Spiritual Inoculation

inoculation

Mosby’s medical dictionary defines inoculation as:

(medical term) the introduction of a substance (inoculum) into the body to produce or to increase immunity to the disease or condition associated with the substance.

I heard an interesting theory this week:  that we in the west have been spiritually immunized to the truth of the Gospel.  We have heard little bits of the truth in such a way that it has numbed us, built up a resistance to the truth.  We have seen (or allow our culture to see) just enough of the Truth to ensure a distaste, or immunity to it, such that if we ever do hear the glorious fullness of the Gospel, we do not want it because of our callousness to it.

Captivating, is it not?  It is easy to observe our culture and similar cultures experiencing trends away from the Gospel and devise explanations for our hardness, and completely ignore the simple fact of sin.

Years ago I heard a missionary to a closed country – a country where it is illegal to share the Gospel, meet in groups or convert to Christianity – say that it was their spiritual assignment to go into this country to help push away the boulders from the field before it could ever be planted unto harvest.  Drawing on Paul’s illustration that he planted and Apollos watered (1 Cor 3.6), this helped excuse the apparent lack of spiritual interest and deadness of the land.  This country, a mere 3 years later, became the host of one of the fastest growing Churches in the world.

Salvation does not make logical sense.  There is nothing that I can do or say to convince you of your need for a savior, and there is nothing you can do to convince me of mine.  The problem is that I am a sinner.  Scripture says that before salvation I was spiritually dead (Eph 2.1), I was an enemy of God (James 4.4), I was lost and wandering (Matt 9.36).

So let me ask a simple question.  If I am spiritually dead before the Holy Spirit breathes life into me, can my soul be turned against the truth?  Can a dead person love or hate?  Can a corpse have tendencies?

Dead people are dead.  Whether they live under the guise of false religion, atheism, an oppressive government who forbids the truth to be preached or religious freedom.  If you are not breathing, you cannot start breathing on your own.  This is why we hear testimonies of people who grew up in the Church and even though they knew the story of the Gospel for decades were never truly saved until the day God called them and breathed life into them.  It went from a story to a reality; from a moral code to a relationship with Almighty God.

And this is the role of the Holy Spirit:  “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16.8).  Through Him we will be born to Spiritual life (Jonn 3.3).  

So what then about people hearing?  And believing?  This is what Jesus says:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.  Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

– Luke 10.2-3

There is an abundance of people in whom the Spirit is working and is ready to breathe life.  They need only to hear.  The problem is not inoculation – that they are hearing too much – it is that they are not hearing.

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent?”

– Rom 10.14-15a

Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth (1 Cor 3.6).

So can preaching the Gospel turn people away?  The Gospel should leave everyone with a decision.  It cannot be a neutral.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10.34).  Most Westerners are unwilling to hear that we are sinners.  Most Easterners do not want to hear that we must rely on a power outside of ourselves.  But unless we understand our sin and God’s hatred for it, we cannot realize our need for a savior.  The Spirit alone can convict us of this truth and bring us to repentance and belief.  But there are multitudes around the world, in every single culture, in whom the Spirit is working the conviction of sin, the hopelessness of humanity apart from grace and bringing to new life.  But a dead person who hears this truth cannot be made more dead.  He can only be made alive.  He can know the facts, but one day God can breathe life into his soul.  Let us proclaim unashamedly, to any who will listen, to the end that we might be the mouthpiece that delivers the truth and watch as God miraculously gives birth to Spiritual Life!

Advertisements

Does God Forgive Suicide?

suicide

It has been traditionally taught that suicide is a mortal sin. There are a list of sins that the Church developed, apart from Scripture, for which they declared that there is no forgiveness. However, Scripture only teaches that there is one sin that God will not forgive, and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. You can read more about that here.

When we understand reality and life, we realize that a worldly life is meaningless. Whatever we gain here on the Earth of physical pleasure cannot be taken on to the next life. Treasures that our cultures and societies value are destroyable by moth and rust (Matt 6.19).  Life is vanity (Ecc 2.1). Worldly pleasures are vanity. They cannot satisfy.

But Jesus offers us hope and an eternity. He died on the cross and took my punishment and yours so that we can have eternal life. Life in the fullest. And that life starts now (John 3.36) He gives eternal meaning and purpose.

So can a person who knows and trusts in Jesus lose hope to the point of taking his own life? Jesus says that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8.38). He says that nothing can pluck us out of His hand (John 10.28). John says that when we sin, we have an advocate before God -Jesus Christ – who lives to make intercession for us (1 John 2.1; Heb 7.25). That means He stands there and the accuser (Satan) points out our sin, and He says, “Yes, he did that, but it has been paid for”.

The reality is that whenever anyone who loves God sins, he lapses in hope, faith or trust for a moment. Whenever we choose the things of the world, we choose enmity with God (James 4.4).

But suicide is unique in that there is no opportunity to confess or repent, and that is why the church deemed it a mortal sin.  scripture does not teach that, and it us always dangerous to speak where God does not.  What we do know is that Jesus died to redeem us.  He paid the penalty for our sin.  When we repent from our sins and trust Him for life and salvation, we are saved and made justified before Him.  We all sin after coming to faith, and Jesys tells us that only blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

Therefore I would argue that suicide, though a terrible sin and a deeply profound exemplification of a lack of faith and hope, is not unforgivable.  A person who knows and loves God can get distracted and discouraged by the world.  Not all who commit suicide are forgiven, as not all have sought repentance in their lives.  But Christians can suffer from physiological imbalances, depression and the burdens of life.

God of promises us that all things work together for good for those who know and love Him ( Rom 8:28).  To kill one’s self is to not believe this promise, at least in the moment.  We should seek to trust Him in this promise and not embrace suicide as an option. It is sin.  But we should not surrender hope for those loved ones in our lives who have succumbed to the temptation and taken their own lives.  God’s grace is bigger than suicide.

On Suicide

I have been reading the heartbreaking story of young Maddie Yates who took her life yesterday in Louisville, KY.  Before her final act she made her version of a suicide note:  a video on youtube explaining her reasoning and logic.  Here is the transcript of what she said:

I know it’s not OK for me to be doing this, but I just can’t do this anymore. It feels like I’m being swallowed whole into myself. It physically hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that I throw up, and sometimes I just get panic attacks. I know this is selfish. You know, the doctor prescribed Prozac for depression and anxiety, but those are just fancy words for “selfish.” I know that I’m going to hurt everyone who loves me, and I really do love them too. But I’ve been like this for so long, and there’s still a chance that the worst day might still be coming. And I just don’t see how this is a bad idea because it’s like someone’s on the 12th floor, and the room behind them is on fire. And they’re standing on the window ledge and they have a choice whether or not to jump and get away from the fire or just stay and die a slow, excruciating death. It feels like that.

But I don’t want anyone to feel like it was their fault. This was my decision, not yours. I’m the one who messed up, not you. There’s nothing, literally nothing that you could have done; you’ve all tried so hard to help me. And I tried too. I guess it’s like I don’t mean to be over dramatic, but it’s like there’s a demon inside of me [inaudible].

You can’t help me. You’ve tried. And I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to hurt anyone. Remember that I’m doing you a favor. Remember how bad of a person I really am. I say awful things. Even if I don’t mean them, I say them. You don’t even want to know the things that I think; I am not a good person. I’m doing literally the whole world a favor. But I love you, and I’m sorry. And I really, really love you.

Maddie had a unique view on the reality of life.  Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, after entertaining every type of pleasure under the sun, determined that all of life is vanity.  “Vanity of vanities” is the very essence of our existence on this Earth:  that we would work hard, be successful or fail only to leave it all behind in death (Ecc 1.2).  Jesus Himself called the rich man who builds up for himself barns to hold all of his treasures a fool (Luke 12.20).

If we strive for life, for satisfaction, for pleasure or for meaning in this life alone, it is all vanity.  Maddie is right.  We are all dying.  We are on the twelfth floor of a burning building.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?

 – Mark 8.36

However, there is a third way out.  Burning a slow agonizing death and jumping from the window are certainly two options.  But there is One who can sustain us through the fire.

Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.  For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing  fire  still   tied up.  Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.”  He said, “Look! I see four men loosed  and  walking  about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”  Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!”  Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.  The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.

– Dan 3.21-27

The fire of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace was so hot that it killed those who would throw the young men into it’s blaze, but God not only kept them through the flames;  He met them there.

Salvation requires that we understand our true nature.  That we know that we are wicked sinners who deserve death and damnation.  We must know from what we are being saved, and the very reason that we need a Savior.  Maddie understood this, most likely more than you or me.  But when we get to that hour of darkness we must look outside of ourselves and see the light.  There is a Savior.  And He can take away our sin, our selfishness, our ugliness and make us His righteousness through His blood that He shed on the cross.

Life is vanity.  If you are as rich as Bill Gates, as famous as Angelina Jolie or as powerful as Xi Jinping, nothing that you have acquired on this Earth will last – to your benefit – beyond your death.  Unless, of course, you have stored up for yourself the treasures in Heaven that rust and moth will not destroy (Matt 6.20).

Do not forfeit your soul.  Trust in the one who saves.  Cling to the One who can withstand the fire, who can sustain you through the trials, who can save your soul forever.

shadrach-meshach-and-abednego077

Two Evils

The weeping prophet wrote one of the most difficult books to read in the Bible, but on this very solid premise:  the people had abandoned God.  He spent forty years reasoning with Judah to repent and when they would not repent and were taken captive by the Babylonians, he pleaded with them to not resist and thus not be utterly destroyed.  Jeremiah described their situation as this:

“Has a nation changed gods 
When they were not gods? 
But My people have changed their glory 
For that which does not profit.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, 
And shudder, be very desolate,” declares the Lord.

“For My people have committed two evils: 
They have forsaken Me, 
The fountain of living waters, 
To hew for themselves cisterns, 
Broken cisterns 
That can hold no water.”

– Jer 2.11-13

God is a fountain of living waters.  Jesus promised the Samaritan woman at the well that whoever drank of the water He provided would never thirst again (John 4.14).  But the people abandoned a stream of fresh water for pots that are placed under ground to collect rain water, but that are cracked and can hold nothing!  They are man made, they collect the rain water, and they are broken and utterly useless.

They had denied the source for a broken tool of retention.

And God proclaims this as two separate evils:  1) denying Him, and 2) embracing false gods.

Where do you place your trust?  

Where do you find your satisfaction?

Jesus taught that to know Him was to have eternal life (John 6.37).  It starts now and goes on through eternity, not just after death.  Do you love and cherish Jesus, eagerly awaiting His return?  It is those who are waiting for Him for whom He will come (Heb 9.28).  Or have you believed society that happiness is found in the house you own, the car you drive, the spouse you love, the children you have, the vacations you take, or the fame you achieve?  If we are not living for God we are living for something else.  You might literally worship another god, or you might live for your pleasure or success.

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.  And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’  Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’

– Luke 12.16-20

To deny serving God is to serve something else.  And to choose to serve God is to deny serving everything else.  This is the core of repentance:  to turn away from all sin and worldliness and turn to God.  And that is why eternal life starts now!  Because God has given us everything that we need for life and for godliness in the Scripture and in His provision (2 Peter 1.3).  He will meet all of our needs in the way that best leads to our holiness and His glory (Luke 12.22-31).

Logically it makes perfect sense.  If you want water, will you dip a ladle into a broken underground pot that is dry?  Or would you choose to go to the fresh spring that is bubbling cool, moving water?  You must sacrifice to go to the spring.  You must deny the work of your hands, the pot that you formed, the hole that you dug and the convenience that you believed it to provide.

But remember, to cling to your own pot is to deny the spring.  You will be thirsty.  And ultimately you will die.

broken cistern

What you meant for evil, God meant for good.

One of the greatest promises in Scripture and the verse to which most Christians claim is Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

– Rom 8.28

If we love God, if we walk in His salvation and under the calling of His word, we know that all things work together for our good.  Perhaps not success or gain on the Earth, but everything will ultimately work out to our salvation and benefit eternally.  God has a purpose for everything that happens.  We even see a deepening of this promise in the next few verses:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

– Rom 8.29-31

If we love God, He promises to glorify us in eternity.  He will see us through to the end.  And not only that, but He will support us and carry us, and though many might be against us, none will be able to ultimately stand.  None can take us from His hand, none can remove us from His love, none can damn us to Hell.  God is bigger and He is in control.

But there are some pretty ugly things that happen on this Earth.  Murder.  Divorce.  Rape.  Stealing.  Adultery.  Natural Disasters.  War.  In the book of Genesis, we have the story of Joseph, the eleventh of twelve brothers who was hated by his brothers and sold into slavery.  They wanted to kill him, but got rid of him.  He served for years, was falsely accused of trying to sleep with his master’s wife and was locked up in prison.  But ultimately God established him as the second in command over the entire country of Egypt.  He later was able to provide food for his brothers when a drought hit the land.  They, upon realizing who he was, were afraid that Joseph would kill them.  But his response was humble and insightful:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

– Gen 50.19-20

There is a mutual responsibility at play.  Joseph’s brothers had evil and wicked intentions and they sinned against Joseph.  They will be ultimately held accountable for what they did.  But God had it planned all along.  He had a purpose in it, and it was to save the physical lives of many nations through the drought and also to establish the Hebrew people as a great and mighty nation.  Joseph’s dad, Jacob, had twelve sons.  Jacob became the father of all of the Hebrew people, and it was during their stay in Egypt that they multiplied.

What the brothers intended for evil, God meant for good.

What evil is happening in your life?  Is someone against you?  Is someone treating you wickedly or just poorly?  Are you and your family being persecuted for your belief, the color of your skin, your political positions or social status?  God is intending that for your good.  For your holiness and sanctification and ultimately for your salvation.

I know it is hard.  Believe me.  When you are staring down hatred, discrimination, persecution or regular unpleasantness – embrace that opportunity to trust God.  Remember that He has a purpose in it.  Remember that He is using this very situation to make you more like Himself and to bring about your glorification in eternity with Him.

Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

– Phil 4.6-7

There is a peace that settles your soul.  Trust Him.  And chose to not sin in those moments, but to be obedient:  to love those who persecute you, to serve those who hate you, to pray for those who revile you.

good_evil

You must become like children

“…for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”

– Luke 9.49

American culture has reversed our perception of age from much of the world and history.  Our babies take central focus of our lives, our schedules are organized around our children’s sports activities and we neglect our elderly – putting them away in homes where a paid nurse can take care of them and where they get limited access to their families and the outside world.

The host country where I lived for four years in South East Asia has much the opposite mindset.  A person gains value by his age.  Families live in one home with multiple generations:  the eldest son (or daughter in matrilinial tribes) stays in the home with the parents, grandparents and as many generations as are still living and brings his wife in to the home.  It is the responsibility of the young couple to provide and care for the elderly and the older generation is highly respected for advice, insight and wisdom.  The older a person is when he passes away, the bigger the funeral and the more deep the mourning.  When an infant passes away, of course there is grief, but it is quite a small event as this child has not yet given to society and it is a fairly regular happening that young children pass away.

This is why Jesus defuses the argument of the disciples about their rank and role by pulling forward a child and stating that to become the least is to be the greatest.

Matthew gives more insight into the conversation that Jesus commands the disciples to become like children (Matt 18.5).  Often times we apply this to the concept of childlike faith – believing and trusting fully, not necessarily knowing all of the reasons or plan, but giving ourselves fully in the way a child depends on his parent.  However, this is not what the passage implies.  It is speaking to humility.  We must take our role understanding and believing others to be valuable of our time, effort and energy.  Jesus Himself came to serve, and we should seek to serve others – placing their needs before our own.  He does not want us to surrender our mental capacities, or to just throw up our hands and say, “I don’t understand but I trust you”.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, 
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
So are My ways higher than your ways 
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

 – Is 55.8-9

God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are high above our own.  There will be many times that we do not understand and that we have to trust when the path does not make sense to us.  But He has revealed Himself to us in His word so that we can know Him, so that we can be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10.16).  He commands us to press on to maturity (Heb 6.1) and to know and teach all that Jesus has commanded us, and how to obey (Matt 28.18-20).

So to become like a child is to become a servant (Mark 9.35).  To willfully and knowingly place ourselves in the seat without honor (Luke 14.8-10).  To love those who persecute us and bless those who hate us (Luke 6.27).

We must fight our pride.  We must wage war against it.  Often times we become proud servants.  We will clear the table, sweep the floors or set up the chairs for a meeting when we know we will be recognized.  “Oh look at him, he is such a servant”.  But you can easily test yourself.  You only truly have become a servant when you are treated like a servant, and you can still rejoice and serve as unto the Lord.  When someone thinks you are only worthy to scrub the toilets, when you are ordered around and disrespected; do you love then?  Do you serve then?

If when you die there is no one to mourn you, the pomp is absent and you are laid in the ground as a worthless fellow – as a child who had accomplished nothing – would you be content with the praise of the Father saying, “Well done my good and faithful slave” (Matt 25.21)?

It is only by the blood of Jesus that we can approach God.  Let us ascribe to Him the glory and honor and let us strive to become servants, to live selflessly, to die to ourselves and to consider one another and their needs as greater than our own.  Let us truly become servants, children, those of little honor, so that we can store up for ourselves the treasures that moth and rust do not destroy.

sweeping

Does Jesus Judge Me?

God is love.  

He doesn’t judge me.

He accepts me how I am.

This is the mantra of 21st century narcissistic individualism.  Because we elevate and glorify “unity in diversity” and tolerance, we neutralize God to our own individual ideas of love because He says,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

– 1 John 4.7-8

We have come to believe that love means leaving one another to our own devices.  We are beginning to see tendencies of a shame based society where we are making it illegal to speak ill of someone or an idea.  Tolerance no longer means allow to exist, but respect as true.

Is that how God loves us?  Does Jesus judge us for our sin?

John the Baptist, when Jesus came to him to be baptized, declared Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1.29, 36).  This title was prophetic in that a lamb is a sacrificial animal and Jesus came to be the final and perfect sacrifice for our sins.

When we look at the book of Revelation, the prophecy of what is still yet to come, we see a very ominous picture:

Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

– Rev 6.15-17

In the end, the Lamb of God – Jesus – will return in wrath and judgment.  He came in love the first time, to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sinners.  He shed His blood, taking the punishment that we deserve for our sins, so that we can stand before Him with the verdict, “Time Served”.  When we are saved, we do not stand guiltless but we stand redeemed.  We stand as one whose time has been served, but not by us.  And it is in this redeemed state that we will be able to stand when He comes in wrath.  His wrath will condemn the un-redeemed to Hell.

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

– Rev 20.11-15

Jesus will judge our sins at the end.  And not only that, but He judges our sins now.  The very fact that Jesus died for us should cause us to stop and think.  Why did Jesus die?  He died because we deserve to die physically and spend eternity in Hell.  He judges and despises sin.  But because He loves us, He took the punishment for us to offer us eternity with Him.  Sin, even though we all do it, is not trivial.  It required Jesus’ blood and will require ours if we do not repent.

When He was on the Earth, Jesus never once met someone in their sin.  Jesus did not go to the brothels and the bars.  Jesus did not condone people for sinning.  Rather, Jesus drew the sinners out and ate with them in people’s homes and He boldly proclaimed that their faith had saved them and instructed them to “Go and sin no more” (John 8.11).  Jesus loves us enough to save us and transform us, not to excuse us and leave us in our wickedness.

Does Jesus judge us?  Yes.  We will all give an account one day for every careless word that came out of our mouths and every single action that we preform (Matt 12.36, Rom 14.12).  And Jesus also loves us and offered Himself as the sacrifice and punishment for our sins (John 15.13).  If we want to be saved, we must believe and repent.  We are not left to our sins, we are instructed for holiness.

hell