The Greatest Gift!

In the Bible, John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) For years, I thought God’s greatest gift to mankind was His Son; Jesus! But after looking more intently at the whole body of the Gospels and at what Jesus said about why he was born, I am convinced that God’s greatest gift was not Jesus, but rather what Jesus came to provide! Look at the just quoted text again, do you see it? The giving of Jesus was not the ‘end,’ but rather the ‘means’ to the end! God did not give Jesus for Jesus, God gave Jesus so that those who believe in Jesus should not perish, but have everlasting or eternal life! God gave Jesus, so that we might have eternal life through Jesus! Hence, the greatest gift is not Jesus, but eternal life through Jesus!

Now, when I first considered this, it sounded a bit blasphemous and disrespectful to me until I started carefully considering the statements of Jesus. For instance, consider Jesus’ reply to Thomas in John 14:6. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (KJV) We quote and cite that verse all the time, but have we actually considered the implications of what Jesus said? Jesus said; “I am the way!” When Jesus said that, he was in a sense saying: “I am not it! I am not the destination, I am the means, the avenue, the conduit, the way to get to the destination!” I live in the Atlanta, GA area, but my original home is Jackson, MS. In order to go from Atlanta to Jackson, I must go west on I-20. I-20 is not the destination, I-20 is ‘the way’ to the destination! Practically speaking, there is no other way for me to get to Jackson, MS except by I-20! (There are ‘other ways’ but they are not practical!) Most traditional Christians ‘stop’ at the way; they stop at Jesus! But Jesus said that he was not the destination, he said he was the way!

Wow! Do we really understand the implications of what Jesus said? Jesus was saying: “Don’t stop at me, I’m just the way! My job is to get you (back) to the Father! Keep going until you get to the Father!” Consider the conversation Jesus had with his disciples in John 16. In that conversation, Jesus was telling them how things would be when he went back to the Father and the Holy Spirit comes to them. In verse  23, he says: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (KJV) Then he says: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (ESV) Jesus was saying that when the Holy Spirit comes (in that day) they (his disciples and by extension, all who become his disciples) would not have to ask him anything, so that he might ask the Father on their behalf, but they would be able to ask the Father themselves, in his name! We often miss this: The mission of Jesus was to provide the means (by paying the price and penalty for sin) for us to be restored as ‘sons of God!’ In the Kingdom of God; Jesus is the only begotten or ‘unique’ Son, but Jesus is not the only son! All who believe and have been born again are sons of God! (‘Son’ in this instance is not a gender-specific term; it is a legal term that refers to status or position, hence, it refers to males and females). This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17 KJV)

Oh! I wish we could see this! So many of my preaching brothers and sisters are so fixated with the thought of just wanting to hear the Lord saying to them: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” But if we read the Scriptures carefully, we would understand that God WILL NOT say that to us! Why? Because in Galatians the Apostle Paul wrote: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal. 4:4-7 KJV) It’s really an insult to God the Father and to Jesus the Son, that after so much was given that we might (again) be ‘sons’ we still insist upon being called servants! The classic Black Baptist ‘preaching-close’ of “Well done thy good and faithful servant” makes for good whooping, but it’s actually bad theology!

Now, as Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:12: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” (KJV), So let me wrap up a few bread crumbs I dropped along the way. You might recalled that earlier I paraphrased Jesus as saying: “My job is to get you (back) to the Father!” I put the word ‘back’ in parenthesis to place emphasis on the fact that Jesus came, not to take us to a ‘new’ place such as Heaven, but rather to restore us back to our original position! Have you ever notice that everything in God’s plan of salvation is a ‘re?’ It is a plan of redemption, restoration! We must be re-born and we must repent! Everything about salvation is a ‘re!’ Why? Because the whole plan is about talking us back to the relationship we had with God before sin entered into the world! God’s plan of salvation, Jesus coming into the world, the Cross, the Resurrection; it’s all about getting back to God’s original intent as specified in Genesis 1-2! Did you know that Genesis 1-2 are the only two ‘perfect’ chapters in the Bible? From Genesis 3:1 to Revelation 22:21, the Bible is about God’s plan to recover Genesis 1-2! That’s why I don’t believe in calling funerals; ‘home-going’ celebrations! Contrary to what traditional Christianity advocates, Heaven (the place where God dwells) will NOT be our final destination! Why would God go through all the trouble of making a ‘physical’ world and giving us ‘physical’ bodies if God intended for us to spend eternity in a purely spiritual dis-embodied state? I mean; think about it! If Heaven is our final destination, the Resurrection is pointless! No! John writes in Revelation 21:1-3: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (KJV) The goal of traditional Christianity is to go and ‘be with God,’ but according to the Bible, God’s ultimate goal is come and ‘be with us!’ In the END, we will not be bodiless spirits floating among the clouds, but rather we will have glorified bodies, living on the new earth!

So, in essence, the greatest gift is the Kingdom of God! What is the Kingdom of God? It is God’s sovereign rule and will! It is the Eternal Life and the Abundant Life Jesus came to give us access to! It is God’s original intent for us as specified in Genesis 1:26-28! It should be our greatest quest and it is God’s greatest gift! Jesus said in Luke 12:29-32: “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (KJV) The greatest thing about God’s greatest gift is that we don’t have to wait until we die to get it; it’s available right now to all who will accept it! This is the Gospel (the Good News) that Jesus peached: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (KJV)

Some Thoughts About My 58th Birthday!

On August 8, 2018 (two days from the writing of this post) I will be 58 years old! Now, that might not be such a big deal to you, but it means the world to me! I always make a big deal of my birthday! Why? Because every birthday reminds me of just how precious the gift of life is! Now, some might wonder, since my birthday is on the 8th, why am I writing this post today? Well, since tomorrow is not promised, I will not take for granted that I will be around two days from hence, and also since I’m having these thoughts now, I will share them now because I might be inspired to share something else (or not) Wednesday!

At the church I serve, I always (in jest) make a big deal of my birthday! I usually tell the membership on the Sunday before the historic day, that I will be available after church to give them written excuses to miss work on my birthday, which is an unofficial national holiday. (I offer to write them an excuse, with no guarantee their employers will accept it nor any offer to compensate for any lost wages; LOL!) Just this past Sunday (yesterday) one of the members said that I should wait until the day of my birthday to collect gifts, to which I replied: “No! I’ll collect any gifts offered or given today, to save people the trouble of trying to locate me on Wednesday!

But, in all seriousness, we should all be excited, not just about birthdays, but about every day! Life is such a wonderful and precious gift! You may be going through a rough patch right now and life might not be treating you very well; but you still have reasons to celebrate life! Why? Because the rough patches in life, whether they are self-inflicted or unjustly caused, are tools that can be used to teach some valuable lessons or weights to help build character and endurance. Whatever life brings your way, the important thing is your response! Life can make you better or bitter; but which, depends on how you respond!

I made up my mind, some years ago, that I would always look for the good in every situation! Many years ago, I read a book entitled: “Happiness Is A Choice.” Every since then, I constantly make a conscious decision to be happy! As I contemplate upon reaching 58 in a couple of days, I am happy because there were some friends I grew up with and some people I went to school with; some younger and some older, who have died, but I’m still here! I realize I am here, not because I was better or more deserving, but rather, only because of God’s grace and providence! Some years ago, when I reached 50, I realized, with all things being equal, I would probably not live another 50 years! I realized that I had already lived longer than I would live! Therefore, I decided then, more so than at any other point prior to that point, that I would no longer allow frivolous pursuits or people to monopolize my time! Life is too short to waste! People who kill or waste time should be arrested and because time is so precious, wasting and/or killing it should be a crime! Sadly, most people madly pursue the paper (money) while neglecting to respect and honor life’s most precious commodity; time!

Now, I realize I’m not the only person who will have a birthday in August 8, in fact, every day is somebody’s birthday! But, I just wanted to share with you my excitement about my birthday to encourage you to celebrate, not only your birthday but every day of your life! Even if you don’t feel like celebrating or you don’t see what’s worth celebrating; life really is good! No matter how bad things appear; just remind yourself they just look that way; usually things are much better than they appear! And even if things really are that bad; look for the silver lining, because; there really is a bright side somewhere!

Have a “good day” today!, As for myself; I am definitely going to have a ‘happy’ birthday; Wednesday! But just in case I don’t make it to Wednesday, that will be alright, because every day is a day worth celebrating!

The Old Preachers Were Right!

spurgeon  When I started in the ministry, nearly forty years ago, I said that I whenever I was blessed to lead a church, I would not preach the message the old preachers in that day and time were preaching. It seemed to me that they were “preaching to the choir” so to speak when they preached a message about repentance and the need to be born again Sunday after Sunday. It didn’t make sense to me: Why would you always preach about the need to be born again to people who were already born again? Why talk so much about the need to repent to people who had already repented? Me and my naïve self! I was under the impression that all church members were saved! It wasn’t until I became a pastor myself that I was ambushed by the startling reality that everybody that talks about Heaven will not be going! When I became a pastor, I found out for myself that many church members are members of the church, but they are not members of the Body of Christ! They have their names on the church-roll, but their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life! They have given the preacher their hand, but they have not given the Lord their heart! Many church members claim to be “saved” but the truth of the matter is; they are saved only in their own minds! As Paul writes of the Jews in Romans 10: They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, are going about to establish their own righteousness and have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God!

Now, before you say I’m being judgmental, I am just merely being observant. Jesus said that a tree is known by the fruit it bears! We live in a culture today wherein if you call a spade a spade, you are labelled as being bigoted or intolerant. But there is nothing wrong with making judgments; it’s just wrong to be judgmental. It’s nothing wrong with being critical, as in being analytical, it’s just wrong to be constantly criticizing, like you are more or better than anybody else! But lest I stray too much, let me get back to my main issue.

The old preachers were right! The greatest field for evangelism in America today is within the four walls of many church buildings! The church today is being rocked by scandal after scandal! It’s not a month that goes by wherein the secular media is not reporting about some pastor or prominent religious leader involved in some sexual or money-related scandal! All this adverse publicity of immorality is just what the cynics love to hear! It gives them an excuse to write Christianity and the church off as being just a rip-off and a racket! What makes it even worse is the offenders rarely show any real signs of Godly sorrow and true repentance. The only sorrow they show is the sorrow that they got caught! The gullible faithful readily forgive the offenders without the offender offering any real sign of repentance! All this serves to make a mockery of the faith and the Name of the Lord to be blasphemed (spoken ill of, cursed) by unbelievers! Because of the behavior of many church members, the world is cursing God and the church!

And so, I’ll say it again; the old preachers were right! The main problem with the church today is that there are too many members, too many leaders, yes, even too many pastors, who simply have not been born again! They have not had a true spiritual encounter with God! Their lives have not been changed or transformed by the Spirit of God!

To make the situation even worse, at a time when the preaching of repentance and true faith is needed the most; we are preaching less! When was the last time you heard a sermon about being born again? When was the last time you heard a sermon about the need to live right? Most of what we hear preached these days is about being blessed and getting more of this or that! Faith these days is not measured by the content of character or by right actions, but rather by the size of houses and bank accounts! But let me go “old fashion” for just a minute: God will not bless mess! A real spiritual transformation, a right-relationship ,and righteous living are still the requirements of true biblical faith!

And so, I want to apologize to the old preachers! I thought I was right and they were just old fashioned and wrong! But they were right and I was just young and naïve! Yes! In a time and day wherein this type of preaching is passé, I want to go on record to say: The old preachers were right: You must be born again! You must repent of your sins to be right with God! For as Jesus once asked: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26 KJV)





Where There is No Vision

Wild WestIn the King James Version of the Bible, Proverbs 29:18 reads: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Usually in Hebrew poetry, which is the genre (type of literature) of this particular text, the first phrase is complimented or contrasted by the second phrase. This is the tell-tale trait of Hebrew poetry called: parallelism. English poetry usually recognized by rhyme, such as what is found in “Jack and Jill” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” So, when we look at Proverbs 29:18 in the KJV text in the light of the fact that it is Hebrew poetry, we are immediately confronted with a problem! What is the connection between “vision” and keeping the “law?” At first glance, there seems to be none, especially if we take the word “vision” to mean what are the common definitions today. Vision is usually thought of as having to do with seeing or sight or dreams and goals. But is that the primary definition the author had in mind when he penned this text? I used to think so, but when I really looked at the text in light of its genre, I began to think differently.
I researched the Hebrew word that is translated as “vision,” and I discovered that the word can also be translated as; “prophecy or divine communication.” The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as “perish” is a word that means, “to be loosened of restraint.” Wow! That makes more sense to me in light of the whole structure of the verse! So here’s the Miller Translation: “Where there is no divine communication [no word from the Lord], the people are unrestrained [the people run wild]; but he that observes and obeys the word of God, happy [blessed] is he!”
Isn’t that where we are in the world today? Many people have cast off all restraint and as Paul wrote in Romans, not only have they cast off all restraints, they even deny the existence of the One who restrains! The Apostle Paul said: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)
Because the world has cast off the restraints of God, civilized humanity has degenerated into an uncivilized and inhumane mess! We have gone from one extreme to the other! I remember when I was growing up; I heard that the television shows; “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” were taken off of prime-time television because they were too violent! The cartoons our kids are exposed to today are more violent than they were! The racy R-rated movies of 30 years ago are the G-rated television shows of today! Speaking of “Gunsmoke,” I was in a store the other day and I observed a man who had a holstered-gun on his hip in plain sight! It reminded me of the cowboy-days of the old wild-west! One of the things I remembered from Gunsmoke was the fact that Marshall Dillion, Chester, and Festus, often had a problem distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys because everybody was wearing a gun! I think with the current gun laws and climate, particularly in America, we are no progressing in civility; we are regressing back to the days of the wild-wild-west!
Now, in the midst of this climate of unrestraint, where people are demanding freedom from all restrictions; my question is this: “Who is going to save us from ourselves?” History has proven over and over again; when people reject God and are let to their own standards, there are no standards and that culture is soon destroyed!
I pray that America turns back to God, but if history and the Bible are credible, and I believe they are, it will not happen! So what should the true Christian do in times like these? Be a credible witness to the truth of God’s word! Don’t compromise to cultural relativity! Be a living example of God’s love and grace! And pray! Pray for the courage to be salt and light in such a time as this!