The Implications of “Whosoever”

November 16, 2013

The Apostle Peter, like all the other disciples of Jesus, was a Jew. He believed, as did all Jews, that the Hebrew nation was a special family group chosen by God to receive the blessings of His kingdom. Gentiles were considered unclean; they lived in a different world, so to speak, one that was outside the purposes of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

OCC ThailandWhen Jesus appeared and made claims about “the kingdom of God,” the Jews of His day tried to process His words within their Hebrew worldview. But Jesus soon fell into disrepute, partly because he called God His “father,” and partly because he said radical things like “God so loved the worldwhosoever believes in Him shall not perish but has everlasting life.” We love this verse because of it’s promise, but to the Jews of Jesus’ day this claim was nothing short of revolutionary…and blasphemous!

Back to Peter. Acts Chapters 10 and 11 tells the story of how Peter was sent to preach the word of salvation to a group of Gentiles. The Holy Spirit fell on them in the same way He fell on the Hebrew followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. Those of us who are Gentiles simply cannot appreciate how mind blowing this was to the Jews at that time. When Peter explained to the Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, it took a while for this truth to sink in:

“…if then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

(Acts 11:17-18, ESV)

The Jews fell silent because they were experiencing the most radical paradigm shift in history. They needed some time to process the implications. Paul, in several places in his epistles, calls this paradigm shift a “mystery” that was hinted at throughout the preceding millennia but was now revealed in the church. Salvation is not a result of belonging to the right people group. Instead salvation is wrapped up in the word “whosoever” regardless of one’s nationality. We who are Gentile Christians would do well to gain a better understanding of the worldview implications involved here. If we would read the Bible with this framework in mind, it would help us to interpret its truths a bit better and to appreciate the wonders of God’s redemptive plan a bit more.

Most of us who live in the United States are intensely patriotic. We believe in “American exceptionalism.” And, truly, the Judeo-Christian ethic which made this country great is something to cherish. But God is not an American. His “holy nation” extends beyond the border of the United States and Israel:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)

Our involvement in missionary outreach, whether it be in our own neighborhood or on the other side of the globe, is an effort to extend the truth of salvation to our true nation in which our eternal heritage lies. May God bless our efforts as we seek to extend the truth of His kingdom to our brothers and sisters in every corner of the globe.


The “Foolishness” of God Sacrificing Himself

November 9, 2013

In an online discussion the other day, a Facebook friend who is an atheist was pointing out what he believes are inconsistencies with the Christian faith. He said the following:

Hell…was created for those who don’t return the unconditional love of a god who sacrificed himself to himself to save all humanity from himself.

FoolishCrossI have spent some time pondering his statement, which was really intended to point out what he saw as absurdities: a god sacrificing himself to save humanity from himself, and sending people to a place of eternal torment because they didn’t look past the absurdity and love him anyway. At face value these ideas do seem to be absurd, don’t they?

Believers should not be surprised when non-believers ridicule the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul said it would be so in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

(1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)

The gospel is a “stumbling block” and it is “folly” to the world. But God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. God is the Creator. Prior to His creation of the universe, nothing existed. He is the Great Determiner of everything!! So when God chooses to create a universe, complete with things, angels, animals, and people, He sets all the rules. How arrogant we are when we sit in judgment and proclaim that His ways are foolish!

I am going to take the liberty to offer Mark’s amplified version of the statement made by my atheist friend:

Hell (which is an existence where God has completely removed all of His restraining influence, allowing those who dwell there to live uncontrolled by any rules whatsoever)…was created (as an self-chosen alternative) for those who don’t return the unconditional (other-centered, compassionate) love of a god who (of His own volition) sacrificed himself (by being mercilessly tortured, so we wouldn’t need to be punished) to himself (as the great righteous judge of the universe) to save all humanity (because all humans are in rebellion) from himself (who must exercise His holy, righteous wrath against all sin).

God took our punishment for us so we could dwell with Him for eternity. What is so “foolish” about that?

The Benefits of Gathering Together

November 2, 2013

In our new church facility, our pastor has spearheaded an effort to create “The Legacy Room.” It is a place in the lower level of the church where “relics” from our past are displayed to help remind us of our rich heritage. As I have pondered the various things on display, I’ve realized that each item represents some sort of gathering or event when God’s people were together, for short or long periods of time, to celebrate His goodness.

Legacy Room 1

The Legacy Room

Hanging on the wall are framed mini-posters with pithy quotes from great men of God. These posters decorated the walls in an apartment where several of us lived (in the mid 70’s) prior to any of us getting married. On the shelf is a little blue songbook which was the “hymnal” at a non-denominational church where many members of our current body attended several decades ago. There are some pieces of furniture both in our main sanctuary, and in the Legacy Room, that originally were in the old Methodist sanctuary on the main street in Millersport, a church in which several of our members grew up. Scrap books, sermon illustrations, record album covers…each item is a reminder of times when we worked, lived, played, and prayed together.

Jesus said “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20, ESV) The fact that our Eternal Lord promises to be present, in a special way, when His people get together to honor His name should motivate us to find more opportunities to spend time doing just that. The writer of Hebrews gives us this encouragement:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

(Hebrews 10:19-25, ESV)

According to this scripture passage, we meet together for these reasons:

  • to honor our “great high priest” who is over the house of God who provided “a new and living way”
  • to receive assurance of our faith
  • to clear our conscience regarding impure thoughts and actions
  • to confess our hope
  • to remind ourselves that He who promised is faithful
  • to stir up each other toward love and good works
  • to encourage each other to press on

We might be tempted to think “I don’t need to go to church. I can receive the encouragement I need directly from the Lord. I can watch preachers on TV or listen to sermons on the radio.” But a review of the above list would indicate that this thinking falls short. You may not feel that you need the church (and you would be wrong to think that way). But consider this: the church needs you! You have a unique place in the body of Christ that no one else can fill.

May we come to the place where we can echo, with conviction, the words of King David:  “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:3, ESV)

Going Nowhere…Fast!

October 19, 2013

Yesterday a friend, Paul, and I went sailing on Buckeye Lake in my little 17 foot-long sailboat. Some boats are made for speed, with deep v-shaped hulls and big motors. Other boats, like my sailboat, are made to move easily through the water with as little propulsive energy needed as possible. But this trade-off involves the reality that these “efficient” watercraft do not do well at high speeds…they are made to go slow. Even so, Paul and I were very intent on trying to get my boat to go at its maximum hull speed (the speed up to which the boat is stable) which, for this particular model, is 5 knots, or 5.8 miles per hour. Buckeye Lake Sailing 10-18-13If you click on the photo and watch the video you will see, in one shot which shows the screen of the depthfinder/speed/heading instrument, that we do hit 5.0 knots for a brief second or two (look in the lower right corner of the instrument screen). Even though 5 knots is not a relatively fast speed, we were very proud of ourselves! But…why?

I recently read an article about the philosophical underpinnings of why people sail. In the article the author quotes a well-known jibe that defines sailing as “the art of going slowly nowhere, at great expense and personal discomfort.” In exploring the “going slowly” aspect of the quote, the author points out that the need for speed is overrated. People who are weekend recreational boaters most often start and end their boating adventure at their dock or at a boat ramp where they put their boat in the water, and then take it out of the water at the end of their day of boating. So, the difference between their starting point and the ending point is zero. By definition, the average velocity of a given time interval is the difference in distance between the starting and ending point of a trip divided by the time it took to get there. The author explains:

By this reckoning, all weekend cruisers, whether laid-back sailors or high-speed motorboaters, have the same average velocity – namely zero! This is because they tend to end up right where they started – in their marina slip or on the boat trailer from which their vessel was launched. In other words, the total distance between start and finish is zero. And zero divided by any number of elapsed hours yields zero velocity.

~ Sebastian Kuhn, Physicist, Old Dominion University

So, why the need for speed? Isn’t this discussion a metaphor for life? We all seem to be so rushed with life and events going 1,000 miles per hour. And, most of the time, the rush is in an effort to earn money so we can get more things. But another oft-quoted quip reminds us, regarding all this “stuff” we accumulate “we can’t take it with us when we die.” One of the wisest men who ever lived, Solomon, reflects on this very concept of how life often seems to go nowhere for no real purpose:

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-9, ESV)

Solomon continues through the entire book of Ecclesiastes with themes similar to the above. But in the last two verses of the book, Solomon offers his final insights and recommendations in the light of our vain predicament:

Here is my final conclusion: fear God and obey his commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad.

(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, TLB)

It would be a shame to come to the end of our lives only to find out that we spent a lot of time and energy to go nowhere, very fast. If Solomon was right (and he probably is since his wisdom was God-inspired) we would do best to focus on things that matter to God. I doubt, when we are standing in the place of final judgment before God, if He will be impressed with whether we had the newest model car, or the most beautifully appointed home, or whether we hit the maximum hull speeds in our sailboats. Instead, He will search our hearts to find if there was/is a deep respect for His ways and purposes mixed with a fervent desire to please Him because, as Solomon reminds us “this is the whole duty of man.”

“Seeing” the Gospel

October 12, 2013

When I was a little guy, we enjoyed playing and skating on the ice that would form on the canal in the winter (our home town has a branch of the Ohio-Erie Canal running through it). Near where we skated was an old barn-like shed that was gray and weathered, and the siding was riddled with gaps through which we would peer. Inside that shed was some kind of airplane. We could see the propeller, but that is about all we could see. We knew the wings were not attached because the shed was too narrow to enclose wings. Still, the thing intrigued us, and we longed to get a full revelation of what was inside.

imagined airplaneIn my mind I could picture a World War I era biplane. I was very interested in the flying aces from the First World War, and I loved the machines they piloted. So my mental image of the airplane inside that shed was of a Sopwith Camel or a Curtiss Jenny, probably old and dirty, but very cool nonetheless. Well, one day a stranger opened those doors and rolled out the vintage machine. What we saw did not match our imaginations…it was basically a beat up metal fuselage frame with wheels and a motor hanging on the front. The “pilot” took the contraption out on the frozen lake, started the engine, and scooted across the ice using the tattered rudder for steering. Skaters would try to hang on to the tail as the thing gained speed.

It is in our nature to crave seeing what is not fully revealed to our eyes. We build mental images of what the object of our curiosity may look or be like. Sometimes reality turns out to be better than what we imagined but, more often, we are disappointed that the grass truly was not much greener on the other side.

This disappointment is not true with things having to do with our Christian faith. The writers of both the Old and New Testaments promise that glorious realities await us on the other side:

But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.

1 Corinthians 2:9 (CEB)

We are commended when we behold, with eyes of faith, the glorious gospel. Believers are assured that as we grow in faith, the truths contained in God’s word will be more fully unfolded, and we will experience joy as a result. Peter, in writing about Jesus, said:

Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.

1 Peter 1:8-9 (CEB)

And here is one more thing that is amazing. The angels in heaven are always beholding God the Father. They routinely operate in this realm which is closed to our vision at the present time. Yet Peter, a few verses later in Chapter 1 of his first epistle, said this:

Those who have preached the good news to you have told you those things. They have done it with the help of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into those things.

1 Peter 12b (NIRV)

Even the angels long to look into the things of the gospel! We can’t comprehend how angels function or think, but isn’t is fascinating that the angels in heaven long to know more about how we humans, who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), have been redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ? If the angels long to know the deep truths of the gospel, shouldn’t we spend our lives learning how to love and trust Jesus who offers to us the salvation of our souls?

The Throne of Grace

September 27, 2013

throne-of-graceSince then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)

Throughout history, kings have ruled over territories and the people who dwell within the borders of the kingdom. Some kings were kind and benevolent, but often these monarchs ruled in a cruel and unjust manner. The kings did not typically gain the rights to the throne through hard work or by progressing through the ranks. Instead, rulership was a privilege of being born in the right place at the right time into the right family. The monarchy was their birthright.

No so with Jesus. Paul tells us in Philippians that Jesus…

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:6-11, ESV)

The news gets even better! This humble yet glorious king “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV). Because of this, we are obligated and honored to give Him “praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength, forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 7:12).

Our True North

September 20, 2013

Earlier this week, my son, Phil, and his wife, Sarah, went with Donna and me on a nighttime sailing adventure on Buckeye Lake. The evening was beautiful and breezy, with a nearly full moon lighting our way. The boat skimmed across the water as we enjoyed the evening scenery. Even though the lights from the surrounding villages and the glow of the moon muted the brightness of the stars, we were still treated to a lovely display of celestial splendor.

NorthstarAs we peered at the stars we began to talk about the North Star, Polaris, and how it could be found by using the “pointer stars” on the Big Dipper constellation. I explained that the North Star is the only star in the northern sky that doesn’t move as all of the other stars seem to travel in an arc around it as the earth rotates. Phil told Sarah that, as long as you could see the stars in the sky, you can always find north by first locating the Big Dipper, then using it to find the North Star and, thus, true north. Since ancient time, travelers in the Northern Hemisphere have used the North Star and the tools of dead reckoning to determine their location. Even with all this talk of navigational techniques, when it was time to head back we still had to look around a bit to figure out where we were on the lake and the best way to get back home!

The late leadership guru, Stephen Covey, popularized the idea of “true north principles” in promoting his style of organizational leadership. Claiming a global consensus around these timeless truths, Covey defined true north principles as fairness, kindness, dignity, charity, integrity, honesty, quality, service, and patience. While Covey admitted that there was not always agreement on how these principles should be defined, he said that most civilized people have agreed on their merit. And I think he is right. Even immature children and hardened criminals maintain a sense of what fairness or honesty look like. The problem is that there is a tendency in sinful human nature to define these principles in terms of what is best for “me.”

For Christians, our Polaris, our true north, is embodied in Jesus Christ who “was full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Because Jesus was and is full of grace and full of truth we can know that his words are reasonable and honest. The writer of Hebrews instructed us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Our internal compasses should always orient themselves to the instruction we find in the Word of God because, as the author, Jesus wrote the book.

Jesus made a “true north’ claim about Himself when He said:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (ESV)

Jesus did not say “I am a way, a truth, and a life.” Nor did He say “One of the ways to the Father is through me.” He left no options. He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY life, and He is the ONLY way to come to the Father. He proved the validity of the claims He made by defeating death…something no one else has ever done.

If the compasses of our lives are orienting us toward Jesus as our “true north” we will never be lost.