Category Archives: Salvation

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

WD-40 for Life

Stubborn.  So set in their ways they can’t listen to reason. Know anybody like that?  Jesus did and they made Him angry.  Angry, but also sad they could not loosen up.  They were like seized pistons in what could have been the powerful engine of life.  Here’s what happened:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
You can’t get in step with Jesus when your heart is hard or stubborn.  You can’t fold your arms, stick out your chin and insist on your own way.  Responsiveness to His rhythms is the key.  Perhaps that heart adjustment seems risky at first.  Like your first time out on the dance floor.  But life is so much more exhilarating when we are not stuck.

Ruins are Ruined

These are the ruins of the synagogue that was built in Capernaum sometime three or four hundred years after the time of Jesus. It was the most magnificent building in town.  Rightly so, because it was the place where people came to try to draw close to God.  The idea was that the greater and more magnificent the building, the closer one could get to God.  That concept is still practiced today.  That synagogue  was probably built on the original foundation of an earlier synagogue that had fallen down, likely the one in which Jesus spoke the following words:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  (John 6:51)

This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”.  Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.  ​(John 6:58 — 59)

The bread he was referring to was Himself.  When you visit the synagogue you stand among dilapidated ruins.  You also can visit enormous, ornate, modern houses of worship and sometimes be standing among ruins.  Ruins, because in some of those places it is very tough to draw close to God in a lasting and meaningful way.  But when you come to Jesus by faith, you are filled with God’s presence in a continuing way, with His Fresh Bread of Life.

About Face

Self check-out stands in the grocery store have been designed to make me feel stupid.  It seems I wind up doing something wrong every time.  And then the machine calls the attendant over to help out the stupid guy.  Everybody else looks over to see the dunce, who pushed the wrong button and screwed up the process.  Last time, I got successfully all the way through and then put my card in backwards.  Red lights flashed as I waited for the teenaged clerk to show me what to do. It would be nicer if the machine quietly said, “Turn your card around and try again.”  

If you have been doing wrong thing and are stuck, it feels so good to find out what really works.  Remember that, the next time you pull when the door says push.  Remember this, too:  changing your course of action because you learn what works is basically what the word “repent” means.  Repent is a happy word.  “Repent” is how you find the solution to a puzzle, the correct turn when you are lost and the real way to approach God.  The way that works.

We hear “repent” angrily shouted by some red-faced, judgmental religious guy.  We hear the word, repent, and think we should cower in shame.  Nope.  Repent means to change your understanding and try something that works.  We humans have been stumbling, pell-mell, down the road of religion in the wrong direction.   When Jesus came, He knew that would never work.  The first word in His first message was repent.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:17)
To say it another way, “Hey guys, turn around; come this way!”  

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

Good Eats

“Open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you wise.”  Ever hear that as a kid?  Did you do it?  If so, what did they put in your mouth?  It could have been anything from a chocolate chip cookie to a worm.  Unless this was your first time out at this game, you’d only open your mouth and close your eyes if you really trusted the person who gave you the challenge.  I can remember the names and faces of lots of childhood chums with whom I would never play that game.

That kids’ game illustrates the answer to a puzzling question.  Look at these two quotes from Jesus, taken from the same passage:

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.  (John 6:47)

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  (John 6:51a)

The first question most people ask is “What does Jesus mean by eats this bread, especially since He identified Himself as that Living Bread?”   He wasn’t suggesting an act of cannibalism.  But what?  The first and second quote are talking about the same thing: what it takes to gain eternal life.  The second one says you have to “eat this bread;” the first says you have to “believe.”  Apparently, Jesus was using eating as a metaphor for believing.

But does such an analogy work?  It actually is perfect.  Eating is an act of believing, an act of faith.  When you eat, you take something external to yourself and ingest it, making it a part of who you are (Remember: You are what you eat?).  You only chew and swallow because you believe eating that thing will make you better in some way.  If you don’t believe, you don’t eat, right?  This is why most kids won’t eat Lima beans.  To believe in Jesus is to willingly receive Him into your innermost being, allowing Him to become the Source of your new life.  To believe in Him is to “swallow Him, hook, line and sinker.”

Jesus comes to each of us and presents an invitation:  He says, “Open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you truly alive.”

It’s no game.  What’s your response?

 

Junkyard Beauty

Next time you are at a craft fair, take a close and thoughtful look at the paintings done on old saw blades and other rusty pieces of junk.  The artist took something shabby and transformed it.  Reminds me of what Jesus did for the blind guy :

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3)

God used the canvas of that man’s disability to display His power and grace. As Jesus healed him, in his transformation, he glorified God.  That word, glorified, sounds a bit churchy but simply means demonstrating or calling attention to how wonderful someone else is.  A spotlight operator, shining his light on the star of the show, draws our eyes to that person and glorifies them.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus, the changes produced are evidence of God’s glory.  God uses those changes to attract others to Himself.

He doesn’t limit Himself to people with physical disabilities.  The town drunk becomes known for a complete 180 and becomes known for his works of charity.  The greedy miser becomes generous.  Even your seemingly ordinary circumstances and generally good reputation are a suitable canvases upon which God can paint beautiful images of His grace.  A simple change that allows one to live with joy and hope in the midst of all the sniping and complaining – it shows.  People notice.  They see glimpses of God, reflected on you.  That’s why Peter encouraged his fellow believers to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:12)

What God did for the man who was physically blind, He does in an more significant and powerful way for those who are spiritually blind.  Like John Newton, whose song you know:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.