There are Things Worse Than a Virus

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The apostle Paul wrote:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Co. 15:26, ESV)

Then, as now, mankind’s greatest fear is not a virus from Wuhan but the possibility of death that the virus represents. Viruses and diseases are scary especially when the recipient knows that treatments and vaccines either do not exist or are not necessarily all that effective.

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When we are sick we instinctively think in terms of cure and rely on the doctors and scientists to provide that cure and when they have little to offer at the moment we tend to panic.

Why? Because the specter of death looms large in our minds and death is to be feared above all else. A virus serves as a symbol of sorts that predicts possible doom.

Most people do not want to die. Most believe they have something to live for. The exceptions to that are those who have given up hope for some reason. Either they are depressed to the point of considering suicide or they are ready to die to be released from the suffering of what disease is killing them.

The vast majority want to live; but yet the vast majority do realize that sooner or later death will call. The question then becomes, “then what?”

What happens after physical death?

Some believe we are no more than food for the worms. Others think we achieve some kind of nirvana while others believe in some sort of reincarnation. Some believe they are good persons and God, if he exists at all will allow them a pleasant afterlife because they were mostly good.

In Greek and Roman times many believed that physical death meant life was over and like the modern atheist the body was simply food for the worms. This was despite the fact that the general population believed in the various gods.. Educated Greeks and Romans didn’t believe in the gods but recognized the value of some sort of popular religion especially the Emperor Cult.

Others believed in a kind of shadowy existence without substance although that varied in Roman culture. Although the Romans did not believe in eternal damnation they did believe in a kind of warrior’s paradise called the Fields of Elysium. If you are familiar with the movie Gladiator you see references to Elysium more than once. In the movie, the Russel Crowe character tells his soldiers before the battle, that what we do in life matters in eternity (the Fields of Elysium.) When Crowe is dying he has visions of his dead wife and son in the Fields of Elysium where is to join them.

It was different for the Jew. They believed in an afterlife that was regulated by Yahweh. By Jesus’ time they didn’t debate the afterlife as much as they debated the possibility of physical resurrection due to the influence of the sect of Sadducees.

The apostle Paul, once a Pharisee, wants to be clear about a physical resurrection and wants to be clear about Jesus’ resurrection. He states:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 15:12–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Christianity rises or falls on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Either it happened as the Scriptures report or it did not and in that case Christians should be pitied for being no more hopeful than those who thought we are food for the worms or those who bought into some kind of Elysium.

Verse 17 says that if Christ has not been raised then we are still in our sins, our faith clearly pointless. Dying in one’s sins should be a scary proposition since according the Bible there are worse things than dying. Dying in our sins means eternal damnation. The Bible knows nothing of Purgatory and the possibility of atoning for your own sin in any sense.

This is why we need Jesus and Jesus alone to atone for our sins.

Scripture is very clear that our works or our good behavior does not factor into the gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9) in any kind of saving way. All we contribute to the salvation process is our sin.

Jesus paid it all on the Cross, the debt we owed and it’s only through faith and complete trust in Him and the fact he rose from the dead do we avoid the righteous wrath of God.

For those that embrace Jesus on His terms and count their own righteousness as nothing eternal life with Jesus is a promise.

This causes the apostle to pronounce:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 15:54–57). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

What does that mean when it comes to the latest virus that seems to suck the hope from so many?

It should mean that the Christian is not panic stricken by the threat of death. It does mean that one should use their common sense with any illness but it should never mean we act as those who have no eternal hope.

It is my prayer that those who at least wonder about what I’m saying seek out a good Bible teaching church.

Here is sermon to help you understand. It’s titled Life in Light of the Resurrection.

The Solution to Loneliness

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There was a recent article in the UK’s The Telegraph that stated church attendance (Church of England-Anglican) is at an all-time low. The article goes on to say that only 1.4% of the population of Great Britain goes to church on any given Sunday. The Archbishop of Canterbury (highest cleric in the Church of England) warns of the struggle in an anti-Christian culture.

The day before The Telegraph’s article appeared the New York Times reported that the UK has appointed a Minister of Loneliness.

What is the connection between low church attendance and the UK having the need to appoint a “Minister of Loneliness”?

The quote below by Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great Britain is revealing:

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” Mrs. May said in a statement.

“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.” (The Telegraph)

The most obvious connection between the two stories is that a Minister of the State is replacing the Minister of the Gospel (and the fellowship of the church) as the primary means of encouraging lonely people.

It is, as the Archbishop of Canterbury noted the struggle in living in an anti-Christian culture. I’m sure the US is not far behind.

I think it may equally obvious that the majority of the people in Great Britain no longer believe the gospel or that the true gospel is even taught since much of “the church” has been given over to post-modernism where truth is a relative concept.

What I mean by this is that the church in Great Britain has few conservative evangelical Christians but  the number is growing. (9Marks article)

It makes perfect sense that once the gospel is abandoned  along with the solid biblical teaching associated with the gospel that people would fall away from the church and look to the state to fill the perceived need.

Depending on how you count there are over 50 “one anothers” in the Scriptures. Below is small sampling:

One-Another-Bible-Verses

The above sampling illustrates how God’s people can minister to one another as a result of their faith in Christ and his finished work on the Cross.

When faithfully practiced, especially in the context of a small group ministry one  outcome is a cure for loneliness. God said it was not good for man to be alone so he created woman, but he also established the church (Matthew 16:18) and provided a broader application so that we can love another by practicing the one another’s.

The Gospel is the solution to lonliness but a person has to believe it and embrace it and of course attend the worship service of the church.

For other blogs and sermons that are about the gospel and it’s application please visit: Missio Dei Fellowship

 

 

Do Not Worry

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Three times in 10 verses Jesus tells us not to worry. (Matt. 6:25-34)

So, why do I worry from time to time and what do I worry about?

Read more at Missio Dei Fellowship…

 

Why is life hard?

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Why is Life Hard?
(A biblical counseling basic)

Over the years that I’ve been a biblical counselor I’ve had the “why is life hard question” asked of me a number of times. The context is usually the person is going through some significant trial and/or struggling to change a circumstance they have little control of.

Read more at Missio Day Fellowship

Lying to Self by Misinterpreting the Facts (Matt 7:1-5, 12)

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Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV)

This was my passage one morning some time ago in my devotional. In the author’s commentary (Tabletalk Magazine) on the passage he said this:

“Each of us is prone to different sins, but if there is one transgression that we all have committed, it is the sin of lying…The great man of letters Mark Twain was surely on to something when he said, ‘A man is never more truthful than he acknowledges himself a liar.”’

I found this to be an alarming statement since I consider myself to be an honest person. This is not to say I’ve never lied. Certainly I have I just don’t remember when. Or do I? Oh yes, there was that time back in 1977 when I told this whopper. Or was it in 1971 when I was bragging about something?

If you are like me, and you are, then you’ll minimize your lying to a few select occurrences way back in your past and like me, consider yourself an honest person. We’re so blind to the depth of our sin and so anxious to appear righteous that we are hopeless minimizers of our own problems. Here’s what the commentator said next:

“Twain’s statement, no doubt unintentional on his part, captures an essential biblical truth: ‘All men are liars’ (Psa. 116:11) Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

Think about that for a second-we will wink at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit. Ouch!

We like to confine those kinds of tactics to politicians but the fact is we all do it!

Each of us lives out our lives not on the basis of facts, but on how we chose to interpret facts. In other words, our perception of the facts becomes our reality. Consider an example with tragic consequences:

I once counseled a couple where the woman was convinced her husband was cheating on her. The situation was complicated by the fact that early in the marriage (some 25 years before) he had done so. He had repented she had forgiven him when it had happened.

Fact: The husband cheated on his wife 25 years prior.

Fact: The husband had repented.

Fact: The wife had forgiven him.

They both agreed to the facts and until the last year or two the incident seemed to be regulated to their distant past.

What happened is that this poor gal began to interpret various current circumstances as evidence that he once again was cheating on her.

When he worked overtime, it was because he was with another woman. Never mind his check stub showed overtime and he could produce witnesses that he indeed was at work when he said he was.

When something was out of place in their home it was because some other woman had been there to mess things up. The husband’s denials fell on death ears.

The woman would not even listen their adult son who told his beloved mother she was acting irrationally.

In this woman’s mind all types of circumstantial “facts” led her to conclude the husband was cheating on her again. She really believed she had figured it all out and had become a prosecuting attorney determined to be proven right.

The poor woman had worked herself into a “suspicion frenzy” and was driving herself crazy and her husband as well. There was nothing the poor guy could do to prove his loyalty or put her mind at ease. Her perception was her reality. Her interpretation was the only interpretation.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

I felt a great deal of sympathy for them both. The one time victim of adultery had become the victimizer with a heart of bitterness that blinded her to alternative interpretations of circumstances.

What she wanted; what she desired, no demanded, in her heart was an absolute guarantee that her husband had not cheated again and would not.

The husband even produced a hand written statement repenting again of the first offense, swearing he had not repeated the offense and committing himself to her alone.

She would accept this and did not accept my counsel that at some point she just had to trust God explaining to her that we all are fallible and that speaking in absolutes from a human point of view does not recognize the weaknesses of our own hearts-even hers.

I further explained that we are so messed up we do not realize that even when we have facts we will twist the interpretation of those facts for the sake of our own benefit.

The poor woman did not understand this. She did not recognize that she had turned herself over to serving an idol of security. The normal desire to want security from her husband had turned into an absolute demand fueled by his long-ago infidelity. She could not or would not grasp that she had become a slave to her idol and looked to that idol as “her savior.”

Jesus dealt with the issue of judging righteously in Matthew 7:1-5:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV)

Sadly, the poor woman would not apply this passage nor any other and left counseling convinced that I was involved in the conspiracy.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

This is an important truth. Jesus summed up what our attitude should be when interpreting the facts:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Lying to Self by Misinterpreting the Facts (Matthew 7:1-5,12)

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Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV)

This was my passage one morning some time ago in my devotional. In the author’s commentary (Tabletalk Magazine) on the passage he said this:

“Each of us is prone to different sins, but if there is one transgression that we all have committed, it is the sin of lying…The great man of letters Mark Twain was surely on to something when he said, ‘A man is never more truthful than he acknowledges himself a liar.”’

Read more at Missio Dei Fellowship…

 

Beyond Redemption_P4 What do the Scriptures say?

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A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A number of years ago I counseled a man in the church I was serving in.

The man had a burden for his father who was dying in a VA Hospital. The son’s burden was that the father would respond to the gospel even as he lay dying.

The dying man was a World War 2 veteran and had lived a life apart from Christ. According to the son the son’s childhood had been a living hell with frequent beatings, drunkenness and spousal abuse. The father had few friends and had alienated all of his family. Now, he lay dying from cancer.

The father was hated by nearly everyone who knew him and when he finally passed away only six people showed up at the funeral which was held in a VA Chapel. One of the people who came didn’t even know the deceased and just wanted to honor a veteran in some way. The other person who did not know the deceased was me and my job was to give a short message to a very small crowd of five.

The father, in some sense was a war criminal, guilty not necessarily of war crimes but guilty of some pretty horrible crimes against his family and many others. He was not a nice man without any perceived redeeming qualities what-so-ever.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

When I counseled the son (prior to the father’s passing) my text was the same as the one that resonated with Pastor Gerecke when he was asked to minister to the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43 ESV)

As we can see from the text Jesus was crucified between two criminals usually identified as thieves or robbers. Robbery suggests murder and capital punishment as opposed to petty thievery that would not require the death penalty.

Most of the Nuremberg defendants believed they would be hung while the two thieves knew for a fact they would die because they were already on the gallows so-to-speak as represented by the crosses they already hung on.

The parallel between the two sets of condemned men is obvious.

Are men facing death for their crimes capable of genuine repentance and the forgiveness of their sins?

Let’s examine the text to see if there is any evidence that the thief’s conversion was genuine.

The first observation we can make from the text is that Jesus assured the thief that on the very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise. That is compelling textual evidence that the thief was truly converted but there is more.

The parallel text in Matthew indicates that at first both thieves mocked Christ (Matt. 27:44).

At some point the second robber stopped mocking Jesus and instead asked for salvation. If you were to read the rest of the story you would see that certain signs and wonders would follow this incident.

The second robber made his request for salvation before any of the signs and wonders took place thus indicating something else convinced him to repent.

We can also note that the text records that everyone around the crosses were mocking Jesus; the crowd, the soldiers, the robbers, the scribes and Pharisees, everyone. To repent and ask Jesus for salvation would mean the robber had to swim against the tide of popular opinion and the mockery of the Savior.

The second robber also rebuked the first for not fearing God. The second robber clearly recognized Jesus’ innocence and it suggests a recognition of Jesus’ deity. The rebuke of the first robber was for being irreverent. In other words the second robber went from being a mocker himself to someone defending Jesus in a very short time. What could explain this apart from a genuine change of heart?

Remember what Pastor Gerecke had said about his former SS Lt. Colonel who played the organ at the worship services. He said of the man, “the simple Gospel of the Cross had changed his heart.” So it was with the second robber.

This is a key point. For any of the Nuremberg defendants to be genuine about repentance they would, like the robber, have to realize that Jesus was innocent of everything and that he was indeed God who was dying for the genuine crimes of others!

The second robber asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom thus recognizing that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus grants him the request; the guilty dying for the innocent and the innocent paying for the guilty party’s sins.

As the first robber and others mocked Jesus by telling Jesus to come off the cross and thus do a miracle (he saved others and cannot save himself) the second robber recognized Jesus did not have to come off the cross to save anyone because Jesus simply had the authority to save.

Furthermore, the second robber noted his own guilt and the fact he deserved death. He asked Jesus for salvation on the basis of mercy and grace with nothing to offer in return. No good works, no self-justification, no excuses. He just relied upon Jesus mercy and grace which is all we have to appeal to in salvation.

Luke does not say what changed the second robber’s mind at that late hour. In order to discover that answer we have to look elsewhere in the Bible.

In John Chapter Three Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit-the results are evident, but the process is unseen. The second robber showed evidence of a changed heart. I think all would agree, but what changed his heart?

In Acts 16 Luke writes of the conversion of a woman named Lydia. Luke writes, “the Lord opened her heart to believe.”

And so it is with all who believe, you, me, a robber on a cross, a Nazi about to be hung. Salvation belongs to the Lord declared the prophet Jonah (Jonah 2:9) meaning that salvation is a sovereign work of God from start to finish just as it is the secret work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men that we can only see the results of.

We judge people by the scope and magnitude of their sins and thus minimize our own by comparison.

I’m not as bad as that father who beat his wife and children.

I’m not as bad as the drunk next door.

I’m not as bad as the pornographer, the robber or murderer and certainly not as bad as any Nazi.

All of those statements may be true from a human, self-righteous point of view with the person making the statements never realizing that they have within themselves the capacity for every one of those heinous sins.

The old statement, that there by the grace of God go I rings true.

The words of James come to mind:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
(James 2:10 ESV)

While we may differ in the scope and extent of sin Scripture in an individual’s life is quite clear that all far short of the glory of God.

 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
[13] “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
[14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
[15] “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
[16] in their paths are ruin and misery,
[17] and the way of peace they have not known.”
[18] “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

There simply isn’t any wiggle room. All are guilty and all without Christ will perish according to God’s Word (Rom. 6:23)

Consider the apostle’s Peter’s first sermon:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

Peter is informing those hearing the sermon that they are guilty, either implicitly or complicity in killing the Son of God even though they had ample proof of his deity.

The Holy Spirit is active in the hearts of the crowd and they respond:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39 ESV)

Jesus died on the Cross for sinners like you and me as well as the worst of the worst. Even the apostle Paul thought himself as the worst of sinners before he received Christ:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

Paul considered himself the foremost among sinners because he persecuted the church and was complicit in the murder of Stephen.

He goes on:

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV)

Paul was an example of God’s mercy and grace. Once a hard-hearted Pharisee that persecuted the church in the hopes that people would not believe; now the apostle to the Gentiles (anyone not a Jew) preaching the good news that anyone no matter what they have done can be saved.

Paul himself is blown away by what he is saying and he exclaims the wonder of it all like this:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV)

Pastor Gerecke recognized these truths. Once more he recognized that these truths could apply to even the worst of the Nazi war criminals and so he agreed to work with them.

On a human level it’s nearly incomprehensible that some of these men could be forgiven by God for their crimes but we forget that God forgave the apostle Paul and the crowd that repented at Peter’s first sermon. God’s ways are not our ways and we should rejoice in that for it should give us, the foremost of sinners hope that we have a Savior who can and does save even the worst of the worst.

This side of heaven we will never know who among the Nazis at Nuremberg was genuinely repentant. All we have is Pastor Gerecke’s testimony and what he believed about men who believed they were about to die.

And that perhaps is the greatest take-away from Pastor Gerecke’s mission to the Nazis, all die, all had an opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness; some did, some maybe and others clearly did not.

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

The question then becomes what do we do with our sin because we too will die.

Thank God for his mercy and grace to all those who truly repent and believe upon Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

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