“Until death do us part…”


This familiar statement became very absolute and painful on December 10th, 1997. Over 17 years earlier I had looked Jeanine Kay Hutchings in the eyes and promised those words, “Until death do us part”. And in a span of time much shorter than our exchange of vows before our friends, family, and our Lord, our marriage was over.

In the spring of 1999, once again I looked a beautiful woman in the eyes and promised once more I would be her’s “Until death do us part”. And with friends, family, and the Lord as our audience Carol Samsill Robinson became my wife, until death says it’s over.

Largely, out of these experiences of having a spouse die, Carol and I, (at her insistence), eventually became grief group facilitators, a ministry we shared for 16 years. We hosted and co-hosted 13 week Grief Share groups in the spring and again in the fall. Both Carol and I have lost our parents, other relatives, and scores of dear friends and acquaintances. I have never been far from grief my whole life. I can remember the sadness when my grandpa died when I was only 5 years old. And I preached my first funeral before I was 30.

Everyone who lives very long will have someone they love who dies. And of course, they themselves will die too. As common as death and dying is, it is surprising how little many people know about death and what happens after. If I have heard one I’m sure I have heard a thousand widows talk about being reunited with their deceased husband in heaven. I recently heard a woman say of her parents after her mom died, “They are walking hand in hand looking at the flowers”. Apparently many people believe heaven is just a continuation of life on earth without any problems. That is partially true, there will be no problems, but that’s about all the truth in that idea.

The only source of truth about what we can expect after physical death is found in the Bible. There are many passages that address this subject. A few are my favorites.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:3-5 ESV

The key phrases in the passage above is “the former things have passed away”, and “Behold, I am making all things new”. Death is gone, grief is gone, mourning in gone, crying is gone, pain is gone. Those things are no more. God will remake earth and it’s inhabitants.

Another passage I love is what Paul said, first in Philippians 1:23,

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Paul makes it abundantly clear that life with Christ is “far better” than life here on earth as it is now. Paul again tried to press upon his readers how much better life after death will be by saying this in 1 Corinthians 2:9.

But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

We know very little about what life with God will be like according to this. No one has seen it, no one has heard it, no one has even imagined what God has prepared for his people.

Not only will death and it’s consequences be gone, (“passed away”), sin, the cause of death, will be gone too. Even the memory of evil, of sin, and even of death will be gone forever.

No mom is in the presence of Jesus wringing her hands and worrying about a son or daughter. And I doubt people in heaven are watching little league games and cheering on their great grandsons. No, this life will be gone, completely gone.

There are so many misconceptions because we are so “earth bound”. What we do and have done here on earth is the only context we know so we continue to hang onto it . There are some myths, some half truths, and some misgivings that can easily be cleared up.

There are three theological words we need to become familiar with.

  1. Justification. Justification is the act of God declaring a sinner “not guilty” upon the ground of the finished work and worth of Jesus Christ alone. When we are set free from the penalty of the law (death) we have been “justified”. We have been reconciled or “set right” with God.
  2. Sanctification. Once a sinner has become a child of God by “justification” “sanctification” begins. Sanctification is the process of God working in you and on you to make you more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit in us starts to conform us to the image of Christ. It is a process in which all of us stumble and fall and get carried along by the Lord, but eventually God will complete this work.
  3. Glorification. Glorification is when we are raised from the dead in a body like the body of Jesus, or we will be changed when Jesus comes “in the twinkling of an eye”. Glorified people have been justified, and fully sanctified. They will not only have a body like that of Jesus but their lives will be perfected.

People in heaven are no longer partial to certain people. They love everyone perfectly equal, just as Christ does. There is no hint of any personality flaw that riddles humans on earth. A glorified people loves like God loves and their number one priority will be to glorify our great God and Savior Jesus Christ .

Your husband on earth will not be your husband in heaven. And, your wife on earth will not be your wife in heaven. Marriage is only for life on earth and no longer. Jesus made this perfectly clear when he answered the Jewish antagonists when they questioned him about a women who had been married to 7 men. “Who will be her husband in heaven?” Jesus answered,

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Matthew 22:30 ESV

You see, in heaven you will love everyone with the same quality and quantity of love that God does. You will not love your former spouse any more than you will love your neighbor. Love will be perfected. It is extremely difficult for us to imagine loving that way, to that degree but it will happen.

It is my sincere belief that no familial relationships will extend into the eternal community of the saints of God. I loved my godly mother, she was the best woman I have ever known. But, she isn’t my mother now. I speak of her in the past tense, she is no longer my mother. Earthly relationships are only for the life of the people involved.

We will know others. But, I believe we will know everyone. There are no human limitations in the life with God in his eternal, glorious, presence.

Eternal life with the one who loved us enough to die for us will be so loving, so euphoric, so full of joy and gladness that even the memory of living here would be a downer. Living the life of God is an eternal day with Jesus as the light, only joy, peace, and glory for ever. This is not the end of our story, it is the beginning of it.

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An Attitude of Gratitude, Be Thankful


man in praise

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

This directive from the Apostle Paul to the churches in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 could not be more clearly stated. If I want to be in the will of God, doing the will of God, I must be thankful without regard to the circumstances.

There are many reasons given in Scripture why we humans should give thanks to our God. He is good, His love is steadfast, and every good thing we have and experience is freely given by His gracious hand.

It’s a tall order to be thankful in “all circumstances”. Many of my friends find themselves in horrible circumstances, most through no fault of their own. And the encouraging, spontaneous response from their lips is that despite their awful state of being, giving thanks to God is a natural response.

It is from those I know and love who are in such dire circumstances that I draw strength and am challenged to be a better man and disciple of Jesus.

Earlier this week my doctor informed me that I have cancer. I have a large volume of “low grade” cancer in my prostate. Further tests will find if the cancer cells have spread outside of the prostate. So, like tens of millions of others, soon I’ll begin the unpleasant fight to beat this ugly condition.

Today is Thanksgiving day and I have so much to be thankful for. Later today Carol and I will share a meal and some precious time with our daughter Kelly, and two of our grandsons. The past year has not been kind to them in many ways, but you know what? We will be laughing, joy filled, and thankful.

The beautiful and well known passage in Philippians 4 is a road map to peace in times of trouble, calm in the storms of life, and hope when circumstances offer none.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 ESV

It doesn’t make sense to not worry when times are hard. but if we who love the Lord will keep going to God with our problems, asking Him for help, rejoicing and giving thanks, God’s blessed peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

The reason you see smiles and joy in the faces of many people who find themselves in the worst of circumstances is that something supernatural has happened in their lives. The have been given God’s peace. I too know that peace, not even a hint of fear about the present or the future because of the peace of God that I have within.

Be thankful. It’s good medicine.

Royce

And they made God in their image…


Many people who claim to love God and follow Him soon get misinformed, confused, disappointed, or fearful on the journey of faith and they begin to fashion a god made in their image rather than the God of the Bible who made us in His image.

The God of the Bible is a loving Creator who is all-powerful, all-knowing, is present everywhere at once, and sovereign over His creation. His promises are sure, His covenants immutable, and His love without limit. He loves us so much that Christ came to live in flesh a life for us we could never live. He was perfectly obedient, never doing anything wrong and never failing to do everything right. He took our cumulative sins upon himself, becoming the sinner, and died for us, in our place, and gives us His perfect righteousness as a free gift, making us His dear children forever. After being dead three days He defeated death by being raised to life just as He promised, guaranteeing that we too can live with Him forever. This loving benevolent King of the universe is the only true God.

Maybe because of our inherent flaws and imperfections, maybe because of our lack of faith, or maybe because we are misinformed, we sometimes forsake the God presented in Holy Scriptures and fashion a God who is sort of like us, in our image.

The God some of us have is limited with human qualities. His love is not consistent, it is not free, and not dependable. So, we doubt His love for us, we try to make deals with God, we think if we can be good enough, unselfish enough, perform better than our peers, then He will love us, or love us more.

We are never sure why, but we are convinced that when something bad happens, the death of a loved one, a business failure, an a/c unit quits, God must be punishing us. I must have done something wrong or this would not have happened.

We can never live our lives so well that we don’t disappoint even ourselves. If I can’t consistently live up to my own standards how can God approve of my life? So we go to church at the appointed times and eat the bread and drink the juice, sing the songs and promise ourselves we will do better but secretly we cower in fear, certain that God doesn’t really love us like we want to be loved.

Can it be that we don’t know ourselves well enough? Perhaps if we can look at ourselves the way God sees us we might not live a lie.

These are some of the descriptions God gives us in the Bible of humanity without Him. He says the thoughts and intentions of their hearts are wicked, that not even one person is good, that every single person goes his own way, away from God. He says all of us are spiritually dead, are in darkness, live to satisfy our bodies, are his enemies, and are targets of His coming wrath on sin. Pretty grim huh? A dead person has nothing at all to offer God, his only need his life. An unrighteous person’s greatest need is righteousness. A person in utter darkness desperately needs light. And a person who is a slave to sin and Satan needs to be rescued and set free.

What shall we do? What is our response to our impending death and our ever-present sin. We are powerless to do anything about either. The Bible says that”the mind that is set on the flesh (self)  is hostile to God and does not submit to God, indeed it cannot.” (Romans 8:7) “Cannot?” Left to ourselves there is not a tiny glimmer of hope.

The good news about Christ is that God in flesh solved every problem we had and is full of grace and truth. Let’s chose to live by Truth and not live a Lie.

Those who repent and put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord are given these promises and more.

They have “eternal life”, they share in “His life”. Even when the physical body expires they will not die, they will live forever.

They are forgiven and guilt is gone. The penalty of the law is dismissed. They are adopted into the family of God. They are joint heirs with Jesus. They will have bodies like Jesus at the resurrection with no earthly limitations. God’s love is limitless and full and free. Even when his children fail to live as well as they should His love is still there in full.

You and I are safe in Christ. Let us purpose to love and honor the God of the Bible who made us in His image. May our response to God’s love be lives that represent our loving God well. Lets love everyone and trust God to make us better. And, let us welcome Him as He is, the God who made us and loves us without end.

Royce

 

 

 

 

 

John,The Gospel of Grace – 12


Religion meets Grace

The 3rd chapter of John’s gospel is one of the most well-known passages in the entire Bible, especially John 3:16, and for good reason. It is a beautiful, though brief, snapshot of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The next two verses add so much clarity to vs 16 that they should be quoted too when we quote verse 16 .

16 “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, 16 that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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. 18 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)

This passage goes hand-in-glove with chapter 1:11-13

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-1)

Both passages are saying essentially the same thing. Jesus saves those who come to him by grace though faith. Men and women are not saved by heritage, ritual, good deeds, or religion but by the person and work of Jesus. Right away in the opening of John 3 we are introduced to a man, a leader of the Jews and a teacher, one Nicodemus.

By human standards there is little doubt that Nicodemus was a good man. Perhaps one of the best men in Israel. But he was a dead man walking. He needed life, the eternal life Jesus gives as a free gift to those who trust him. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ“. Nicodemus was a Moses man, not a Jesus man. He was all about the law of Moses, he know nothing of the grace of God.

In this meeting was the clash of two worlds, religion was looking grace right in the face! Yet, he didn’t see it. How many are the thousands who think that by faithful church attendance, giving to the poor, not swearing, etc., etc. that somehow God will see their goodness and approve them for eternity with him in the end. Here was a man who was more driven to keep and preserve the law of God than perhaps anyone. Because of his hard work and dedication to the law he had risen in the ranks to the very top of Judaism. He was religious but lost. Jesus was about to give him the news, good and bad.

In John 3:1,2a, we read , “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night….”

Why did he come at night? Scholars have discussed the question since the first century and they don’t know any more than I do. The Bible does not say why. I have even heard sermons on reasons as if the guy actually knew why. Some suggestions are that he came at night because he didn’t want anyone to see him meeting with Jesus. The cover of darkness would be less risky. Jesus was not popular with the Jewish hierarchy. Perhaps he came after dark because it was more comfortable to travel at night because of the heat. I think a good possibility was that he came when he was off work. He was a teacher, a leader of the Jews, a Pharisee and he sat on the Sanhedrin court. He likely had no time to travel even a short distance on foot for a conversation with a stranger during the day. Why he came at night is not important enough for God to tell us so we move on…

This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

On some level Nicodemus knew Jesus was different. He also was convinced that God was with him because of the “signs” (miracles) Jesus was doing. Beyond that, even though his scholarship was unquestioned and he represented God and God’s law to the people of Israel, he knew absolutely nothing more. It seemingly never once occurred to him that this “teacher” might just be Messiah.

Jesus was an in-your-face evangelist. Right out of the box in answer to this respected Jewish leader’s inquiry Jesus dropped a verbal bomb!

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Of course Nicodemus was caught off guard. What was Jesus talking about? “How can these things be ?” How could anyone be born a second time? It didn’t make any sense to him. Jesus continued then, saying,

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 5b-8)

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Here I want to address perhaps the most controversial statements in the Gospel of John.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

What is the water of John 3 verse 5? I will only be able to draw upon my learning, what I have been taught, and what I have observed in my long life of study. I am not going to give these in order of importance.

  1. The “water” of John 3:5 means physical birth. Most of the preachers in my early years believed this and preached it. While the next verse fits that meaning, “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”, it is not logical. Nicodemus had been born, he was standing there in flesh. He did not need to have another flesh birth. It is true that before birth a baby is enveloped in a sac of water and so otherwise sound Bible preachers run off in the ditch here in my view.
  2. The “water” of John 3:5 means ceremonial cleansing water. Earlier in John when Jesus turned the water into wine it was into those water pots regularly used to hold water for ceremonial cleansing. It is no small thing that those particular pots were used and that the wine as we know represents the blood of Christ which cleanses us in a way ceremonial water never could. This is important, every Jew with much training was well aware of the significance of water in the history of Judaism. Jesus said to Nicodemus in verse 10, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”.  That question alone in my view disqualifies option 2. Nicodemus would have known about that “water”.
  3. The “water” of John 3:5 means Christian baptism. Perhaps 2/3rd’s of all professing Christian believers agree that this is the correct meaning for “water” in the passage in question. So far as I know all believers with roots in the Stone-Campbell movement, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox, some Pentecostals and others to numerous to name accept this definition. Perhaps they are all correct. Now among those mentioned here there is wide differences about the significance of water baptism. Some people I believe go to far making baptism the Savior. Preaching water baptism is not the same as preaching the gospel. We must be careful to not go further on any subject than the Bible goes.
  4. The “water” of John 3:5 means the Word of God. Many good scholars hold this view, and I might add, with very good cause. Look at these examples of “water” being used to describe the cleansing effects of the Word of God.

    Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25b-27)

    22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23)

    18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)

    Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (John15:3)

It was not uncommon but rather very usual for Jesus to use symbolism and parables to get truth to the people he spoke to. He said “I am the door”, but he had no hinges or a latch. He said “I am the bread of life”,  and he said as he dined with his disciples before his death “take, eat, this is my body”. And so when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus saying be born of “water and the Spirit” he was not necessarily speaking literally. The word translated “spirit” in our Bibles, in the Greek may be translated either “spirit” or “wind”. In fact Jesus compared a Christian, one born again, as being like the wind. The meaning was interchangable depending on the context of what was being said.

Nicodemus questioned Jesus about this “water”, “spirit”, and “wind” talk saying “How can these things be”. From that point on Jesus spoke clearly and concisely, there is no ambiguity about what he said. Nicodemus left that meeting having understood what Jesus was talking about.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[g] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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. 18 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. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:9-21)

 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life

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.

This is plain talk, easy to understand. Over and over and over again the Bible teaches that sinners are saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ by grace though faith.

You and I don’t have to know the meaning of every verse in the Bible. But God has put the cookies on the bottom shelf when it comes to the gospel of Christ and salvation. As Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus, people refuse the message of Christ because their deeds are evil and don’t want the light of the world to shine on them.

In closing. We should never allow our differences of opinion to interfere with our unity as brothers and sisters in the faith. No person or group has a monopoly on the truth. What we agree on far outweighs what we disagree about.

Royce