Category Archives: Witness

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?

His Own Words

Time Magazine will tell you nobody really knows much about Jesus.  They and other print and broadcast media use skepticism about Jesus to pump up their ratings just before Resurrection Day.  They may not know Who Jesus is, but He does.  Here is some of how He described Himself:

John 6:33-35

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:23

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 8:24

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:58

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Note: “I Am” is the Name of God.)

 

John 9:39

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

John 10:30

“I and the Father are one.”

John 10:36-38

“…do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

John 14:9

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 

Mar 14:61 — Mar 14:62

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

There’s more.  Much more.  But, of course, none of that matters unless you are willing to accept that Jesus wasn’t lying.

No, Really!

Remember the movie, Oh God?  John Denver played a grocery store clerk chosen to have a personal interview with God, who looked a lot like George Burns.  The frustrating part for him was trying to get anyone to believe he wasn’t crazy.  Starting with his wife.  Funny movie and I just put it back on my Netflix queue.  As fanciful as that plot was, a similar thing happened to Peter when he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and heard God speaking.  And every time he tried to tell others about that experience there was always somebody at the back of the room, making a skeptical face and shaking his head.  Which is why Peter wrote these words:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.   (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Maybe you can understand how frustrated he must have been.  Maybe you’ve had your whole life changed by an encounter with Jesus and have then tried to explain it to others who make that funny face.  Or who back away, slowly, saying, “Oh that’s nice for you…”  Maybe you’ve discovered if you have to say, “No, really…” the argument is over.  But don’t be discouraged or give up; it’s happened to me, too.

And Peter.

And Jesus.

For some skeptics, the best Peter could do was to say:

…you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…  (2 Peter 1:19)

Civil Obedience

Is it right for whole communities to refuse to obey immigration laws?  What about for you?  Is it right for you to pick and choose which laws you will obey?  Consider these words from Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 

Our first response might be to object, to bring up exceptions.  Are we supposed to be subject to an authority who is corrupt or wicked?  Nero was in power when Peter wrote this.  His wickedness and cruelty was the stuff of legend. And yet. Peter taught us to be subject to such rulers.

But, what if a ruler’s commands are contrary to the commands of God?  Peter faced that dilemma when he was ordered by the Jewish council not to tell people about Jesus.  His response is instructive:

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”   (Acts 4:18-20)

Although Peter and John could not, in conscience, obey the authorities, they still were subject  to them, honest about their disobedience and submissively ready to accept the consequences.  Being subject to the authorities does not always mean obeying them.

But why be subject to them?  Why not take action to weaken the authority of those in power who are corrupt or wicked?  Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Of course, Peter had a good Role Model in this.  Taking his cues from Jesus, he wrote:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:20-24)

We are subject to human authorities because we are subject to God, Who has told us to do so.  We do not take matters into our own hands but entrust ourselves to God, knowing that His plans will prevail.

Three Little Words

Christians are losers.  That’s what I used to think.  Uptight, repressed people, afraid to have fun.  So when my brother tried to tell me about Jesus, my responses were laced with sarcasm and scorn.  Maybe you can relate – either to my attitude or to how my brother must have felt.  If so, spend a moment or two considering an exchange between a man who had just met Jesus and his friend:

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  (John 1:45-46)

You’ve seen those signs that proudly announce that this town is the birthplace of some famous person?  Nazareth apparently didn’t have one of those.  But I suppose Nathanael’s snippy response was about more than that.  I suspect at some point Nathanael had been burned by believing something that turned out to be a hoax.  He may well have thrown out that sarcastic remark as a way of defending himself against being fooled again.  That would have been why I said it.  No matter why he said it, it probably put Philip off.  He might have been tempted to say, “Well, just forget it; you’re probably right.”

But he didn’t.  His response was elegant in it’s simplicity and effectiveness.  He said, “Come and see.”  Check Him out for yourself.  No need to try to prove it to his friend.  All he needed to do was simply invite his friend to come, to come and see.  I’m going to have to remember that.  There have been many times when my response to a sarcastic doubter was to try and prove Who Jesus is.  Perhaps you know that’s a response that rarely works and usually left me feeling frustrated and inadequate.  Philip intuitively knew Jesus could do His own proving, that he, Philip, didn’t need to do that part.  His role was to simply invite his friend.

“Come and see.”

The How and Why of Miracles

David Blaine blows your mind by doing things that seem impossible.  But if you knew how he did his tricks, they would not have the same effect.  When God performs a miracle, He deliberately hides how He did it, in order to preserve the full effect.  Because it’s the why that’s important with miracles, not the how.  I know people who declare, “There’s no such thing as a miracle.”  What they mean is there must be some physical explanation for how God pulled off His tricks.  Perhaps they are right.  But in getting all focused on the how, they’ve probably missed the why.  And that is a shame.

Miracles are often called “signs.”  Signs point to something.  When you see a sign for a hospital, you don’t stop there to get medical attention; you head in the direction it points to.  In the New Testament, most of the miracles, or signs, point to the validity of the identity, message and work of Jesus Christ.  They are designed to work like starter fluid for faith.  You don’t run your engine on starter fluid; you just squirt some in the intake when you are having trouble getting it started.  God uses miracles to help people get their faith started.  When you read about or experience a miracle of God, don’t get so distracted wondering about the how that you miss out on why it happened.

1 We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

 

Whose Life Matters?

Shepherds were outcasts, considered subhuman lowlifes.  Not welcome in town, they lived and slept out in the fields with the animals.  According to the American Journal of Biblical Theology,  “…because of their vocation, shepherds were considered unclean and could not take part in temple worship without ritual cleansing.  They were despised by the people, considered untrustworthy, and unable to testify in a court of law.”  Interesting it was shepherds to whom God initially announced the birth of Jesus. 

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2:8-11)

People who could not readily enter the Temple were chosen by God to receive His most important message.  He chose people considered despicable and untrustworthy, unable to testify in court to be His first witnesses.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.  (Luke 2:20)

 Those marginalized and rejected by society were the very ones God chose!   But why?  Why not chose people more respected and trusted?  The answer is contained in verse 10 above.  One little word; can you see it?

It’s the word, “all.”  The good news of great joy would be for all the people.   Why all the people.  Because all the people mattered to God.  He loved all the people.  He sent His Son as a gift to all the people.

Even you.  You matter to God.  This good news is for you.

To slightly change what Tiny Tim said, “God blessed us, every one!”