Conditional Grace

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. . .Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16, 18)

As we re-visit this most beautiful promise of eternal life we must also reread the conditions for that eternal life. The first few words of the passage assures us of God’s unconditional love – “For God so loved the world. . .” – no conditions, no stipulations, no caveats. How wonderful it is to know that there are no prerequisites to His love of us all.

Jesus followed that unconditional promise of God’s love with the conditional promised reward of eternal life – “that whoever believes in Him. . .”  Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee Nicodemus, of whom He referred to as “Israel’s teacher”. He then expounds on this  promise in more explicit terms in verse 18.

Jesus had opened the conversation with the declaration that “. . .no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3) Here the terms are reversed – a curse is promised, but with a conditional reprieve.

Another verse you see me use often is 1 Corinthians 2:9 – “However it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him”. Then follows verse 10 – “but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.” Here again we see God has done the preparatory work, but there is a condition for who will benefit  from His providence – “those who love Him”, and verse 10 declares that we have no excuses as the truth has been revealed to us.

In second Chronicles, chapter 30, we read of King Hezekiah’s restoration of Passover for Israel. Although Hezekiah was King of the southern kingdom of Judah, he sent letters out to several of the tribes of the remnant of the northern kingdom, having been conquered by the Assyrians. We will address only a few verses from Hezekiah’s letter here, but may I encourage you to read the entire chapter for better context. (2 Chronicles 30:1-12)

  • Verse 6: “People of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that He may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.” In other words, if you return to the Lord, He will return to you.
  • Verse 7: “Do not be like your fathers and brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD, the God of their fathers, so that He made them an object of horror, as you see.” The cause – the condition of their being made an object of horror was their unfaithfulness.
  • Verse 8: “Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were; submit to the LORD. Come to the sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that His fierce anger will turn away from you.” God’s burning anger is due to – conditional on – your being stiff-necked. His anger will turn away if you will serve Him.
  • Verse 9: “If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him.” Not only will God show His compassion, He will cause whatever may be your ‘captor’ to relent.

The narration of the response to Hezekiah’s letters follows in verses 10-12. Some responded with ‘scorn and ridicule’ (10), while others ‘humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem’ (11). Why did some respond negatively and some positively? Read verse 12 (2 Chron. 30:12). “. . .the hand of the LORD was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.”

We should meditate on this and think of the stunning implications. Is there a contradiction implied here? Is the Bible saying that God says “return to Me, and I will return to you” and yet “the hand of the LORD was on the people to carry out the word of the LORD”? Does God choose to ’cause’ some to follow His will and others He does not? Where does that leave us in our responsibility to choose to obey or not to obey?

Such thought is a grave mistake and a misunderstanding of the scripture. Verse 12 is a revelation of God’s unmitigated grace. For those who are predisposed to disobey, God’s grace passes them by like an invisible, unknowable spirit. For those who are predisposed to obey, God grants that same grace that allows us to choose to follow Him. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Someone recently shared with me their vision of God’s grace. He said he pictured grace as an umbrella. We choose to stand under it or not – and yet it is God, by His Holy Spirit, that guides our choice as where we may stand – in His grace or not. We should never jump to the conclusion that what we choose, and what God does in response, depends ultimately on us.

Verse 12 teaches explicitly: ‘What God commands, He may also give.’ It is a very close parallel to Augustine’s famous prayer: “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” (Confessions, X, xxix, 40).

Let us be ever mindful of the sovereignty of our Lord God. He rules and reigns with no input or counsel from His creation.

We pray God’s blessings on you and yours and that He will bless you with the grace to choose to follow Him.

Delivering the Good News

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7 NIV)

In Paul's letter to the Romans he zealously declared that salvation is by faith in Christ and that the Mosaic Law upon which the Jews were so desperately dependent for salvation was null and void. He states, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

Both passages evoke a notion of someone bringing good news – not just good news, but life giving, great news. In Isaiah the messenger proclaims God's promise of redemption, a return of the remnant in Babylon to His holy city, promise of peace and tranquility, and above all the sovereign rule of the Lord God to protect them. How beautiful are the feet of that messenger. Watch now, going forward into verses 8 and 9; we see the watchmen, who have heard the good tidings 'lift up their voices. . .[and] sing for joy'; and in verse 10, the promised 'salvation of our God'. (Is. 52:8-10)

To the  Romans Paul has stated that all are saved by the Calvary event – but all aren't aware of that event – and there is a cry for someone to preach the salvation message. Some messenger must go. And again, how beautiful the feet that bring that message.

There are many obstacles to the messenger's feet. A world view would ridicule the message and vilify the messenger. The evil one will place many a stumbling block in the way of the messenger, enticing him with pleasurable side paths, bright lights, and worldly treasures. Our Lord Jesus taught us from the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:9-12)

But God provides the true bright light for the messenger – a lamp unto his feet and a light for his path – His holy Word – and a true Guide in the person of the Holy Spirit.

We, my friends, are called to be the messenger today. Just as the people of Jerusalem were watching and waiting for the message of God's return with his remnant and just as Paul exhorts us to take the message to those 'have not believed' because 'they have not heard', there are those who are waiting for a message; a message of salvation, of love, and peace, and joy; that they too can join us in rejoicing in God's favor. They are waiting for us. Waiting for you.

I once heard in a sermon that there is someone in your realm of influence that will never hear about Christ unless you tell them. When I first heard that statement I was a little skeptical – thought it a little far fetched. "Really? I am their only source for the word of God?" But upon deeper reflection I thought – "What if?" Do I dare deny such a premise?

And then there was this from an atheistic comedian; "Who do you hate so much that you would keep secret from them your message of salvation?" Do you really hate your next door neighbor that much? Do you really hate your co-workers that much? Obviously the list could go on and on. A favorite worship song says "They will know we are Christians by our love".

On that last night in the Upper Room, Jesus told His apostles, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 emphasis added)

So in conclusion we might declare that the beautiful feet of the  messenger will be recognized by our love for another.

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, "Here I am, Send me!" He said, "Go and tell this people…" (Isaiah 6:8-9a)

"Let it be so. Or in Hebrew, "Amen".

Rapture

Almost everyone has heard at some time or another something pertaining to or about the Rapture. Some believe it, others do not. Some understand it, and surely others do not.  Whether you choose to believe or not, that’s entirely up to you. With that said, lets try to shed some light on the subject.

Some fifteen years ago Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins authored a wonderful fictional account of the rapture, followed by their interpretation of the seven year tribulation and Christ’s second coming. I believe the twelve book series, though sophomoric, is a great read, and faithful to the scriptures.

The word rapture comes from the root word for “caught up”. The root word for “caught up” in the Greek language is harpazo, which means “to snatch away” or to take away suddenly. In the Latin Vulgate Bible, the words “caught up” are translated as rapturo. Christians have since chosen to describe this soon-coming event of the Lord suddenly snatching away His true followers from the earth as the rapture. The rapture according to the bible in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says… Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”.

This is when Christ Himself will descend from heaven with the shout (also known as a trumpet blast) of the Arch Angel, to take all those who believe in Him. (Also known as the church or the body of Christ). Those believers who have died are raised from the grave first. Those who are alive, are then caught up to meet Christ in the air. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 Behold I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trump shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“. (See the NLT translation)

What this verse means is that we will not all die or taste death. Some of us will be changed as we yet are alive. In the twinkling of an eye… approximately 1/100 of a second! Our bodies must be changed into glorified bodies and therefore incorruptible. We will be given perfect bodies; no blemishes, no scars, no imperfections, no overweight and sorry, no tattooed or pierced bodies, We will be clothed in fine white linen and be made ready for The Bridegroom.

This is not the time of Christ’s second coming on a white horse with an army of angels that we find in Revelation chapter 19 and forward. That second coming is seven years after the event of 1 Thes. 4:17. The rapture will occur with no warning – no stars falling, no red moon (Rev. 6:12). In what is called the “Olivet Discourse” in Matthew 24, our Lord Jesus informed His disciples of what was to come, regarding His return.

He warned them of wars, of natural disasters, of false prophets and teachers, and that the nations would be at each other’s throats. He warned them of persecution, hatred and betrayal. Now we might say “now is such a time!” But we find that the spiritual writers and speakers of every generation as far back as we have documentation, each felt their generation was surely facing the days of the rapture. As sinful and godless as we may perceive this time, so too did our predecessors in the faith. And yet the Rapture has not come. . .why?

I think Peter addressed that in his second epistle; “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.” (2 Peter 3:8-9 emphasis added) In this case God is the Master Procrastinator. . .waiting – desiring that more and more of His creation would come to Him before the hammer falls.

I think there are a couple of most important issues we must tattoo onto our mind and heart. First and foremost – it (the Rapture) could happen now – RIGHT NOW! The Bible tells us there will be no warning of when Christ will come to “gather His elect” (Matt. 24:30-31) Jesus originated the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”. What about your life would you change if you knew He was coming tonight????

And secondly, there is what you must do to be prepared. . .

It is assumed that as a Christian you have surrendered yourself to God, confessed you sin before man, and repented of all wickedness. That being a given, we further assume you are abiding by the commandment Christ Jesus delivered to the Pharisees as told in Matthew 22:37-39, and that you are counted among the sheep as depicted in Matthew 25:34-40.

We never get it perfect my friends – hard as we may try. But God knows those who love Him and are sorrowful of their failures to meet His standards. It is only as we are sure of His mercy and forgiveness that we can boldly come to His throne and eagerly anticipate the Rapture.

As for your author. . .I say “BRING IT ON!”


Going Home

“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17 NLT)

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matt. 24:30-31 NIV)

“For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27 NIV)

There’s a wonderful old hymn, “When we all get to Heaven”, an upbeat, joyful song of hope and victory, and that drives my spirit to another hymn titled “It is well with my soul”. I don’t specifically recall ever singing the two back to back but certainly when we get to Heaven – it will be well with my soul. Victory and quiet satisfaction – all in Jesus.

An old, and true, axiom says that two things in life are sure – death and taxes. But we know an even surer truth, and that is that Jesus will return. We have looked for Him on the plus side of two thousand years now – just as He said we should.

False prophets and seers have duped countless souls into an advocacy of a date, even the hour of His coming. If you find yourself drawn to that deadly flame you must run away, for all such predictions are lies, be they purposeful or accidental – they are products of Satan. Christ Himself did not – and perhaps still does not – know the hour of His return. Not the angels in heaven, only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:36, 40 & 42). Jesus told the apostles that His return will come like a thief in the night – best you keep those lamplights burning. (Matt. 25:1-13; Luke 12:35-37; 1 Thes. 5:2)

I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and even ignorance of what the Bible teaches us about Christ’s return. Much of the imagery from Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation is difficult to piece together into a complete picture. What of that is metaphorical or analogical; which is is to be real??

What is much easier to grasp, at least for me, is the definitive statements of Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15.

HE IS COMING TO TAKE HIS ELECT HOME AND NO ONE KNOWS WHEN!!

So what should we expect? Next week I hope to unpack the rapture and Christ’s second coming. But for today think on this: Jesus told His disciples (John 14:2-4), that He was going to ‘prepare’ a place for them (us too), and that He would be back. God created this big blue marble we call Earth, all the beauty we enjoy, the complexity of our minds and bodies, the rhythm of nature, all the stars and galaxies, etc, etc. He did all this in SIX days. Since then He has these many THOUSAND YEARS to prepare our home with Him in Heaven. Can you even imagine?? (1 Cor. 2:9)

Be blessed.


Visiting Sodom and Gomorrah

I invite you to return with me to the familiar saga of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis chapters 18 & 19. As we read between the lines, (and your author takes some literary liberties with the scripture), we detect a few subtle hints which may help us paint a clearer picture of the events of that fateful day and the message God would send to us all.

Let’s review the cast. We have an angry God, two angels of destruction, Abraham, Lot and his wife, two daughters and their husbands to be. Oh yes, and a mob of perverts.

It is a curiosity to me that we are given that God tells Abraham that He must “go down and see if what they have done is…” (Gen 18:21) – This from an omniscient God??? He must go and see?? But from this anomaly we find solace in knowing that merciful God is not impulsive in His discipline. He does not act hastily nor on hearsay evidence. He is slow to anger, abounding in love.

But the evidence is conclusive and the sentence is passed; Death and destruction – complete and irreversible. Centuries later Ezekiel will tell of how God derives no pleasure in such judgments – but they are just and prosecuted with due cause (Ezek. 14:21-23)

Although St. Peter relates that Lot was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:6-8) we find he has abandoned the tent life of his Uncle Abe for a house in Sin-city Sodom (Gen 19:3). We wonder how he can tend his great herds (Gen. 13) from a house in the city. Actually we find Lot is not a practicing shepherd now as he is found lounging around the city gate as the two angels approached. I guess he traded his flocks for a home in the hood. Let’s give the guy a break and say he was on mission. Again quoting old St. Pete – Lot was “….distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men”

Yet many a Bible scholar will insist that the bloom had fallen off Lot’s rose. The moth cannot with impunity flutter about the flame. By and by, much as the frog in the cookpot, we are slowly, blindly, drawn into believing the lie. Lot had betrothed his daughters to Sodomites and so we surmise he was well entrenched into that society.

Even as God has sent His emissaries to the rescue, they will go kicking and screaming, each of the two angels grabbing a hand of the party of four must drag them from the city. And in a last moment’s yearning, Lot’s wife would disobey once too often, glancing back at what she had embraced as home. In a visit to the Dead Sea today, you will encounter ‘pillars of salt’ around the perimeter of that desolate body, some of which your guide may suggest could be our disobedient gazer.

Not satisfied to have been rescued, Lot now protests the Divine’s appointed place of rest and demands to choose his own refuge in Sodom’s sister city of Zoar. How often do we choose our preferred city of refuge following His rescue from certain disaster. Surely Lot and company had no claim to be saved, nor do we. As we are admitted entrance through those pearly gates how surprised we will be to find who is among the saved, and they too surprised by our own salvation. (Rom. 3:9-11)

In summarizing the epic tale we should consider this:

  • Lot was saved, at least in part, due to Abraham’s prayer (Gen. 19:29). Pray on brother! Pray on sister! The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:13-16)
  • God sent His rescuers to Lot – yes, He sent His angels to Sodom. He sends His angels to your Sodom. He stands at the door and knocks, and knocks, and knocks. He rescues all who will answer His call. None are too sinful. He goes after the one which is lost until He finds it. (Luke 15:4)
  • The angels sought to rescue more – (Gen. 19:12) Who will you bring with you? Today we’ve lined our tongues with velvet lest we offend. Sometimes we need to offend. An atheist comedian recently commented, “How much do you hate the unbeliever that you would not share your message of faith with him?”
  • The destruction was imminent! The angels told the party, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!” (Gen 19:17) The Bible tells us that our Lord Jesus’ coming will be like a thief in the night. (1 Thes. 5:1-3) Hurry my friend. Hurry to your salvation. Flee from that sin that so easily entangles – (Heb. 12:1)

In closing, we know that comparisons have been made to Las Vegas, New Orleans, but in reality whether you live in Smalltown, Alabama, Middleburg, Ohio, or Bigcity, Texas there are those ‘seedy’ sides of town that are as exceedingly sinful as Sodom and Gomorrah ever were. You need not travel to the night lights to find that perversion that so incensed God; today it is delivered, free of charge, by satellite dish and cable. Don’t be drawn into the candlefire.

Until next time. . .may you be abundantly blessed by God, and may you be a blessing to others.