Thursday, January 28, 2021

Grief Crosses That Never Heal

Grief Crosses That Never Heal

     Do you ever wonder why certain verses are in the Bible?

     "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2-3, NIV)   

     Many converts to Christianity are unfamiliar with going through trials in their new walk with Jesus.  They were never taught this was the case.  In many denominations they’re told to just pray the sinner’s prayer and then they are saved and told, “Be sure to go to church Sunday.”

     To truly spread the Gospel we need to explain that God’s Plan of Salvation:  Expressing belief that Jesus is God’s Son, our Savior, Master and Lord needs to be followed by a mind changing choice to make a spiritual u-turn from following evil to following God and then being immersed is only the beginning of your new walk with Jesus.

     Scripture clearly shows after baptism new Christian's will likely end up in a desert suffering Satan's fiery darts as our Savior did. For example look at what the Apostle Paul said he had experienced as a Christian:

     “... I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”  (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NAS)

     In many parts of the world becoming a Christian often leads to significant suffering and in some more fearsome and brutal cultures even death. God’s Word says it has often been this way both before the birth of Jesus and after: 

     “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:35-38, NIV)

Jesus’ Warning

     “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.   What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  (Matthew 16:24-26, NIV)

     We may have to experience a horrid cross carrying like trial as millions have.  But the Lord promises our reward will be more than worth it...eternal life.

     Or we may bear a cross cut from other timber.  Mental illness, dementia, cancer, abandonment, isolation, untimely death of a child or other loved one, or one of an uncountable number of grief crosses that never heal.  But Jesus pleads with us that he'll help carry our cross. 

     “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).

     Can you make it through your heavy trial?  Scripture is ubiquitous with promises like: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go;give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (Psalms 71:3, NIV)

Consider Liu ...

     Shikun was born in China and by age 3 was studying piano from a noted Russian instructor during the period when China and Russia were colleagues.  He started publicly performing by the age of five.  A short time later local teachers said he was progressing so quickly he needed to be trained in Institutes outside of China.

     In his teens this child prodigy competed in Budapest and won third place in a worldwide competition.  At age 18 he placed second to Van Cliburn in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.  Liu chose to remain in Moscow and, with his voracious desire to be the supreme pianist in the World continued training under Russia’s best.  But horror was on the horizon.

     Liu was to be thrown in prison in 1967 in the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  He remained in prison until 1973.  During those years he did not touch a piano.  One of his close friends has said that the prison guards delighted in beating Mr. Liu on the arms and elbows.

     Just after his release in 1973 Mr. Shikun was challenged to perform before a noteworthy audience of admirers and would-be peers.  There was not a dry eye in the house when Liu completed playing the Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody for which he received several encores.

     Preposterous! Absurd. Impossible.  The audience sat stunned.  No human could go without touching black and white keyboards for seven years and then perform perfectly without one flaw.  How had Liu been able to do so.  The taciturn and non-jovial Mr. Shikun refused to explain.  It finally surfaced when an associate of Liu said, “He said he played the Rhapsody every day in prison...but not on a keyboard instead on an imaginary keyboard in his cell.”

An Outcast

     In high school I was working on a dairy farm living with a family of 4… until the farmer got a logging contract 85 miles away.  I was  now all alone to fend for myself.  I shoveled manure, fed and grazed the cows while an older hired hand did most of the milking but returned to his family after each milking.  All alone in the farm house I searched for meals.  Quickly I found only 2 things to eat: canned peaches and loaves of bread.  As a result I broke out in boils.  Pus- oozing, skin tightening, painful stretching resembling a mini volcano and on the back of my neck where I could sure feel them but could not see them to adequately bandage them.  When the boil was nearly bursting I'd go to Wheeler Clinic and get them lanced.

     I felt dirty and like an outcast.  Who would want to be around a teen with sick looking  sores.  I understood somewhat how Job must have felt.  Finally a classmate told his family about it and they offered me room and board and $50 a month to work on their farm.  It was a God thing.  Sometimes our pathway may be grossly infested but the Path Master will never forsake us.  His gracious mercy turned ominous storm clouds into brilliant rainbows.  I thank God for the experience.  It was a major trial from which He taught me how to appreciate even the common things in life.

     If you were to ask me to compile a laundry list of things I must have to get by today you might be surprised by my answer.  Though I never want to be imprisoned or isolated all alone I think I would survive OK.

     On the other hand at this time in my life I really do appreciate a few things.  Listening to gospel music, sharing God's goodness in these stories posted online, having awesome memories, living in a pleasant apartment, convenience of a smartphone and a loving wife, kids, grandchildren and friends.

     If, when my time comes, and my last breath has passed, I hope my legacy will be as Thomas Campbell wrote "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."

Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone?

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Monday, January 4, 2021

Erasure Danger

Erasure Danger

     Seems like a century ago when I signed up for two years of Koine Greek.  Koine was the language of the common Greek-speaking people of the 1st Century A.D.  It had similarities to Classical Greek like Homer’s writings but was much simpler.  The Holy Spirit’s inspired New Testament writers used it for the 27 New Testament books.  I remember it as being a really tough course and the instructor was a no nonsense mentor who took his Koine Greek New Testament into the pulpit from which to preach.  I signed up to take four semesters over two grueling years.  But let’s only look at one specific class. Mid-term 1st Semester.

     We’d all been warned by previous drop outs: It was sink or sail.  Any failing score was just that.  You failed and were then dropped.  There were about 14 in the class.  We studied like our lives depended on it.  I had graduated high school my Junior year by taking two summer classes and then started Bible College a month later.  Phew... talk about cramming two years into a nightmarish long 20 straight months of school!  And I was only 17 and was working 48 hours a week and taking three other classes.

     Four of us stayed up all night trying to prepare for the Midterm.  When I received my exam I sat mutely stunned. Nothing looked familiar.  This was not the Greek I had studied.  It couldn’t be...could it?  Had the teacher pulled a cruel trick and given us a Hebrew Test instead?  I thought of folding it into a paper airplane and sailing it to his desk as I crawled away deeply embarrassed.  Then I recognized a few words in the 3rd sentence... they were Greek.  Before long I found other more familiar words and began to translate them into nincompoop English phrases which is sure what I felt like I was.  I was one of the last ones to finish and turn it in.  Now we’d have to wait three days before we’d get the tests back in the next class.

     With sagging hope and a zombie-like attitude I watched as he started passing the exams back.  Not only was my hope blown but I was sick to my stomach when my eyes saw my score: 48.  And no - he didn’t grade on the curve.  I was 22 points below a “D” grade. That’s an “F” by any standard.  I felt like weakly sneaking out and never looking back.  But the instructor was looking right at me.  I sat glued to my chair.  Then, in his deep bass voice he said: “I’m disappointed that none of you did as well as I thought you would.  My strict rule has always been if you don’t pass this midterm I drop you from the Greek I & II classes.”  There … he said it. I was being kicked out of Greek.  I’d be another drop out.  Cotton pickin’!!

     He paused... cleared his voice... and continued, “But because so many of you (I knew he was going to say “Dimwits”) struggled and did so poorly.   I’m going to make an exception this time.”  What?  An exception?  What did he mean?  “I’m going to give all of you a second chance.  You study much harder this time and next class I’ll give you a new exam.  You’re dismissed.”  Later we learned that he always marked with a pen in his scorebook but for some reason had marked our scores with a pencil.  Now he could just erase our score.  Incredible.  This was a God thing.
     Oh... and when I took the redo exam I reversed my score.  My 48 became an 84.  I went on to complete all 4 semesters.  Out of the original 14 students only 3 of us survived all 4 semesters.  In later years I taught Koine Greek in Churches and a Bible College.  Oh, and I always wrote their scores with a pencil.

     This story is not about my Greek language lack of prowess.  Not at all.  This story is about erasing.  He had written our names in pencil so erasing would blot us from the page.

     Verbal Erasures

     In the above story one word serves as an eraser.  I underlined that one word.  It is: “But.”  This single word powerfully impacts us today.  In every English context and presentation: verbal or written this word is critical to the enduring meaning and valued lasting impact of the communication.  Include it and your message usually conveys the exact opposite of what you said up to that point.  Want some examples?

     Dr. Laura Schlessinger best explained the use of “But” when she called it an “Eraser.”  As an example when she’d advise a caller to leave her abusive boyfriend, frequently the response would be, “I know I should leave him but …”  Dr. Laura would often interrupt at that point and say, “Stop. Don’t say But - it erases what you just said".  Reading the sentences above you can easily see that the word but nearly always erases the original meaning before it appears in the text.  “I really want to forgive you but I’m too badly hurt.”  Will there be forgiveness or not?  No!  The “but” erased the “want.” “ Seattle would have won the game but the final pass was intercepted.”  Did Seattle win the game?  No!  The “but” erased the “won.”

     "But" in Jesus' Life

     Why did the honorable rich young ruler not choose to follow Jesus?  In Mark 10:17-22 a young man almost became an apostle.  In fact Jesus loved him:  “Jesus looked at him and loved him.  'One thing you lack,' he said.  “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  At this the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  Why did he not become a devout follower of our Lord?  There’s that word again.  But it is implied here.  Place it in front of the At.

     Deserted Wife Angie 
     Angie unloaded her whole sad, dismaying and tragic affair her husband had hidden before he had been caught.  She was struggling just to put two or three words between her tears.  After giving her some time to compose herself I ventured into her soul.  “When the day comes that you can forgive him then you can find heali..…”  She screamed, “Forgive him? Never.  I hope he rots in Hell forever!”  It took quite a while before Angie finally forgave him.  She said, “I didn’t think I could ever forgive him, but now I feel so much better.”  Can you now see clearly that it is an eraser?

     Can We Get Booted Out of Heaven? 

     Jay was one of the most brilliant Bible teachers I’d ever heard.  His message was about Heaven and how the Devil had once been an angel and then was cast out of Heaven as shown in Revelation 12: And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon.  The dragon and his angels waged war, and they did not prevail, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down, the one who accuses them before our God day and night.  And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.  For this reason, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them.  Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you with great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”  (Revelation 12:7-12, NASB)

     Jay hypothesized that we also could get kicked out of Heaven by sinning... since the Devil had.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  That was contrary to everything I believed.  The Bible nowhere intimated it.  It contradicted what Jesus spoke as well as the writers of Scripture that were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Scriptures came to mind.

     “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as indeed the rest of mankind do, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.  For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NASB)

     Here Paul is writing to the Thessalonians to encourage them that they shouldn't doubt that Jesus would come again.  When He returned they would rise into the clouds and ever be with Jesus.  Be sure to notice Paul opens this passage with a but to contrast with their fears.  This great passage is written to comfort one another by the assurance we will always be with the Lord.  So I confronted Jay and told him that I was giving every drop of energy to serve God on this earth believing Heaven will be for eternity for all of God’s people.  I urged him to think of the believers who were martyred for their Lord.  Did he really think some of them would lose their Heavenly peace and reward?

     Both the Old and New Testaments reveal Heaven is keeping a book containing the names of all those who are written down as saved. Interestingly at least two passages show God selected and named the saved before the Creation.  "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him." (Ephesians 1:4) and "All who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slaughtered."  (Revelation 13:8, NASB) 

     This highlights an aspect of deity far beyond our human understanding: His Omniscience.  The Lord wrote your name in the Book of Life thousands of years before your birth.  How?  Because He is eternal and can see the end of anything even before its beginning.  

     The New Testament explains how this happens. He requires sinners to obey the Gospel and then as Christians have their names recorded in the Book of Life: "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned.'" (Mark 16:15-16, NASB)  Yet God already knew the sinner was going to do this so  his name was already written inside.

     The scariest passage in all of God's Word is also the most strengthening and assuring.  How can that be, you ask?  It clearly exclaims that, of those whose names were written in the Book of Life, they can be erased or remain ~ based on their faithfulness.  "The one who overcomes will be clothed the same way, in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." (Revelation 3:5, NASB)

     In the next to last chapter in Revelation John records the one sitting on the Throne as saying, "And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost.  The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.  But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”  These verses add clarity to the eraser concerns.  We are to be faithful to ensure that our name is secure in the Book of Life.

     I am so thankful that our God is long suffering, forgiving, merciful and extends free grace to whom he desires.

     "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21, NASB)

     "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12, NASB)

     "To those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life;"  (Romans 2:7, NASB)

     The songwriter wrote:  "Home is where the heart is, my heart's own home.  Though I never really had one to call my own.  I've been given a key by the Carpenter of Galilee, With interest paid, the title's made to me."

by the Gaithers
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