Tag Archives: Heaven

Spiritual Batting Average

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Then God spoke all these words:
Exodus 20:1 (NRSVCE)

Ironically, I have had multiple conversations in recent weeks regarding the text of today’s chapter which is more commonly known as The Ten Commandments. For being an ancient text that’s well over 3,000 years old, the Ten Commandments continue to reverberate in our culture, our spiritual thoughts, our religious practices, and even in our politics.

I spent the past weekend at the lake with my sister and my parents. While driving I noticed one ranch in Missouri that had giant signs on either side of the gates that looked like tablets and had the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. I thought about our weekend and the fact that Jody and I were attempting to do right by Commandment five in honoring our parents.

While at the lake, we spent the bulk of our day sitting on the deck and on the dock chatting. The conversation meandered into the use of language and what we, previous generations, and our next generation perceive to be acceptable, profane, and obscene. Of course, the third Commandment about the improper use of God’s name was a part of the discussion.

I came home last night to discover that my lawn really needs to be mowed. It was Sunday night, and I couldn’t help but think of Wendy’s grandmother who just a few weeks ago reminded me that I’m not supposed to mow on Sundays because it would break Commandment four.

In yet another conversation prompted by a good friend, we swapped self-evaluations on our adherence to God’s Top Ten. My friend, taking a literal interpretation of the text, stated that he was batting .300, which would get him into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame but doubted it would get him through the Pearly Gates. Begin a follower of Jesus, I was forced to interpret my success based on Jesus’ interpretation of the Commandments that raises the bar:

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.

Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28

Let’s just say that adjusting my moral batting average based on Jesus’ spiritual sabermetrics, I am hitting well below the Mendoza Line. So, if the heavenly entrance exam is as simple as my batting average with the Ten Commandments, then I’m in big trouble.

As I mull this over, I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?


The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet this morning I find myself impressed that a story and text that is thousands of years old is still found relevant and creating multiple conversations with different people in my life over the past few weeks. I am fascinated that it is still stirring people, myself included, to contemplate about our words, our behavior toward God, our relationships with others, and our ultimate spiritual standing.

I find my spirit leading me back to this from Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus. And, I have to remember that Paul confessed to spending most of his life trying to strictly and religiously adhere to every letter of the Ten Commandments. When he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, everything changed:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (MSG)

Monday mornings are always a mental and spiritual “reset” button for me. As I prepare to enter another work-week I’m thankful for Jesus’ reminder that all of the Commandments, rules, and laws in God’s Book are summed up in two: Love God with everything you’ve got. Love others as you love yourself.

Now that is a pitch I can hit.

Let’s play ball.

Have a great week my friend.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

When Exile Becomes Home

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns.
Nehemiah 11:1 (NIV)

In recent weeks the Bahamas were struck by Hurricane Dorian. The devastation was immense. Fresh in my mind are the images of the rubble as entire communities appear to have been completely leveled. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to get supplies to the island and how expensive and labor-intensive it will be to rebuild. I’m sure that there will be some survivors who will be evacuated and never return to their homes.

It’s easy for me to read the handful of chapters of Nehemiah and get the sense that the walls of Jerusalem were quickly rebuilt by the returned exiles, the gates were put in their place, and suddenly Jerusalem was settled. Mission accomplished! The people moved in and all was well. But, it didn’t work that way.

The Babylonian’s destruction of the city was devastating. It wasn’t just the walls and Solomon’s Temple that were leveled. The Babylonians destroyed and burned dwellings. Those who were left in the area seem to have largely resettled in nearby towns. The exiles who returned preferred not to live in the rubble of Jerusalem where redevelopment and rebuilding would be hard and costly. Most exiles would prefer to live easier in the countryside outside the city.

Governor Nehemiah and his fellow leaders implemented a forced repopulation of the city by forcing ten percent of the people to move into the city as decided by an ancient form of lottery. This type of forced repopulation was somewhat common in ancient times.

I was reminded as I read the chapter this morning that many of the Hebrews taken into exile never returned home. Jewish communities in Persia lived and thrived near ancient Babylon until modern times. Those who did return faced many difficulties and hardships. Rebuilding isn’t easy. Sometimes exile becomes permanent. Our concept of “home” shifts.

There’s a spiritual lesson in that for me. Among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, we are continuing to explore the broader theme of exile. I mentioned in a message I gave a few weeks ago that exile is universal in the Bible. Once Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden they became exiles. We all did. Paul and Peter both wrote that this world is not our home; we are citizens of heaven.

I’ve observed, however, that it is very easy for my mind and spirit to be repatriated in my earthly exile. I make this world my home. I put down roots. I store up possessions. I build a home (that could easily be blown apart by a tornado just as the Bahamas were devastated by Hurricane Dorian). I invest in my earthly future. Eventually, without even giving it much thought, I find myself treating my earthly exile as if it’s my eternal home. I think that’s what Jesus was getting at…

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Jesus

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that God’s Message repeatedly speaks of our days being numbered. Just as Nehemiah cast lots that brought exiles back into the City of Jerusalem, my number will come up one day and my exile will be over. I will return to what John’s Revelation calls the New Jerusalem. In the meantime, I’m left figuring out how to tangibly do what Jesus instructed. I must learn how to invest less time, energy, and resources on my earthly exile, and transfer the investment into God’s eternal Kingdom.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

“What’s My Motivation?”

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

In the art of acting there’s a lot of talk about motivation. It’s sometimes called “the want.” Let me give you an example.

An unlearned actor named John goes up on stage. He walks from point A to point B and says the line highlighted in his script. You ask John why he just did that and he tells you: “The Director told me to. It was at our last rehearsal. I have it written right here in pencil in my script. It says walk right then say the line.” As an audience member you’ll probably see John mechanically waiting for his cue, dutifully walking to a prescribed position on stage, and then saying his line out to the audience.

Now an accomplished actor named Tony takes over the role. Tony has internalized that he’s embodying a character named Ricky who is head-over-heels in love with a girl named Jill. In the previous scene Jill has sent a message to Ricky revealing that she mistakenly believes he’s cheated on her. Now, Ricky sees her for the first time since receiving the note. Actor Tony internalizes what Ricky is thinking and feeling at that moment. He is Ricky, seeing the woman he loves. He makes a b-line to her, looks her right in the eye and says his line with a sense of emotional desperation. You ask Tony why he just did that, and he tells you without hesitation: “I want to convince Jill that it’s not true I cheated on her! I want her to know I love her! I want to spend the rest of my life with her!

As an audience member I can tell you, without a doubt, that you’ll have a much different experience, and a much better one, watching Tony play the role than you will with John.

Motivation is at the heart of great acting because motivation is at the heart of who we are as human beings. There’s a reason we do the things we do and say the things we say. There’s always something motivating and driving our behavior, though many people live their entire lives without ever thinking about it. When we begin to examine our motivations, we begin to understand ourselves on a whole new level. And while most Christians I know think that God only cares about the purity of their words and the morality of their actions, Jesus made it quite clear that He was most concerned about our motives. He knew that if the latter in order, the former will naturally fall into place.

Paul begins his letter to the believers in Thessalonica by complimenting their accomplishments, their ongoing toil, and their perseverance in the face of adversity. What’s fascinating is that Paul examines and calls out their motivations for each:

Faith has motivated the works they’ve accomplished.

Love has motivated their ongoing, laborious toil.

Hope has motivated their endurance amidst persecution.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve come to learn that motivation is just as crucial to things of the Spirit as it is to the actor on a stage. Religious people often do and say religious things because they are motivated by any number of things:

  • to keep up appearances in a community that values being religious
  • to earn admittance to heaven
  • to have an insurance policy keeping me out of hell
  • to build my business network with all those potential customers who go to that church

Motivation matters. Jesus called out the crowds following Him one day. He said, “You’re following me because I fed you fish sandwiches. You want to follow me? Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Jesus didn’t care about the number followers He had, He cared about what motivated their following Him. The resurrected Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and then followed Peter’s affirmative answer with a command to “Feed my sheep.” What was important to Jesus was not Peter’s accomplishment of the task, but the love that motivated it.

In the quiet this morning I once again find myself examining my own motivations. Why do I do the things I do? What is driving me? What do the things I do and the conversations I have reveal about what it is that I really want in life? Spiritually speaking, if I don’t have the motivation right, all the saying and doing won’t matter.

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Note to my regular readers:
Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is  spending most of an entire year (Sep ’18 through Jul ’19) studying the book of Acts. In conjunction with this study, I’ve decided to blog our way through all of Paul’s letters in chronological order. The exact chronology is a matter of scholarly debate. We began with Paul’s letter to the believers in the Asia Minor region of Galatia. Today we’re moving on to his letters to Jesus’ followers in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Many scholars think these two letters preceded his letter to the Galatians.

At this writing it has been roughly 20 years since Jesus’ resurrection and 16 years since Paul’s conversion. Paul had spent just a few months in the provincial capital of Thessalonica. He was forced to leave town quickly because his life was threatened. He didn’t get to spend as much time with the believers there as he had wished. It’s now a year or so down the road and he writes to encourage his friends whom he’d quickly left behind.
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Children’s Stories, Powerball, and a Really Good Question

“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people.”
2 Chronicles 1:10 (NIV)

Yesterday Wendy and I had the joy of hanging out with our niece, Lydia, who is three years old and our grandson, Milo who today marks six months on his fledgling earthly journey. Wendy’s family gathered at her folks house in Ankeny for dinner and an afternoon together.

One of the things I’m looking forward to in the years ahead is reading stories to my grandson. I’ve always loved story-time. When the girls were young it was my favorite parts of the day. Just this morning I was thinking about the theme of “ask whatever you wish” weaves its way through our stories, myths, legends and (perhaps most commonly) jokes. We have a friend who told us that when she buys a Powerball ticket she just considers that she’s spending two dollars for the fun of asking herself, “What would I do with all that money?” It’s an adult variation of the genie in the bottle who grants the bearer three wishes. They beg the question of us: “What would I wish for?”

This morning our chapter-a-day journey embarks through the book of 2 Chronicles. We pick up the story at the beginning of the reign of King Solomon. Solomon was heir to the throne of King David (of David and Goliath fame). David has united the twelve tribes of Israel under one throne (they could be an unruly and contentious lot) and created a strong, if small, regional empire. Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, the woman with whom David had a scandalous affair and eventually married.

At the beginning of Solomon’s reign he journeys to Gibeon where there was a huge tent, called the Tabernacle, which Moses and the people Israel used for their traveling worship center when they fled Egypt. The Tabernacle was a traveling temple and it’s where the sacrificial religious system was centered. If you wanted to make an inquiry of God, you went to the Tabernacle. So, Solomon goes there to worship God as he embarks on his reign. There, God asks of Solomon that familiar question of children’s storybooks: “Ask anything you wish!

Solomon, in this now famous story, asks for wisdom and knowledge to rule his people. God (who is used to Powerball wishes for wealth, power, and possessions) is so blown away by Solomon’s request that He grants the wisdom, but also the wealth, power, and pessessions.

And so children, what’s the moral of the story?

It is a simple question and seems the stuff of children’s books, but children’s stories often communicate the very questions I need to keep asking myself as an adult. Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (emphasis added).

What is it I truly want?
What is my heart’s desire?
What is it I would honestly desire of God above all else?

Not bad questions for a children’s story. Not bad questions to mull over at the beginning of my day, and my work week. Along my life journey I’ve discovered that (unlike Aladdin or Solomon) these are not one-and-done questions. They are questions I need to ask myself over, and over, and over, and over again. The answers to these questions clarify things, help set direction, establish priorities, and often motivate the changes to which Jesus referred.

So, I’m asking them again this morning.

Have a great week, my friends.

 

“Get Me a Musician”

[The prophet, Elisha, said,] “…get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.
2 Kings 3:15 (NRSVCE)

I mentioned in my post the other day that while we’re at the lake Wendy and I are limited in our television viewing choices to the collection of DVDs we have there. So it was that last week I pulled out that oldie, but goodie of the cinema: Die Hard. The movie played in the background as Wendy and I sat at the dining room table with our laptops going about our work.

In case you never caught it, the underlying musical score for Die Hard is one endless string of creative variations on what most Americans know as the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The iconic melody of that familiar hymn comes from the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony. As I sat at the dining room table, tapping away on my keyboard, the melody suddenly and unexpectedly took me to another moment, in another place.

London. 2009. The Royal Philharmonic. It was our first night in London and Wendy and I had tickets to hear both Mozart’s and Beethoven’s final symphonies in one program. Wendy’s favorite was Mozart, but mine was Beethoven. There is a moment in Beethoven’s ninth when the music suddenly stops and a lone voice begins to sing. I will never forget the moment I heard that voice. I just began to cry as I listened. A chorus of voices joins the orchestra and the music continues to build to one of the most amazing and moving musical climaxes ever. What most people don’t realize is that Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote his final symphony. He never heard a note of it with his ears. He only heard it in his spirit. Amazing.

There is something deeply spiritual about the language of music, and I have learned over time that music is a language all its own. It has a special place in creation. Music is an integral part of heaven in the glimpses provided in God’s Message and the theme of music is woven throughout the Great Story.

In today’s chapter the prophet Elisha calls for a musician. When the music begins to play the power of God comes upon him. The language of music was the conduit of God’s Spirit. I get that. The language of music is a spiritual language (both for spiritual light and spiritual darkness, btw). Music has the power to reach deep inside to touch hidden places inside us. Music has the power of inspiration, conviction, revelation, exhortation, and even transportation.

My body last week was sitting at a dining room table in central Missouri. The melody of Beethoven’s ninth playing beneath Bruce Willis’ machine gun suddenly and unexpectedly transported my spirit, in that moment, to the Royal Orchestra Hall in London. My eyes began to mist over. Physicists tells us that all of time is contained in each moment. Perhaps music is a gateway.

This morning I’m thinking about this powerful medium we call music. I’m mulling over the incredible breadth of music that has spoken to me, moved me, and inspired me over the years. Beethoven to Berlioz to Bach, Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Yo-Yo Ma, Gospel choirs to bluegrass banjos to steel drums and a Reggae beat. I’ve come to accept that I will never know (in this life journey) fluency in the language of music that I desire. I still can experience its power in ways human beings throughout the millennia of history couldn’t even imagine. I literally have access to the entire catalog of human music in the palm of my hand.

“…get me a musician.”

I Don’t Want to Ruin the Surprise

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
Isaiah 66:22-24 (NIV)

Today we end our long journey through Isaiah’s prophetic tome. Granted, it’s a long slog at 66 chapters. Yikes! We started in late September last year. Isaiah’s work ends with a vision of the end times. It’s what theologians call eschatology: the study of the end times and the final destiny of humankind. Once again, there are clear connections between Isaiah’s vision in today’s chapter and that of John in Revelation.

The study of eschatology has never been an exact science.  Intelligent, knowledgable, and sincere scholars have forever argued this theory and that theory regarding how all things are going to end. I was raised in the conservative protestant evangelical tradition to believe that Jesus would someday call all believers on earth to be “raptured” to heaven, triggering a seven-year tribulation of hell on earth, followed by the return of Jesus to earth, the imprisonment of Satan, and a 1,000 year reign of Christ, followed by a final battle and judgment in which the saved go to heaven and the unsaved go to hell.

There are countless other versions of the end times in which the same Biblical texts are interpreted a myriad of different ways. There are versions in which there is no rapture, or the rapture will happen half-way into the tribulation, or the rapture will happen after the seven years of tribulation. There are versions in which there is no 1,000 year reign, or perhaps the 1,000 year reign has all already happened, or perhaps it’s happening all right now, or perhaps it will never happen literally, or perhaps it will happen but with no real eternal damnation, or perhaps… you get the picture.

When I was younger I studied it all more fervently, presented my own interpretation more dogmatically, and took it all more seriously. The longer I’ve continued in my journey following Jesus the less important it has become to me. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I will forever continue my journey into God’s Message and pursue Christ. I have just noticed along my journey that we who claim to follow Jesus have historically been quick to place too much importance on theological litmus tests at the expense of the only two things that Jesus Himself said were truly important.

This morning I’m thinking about Wendy. My wife hates when surprises are ruined. She will blissfully ignore hints, turn a blind eye, and put things out of her mind if she thinks that it might ruin what is intended to be an eventual surprise. When Jesus was asked about His return He deferred knowledge and said, basically, “it’s a surprise.” I think I’ve adopted Wendy’s attitude as my theological bent toward eschatology. It was obviously meant to be a surprise.

So, taking a cue from Wendy, I think I’ll let the whole end-time thing be the surprise Jesus intended. Today, I’ll just keep focused doing the two things Jesus said were important for me to do:

  • Love Him.
  • Love others (even Amillenialists)

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How are Those Resolutions Coming?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7:15 (NIV)

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming? I laughed the other day when a friend on Facebook confessed that he couldn’t wait for everyone at his crowded gym to give up their resolutions and stay home.

Why is it that we struggle to do the things we want to do and the things that we know will be good for us? At the same time, we continue to do things we know are unhealthy for ourselves (and perhaps others) even though we know we should stop.

This is the crux of the rumination in today’s chapter. There are those who steadfastly believe, or act as if they believe, that God’s favor is earned by keeping the rules, being good people, and coloring inside the lines. Paul’s response is basically: “How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming?”

No matter how good we try to be, we never truly rid ourselves of the human condition. Despite our resolutions we find ourselves choosing the couch over the gym after a couple of meager attempts at self discipline. The five pounds we shed in January (of the 20 we need to lose) is back on by Valentine’s Day. And, we won’t even go there with the nasty little secret behaviors the rest of the world doesn’t see.

The message of Jesus was simply this. You can’t rid yourself of the nature of sin. That being the case, death is the penalty. Jesus did not come to give us a a bunch of Pinterest worthy sayings to motivate us toward good works. Jesus came to die the death that we deserve, so that we might have access to the Life we can never afford by our own efforts.

Today, I’m feeling grateful that my salvation is not dependent on my goodness. I think I’ll keep working on those resolutions, though. They won’t earn me a ticket to heaven, but they will certainly make my journey on this earth a little better for both me and my companions.

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The Big Lie

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land
Deuteronomy 9:5 (NRSV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the morning message among weekly worship with my local group of Jesus followers. In the message I shared what I believe to be the most subtle, insidious lie that we are led to believe about God and eternity: it’s about what we do or don’t do. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)

Then this morning I read God sharing a similar message to the Hebrews through Moses. I hear in Moses’ message the concern that once the people took possession of the land they would “probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.” Moses reminds them that it’s all God’s doing, not theirs.

I so easily fall into the mindset that God will accept me or reject me based on my deeds, good or bad. If I fall into sin I believe God will punish me. If things are going well I get the feeling I must be doing something right for God to be blessing me. So I do extra good things to try and counter balance the bad and earn a little extra blessing. I think in the back of my head that eternity must be based on some giant set of scales that will weigh out the good and bad in my life. If good tips the scales I’m in, if my good falls short of my bad then I’m hosed. But that’s not at all what Jesus taught and what God’s Message says. Here’ another reminder I shared yesterday:

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m grateful for all the God has done in redeeming me and thankful that it’s not up to me or my effort, my good deeds, or my ability to earn my way into God’s good graces. God’s gift has restored my relationship with Him and given me back my life.

Needed: A Good Samaritan in a Hell-Fire and Brimstone World

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Sam...
An illustration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Rossano Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving illustrated New Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Such is the fate God allots the wicked,
the heritage appointed for them by God.”
Job 20:29 (NIV)

Zophar now responds to job, and there is a subtle yet major twist to the rhetoric. Up to this point, the three amigos have been making the case that, in this life, the righteous are blessed and the wicked suffer. Job continues to argue that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities he is suffering.

Zophar now expands the rhetoric and introduces the theme of death into the mix:

Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens
    and his head touches the clouds,
he will perish forever, like his own dung;
    those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
    banished like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will not see him again;
    his place will look on him no more.
His children must make amends to the poor;
    his own hands must give back his wealth.
The youthful vigor that fills his bones
    will lie with him in the dust.

Their appeals are clearly not working, and the self-righteous trio are hell-bent on satiating their judgmental blood-lust. Zophar decides on escalate things to another level. It’s time to pull out the big guns. He brings out a little hell-fire and brimstone from the rhetorical arsenal to convince Job to repent before he dies and returns to the dust and remembered no more.

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I remember seeing a story on CBS Sunday Morning several weeks ago (the show is part of the Sunday morning ritual for Wendy and me) exploring our concepts of heaven and hell. They interviewed an old hellfire and brimstone preacher and included a clip of his fear inducing rants from the pulpit. It seems to me he must be a spiritual descendant of Zophar. I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the appeal to fear with the example of Jesus who said He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. At the same time, even Jesus was known to utter a stern warning now and then, and I have come to realize along the journey that God uses all sorts of messengers and messages to reach the ears of His lost children.

Today, I am thinking about Zophar and his friends, who seem more concerned with proving themselves right than about loving, comforting, and easing Job’s pain. It’s as if their spiritual world view carries more importance than a simple act of kindness. They seem like the good religious folks who passed by the mugging victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the righteous, religious folks who acted in accordance with the heart of God, but the unrighteous, on-his-way-to-hell-in-a-handbasket bloke from the other side of the tracks in Samaria who simply acted with compassion and kindness.

Job needs a Samaritan. So do a lot of other hurting people. That’s who I want to be.

Bad News; Good News

 

The Book of Life 2
(Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

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. Revelation 20:12 (NIV)

This morning as I read through this verse I had a bit of a panic attack. It’s the end. I’m standing before God. The books are opened, and everything I’ve done is recorded in those books. I’m going to be judged according to what’s in the books. Yikes. This is bad news.

All of a sudden the memories of all the shameful things I’ve done come flooding into my mind. Every heinous thought. Every secretive deed. Every self-centered act. Every errant and angry word. I’ve thought, said, and done so many shameful things. There’s no way I’ll make the cut. I’m doomed.

Then I remember all that we’ve read and learned in this story that’s unfolded as we’ve gone through God’s Message a chapter a day. This is the good news and the core theme of the story:

  • Everyone is doomed. Everyone falls short. Once the books are opened and the truth is revealed there isn’t a person living or dead (Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and the Pope included) who is “good enough” to earn salvation.
  • There is another book. If you read the chapter then you know that, along with the book that reveals all we’ve said and done, there is a second book mentioned: The Book of Life. This is the book of those who have “received Jesus, who have believed in His name.”
  •  Grace. Jesus promised that any who seek after him and seek forgiveness for all the crap they’ve every done will be forgiven. This is the crux of the story: Jesus suffering and dying on the cross was, in essence, Him choosing to pay the just penalty for all the shameful thoughts, words, and actions recorded under my name (and yours too) in those books John was describing. Jesus paid the penalty for all I’ve done, so that I don’t have to. I don’t deserve what He did for me. That’s called grace: unmerited favor.
  • Covered. In the ancient sacrificial system we’ve read about, the people would bring their sins and sacrifice to the priest. The word picture of the sacrifice was that their sins were place beneath the altar. As the lamb was slain and the blood ran across the altar and fell to the ground it was covering the sin underneath the altar. That is why in John’s vision of heaven Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He was the sacrificial Lamb who made atonement to cover all our sins.
  • Gratitude. So I need not be worried about what is written in those first books John described. My sins are covered by His blood. I have received Him. I have believed in His name and my name is written in the Book of Life. This fact does not give me a sense of pride or arrogance. I am better than no one. I am simply forgiven. I have been given a priceless gift which I do not deserve. I am both eternally humbled and forever grateful.

I find it ironic that we reach this waypoint in our journey the week leading to Easter. This Friday is Good Friday, commemorating the good that Jesus did on the cross for anyone who would seek His grace and forgiveness. It is a good week to think on these things.

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