). Jesus continues to clarify. This “born again” is a spiritual work and doesn’t have anything to do with a work of the flesh. Jesus is probably referring to being born a righteous-by-the-law Jew, which offers no efficaciousness concerning seeing or entering God’s kingdom.

Third, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verses 7-8). Jesus enlarges on this born-again idea. It is a spiritual event, and you don’t know how it happens, where it will happen, or when.

It is this last truth that I would like us to consider.

Sometimes evangelicals fall into a ricky-ticky, formulaic strategy for answering an unbeliever about how to become a Christian. Repent, ask forgiveness from God, confess your belief in Him, and in some quarters, reception of Jesus into one’s heart. This requires a spoken declaration of faith, and the verse used to promote this is, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10). There is truth here, certainly, but what is the nature of that confession? Is it parroting a prayer or some words? Is it true that the evangelist must hear the sinner say, “I repent”? Is it possible that belief and reception of Jesus doesn’t necessarily require an on-the-spot confession, “I believe in Jesus”? For instance, let’s consider the Samaritan woman. When was she born again? Did she ever say, “I repent’? Did she ever say, “Lord, forgive me for my sins”? After her conversation with Jesus, in which He called her out for her sin while supplying details about her married (and unmarried) life, this happened: “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and were coming to him” (John 4:28–30). In her encounter with Jesus, somewhere, somehow, this woman believed in Jesus and then became an evangelist. There was no neat and tidy born-again process here. In fact, I think many evangelicals would only be satisfied by her positive answer to the question, “Did you receive Jesus into your heart?” But Jesus’ words are true. The born-again experience is like the wind. We don’t really know where or how it happens, and requiring a rote answer to a question won’t nail down that holy wind work.

How about Zacchaeus? He climbed up into a tree so he could see Jesus, who told him He wanted to stay at his house. After they had gathered, this happened: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:8-10). Do we see any tight, orderly line of confessed repentance, request for forgiveness, and spoken belief in and reception of Jesus here? No, but Jesus said salvation had come.

How about the Ethiopian eunuch? After Phillip told the eunuch the good news of Jesus beginning in Isaiah 53, this happened: “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36–38). Phillip is translated away, and the eunuch leaves rejoicing. Confession of sin, request for forgiveness, and a spoken declaration of faith are not explicitly present.

How about the thief on the cross? All he did was rebuke the other criminal on the cross who was railing at Jesus and then said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief’s request for life in Jesus’ kingdom was sufficient to gain entry.

The proof that people are born again is not simply hearing them parrot words, as scriptural as they may be. Conversion is a spiritual event. As Jesus said, like the wind, we don’t know where, when, or how it happens. It’s foolish for us to think that requiring certain words to be spoken is the definitive evidence of salvation. Remember, the uncomprehending Nicodemus stood up for Jesus before the chief priests and Pharisees (John 7:50-51) and honorably attended to Jesus’ body after His crucifixion (John 19:39-42).

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

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Imagine with me for a few minutes, an enormous funnel—as large as the earth. In that funnel has been poured all the awful human experiences since mankind’s beginning: the murders, the dark hatreds in word and deed, the betrayals of trust, the cheating, the conspiracies, the lies, the corruptions, the thefts; the sexual abominations—rapes, adulteries, prostitutions, bondages, homosexuality, and the sexual abuse and soul-damaging violations of women and children; all the unjust wars, the greed, the prideful nationalistic invasions and lusts for power, the gulags, the suffering of civilians, the miseries of the wounded, the tortures of prisoners and those innocent, the genocides, the slaveries; the diseases and sicknesses, the cancers, the blindness and deafness, the slaughters of innocent children and unborn babies, and human experimentations: billions and billions of agonizing cries, heard and unheard, lifted up to heaven for relief. All of this in one terrifying, horrific avalanche of human feculence, rushing toward the narrowing neck.

At the end of that opening, is one small, seemingly, individual, waiting; waiting for the impact of all the effluent. He has been waiting there for thousands of years. It will impact Him, and He knows full well what is to occur. However, the individual offered for this horrendous task is most unanticipated and almost incomprehensible: God Himself.

God’s answer for the flood of atrocity is not to thrust out His chest, resist it, and cause it to bounce off like a Superman; no, it is to absorb it, including the required punishment it brings. He is unable to even lift His hands in front of Himself for protection. He is weak, helpless, and unable to move, or move away.

When it hits Him, He dies.

He must die.

However, a vital truth resides here which is unknown to the onlookers and very many today. His life was not taken; He gave up His life because He is the God who lives forever. He cannot die. Thus, after the gargantuan onslaught of evil refuse and resulting justice kills Him, He rises. And with that rising comes the exact opposite of misery-filled refuse: beauty, cleanness, joy, life, and light.

But more accompanies that astounding reversal. Cleanness, yes, but holiness, purity—a holiness that in its essence is God’s. No darkness. No hidden sins. No lie. No betrayal of trust. All good. All pure. That holiness is given to believers because of the individual who hung helpless that day—the very holiness of God Himself.

And more. Righteousness. The ability given to stand before God without any intervening or interfering obstacles and sins. All given. All free. Undeserving. Nothing you can do but rejoice in it, in faith, and love Him in it.

And more. A relationship with the Creator of all things. A relationship with the One who thought up and brought into being all that is living and bright and majestic and beautiful, those things not of man’s creation, that you see and cannot see daily.

If you are a believer, you are His son. I write “son” rather than “son or daughter” because, biblically, sonship entails inheritance. So, believers in this redeeming God receive, almost impossible to comprehend, an inheritance that is shared with the first-born Son, Jesus. Yes. Whatever that inheritance is, you, as a believer, share it with Immanuel. All given. All free. Undeserving. Nothing you can do but rejoice in it, in faith, and love Him in it.

Is there work for you to do? Of course. He created you to do good work, those things that He actually prepared beforehand. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).1 We may chew on that for a while, but not too long. He will attend to that prepared work as you seek, follow, and obey Him.

And why wouldn’t you want to do that?

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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I heard a Baptist say recently that the average Baptist is baptized 3.3 times during his or her lifetime. I’m not sure about the decimal, but the figure was over three. The man reckoned that the first baptism was as a child out of a desire to do what the family and parents advocated. The second was during the teen years because the person didn’t think the child baptism was valid. The third was in the person’s late twenties when he or she regretted their sinful foolhardiness in the teen and college years.

When does a person truly become a Christian?

It is a trite answer but true: God knows. I hope we have, by now, rejected the common evangelical understanding that a prayer prayed with just the right words after coming forward at an invitation is a one-and-done. Boom. Salvation. You’re good. Is salvation possible after such a prayer? Absolutely. Unfortunately, too often, it is not.

In the light of the truth that only God knows the condition of one’s heart, let’s consider the man Nicodemus. If you are a Christian, you know well the account of Jesus and His encounter with this Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He wanted to talk to Jesus but was afraid of the repercussions from his fellows. Anyone who has wielded power even in a minor sense would understand the pressure that ensues based upon his or her decisions concerning the Lord. Should we criticize Nicodemus for that? Easy to do from our armchairs. Thus, he came at night, looking for answers. This is a positive thing. After all, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a).1 Was the Father drawing this man?

Upon arriving, Nicodemus made a statement of belief, it seems: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). However, Jesus knew that miracles do not always lead to belief. So, He gives this baffling response: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), to which Nicodemus responds with incredulity. Wouldn’t you have? “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).

So, Jesus offered some more information, which Nicodemus also did not understand and which we wouldn’t have, either: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). In other words, this is spiritual stuff, Nicodemus. You won’t be able to comprehend it with your natural mind—just like you didn’t understand being born again.

Jesus continued to teach Nicodemus and said in sum, “God loves the world so much that He sent Me, His Son, to bring eternal life, and you are expected to believe that.”

John chapter three ends without a further word.

Was this the last we are to hear of Nicodemus? No. No, because the process of salvation, which may be occurring in this case, is often a strange, slow path.

When we see Nicodemus again it is in a very positive light. Remember, he was a ruler of the Jews and therefore present at the trial of Jesus. He rose to His defense. “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee’” (John 7:50–52).

Something was going on in this man’s heart. He was risking the derision of his fellow ruling Jews. If he pushed it, expulsion from the synagogue—a social and economic disaster.

However, that is not the last we see of Nicodemus. We see him again performing a worthy deed. “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:39–40). Seventy-five pounds. That’s a lot of spices It would take planning and labor to gather and transport them. Did he load them on a donkey? We don’t know all of those who were there, but from this account it was only Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who were about this distressing task.

We see three snapshots of Nicodemus in the book of John. The first did not give us a very clear picture of what was going on in his confused heart. Had he sorted things out by the time he stood in Jesus’ defense when He was on His way to His glorious sacrifice? When he brought the spices? Was he a believer? God knows. But remember Jesus’ commendation for the woman who anointed Him for burial: “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:8–9).

Nevertheless, we do not know the nature of Nicodemus’ final status with God. But we should learn here that we often see snapshots of people whom we encounter who are doubtful, confused, and bewildered by what their eyes have seen, and their ears have heard. Our job? To communicate the truth, as Jesus did, speaking of spiritual realities, but not with the thinking of natural man. The Father will draw them. The Holy Spirit will give witness to the truth.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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What should a Christian say if someone asks, “Do you believe gay people are going to hell because they’re gay?”

We should say, “Let’s back up a bit. Do you know why Jesus came?”

Their answer will indicate where you should go next. If they actually say, “To die for our sins,” then you can ask, “Who are these sinners He died for?”

You can then explain to them that everybody—everybody—is a sinner. Jesus told us that if we hate people, it’s like committing murder. He said that if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, it’s the same as if he’s committing adultery. Everyone is a sinner—including you and the person asking the question. Everybody has lied. No one has loved God like he should, with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. We have all failed.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Here is the link to a story about a woman who had a vision of Jesus and subsequently became a Christian:

http://www.answering-islam.org/Testimonies/leah.html

 

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In the days before Laurie and I left Israel, we spent many hours talking, thinking and praying about our departure. We discussed whether or not we would continue to serve on the mission field in another country. If we didn’t—and the more we hashed it over with each other and with the Lord, this was the way we were leaning—the more it became apparent that we would need to seek employment back in the States. This was going to be challenging. Our resume´s as former missionaries were…interesting.

Laurie and I had prayed earnestly, separately and apart, for direction. However, the answer I received from God wasn’t one I was expecting.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I had an interesting—more than interesting—stunning—thought when I was praying/worshiping a couple of mornings ago.  I was thanking the Lord for the day when He made Himself known to me, on the front porch of the Travelers’ Hotel, in Chelan, Washington, around thirty-eight years ago.  The Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit consulted together and were in 100% agreement concerning that moment, that encounter.  This agreeing consultation took place a long time ago—before the worlds were formed.

The same, of course, is true of you.

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The last couple of posts here have been what Christians would call the “Bad News.”

So what’s the “Bad News”?  It’s not just outward actions that are sinful; in our essence we are sinful.  Every.  Body.

And it’s not just the things we typically think of that are sinful.  Not doing something that you know is good, is sinful.  Making something else ultimate besides God is sinful.  Not revering God for giving us the very air we breathe—ignoring Him—is sinful.  We consider ourselves good when we compare ourselves to other.  We’re good until God comes into the room.  Nobody is holy like Him.  Nobody.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Take a few minutes, if you will, and watch this amazing video.  The link isn’t working, so please copy and paste the address.

http://www.yhttp://iamsecond.com/#/seconds/Brian_Welch/

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