The Life and Death Reality of the Gospel

From hatred to love, from death to life

I murdered him for Allah but God raised him up to forgive me…. SHOCKING STORY OF REDEMPTION!! One for Israel: Israeli Arabs and Jews. United in the Gospel

The Gospel is a matter of life and death. A religious person might understand that statement in a metaphorical, “spiritual” sense. A non-believing person might understand this statement in the sense that is important to the believing person. Neither sense, however, captures the utter significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the testimony to follow about a Muslim who hated Christians and Jews, and the one after that about a Jew who hated Muslims, the utter significance of the Gospel is brought home in a way that abstract ideas simply cannot do. The Gospel is Living Water in a wasteland of hatred and death.

The following testimony of a Sudanese Muslim who hated everyone who was not Muslim will make your skin crawl as he speaks of a brutal, unprovoked attack by him and others against a Christian classmate that left the man broken and bleeding on the threshold of death. His reaction was pride in what he had “done for Allah”.

An encounter with two Coptic Christians whose prayer healed his cousin who lay on his own deathbed opened his eyes to a new reality. When they told him, “The real miracle is that God wants to change your heart,” his world changed forever.

The decision he made to embrace Yeshua who lives cost him his family and life as he knew it. He was dead to them. They even performed a ceremonial funeral for him. The life that he knew was over, but he received new Life.

You will want to watch and listen to him tell his story in his own words, not just to describe this journey. You will want to hear him tell the rest of the story about the man he left for dead. The power of the Gospel is so much more than a matter of mere metaphorical importance.

In the following testimony of her life, this woman grew up in a world in which Arabs “were the enemy”. She grew up in the complex political struggle all around her or war and death. She did not live in a safe world.

She was terrified of Arab people who lived in villages surrounding the settlement in which she grew up. The Arabic language was a reminder to her, when she heard it, of shooting, rocks flying and people dying. She learned to hate Arabs.

The Rabbis painted a picture of the God of the Bible as “a very cold and distant god, almost robot-like, a type of God that wouldn’t think twice before he would strike you down with a lightning bolt if you dared to tear a little piece of toilet paper on Saturday, which is forbidden in Judaism”. What she saw of God in the Bible, however, seemed different to her.

She grew up in a world of hatred and fear. When she was introduced to the God of love and hope, her world changed completely. She no longer hates or fears Arab people. The Lord of life is the God of Arabs and Jews alike.

Risky Living: Jumping from the Ultimate Precipice

I have briefly explored the idea of good risks and bad risks in relation to the corona virus threat we have been facing over the last year. Using that as a springboard, I will explored the idea of tempting death, something, which we can’t avoid, regardless of how carefully we live. Now, I want to talk about the good risk of jumping from the ultimate precipice.

Some people gravitate toward risky behavior like a moth to the flame, and others impulsively withdraw into bubbles of protection for fear of sickness, injury and ultimately death. As one who gravitated naturally a little closer to the flames than the bubble, I lived a somewhat reckless youth. The precipice of physical danger, however, brought me to a more metaphysical precipice. The reckless attempt to find fulfillment in corporal, temporal things, led me far enough down that path to rule them out as the missing thing I really wanted.

As I read the Gospels for the first time in a college class, I recognized the truth in the statement that we should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth. I could see that earthly treasures promised no lasting fulfillment. I had tested their capacity for fulfillment and found them wanting. I could see far enough down that road to know it contained a dead end.

Those experiences, eventually, led me to another precipice – a spiritual one. If God is real, I was on the outside looking in. I couldn’t see “in”. God stood behind a curtain to me, shrouded in mystery that I couldn’t penetrate.

I didn’t realize, then, that would find what I was seeking behind that curtain, but I was propositioned one day with the task of explaining God why He should let me in to His heaven…. That question brought me to the brink of that spiritual precipice.

His heaven… I realized in that moment that heaven (whatever heaven might be) was God’s place. He didn’t have to let me in. I was treading on His turf there, if indeed God existed, and He was under no compulsion to let me enter.

And why should He?

The answer that came from my mouth rang hollow in my heart. “I am trying to do better.” Better is a pretty relative term, but was my effort good enough? Was my effort even the best I could do? …. I knew it wasn’t.

If my best wasn’t enough, I was sunk, and I “knew” in my heart that it wasn’t enough. I knew in my heart I hadn’t even given my best.

When my questioner offered (finally) that heaven is a gift that God gives us, and we can’t earn it, I was dumbfounded.

My entire life was about earning something – earning attention, earning respect, earning grades, earning my own self-acceptance – and I was always falling short. I couldn’t even live up to my own expectations of myself. I wasn’t who I thought I should be!

My recklessness for seeking attention and acceptance and achievement turned to recklessness (for a time) in my abandonment to drinking, doing drugs and risky living. I saw that I was incapable of living up to my own dreams, so I abandoned those dreams for a time to the numbness of a narcotic stupor. Yet, I couldn’t escape the longing, and it only deepened the gap to realization of it.

I had turned back from the inevitable dead-end of a self-induced stupor to a purposeful seeking, but that which I sought I couldn’t exactly define. It wasn’t in me, but it seemed attainable. It was elusive, but I could almost taste it.

I stood at a new precipice that day, when I realized that a God who created the earth controlled whether I might enter His heaven. At the prospect that He offered it freely to me, if I would take it, I jumped.

(I have been to other precipices since that day for which the jump wasn’t as easy, maybe because I wasn’t as reckless, maybe because I took the jump more seriously, counting the cost more completely.)

I had jumped from other precipices, physical ones, in my life in attempts to find the right combination of thrill and daring that would make me feel better about myself, earn the respect or (at least) the attention of my peers and help me fit in to the world I wanted to live in and the person I thought I wanted to be. Those jumps had not brought me any closer to anything that was really satisfying, but that metaphysical jump I took when faced with the prospect of a God who “owned” heaven changed my life.

I accepted the offer. I “accepted” Jesus as my Lord and Savior (not knowing nearly well enough what that really meant). Fortunately, God took me at my word (little, though, that I knew what I was doing).

When I started this piece, I was reading The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith by Sy Garte. He was a third-generation atheist, born to Russian immigrants who are members of the Communist party. He studied science and became a scientist. Along the way, the science that he was learning led him to question the philosophical naturalism and materialism that he had assumed was reality all his life.


I will end be telling the story of the precipice to which Sy Garte came. The landscape of this precipice looked different than the one to which I came many years earlier, but the decision to jump was no less momentous.

Continue reading “Risky Living: Jumping from the Ultimate Precipice”

Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?

“We were held in custody under the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ….”

Much confusion in the early church arose out of the relationship of the Law to the “good news” that we now call the Gospel (which means good news). The confusion continues today. I continue to wrestle with the tension, myself.

Two passages come to mind that seem to be directly counter to each other. They establish a paradox – a seeming inconsistency – that needs to be resolved. Compare what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew, to the instruction of Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees.” (Ephesians. 2:13-14)

In one place, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law; and, in the other place, Paul says Jesus abolished the law. Which is it?

The answer is both. If we view this apparent dichotomy as a paradox, rather than a contradiction, we can make some sense of it.

First of all, we need to consider the context. When Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, he was talking about his coming in the flesh. Jesus was God who became incarnate. Jesus was God who emptied Himself of all that separated Himself from His creation and became part of it in the form of a human being. (Phil. 2:5-8) Thus, when God became man and came to us, He did not come to abolish the law.

We also need to look at the larger context of the Law. The Law was a covenant (an agreement) with Israel. It was given to Moses for the descendants of Abraham after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God was faithful to this covenant, but the people never were.

This was a problem, because God promised to bless the people based on them holding up their part of the bargain, but they failed. They fell short. God was true to keep His part of the bargain, but He could not be true to His promise to bless them because they did not keep their part of the bargain.

When Jesus made the statement that he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, he was putting that statement into the context of time and purpose. He was saying that the purpose for which he came was to fulfill the law.

When Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, he was saying that he came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man – doing the thing no other man had done or was able to do. When he said on the cross, “It is finished”, he was proclaiming that he had finished accomplishing the fulfillment of the Law in his human body. He lived it out perfectly. He was obedient to it unto death.

Jesus did what no man had done. God became flesh and came so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain (as a man) so that God could also keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms (fulfilled) of both sides of the covenant.

But that is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?”

Envisioning Where We Are Heading: The Kingdom of God

When pray these words that Jesus taught us to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done….

This is what the Father’s will ultimately looks like:

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…. (Rev. 7:9)

Racial Justice: Having the Same Attitude Jesus Had

Loving our neighbors of color means not considering our rights and our position something to which we desperately cling

I consider myself fortunate to have been raised by parents who spoke about the evils of racial prejudice. I was rightfully appalled when I heard a racial comment spoken by a classmate in 1st grade. I was deeply affected by the assignation of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. at age eight, so much that I remember what it was like walking to school the following day.

Dr. King’s death was a momentous event in my life, and it affected me, but the darkness I knew about was as far away from me as the clouds way up in the bright morning sky that day as I walked to school. As fortunate as I was to have had the good example of my parents’ just position on the issue of racism, I have been very slow to realize, personally, the real impact of racism in the lives of my brothers and sisters of color.

The racism I understand (very incompletely) has has only slowly come into focus for me from the other side of that world. I have never experienced racism directed at myself. I have not lived with the ever-present reality of racism bearing down on me from seen and, mostly, unseen sources.

I have never walked into a retail store knowing that someone, somewhere in that store, was watching me, suspicious of my every move. I have not driven my car in my own neighborhood conscious of the fact that eyes were following me from somewhere unseen, wondering what I am up to. I have not been stopped multiple times in my life on a pretense, though I was doing nothing wrong.

I do know the fear of being found out when I was doing something wrong, but that isn’t the same thing. I remember as a rebellious youth the fear that gripped me when I encountered a squad car at an intersection or when one pulled behind me while I had an open container of alcohol in my car. But I could control my circumstances and change my ways to eliminate that fear.


I don’t know what it’s like to live in constant fear of circumstances I can’t control or predict – circumstances controlled by the fate of my birth in modern America with dark-colored skin.

As a child, I had hope and faith that we could truly see Dr. King’s dream come true: the dream that is deeply rooted in the American dream that this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

We have made great strides, but the racism in this country is a more deeply rooted and pernicious cancer than I believed it to be when I was child.

The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are just the most recent examples of decades, generations and centuries of this cancer. The rioting that occurred last year is hard to understand from a purely rational perspective by those who don’t personally know the pain, grief, frustration and anger that wells up in response to injustice as people of good will sit silently by.

We have not, yet, achieved the goal of the civil rights movement that was inspired by the tragic death of Dr. King. Half a century later, we aren’t colorblind. In fact, colorblindness has become a way of denying the racial disparities that still exist. Racial issues have gone underground and have become more insidious.

How does a white guy like me, who once thought that we had overcome racism with civil rights laws on the books, speak to these pernicious issues that remain? How do I conduct myself? Some would say I have no legitimate voice to speak to these issues. 

Continue reading “Racial Justice: Having the Same Attitude Jesus Had”