Friday, January 29, 2010

"This one was born there"

I was looking at a world map the other day and suddenly something swept through my brain that I had never really thought of before. Do you know what I’m talking about when something suddenly hits you? It almost seems like your brain hurts for a second. It is a weird sensation. But as I looked at that map, I suddenly thought to myself, “Why in the world, of all the places in the world, was I born in the United States?” I mean, really. Why wasn’t I born in India or Kenya or Haiti, even?

I even took the question a little further: if I had not been born in the United States—indeed, if I had been born in China or the Congo, say—would I have ever become a Christian? It is a sobering question! And I must admit that, even though I really enjoy probing the mind of God as best I can (I really think that we sell ourselves short when it comes to understanding the heart and mind of God; there is more that we can know about Him than we think), this is one of those areas that I’m not sure I’ll ever understand—maybe even in heaven. In His divine providence, why does He have some people born in one place (and to certain parents), and others born in another place? It’s a mystery.

I do know one thing: it is not arbitrary. God never does things or allows them to happen for arbitrary reasons. There is always something going on. (Of course, the naturalist will come along and say that there is a purely “natural” explanation for why certain individuals were born in certain places. DNA and heredity has caused it to be thus. But this doesn’t really explain personality, per se.)

Now, I do not want to sound America-centric, but I feel extremely blessed to have been granted the privilege of being born in this country—and to live here. And that’s what baffles my mind. Why here instead of somewhere else—like Haiti?

I simply do not know. But what I do know is this: precisely because I was born in the most powerful and privileged nation in the world, I have an immense responsibility to the people in the other nations of the world! I have a high calling—as do you.

But what about those in the other parts of the world that have never heard the Gospel—and might die having never heard it? I take comfort in the words of the Psalmist when he writes, “The Lord will record, when He registers the peoples: ‘This one was born there’ ” (Psalm 87:6). In other words, when God judges every person, He takes into account where they were born, the circumstances that surrounded their lives, everything about them. He figures it all out.

And, while this verse should give us great comfort in relation to those who are born and live in an apparently-Christless existence, it should also give us great pause as well. Christ will also record where we were born and expect more of us. For, as Jesus said, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

May we all take that charge seriously!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Safe to Save?

Are you safe to save? It may sound like a funny question, but it is one that has incredible import. We know, of course, that it is God’s highest desire that “all men” and women might “be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). But there is also another important objective in Christ’s grand plan of salvation: He wants to restore the universe to complete harmony, security, and safety.

Think about it for a second: would you want one of your neighbors in heaven to be a person who merely professed Christ with his or her lips and yet was a murderer? Don’t get me wrong: any person who, by God’s grace, repents and turns away from sin has a place in God’s heavenly mansions—no matter how speckled his or her past life has been. But Christ is pretty clear when He says that “to him who overcomes” (see Revelation 2:7, etc.) He will grant the privilege of ultimately being saved. If a person has not “overcome” here on earth, they will not “overcome” in heaven.

And this is good news, not bad news. We see this illustrated in our government here in the United States, which grants every citizen freedom and liberty—but this is the important part—so long as that person’s freedoms and liberties do not encroach upon someone else’s freedoms and liberties. Our Constitution is set up in such a way that it provides freedom and protections, not only for the individual, but for every individual.

And this is the fine balance that God is seeking to achieve here in this universe. He desperately wants everyone to live forever with Him, but if there is a person who, by being granted eternal life, endangers the freedoms and liberties and safety of anyone else in the universe, then God has no choice but to exclude that person from eternity. As Nahum 1:9 tells us, “Affliction will not rise up a second time.” This is Christ’s goal—to make sure that affliction, distress, and trouble do not creep into the universe’s existence ever again, after Satan and the wicked are destroyed. Thus, any rebellion whatsoever—however minimal—that remains in our hearts will have to be eradicated here and now if we wish to enjoy eternity.

Notice these powerful words, expressed 120 years ago:

Were justice extinct, and were it possible for divine mercy to open the gates to the whole race, irrespective of character, there would be a worse condition of disaffection and rebellion in heaven than before Satan was expelled. The peace, happiness, and harmony of heaven would be broken up. The change from earth to heaven will not change men’s characters; the happiness of the redeemed in heaven results from the characters formed in this life, after the image of Christ. The saints in heaven will first have been saints on earth (1888 Materials, p. 731).

Doesn’t this speak to God’s awesome goodness? He wants everyone to be eternally saved—yet He also wants to make this universe eternally safe. And so, in His infinite wisdom, He figures out the balance between the two.

And, in the end, you and I will be able to sleep peacefully at night in heaven, knowing that we will always have pleasant and loving neighbors!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Looking at the Photograph

One brand of Christian theology proposes that God has elected only a few people to be saved and that it is them for whom He died. Another brand of Christian theology proposes that God wishes that all would be saved but that only those who will ultimately repent are the ones for whom He died.

But there is a third way. The third way is that Christ tasted death “for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9) and that, from the moment of birth—no, even before birth—He has been trying to draw everyone to Himself. The apostle John hints at this latter action when he writes in the first chapter of his Gospel that Jesus “lightens all men [and women] coming into the world” (John 1:9). This means that, no matter where you are born, where you live, what your theological views are, no matter what your life circumstances are, Christ is actively shedding light into your life and trying to draw you to Himself.

The Greek word in this context for “lighten” is photizo and it is where we get the word “photo” or “photograph.” So think of it this way: from the moment a person is born—no, I forgot again: from the moment a person is conceived—Christ is trying to show him or her a photograph of Himself.

But there’s more good news! The verb photizo is actually in the present tense in this verse—which is to say that this act of trying to draw people to Himself is not a one-time deal that Christ begrudgingly goes through to meet a requirement but an ongoing action throughout a person’s life. In other words, Christ is constantly trying to show all of us a photograph of Himself. He is constantly trying to draw us into companionship with Him.

And this is great news for us. But not only us, but also those for whom we are praying. It doesn’t cause us to sit back and do nothing for them as a result. But we can take comfort in knowing that Christ is, indeed, trying to draw them to Himself also. And now, it becomes a matter of us simply being placed in a position to help those others understand what the photograph of Christ is all about.

So take comfort. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert and people were healed by simply looking, do the same with Christ. Look at the photograph of Him and be drawn to your Savior.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. . . Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."

I'm sorry. There are few so-called "political issues" that get my blood boiling. One of these so-called "political issues" is the topic of abortion. Most other issues I take the "high road" on, but when it comes to this issue, I cannot keep silent and I cannot worry about whether I am offending someone. This issue is not, first and foremost, a political issue. It is a matter of life and death - which no person has the right to politicize.

The reason I am mentioning all of this now is because I have just been alerted to one of the most absurd stories I have come across in a long time. Tim Tebow, former quarterback for the Florida Gators, is supposed to be featured in a Super Bowl commercial that details how he was born despite pleas from physicians that his mother abort him because of illness while she was a missionary in the Philippines.

And what is the "pre-sponse" to this commercial - whose slogan is the ever-offensive and diabolical "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life"? According to, "Protestors say the ad will likely promote an anti-abortion message." Gasp! Oh, the nerve of Tim Tebow and his evil band of associates. How dare they promote a message that condemns death so much!

Beyond that, the National Organization for Women called the ad "extremely offensive and demeaning." Besides the fact that this group probably hasn't even seen the ad yet, who, exactly, do they think is being demeaned? Women who already feel guilty because they have had an abortion? (According to statistics, 40 to 60 report of women who have had an abortion report having negative psychological reactions to the abortion.) Such a sentiment simply demonstrates the inherent immorality in performing an abortion and their insistence that such an ad is "demeaning" actually lends support to the pro-life side. (Of course, the pro-abortion side's ultimate goal is that women would eventually be able to commit murder without any shame or remorse - and the sooner such ads are blocked from our consciousness, the sooner such a goal will be achieved - though, interestingly, in Sweden, where abortion has been allowed for a lot longer and thus there is less social pressure against abortion, 25% of women still report having feelings of guilt after performing an abortion.)

Beyond that, what perhaps is just as troubling to me is the ludicrous notion that such an ad should not be aired during the Super Bowl, of all things. Heaven forbid we should be forced to actually engage in thoughtful reflection during four hours of mindless entertainment.

But George Diaz writes,

There is a time and place for everything. On Super Bowl Sunday, people want to have a few beers, kick back and enjoy the show, and not get into an argument over abortion rights. The same standards would apply to any group that wanted to run an ad that was pro-choice. I’d say NO to that too.

Such sentiment is baffling to me. I don't care what the issue is, or whether I agree with it, I don't find it offensive, inappropriate, or wrong for a company or organization to spend millions of dollars on whatever particular issue they are passionate about. If a Gay Rights group wanted to air an ad during the Super Bowl, so be it! Why should the Super Bowl be off-limits to so-called "offensive" ads? Is the fact that Coke or Ford or Taco Bell spend millions of dollars on silly and brainless advertisements offensive to anyone else besides me? Or is it simply issues that relate to murder that should not be aired?

More than this, one lady from The Women's Media Center said that "an ad that uses sports to divide rather than unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year - an event designed to bring Americans together." Umm, hello? Did I miss something? Does she understand what the very nature of sports are? It's about, you know, beating your opponent. It's about combat. It's about domination. It's about dividing into two teams and - in this case - beating each other's brains in so you can stand on a podium and hold a metal trophy. Sports is the epitome of division rather than unity.

And since when is that which "unites" the criteria by which a commercial is allowed to air - especially during the Super Bowl? I am sure there will be plenty of other commercials that won't necessarily unite people's hearts to one another (you think commercials that feature busty blondes unite men's hearts to their wives?).

I know, I know. I am being really close-minded and "fundamentalist" and am not considering a woman's "right to choose." But in matters of life and death, the only One who, ultimately, has the right to choose is God. Anything else - and I mean anything else which entails one person choosing to prematurely end another person's existence - is called "murder" (and I include acts of war as well).

Anyway, I think I've made my point. This whole topic makes my blood boil, as you can tell. To, first of all, allow the mass slaughter of innocent children, is probably the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world. And then, second of all, to claim people who are against murder are simply being political, well, that's too much to bear. And then to claim that such a message should not be aired during the Super Bowl is probably the most glaring reflection of our complete apathy and the let-me-be-mindlessly-entertained-at-all-costs attitude we have.

Lastly, the quote I shared at the beginning is from Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man. Our views on life and death are influenced incredibly by Darwinian philosophy. We are heading to a complete and total devaluing of human life. And such is a sad reality.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Easier to be Saved?

So here’s a question: is it easier to be saved or to be lost? Well, what doth inspiration say? “Come unto Me,” Christ invites, “all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Or what about this one? “The way of the unfaithful is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). And this one, which the Lord said to Paul (when he was actually Saul), “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). Or this one, “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20).

Or what about this one, written a few millennia after the Bible: “The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus” (Steps to Christ, p. 27). Thus, the way a person is saved is to simply stop resisting the drawing of Jesus. To be lost means that a person has to swim in the opposite direction of the strong current of God’s drawing grace.

“But what a minute,” you say, “Hold on! Time out! Doesn’t the Bible teach us that we are to ‘enter through the narrow gate’ and that ‘wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it?’ ” Yes, indeed, it does. In fact, Jesus says this Himself. But in this statement, He is not speaking to the “hardness” or “easiness” of being saved. He is simply saying that the road to destruction is wide and there will be many people who take it (simply saying that a road is wider or narrower does not speak to its ease in traveling it).

Interestingly, Ellen White also addresses this very passage elsewhere: “Do not therefore conclude,” she writes, “that the upward path is the hard and the downward road the easy way. All along the road that leads to death there are pains and penalties, there are sorrows and disappointments, there are warnings not to go on. God’s love has made it hard for the heedless and headstrong to destroy themselves” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 139).

So what’s the catch? Why will so many be lost and so few be saved? Simply because they have not believed the Lord’s promises to them. They have not appreciated His Cross and His sacrifice. They will spend most of their lives swimming against the current of His grace.

May it not be said of us!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Singular in Love

I came across a quotation this morning from the pen of inspiration that is sobering: “Half-hearted converts abound,” she writes. Whoa! That, in itself, is a mouthful—an idea that cuts to the heart. Perhaps it does not speak to you because you know there is no way that you are a “half-hearted convert.” But I know that it gives me great pause.

She then goes on to say in the very next sentence, “Singleness in love for Jesus is rare” (1888 Materials, p. 714). And thus, when these two sentences come together, there is a lot to consider in relation to my own life. Have I whole-heartedly been stirred by Christ’s love? Is there a “singularity” in my love for Him? Or is my heart divided? Does it have many “mistresses”?

A few thousand years before Ellen White wrote this statement, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to essentially reflect upon the same poignant questions. “Examine yourselves,” he wrote, “whether ye be in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And such an admonition, though at times intimidating to some, is a very merciful thought to reflect upon. The Lord loves us too much for Him not to remind us to do such an exercise.

And, of course, His love for us is singular. He is not half-hearted towards you and me. We can simply “examine” the Cross to understand this. And perhaps, if you and I are half-hearted and divided in our devotion to Christ, that’s where we should begin, anyway: the Cross. Such a picture, when understood, will certainly draw us into “the faith.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Cup

Sometimes we come across passages in Scripture that are not so pleasant at first glance. They make us feel a little uncomfortable. One such place is in Jeremiah 25 where God instructs the prophet to “take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it” (Jeremiah 25:15). God then lists off a whole host of nations—Egypt, Edom, Moab, all the nations of Arabia, and, of course, Israel. But lest we think that any nation be left unnamed, God says at the end of the list: “and all the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth” (v. 26).

What is clear in this passage is that by drinking the wine cup of God’s fury, these nations are headed for sure destruction. Indeed, total annihilation. Everyone. Yet this isn’t something we talk about very often. We are not too keen to talk about God’s justice and the destruction that He brings against sin.

But maybe that’s because there is another place in Scripture where this same cup comes up again. It’s in all four Gospel accounts, but it is in the hand of a different Man (see Matt 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 18:11). Jesus is in the garden before His crucifixion, and He is pleading with His Father. Three times He says to His Father, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39).

This same cup of God’s wrath and fury, that was meant for the nations—indeed, the whole world—was now placed in Jesus’ hand. And He trembled from the weight of God’s justice. Yet, in the end, He conceded to His Father’s will and took that cup. As He said to Peter, when Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, “Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11).

And this is the awesome point—the point that none of us should miss: Jesus drank that cup for you and me. Indeed, He drank it for all the nations; He drank it for everyone. As Hebrews 2:9 says, He tasted “death for everyone.” He lifted that cup to His lips and tasted the full weight of God’s wrath and fury—what He does to sin—for every single person who has ever been born.

We mustn’t miss the point.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Appreciating the "Prophetic Perfect"

Do you need a heart that longs for God—one that knows Him intimately and desires fellowship with Him all the time? Truth be told, most of us do! Unfortunately, in our human nature, we often let things distract us from that goal and we find ourselves, over and over again, beating ourselves up because we didn’t spend our time doing morning devotions or studying our Bibles.

But there’s good news! What we need to understand is the “prophetic perfect.”

Underwhelmed? The “prophetic perfect” is a use of speech in the Hebrew Bible that English readers cannot fully appreciate. When a verb is in the “perfect” tense in Hebrew, this signifies past and completed action. However, there are a number of places in the Hebrew Bible that seem to be using the “perfect” tense in a future sense—as if it were a prophecy. As one person has put it, the “prophetic perfect” is a “prediction, but the prophet sees it existing in the future in a completed state.” In other words: you can take this prediction “to the bank.” You know that it will come to pass. It would almost be like me saying, “I had five children,” when you know I only have one right now.

So what does this have to do with anything? I came across a beautiful promise in the book of Jeremiah that is laced with “prophetic perfect” verbs—and I believe it is particularly relevant to us. Though God is speaking to those who have been taken captive to Judah, His words are pregnant with meaning to us as well. “For I will set My eyes on them for good,” says the Lord, “I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up.” So far, all of these verbs have been “prophetic perfects.” But there is more—and this is where it gets particularly exciting: “Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:6, 7).

Did you catch that? God is going to give us a heart to know Him—and we shall return to Him with our whole hearts! This is a predication for the future which is as good as done. We can take it to the bank. This is God’s commitment to us. He beautifully declares that it is His job to give us a heart that longs to know Him. It’s not our job. How often do we get tricked into thinking that we need to pursue God so that we can know Him intimately—all the while God is the One pursuing us, trying to draw a response from our hearts.

So why not allow God to fulfill that “prophetic perfect” in your heart?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Noah's Gospel

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always kind of had the impression that Noah’s motivation and message was that of fear. He lived by fear. He preached a message of fear. He was a “fire and brimstone” kind of guy. After all, the world needed to be warned about the impending doom and destruction that was coming in the flood. There was no time for “warm fuzzies.” There was no “Gospel” mixed in with his message—and those of us who are living in these latter days are to take a page out of his book as we proclaim that last-day message of warning.

But let’s get things straight: the book of Hebrews tells us that Noah lived by faith. “By faith,” the author writes, “Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear [as opposed to just plain, old fear], prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7). Thus, his experience was not one of fear but of faith.

Hebrews, of course, is simply echoing what Genesis already tells us. “Noah was a just man,” we are told, “perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). But here’s the kicker that came the verse before: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). God looked down upon Noah with eyes filled with grace and love—and it was only because of this that Noah was able to accomplish anything.

But there’s more. Peter informs us that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Noah didn’t preach doom and gloom and fire and brimstone. His message was one of warning, yes, but in that warning he lifted up the beautiful Gospel of God’s saving grace and righteousness—and could point to his big boat as evidence that God was eager to save humankind.

Lastly, Noah’s very name itself was a message of grace and mercy to the world. Every time his name was uttered from someone’s lips, it was a reminder to that person that God had so much more in store for the world than constant violence, turmoil, and strife. What does his name mean? It means “rest.”

And isn’t Noah’s message the same exact message we are to live and proclaim today? “As it was in the days of Noah,” Jesus declared, “so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37). Make no mistake about it, friends: we have a message of warning. The world does need to be warned. But in that very warning is a message of grace, and righteousness, and, yes, rest.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sleeping Through the Storms

We could all probably learn a lesson from Jesus as He slept soundly in that boat. It had been a long day and He and the disciples were now crossing the Sea of Galilee, accompanied by a few other boats (see Mark 4:35-41). And, all of a sudden, a great windstorm arose, and waves came beating down upon their boat. It was taking on water.

The disciples, frantic, no doubt tried to remedy the situation themselves. But their efforts were in vain. And then they remembered Jesus. So they frantically looked around in that little boat, wondering what had happened to Him, when they suddenly noticed him in the stern of the boat, fast asleep.

Now, you and I, sitting on our couches in the comfort of our climate controlled homes, can objectively see that the disciples should have taken note of Jesus’ attitude and had their anxiety relieved. It is plain to see now. But when the storm is raging, and the waves are crashing down, in the moment it is sometimes hard to be objective. It is hard to size up the situation with a calm and collected perspective and realize that, if Jesus isn’t concerned, we probably don’t have to be either.

And that was what happened with the disciples. Their hearts overwhelmed with fear, they woke Jesus up—even though their Lord was exhausted after a full itinerary and He desperately needed sleep. They woke Him up and announced to Him that they were perishing. I don’t know how long it took for Jesus to size up the situation, but He became disappointed with the disciples’ response. They had not learned a lesson on faith from Him. If He could enjoy peaceful rest in a horrific storm, could they not do the same? Such was an indication that they had no faith.

And yet, our Lord, in His mercy, didn’t force His faithless disciples to learn the lesson the hard way. He didn’t shrug His shoulders, go back to sleep, and allow His disciples to ride out the storm. He did step in and calm the waves and howling wind. He did bring peace—all be it, superficial peace—to the hearts of these disciples, hoping that they would, in time, learn the lessons of faith.

And what about us? Will we, first of all, take God at His Word and believe that when He says, “Don’t be anxious” (Philippians 4:6), He will save our hearts from anxiety—even, and especially, through the storm? And then, beyond that, will we grant Jesus peace and rest through the storm—desiring His ultimate well-being over and above ours?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where Do My Affections Lie?

Sometimes, the Lord, in His mercy, helps us understand what is truly in our hearts. In fact, He is always trying to make this evident. One such place that this idea comes out is in that classic book, Steps to Christ. I often go back to this quote when I want the Lord to show me where my affections lie.

“Who has the heart?” Ellen White wonders, “With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies?” (Steps to Christ, p. 58). Such questions are extremely sobering. When I have a free moment—when I am driving in my car to work, or kicking back on my couch at home—and can entertain any thought I want, where do my thoughts turn? The football game? The latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy? The stock market?

Or when I am conversing with my friends and family, what do I love to talk about? After all, it was Jesus who declared, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). That which I truly value and take pleasure in is what is going to come up naturally in my conversations.

As I said above, it is the Lord’s mercy that allows us to take stock of our hearts’ affections. And He longs to give us an experience that will overwhelm our thoughts and minds so that we live and breathe His presence. “If we are Christ's,” Ellen White continues, “our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.”

This is the experience Christ is trying to draw out of our hearts. It can be ours if we stop resisting Him.