Exchanging Death for the Gift of Life

From dust to dust is our natural end, but God offers us life.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 ESV

We have earned death. The “wages” we receive is what we have earned, God desires to give us the gift of life. He desires to exchange what we have earned for the gift of life.

We are from the dust, and to the dust we return. That is our natural lot in life. Death is our natural end, but God desires to give us life.

This is not unfair. Death is all we can expect as finite creatures. We cannot expect more, but God offers life. He offers us His life. 

We did not create the world. We are not the captains of our own destiny. We are aliens in this place. From dust to dust we is our natural condition.

Yet, God inexplicably and unbelievingly offers us His life.

How do we know this? We know it because of Jesus. Jesus sad no greater love has anyone for another than to lay down his life for that person. (John 15:13) Then Jesus laid down his life. He laid down his life for us.

We know we can trust God because He became one of us. He emptied Himself of His power, glory, and privilege to experience the life we have.  (Phil. 2:7-8 ESV) He didn’t have to do it. He did it willingly for us.

Then, he rose from the dead. He showed us that death has no hold on him. His life, the life that triumphs over death, is what He offers us.

It is not an automatic thing, though. We have to want it. We have to receive it. We have to accept it.

Some of us would rather accept only what we have earned. He came to the people with whom He long established a relationship, through whom He would reveal Himself to the world, but many did not receive Him. (1 John 1:11)

He chose to give us a choice. That choice He came to offer in person to the first century Hebrews with whom He cultivated a relationship over the centuries. Now He offers that choice to everyone, even us.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (john 1:12-13)

Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,

I am listening to the Quick to Listen Podcast, Episode 277: ‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal (America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country) I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped in my tracks at about 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the discussion with an Afghan pastor, and have paused to sift through it.

At the beginning of the interview, the unidentified pastor described himself as a Muslim in 2001, where the discussion started with the US invading Afghanistan. Even then, he said he welcomed the US interference. The country was in upheaval and chaos, and Western troops brought some hope for stability.

I do not want to get into my thoughts on the initial invasion or the US presence since that date. They are not relevant to my purpose for writing. I don’t want to be distracted by political assessment or judgment, of which I am deeply ambivalent.

The recent video footage from Afghanistan of people so desperate to leave before the Taliban takes over that they are clinging to airplanes as they take off, is heartbreaking to watch. The desperation in the faces of the people crowding unto Afghan runways still today (while there is still a sliver of hope to escape) is something I have never known. I can only watch in stunning silence.

Thus, I listened to the interview of the anonymous Afghan pastor with interest as he described from his personal experience the reality of life in Afghanistan for a Christian today.

About 18 minutes into the discussion, one of the interviewers recalled that the gentleman described himself as a Muslim when the US first stepped on Afghan soil and asked, “How did you come to faith? How did Jesus find you?”

Without hesitation, in his broken English, he said, “I don’t want to come to faith. I … hate Christians. I don’t like to become Christian because I [come] from a very religious Muslim background. My father was Imam. They taught me to be good Muslim. Six time I have been to Mecca. I practiced my religion very well.”

This man was not looking for a Christian savior when the US troops arrived in 2001. He just wanted peace and stability in his life and in his country, something most people in the western world take for granted. The idea of becoming Christian was abhorrent to him.

His personal story needs to be heard. It is the story of many Afghans who seek asylum today. They look to the US, and other countries, not as a savior, but as a refuge against evil that is hard to imagine for most of us. These people are not battle-hardened jihadists, as some people seem to fear.

Many of them are even Christians, despite the great risk personal risk involved. This is just one such story of a real person who has experienced a life most of us can’t even imagine and have a hard time appreciating. I will give him a name, Abdul, for personal affect, though he remains anonymous for obvious reasons.

Continue reading “Tales of Afghan Christians: Amazing, but Heartbreaking,”

Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

A scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature.

Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:

“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.

“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)” 

A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.

My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.

These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?

But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”

Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.

“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.

Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.

The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.

Continue reading “Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs”

Rising Up To Honor Christ Who Saves!

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….”

Most Christians, especially those who like apologetics, are familiar with the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:1 to “[be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you….” I read this verse today, but the beginning of verse stood out for me today:

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….” (ESV)

Perhaps, this phrase stood out to me today because of my recent experience at a gathering on a bright, sunny and warm day. We were outside with neighbors, enjoying the turn of good weather, and I was very relaxed.

It was Easter. I had gone to church, but the poignance of the morning service had washed out in the sunlight and warm breeze of a lazy day. I wanted to hold onto and appreciate the significance of the day, but the pleasure of spring after a long, hard winter absorbed my attention.

I am reminded as I read 1 Peter 3:15 today that holiness means being set apart. A more literal reading of the Greek phrase might be as follows:

“Sanctify Christ in your hearts as Lord….”

The Greek word translated variously in different translations as honor, sanctify, reverse, worship, set apart, consecrate, dedicate, is ἁγιάζω (hagiazó). It means “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify”. It comes from the adjective, hágios, which means holy. It is a verb that means to make holy, consecrate, sanctify or to dedicate separate.

Thus, Christ is not simply holy. He is holy, of course, but we have to make Him holy in our hearts. We must actively participate in honoring, revering, consecrating, sanctifying and making Christ holy in our hearts. This is not a passive stance; we are called to be active participants in the process of making Christ holy and set apart in our hearts.

I was troubled in my heart the evening of our lazy Easter day. I went to bed troubled. I woke up troubled. I am still troubled.

This verse focuses the light of God’s word on my troubled heart: I was not actively participating in the holiness of Christ in my heart. I was a passive vessel after church the rest of that Easter day. I was passive, not active, in my heart to honor and revere Christ as Lord the rest of that day.

I am not beating myself up for this. Christ is my salvation. He alone is my hope. His gift of salvation is freely offered to me. It’s nothing I can add to, nothing I must strive to hold onto, and nothing in which I can boast.

Yet, my heart is troubled when I fall short of honoring Christ for what He has done for me.

I am not troubled for having enjoyed the day. All good things come from God. The warmth of spring after the cold of winter is a reminder of God’s love for us. We do well to enjoy the blessings of God.

We shouldn’t enjoy the blessings of God, however, as we are often tempted to do, in place of God from whom all blessings come. It’s easy, especially in the good times, to embrace the blessings while relaxing our embrace of God from whom those blessings come.

I believe I have been troubled because I failed in my heart to honor Christ well during the rest of the day after the morning church service in the way that I wanted to – in the way my heart desired to honor Christ, who died for my sins.

As I write this, I realize the danger of being the Pharisee here. I could beat myself up. I could do penance and scrub the outside of this tomb I call my body. I could polish it up so that my appearance to all who see me is whitewashed, but I would do nothing in the effort to drive out the darkness in me that would rather settle into the comfort of a lazy day than keep Christ sanctified in my heart.

Or, I could simply recognize that I need Christ all the more for having succumbed to the laziness that resides still within me. Christ is the Author and Perfector of my faith. Not I. So, I submit in writing this to Him who saves me to work in me to will and to act according to His good purpose.

The spirit in me aligns with God’s Holy Spirit to cry, Abba! Father! Save me from this heart of sin! Save me from the sin into which I so easily settle.

Stir my heart within me to rise up and honor Christ who saves me!

How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured

God’s promise to Abraham was given 430 years before Moses

I have taken some time to reflect on the unity for which Jesus prayed in relation to the story of Peter & Cornelius and the tension that continued in the early church over extending the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews). The tension that persisted at the heart of the early Church threatened to unmoor the Gospel from its footing.

In previous articles, I reflected on the deeply ingrained nature of the belief that the Jews were God’s people. They were entrusted with the Law of Moses, and they had protected the Law God gave them for well over a 1000 years, painstakingly preserving it, passing it down from generation to generation.

They were instructed by God Himself to drive out all the inhabitants in the land God promised them, to avoid intermarrying and being corrupted by the influence of “Gentiles” to worship their gods. Thus, Hebrew descendants of Abraham avoided association with others – Gentiles. Like the plague.

So intent on sticking to the script were Jews in the First Century, that they didn’t recognize God when He shed his deity and came to them as Jesus from Nazareth.

John says that God came to His own people, and they didn’t recognize Him. When the Word through whom the universe was created, the Word who “was with God” and “was God”, became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), “his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:12) “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:11) John continues:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

“His own” were the Jews. The “all who did receive him, who believed in his name”, were Gentiles (and Jews) who believed in what Jesus said and trusted in him. They became children of God, not because they were born into it, nor because they or anyone else desired it, but because God Himself desired them to be His children.

But these things were far from clear to the early Church. Even Peter, who lived with Jesus and knew him intimately, had difficulty with the idea that the Gospel should be extended to Gentiles.

In the previous articles linked above, I summarized how God gave Peter a vision that occurred three times in a row for emphasis, an audible voice, and the voice of the Holy Spirit, directing him to go with men who appeared just then at the door to summon him. Peter’s experience was orchestrated with an angel that visited Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, who was directed to send those men to “a man named Simon who is called Peter”. (Acts 10:5) Then God poured out His Holy Spirit on the Centurion and his household to emphasize to Peter his intention to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But the tradition of shunning the Gentiles would not die easy. Despite the obviously divine orchestration of events to drive home God’s intentions to Peter, Paul had to confront Peter publicly in Antioch over the issue when Jews from Jerusalem came to visit, and Peter disassociated himself from the Antiochian Gentiles. (See Galatians 2-3)

Paul encountered the same issue in Galatia where people were insisting that the Jews continue to follow the Mosaic law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described his confrontation with Peter. More importantly, Paul explained why the Mosaic Law no longer applied to the people of God – who now included not just the Jews, but everyone!

Continue reading “How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured”