Category Archives: Body of Christ

A Death Bed Confession?

Luke 23:39-43

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God?’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'”

There have been many “death bed confessions” of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior recorded through the last 2,000 years. You know how it goes: someone lives their life doing what they please no matter how wicked, then when they are at death’s door they express remorse over their sins and profess faith in Christ. Then they die. It sounds simple enough, but many of these end of life expressions of repentance and faith have been questioned, criticized, and dismissed as invalid. But should they have been? One famous case that comes to mind is that of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI, who set a standard of licentious behavior in the Vatican rarely equaled, who while dying of a fever made a full and detailed confession of his sins to his confessor and sought forgiveness from the Lord. Now many have stated over the years that his confession was “invalid” and of no use, but who are we to say? I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, and none of the naysayers were there, just the priest who heard his confession and, of course, the Lord Jesus. My point to all of this history lesson is that when someone expresses repentance and faith we are behooved to respect that and accept it, for only God can know what is truly in someone’s heart. But I have heard and read many who say that one of the problems of death bed confessions is that they aren’t sincere, that the only reason they were made is because the dying person knew their time was up and they were scared; they should be. But again we come to the fact that only the Lord knows what is in a person’s heart, and all we should do is rejoice that someone came to faith before it was too late. The other issue, perhaps the larger issue, that is often raised is that the dying person can’t really be saved because they did not have any opportunity to perform good works as a sign of the validity of their faith. Really? The obvious flaw in that notion is that it makes salvation faith plus works, when Scripture is clear that we receive God’s saving grace on the basis of faith alone. But the real refutation of that argument is found in the passage of Luke quoted above. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus had no opportunity to perform good works to validate his faith; he died on his cross within hours, which makes his profession of faith in essence a death bed confession. He confessed his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior publicly, which was all he needed to do as far as acting on his faith went. As Paul said in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”, with confession and belief being the important bits. There shouldn’t be a problem, but there seems to be in spite of Scripture. “But how is that fair to those who live righteous lives and work hard for the Lord?” people will cry out. Jesus seems to have foreseen just such an argument in the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 when the vineyard owner in the parable paid the ones who worked one hour the same wage as those who worked all day. The generous gift from the Lord is eternal life with Him, and through faith we receive that whether we have been dedicated Christians for decades or come to accept Christ as we are ascending the hangman’s scaffold. So the next time you hear or read of someone making a death bed confession of faith in the Lord Jesus, don’t reject it out of hand. Just accept it and praise God that one more lost sheep is coming home at last.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Coming Kingdom

Micah 4:2-3

“Many nations will come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us His ways,
so that we may walk in His paths.’
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong
nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.”

The Old Testament prophet Micah gave us this vivid portrayal of the coming earthly Kingdom of Christ over 700 years before our Savior walked among us. Many others spoke through the Spirit about this Kingdom, including Jesus Himself, Isaiah, Ezekiel and other Old Testament prophets; the apostle John wrote clearly of it in the Revelation. But in this passage from Micah, the prophet gives us a clear picture of God’s righteous government being established over the messed up governance of humanity. I hear it often: “If we just change this or stop doing that we can finally end the madness of war, or hunger, or injustice”; I’ve heard it from Presidents and politicians, professors and plumbers, even from religious leaders who should know better. No human effort can solve all the world’s problems because every human is afflicted by our sinful nature, whether we want to believe in one or not. It is this sinful nature that leads people to thirst for power, or wealth, or fame, or anything detrimental. Every murder from Abel to the present is the result of someone giving in to that sinful nature. Every war ever fought had its root in somebody’s sinful nature in one way or another; every crime, every injustice, every abuse has the same cause. So long as humans carry that around we are doomed to failure at governing our own affairs no matter what we try. No governmental system will usher in an age of peace and prosperity for everyone. Only the rule of our sovereign Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can bring in a truly new world order, and once He returns in power and glory He will establish that rule over all humanity and bring to an end our flawed attempts to govern ourselves. So should we stop trying to make things better? Of course not; that is the mentality that assures the rise of tyranny. We should live and act as citizens of that Kingdom if we are believers. But don’t make the mistake of thinking we can bring about the Kingdom by our own efforts, because the Scriptures teach quite the opposite. Only Jesus Christ can establish that Kingdom, which shall stand forever.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Importance of Learning History

Joel 1:3

“Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.”

History is such an important area of knowledge, and yet the teaching or understanding of history is falling by the wayside. For centuries, going back to the Classical period prior to Christ’s Incarnation, a critical part of a person’s education was at least their national history. How can a nation understand itself in the present if it is ignorant of what it has been through in its past? It would be as if a person had no memory of anything that happened in their life prior to the last week; understanding why you are how you are would be nearly impossible. I watch this trend here in American education with deep concern, for our history is either being ignored or twisted into a false parody of itself. But of even greater importance as disciples of Jesus Christ is an understanding of the history of our faith. Of course, the Bible was not intended to be a history text, it is instead the written Word of God meant to teach us everything we need to know about God and His plans for our salvation through the Lord Jesus. But the Bible also contains a lot of history, both of the nation of Israel and the early church, and through the Word we are exhorted frequently to teach the next generations about the things that God has done. That is why the Jews preserved the Bible’s Old Testament historical books, and why Luke wrote his gospel and the book of Acts. I’m not foolish enough to try and say that everyone should be well studied in the history of the Christian faith – most believers have neither the time nor the inclination to learn the equivalent of a university degree in church history. But at least learn enough to understand how we got to where we are today. There are a lot of great general information books available on church history; if nothing else, read the Wikipedia article on “history of Christianity” to get you started. But also, when you do read about it, don’t rely on just one partisan view; if you are Catholic, don’t rely on just histories written and approved by the Vatican, and likewise, if you are Protestant or Evangelical or simply independent, don’t completely rule out the histories written by Catholics. Eusebius wrote a wonderful and very readable history of the Christian church from Jesus’ time to Constantine in the 4th Century. Edward Gibbon wrote extensively on the history of Christianity, both in the Western and the Eastern Empires, in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”; his critics said he was a Christ hater, but having read him several times I found that what he really hated was some of the corruption and un-Christian behaviors of the church in those centuries. Will Durant wrote well about the rise of the Christian faith in his volumes “Caesar and Christ” and “The Age of Faith” and “The Reformation”, even though his liberal bias in interpretation shows at times. My point is, we should be able to understand things like why there was a Reformation in Christianity, or how the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church fell out and over what, or how your own denomination or church began and developed. Have some kind of a grasp on how the faith grew from a handful of people after the Resurrection of our Lord into what we know today. Know what the Body of Christ has survived and overcome in our past so that you know who we are today and why, and hopefully, how to avoid the same sorry mistakes. It’s an amazing story filled with the great works of God (and the misdeeds of fallible humans) that is sure to inspire and enlighten you as you are reminded of what God has done for His children.

Grace and peace to you all from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Forgiving

Luke 17:3b-4

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

This morning at church my pastor covered this text and spoke on the subject of forgiveness, and all day since then has been on my mind. Forgiveness. Forgiving that we may be forgiven. Sometimes it is such a hard thing to do. When we are wronged the natural reaction we have is to want to avenge ourselves and dish out some payback; how many hit movies has Hollywood made about revenge? But the Lord states clearly that vengeance is His, that He will avenge the wrongs done against us. So what are we to do? When I was in grade school one of the next door neighbors’ children was hit by a drunk driver in from of their house; the little girl suffered very minor injuries but the driver was rightfully arrested. That evening while at their house I asked if they were glad the man got arrested, and was stunned when they said that they weren’t; they had forgiven the driver and were praying for him since his life would be negatively affected by his arrest. I couldn’t understand how they could forgive him for hitting their daughter, but they were good Christian people and did a lot of things I didn’t understand. But it stuck with me. Later, after coming to faith, I learned to practice forgiveness, but discovered that it wasn’t as easy as all that at times. I came to see that I’d been harboring resentments against certain people and being unforgiving regarding certain heinous acts from my childhood. As Pastor said, forgiving doesn’t mean that you forget, you cannot forget, but it does mean that you let go of your grudge and resentment. I was led to the point where I was able to forgive and let go of the wrongs of long ago, and it was a great burden lifted from my soul. Did I forget? No, of course not. But I did forgive, and since that day the Lord was able to erase a lot of the damage done. We need to forgive and let go as the Lord forgives us. When we do, He will bring about healing within us, and while we may still bear the scars of old wrongs, they won’t hurt anymore.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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A Vision

In the Spring of 2001 I was going through a very difficult time in my life; addicted, betrayed by an impossible love, poised at the edge of suicide…and worse, I didn’t care. I saw the end of my life as a way for the turmoil to stop, for the demonic voices that accused me to be stilled, as a way to finally enter the blissful ignorance of the Big Sleep…

I was in the kitchen of the small apartment I shared with two others and it was late at night; the others were both sleeping and the lights were off. The drugs and alcohol were no longer effective at holding the hateful voices I was hearing at bay, and they were dancing around me, berating me, insulting me, goading me toward taking the plunge into self-murder. The maelstrom wailed and swirled and screamed around me like an unseen tornado, invisible yet pressing against me with overwhelming force. I bent lower and lower under their assault until I finally had collapsed to my knees, and at that point, driven to utter desperation, I cried out to the Lord in my spirit: “Help me, Jesus!”

The maelstrom stopped instantly, completely, and all was still around me. No taunting voices, no supernatural pressure beating me down and crushing my resistance. For the first time in years I was at peace, and had the Lord taken me at that moment I couldn’t have been happier.

Jesus told me to rest, so I went to bed quietly, gladly. “I will show you where you were heading,” He said. “Trust me.”

Suddenly I was sitting perched on the edge of a great precipice at the edge of a vast pit filled with thick, roiling smoke; somewhere down below great fires raged, revealing themselves as a diffuse glow through the rising column of smoke. I was sitting carelessly on the edge, humming tunelessly and swinging my legs like a small child.

And then I gently pushed off of the edge and started to fall into the burning pit.

I wasn’t alarmed to be falling toward the fiery glow below me; even though I’d lost, my battle was over and the end was waiting. Whatever pain waited below, it would not involve addiction, disease, broken relationships or self-loathing…

And then a huge hand swooped into view, ghostly in appearance yet solid, and the hand caught me and broke my fall. I was confused and didn’t know what to do. A vast voice that seemed to reverberate from everywhere at once spoke and decreed that He wanted to show me where I’d been headed. “If you never let go of me,” He said reassuringly, “I will never let go of you.” And then we resumed the descent but now in a controlled manner; I was cupped in God’s hand and hanging on loosely.

Our descent stopped just above the raging flames and we began moving forward through the heavy smoke. And then nightmare creatures came into view, roaring and snapping and writhing in the hellish pit so close below me. Mostly they were vague, obscene shapes fighting amidst the flames, but as certain ones spotted me they reached out with long necks to snap foul mouths filled with long, sharp teeth at me, trying to snatch me out of God’s hand. But, of course, His hand weaved effortlessly around the snapping, screaming monstrosities, which never managed to touch me. “Do not let go of me, and I will never let go of you,” He repeated, and I clung to His hand for all I was worth.

Finally we were across the flaming pit, the dire Lake of Fire, and we swiftly rose out of the pit and God set me down a safe distance from the edge. “Please stay away from the Lake of Fire, my child,” He instructed me. “Cling to me always, and I will never let go of you…” and then His hand vanished and I was again alone on a cheerless, forbidding plain, nervously eyeing the rising mass of smoke coming out of the blazing abyss.

And then the vision ended and I was back in San Antonio in the middle of the night. Exhausted, I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

I’ve told very few people about this vision, but I have carried it with me for 17 years, just as fresh in my memory as the night I had it. God intervened directly and broke my suicidal fixation by showing me up close and personal where I would have ended up had any of my attempts on my life ever succeeded. I still struggled against the things that bound me, but I was moving in the right direction now. My last desperate attempt on my life was in March of 2012 and nearly succeeded, but God had other plans for me, plans to use me for His purposes. Whenever things get lousy in my life, Lord Jesus reminds me of the Vision in full detail and things miraculously pop back into the right perspective. And today, after several years of drawing near to Him and growing in the faith, I’m free of the powerful urges to murder myself, and I rejoice in that by knowing that God was ever faithful to keep His promise, for He has never let go of me even during the times that my grip on Him was loosening.

Ever faithful and true, I know without doubt that the Lord God will finish the good work that He has started in me, and what an amazing source of comfort that is!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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A Complete Revelation

Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Revelation 22:21

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

Here are the first and last verses of the Bible, the literary alpha and omega of the written Word of God. There is a lot of ground covered between these two verses: some historical, some poetic, some prophetic and some advisory. But what ties it all together is that the Scriptures reveal to us God’s plan to redeem us and save us from the fall into sin that happened in the Garden. The heart of the entire Bible is our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the blood-bought salvation that He offers to us all.

I hear people frequently questioning how the canon of Scripture was agreed upon; some argue the process was arbitrary and some argue that some writings were not included that should have been. I don’t plan on recounting that continual debate. I boil it down to this: God was certainly in charge of the councils that set the canon of Scripture through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21 is everything that we need to know and understand about God and our relationship to Him through Jesus Christ.

Some ask why the Bible stops where it does, and my answer is that it is complete as is. The Bible starts with the most basic of information – that God created the universe and us – and ends with the arrival of the New Jerusalem and the beginning of God’s eternal reign among us. In between everything we need to know is revealed and the benchmark for spiritual truth is set. So in a sense, Scripture is a progressive revelation, from the general to the very precise, exactly as God wanted it to be.

But there are many people out there who try to claim the Scriptures are just the beginning and that the revelation should continue, and this is a very false notion. From the gnostics of the First Century to modern cults such as the Church of Almighty God/Eastern Lightning, many have presented their literature as the Word of God in support of their false teachings; the Quran of Islam is presented as further revelation from God despite the fact that it strays from Biblical truth. Be sure that once John wrote down the Revelation he received on the isle of Patmos near the end of the First Century the message that God wanted us to receive was complete. No further additions were needed; as they say in court, God rested His case and nothing further was necessary.

I will never try to claim that all that has been written in the last 2,000 years is of no value; quite the opposite is true. Starting at the end of the Apostolic Age and continuing into our day, many people have written many valuable things as the Spirit led them, and many Christians through the centuries have found comfort and inspiration in the writings of those who have gone before us or who still write. I have found much of great value in the writings of Christians from Ignatius of Antioch to Augustine, to Teresa of Avila, to the Reformers, through John Bunyan to Charles Spurgeon, C. S. Lewis, Walter Martin, Charles Stanley and John Piper… I could go on but I’m sure you get my point.

But should the writings of even the most inspired Christians be seen as of the same staure as Scripture? No, they should not. Scripture is Scripture and it stands complete. But all the Christian literature of the last 20 centuries should be valued by it’s truthfulness when compared to Scripture, and this is where we as believers and readers need to exercise discernment. Paul said to test everything and I take that to heart; everything I read I weigh against the truth of Scripture. Does that mean I throw out everything that is not 100% in line with the Bible? No, for if I did I would be left with only cereal boxes to read. I have found much that inspires me and encourages me in writers from many different groups, but I do stay away from the works of those who deny the divine nature of Christ or who teach “a different Jesus”.

So when you run across someone trying to tell you that the writings of their group’s founders are further revelation from God on a par with Scripture, or worse, intended to replace the teachings of Scripture, don’t be deceived. Everything we need to know about God and our salvation lies between Genesis and Revelation, and if nothing else in 2,000 years had been written, we would still have everything we need on those pages.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Jesus Came to Save Sinners

1st Timothy 1:15

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”

In this verse Paul cut to the core of why Jesus set heaven aside and came among us – to save sinful men and women. Period. He came among us and died on the cross to gather those to Himself those who would follow Him in faith and be His for eternity. He did not come to found a new religion, although that happened. He did not come to start some great social services program, although through the centuries much good has been done in that area. He did not come to establish a human-run theocracy, though many through the centuries have tried to do just that; contrary to the popular misconception, the Kingdom will not become a reality until Jesus returns in power and glory to establish His throne in our midst. No, Jesus came down to earth for one purpose: to pay for our sins by dying on the cross, to redeem us so that through Him we can have eternal life. Period.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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