To Those Not Waiting

Screenshot (1517)

He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.  (Hebrews 9:26–28, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Never a popular subject, but in these uncertain days it’s the “elephant in the room.”  The recent events has placed it squarely before us.  We all have that appointment “to die once.”  But one appointment we need not face is the second death.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.   (Revelation 20:11–15, NIV 1984).

Second death, another unpopular subject.  And if we avoid this subject now, it will be unavoidable in the end (“after that to face judgment“).   The old adage, born once – die twice, born twice – die once, is true.

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.”  (Revelation 20:6, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Are you one of “those who are waiting for Him?”  You are if you’ve been born twice (born again).  If not, what’s waiting for you is the second death.  This need not be.  Check out my “The Born Again Experience” musings to find out how.

Sensational Grace

Screenshot (1513)

Then Abraham approached him [the LORD] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  (Genesis 18:23, NIV 1984).

Then he [Abraham] said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He [the LORD} answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  (Ge 18:32, NIV 1984).

The two men [angels] said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”  (Genesis 19:12–13, NIV 1984).

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.  (Genesis 19:15–16, NIV 1984).

“Look, here is a town [Zoar] near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me [Lot] flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I [the angel] will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.”  (Genesis 19:19–22, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is mostly remembered for the fierce judgment of God because “their sin [was] so grievous.”  I don’t intend to debate the nature of their wickedness, but rather the underlying message of God’s mercy and grace that is often overlooked.  Perhaps because that message is not quite as “sensational” and makes for a less interesting tale.  In reality, it is both quite sensational (causing great public excitement) and interesting (arousing curiosity or catching the attention).

It starts with Abraham “negotiating” with the LORD.  “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  (Genesis 18:23, NIV 1984).  Beginning with “fifty righteous,” Abraham “wears” the LORD down to agree not to destroy the cities “for the sake of ten.”  The story is not about Abraham’s astute bargaining skills, but rather lavishness of God’s grace and mercy.  God always has His remnant, and the lengths He will go “for the sake of the [elect]” is staggering.

In the end, there were only four.  God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, a righteous judgment. Yet He did not “sweep away the [four] righteous with the wicked.”  An undeserving expression of His abundant grace.  For did they really measure up to His standard of righteousness?

His grace did not end there. When they hesitated, in the face of imminent destruction no less, “the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.” Even sparing another city (Zoar) marked for destruction (“I will not overthrow the town you speak of“).

God’s grace and mercy was extended despite the captivation of Lot to the wickedness that surrounded him.  For example:

• He got close to the wickedness (“pitched his tents near Sodom” — Genesis 13:12).

• He moved into the midst of wickedness (“Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city” — Genesis 19:1).

• He hesitated leaving the circle of wickedness (“When [Lot] hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city” — Genesis 19:16).

• He desired to stay near the wickedness (“here is a town [Zoar] near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it” — Genesis 19:19).

My Advice – Let’s not cheapen God’s grace and mercy by getting close to, moving in to, hanging on to or staying near to worldliness.  God is long-suffering, but His “Spirit will not contend with man forever.” (Genesis 6:3, NIV 1984).

 

If Only There Were Someone

Screenshot (1426)

“He [God] is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court.  If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”  (Job 9:32–35, NIV 1984).

My Musings – These words of Job’s could not have been more prophetic.

  • If only there were someone to arbitrate between us – Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding [arbitrating] for us.” (Romans 8:33–34, NIV 1984).
  • Someone to remove God’s rod from meThen the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff [rod] and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27–31, NIV 1984).
  • Then I would speak up without fear of Him – “For we do not have a high priest [arbitrator] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16, NIV 1984).

An arbitrator is someone to stands in between (intercedes) two parties to settle a dispute.  Who better to do so than Jesus, who knows the mind of the Father, while also being able to sympathize with us? “To lay his hand upon us both“?  In the end, the only way to settle the dispute was to take the penalty upon Himself, allowing us to receive mercy and find grace.

My Advice – Jesus is the only legitimate arbitrator between sinful man and a righteous God.  Accept the settlement.

 

Begin With The End In Mind

Screenshot (1346)

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”  (Matthew 7:21–23, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The second habit in Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” is begin with the end in mind.  The gist is, if you do not know your destination, how in the world are you going to get there.  This applies on various scales.  No one would begin to build a house without first visualizing what it should be like.  Its dimensions, number of rooms, construction materials, where to best locate it, etc.  Once these are determined (planned out), the actual building begins. Unfortunately, few visualize the totality of their lives that way. We may have a one and five-year plan, a plan to provide for retirement, a plan for life in retirement, and a plan for what we want to pass on in our estate. But these individual components do not add up to the totality of our lives.

“I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long.” – George Bailey, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Think for a few minutes about your funeral, the people that might attend, for instance.  What is it that you would like them to say about you.  “He sure had his five year plan well thought out.”  “Nobody planned for or lived their retirement like she did.”  “He sure left his children well off.”  As good as these things might be, are they really our legacy?  Not really.  What we really want, if we think hard about it, is to be remembered for the kind of person we were.  The life we lived. The lives we touched. The differences we made.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”  Clarence (the angel), “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

But as we plan for and live our lives, do we begin with this end in mind?  For many, maybe most, probably not.  We begin with making a living in mind rather than beginning with making a life in mind.  At your funeral, will people be talking about the places you visited (Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum), the things you built (airfields, skyscrapers a hundred stories high, bridges a mile long), or how many other lives we touched, the awful hole we will leave?

My Advice – But even these are not the totality of our lives.  For, “just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”  (Hebrews 9:27–28, NIV 1984).  There will be many who will have lots of kind and heartfelt things said about them at their funerals for the fine things they did in this life, only to hear Christ say “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

You see, it’s not what we did, it’s who we know.  What we did, our good works, can never atone for the sin in our lives.  But who we know can, because of what He did.  “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5, NIV 1984).

So, if you really want to begin with the end in mind, don’t just think about what other people will say about you at your funeral.  Think about what He will say to you when you stand before Him.  It can be, “come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  (Matthew 25:34, NIV 1984).  But only if you have been born again.

_________________________

Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”

 

 

The Great Divide

Screenshot (1332)

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.  (Zechariah 4:6, NIV 1984).

My Musings – On September 11, 2001, terrorists targeted three of America’s symbolic sites:  the World Trade Center (symbol of America’s economic power), the Pentagon (symbol of America’s military might) and either the White House or U.S. Capitol (symbol of America’s form of government).  Due to the heroic efforts of its passengers, the last plane never made it to its target.  The careful selection of these sites make it clear that the terrorists’ objective stretched beyond the physical targets and “collateral” deaths of the innocent victims. The primary target was perhaps the American psyche.

In the immediate aftermath, the effect was just the opposite.  The American psyche was rejuvenated and patriotic fervor was rekindled. The “collateral” benefits was a lessening in the divide between the haves and have nots (economic extremes), the hawks and doves (military extremes) and the Democrats and Republicans (political extremes), at least for a season.  But time has passed.  The American economy remains the strongest in the world.  It’s military might is still unequaled.  In terms of government, the great American experiment remains unrivaled.  But the divide between the haves and have nots, the hawks and doves and those on the left versus those on the right have widened.  What the terrorists failed to do, we are doing to ourselves.  The country has not fallen (yet), but the divide among its people is greater than perhaps ever before.

There was a fourth great symbol of America’s strength that was not targeted that day, at least not directly.  Perhaps this is because there is no single physical manifestation of it.  Perhaps it is because it was not perceived as a serious threat by the perpetrators.  The symbol?  America’s trust in God, specifically its Christian heritage.  There were brief signs of a revival following that attack, but the Church has grown colder and the divide between believers and non-believers is maybe wider than all of the others.  This is, I believe, the greatest danger to America, and may be the underlying cause of all the other divides.

My Advice – All of these divides, as great as they might be, are merely symptoms of the greatest divide of all – man’s separation from His creator.  But the solution to end the divide is the easiest of all, and it’s free.  It’s not by might or power.  It’s by surrender.  And it could solve the other divides one person at a time.  Are you one?  Be apart of the solution.  Surrender your life to Christ today.  My blog series “The Born Again Experience” will show you how, and it really is that simple.

Who Can Stand?

Screenshot (1306)

You have wearied the LORD with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”  (Malachi 2:17, NIV 1984).

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. (Malachi 3:2–3).

My Musings – Wearied. Having one’s patience, tolerance, or pleasure exhausted. “How have we wearied him?”  By calling evil good (things that are offensive to God), and accusing God of not being good when we witness things that are unjust in our eyes (things that are offensive to us).  How arrogant (self-righteous) can we be, measuring God’s righteousness by our standards and by our so-called “knowlege?”  “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”  (Job 38:2–3, NIV 1984).

My Advice – We need to be very careful about what we approve of and what we complain about.  Why?  Because one day, maybe soon, the Righteous Judge will appear. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” Unless Jesus stands with us, no one.

 

He Has Set A Day

Screenshot (1780)

Since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:29–31, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Of course we are much too enlightened to believe in graven images (or at least much of the world is) these days.  Our idols, the things we “worhsip” and run after, are much more sophisticated.  Power.  Prestige.  Possessions.  Pleasure. Professions.  We should not think the divine life can be found in any of these things.  We are God’s offspring, yet we search for and chase after these things rather than a relationship with Him.  In fact there are many who regard belief in God, and belief in the death and resurrection of His Son, are just as ignorant as believing in images made out of gold, silver or stone.

My Advice – “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed.” (Acts 17:32–34, NIV 1984).

Just like in Paul’s day, there are three ways people respond to the message of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  We can reject it (“some of them sneered“).  We can postpone consideration (“we want to hear you again“).  We can accept it (“a few became followers…and believed“).  How about you.  This really is not something we can remain neutral about (postpone) forever.  Eventually, we will choose one of the other two.  Either we will accept the Him or reject Him.  But we must remember, “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”  We will be judged by the One that we either accept or reject.  How about you?  How will you be judged?  With justice, for sure.  But about who you are, or what He has done?

______________________

Today’s musing was inspired by Lead Teaching Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon on February 2, 2020. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you.