(Just like) Starting Over

(Just like) Starting Over

The last time I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover it took me three years. I spent six months just going through the Book of Psalms. Thought I was going to die slogging my way through Leviticus – Deuteronomy. Got more than my fill of bloodshed, perverts, and idiots reading through Judges. Ruth was like an oasis in the desert. Fell in love with Isaiah. Couldn’t keep the minor prophets straight. Devoured the gospels, so hungry to see Jesus in person again after just getting hints of him in the OT. Still a little afraid of Paul. Not as freaked as I used to be by Revelation because we’ve seen so much of the imagery already in the Old Testament.

This year I’ve decided to burn through the whole Bible again, cover to cover, in just 12 months. I’m using the Bible-in-a-year guide from a calendar I got for Christmas. It has you read so many OT and NT passages each day. I’m cheating, though; I’m ahead of it in the Old Testament and way behind in the New Testament.

What really hit home with me after reading the entire Bible — I’d only ever read books and/or passages here and there before, never the whole thing — is how it really is a story. It has all the elements of great literature: Introduction / Crisis / Building Action / Climax / Falling Action / Resolution. Themes. Foreshadowing. Character development – of a nation, not just individuals. And a happy ending. The happiest of all happy endings. 

Assuming that not one word of scripture is wasted, and assuming that everything points toward Christ, some passages make me scratch my head. For example, at the very end of Genesis, we have a detailed chapter about Jacob blessing the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. 

Jacob tells Joseph, “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.” (Gen 48:5)

Then Jacob is going to bless the two boys and a big deal is made of the fact that Jacob is going to bless Ephraim, the younger, over Manasseh, the older. Joseph tries to get Jacob to switch but Jacob is adamant. I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (Gen 48:19)

Chapter 48 deals almost entirely with Ephraim and Manasseh. So it is important and we need to remember this episode. I missed this significance the first time through. I still can’t quite understand why the 12 tribes of Israel are reckoned with Joseph being the two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh instead of just being called the Tribe of Joseph. I haven’t done any serious study in this before but there must be volumes written about it. Maybe I’ll dig into it more later. Maybe just reading through the book, something will leap out at me and make more sense to me this time. Scripture interprets scripture, as they say.

Now on to Exodus. I wonder how disappointed I’ll be when I get to heaven and discover that Moses doesn’t actually look like Charlton Heston. 

Starting off 2021 with the best news in the whole world!

John 3:3. Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

While I was reading John Chapter 3 this fall, I kept going back to the verse where Jesus tells Nicodemus the Pharisee, “you must be born again.” Nicodemus was perplexed by these words. Even as a believer I had to ask myself what exactly was Jesus saying here? I’ve been exploring that for awhile now. So, finally, here is a brief recap and summary.

God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the ground.”  – Genesis 1:26

God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7

God said to the first man and woman, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17

About 5 minutes later, Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command and ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6). In that instant they became separated from God (spiritual death). They hid from God when he called them (Genesis 3:8). They tried to cover their sin by their own works, by the flimsy fig leaf coverings (Genesis 3:7). They tried to cast blame away from themselves. Eve accused the snake, and Adam had the audacity to accuse not only Eve but God himself for making her! (Genesis 3:12-13). 

It did not take long for the first man and woman to make a royal mess out of everything. But right there, in the very beginning, God had already laid out the plan for redemption. He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  Notice God left Adam out of this scenario. He mentions Eve’s seed, not Adam’s. So the one who will crush the serpent will not follow the human line of being sired by a human father. Eve’s seed that crushes the serpent will have a different father. 

We inherit our sin nature from Adam. We are born spiritually separated from God (spiritually dead) just as Adam and Eve were after the fall. We are born with a sin nature because of that separation from God. We can’t stop sinning, we do it every day of our lives in thought, word, or deed, and we can’t possibly atone for it by our own power because we keep digging our own grave a little deeper every day.

However — before God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden, he made clothes for them out of animal skins (Genesis 3:21).  What does this mean? It means that God took innocent animal life, shed its blood and its life, to cover the sin and shame of man. God is showing us in the very beginning his plan for salvation through sacrifice. He is pointing us toward the cross of Calvary. All the laws for sacrifice in the Books of Moses are pointing toward the cross. 

Christ is the only way to get out of the prison of sin, death, and hell. There’s no point even trying to discuss any other religions or philosophies because they all, in some way or another, are about achieving salvation, nirvana, enlightenment, whatever, through our own works, by our own power. But that’s not possible. Just look where trying to fix things on our own power has got us. Look at the sick world we are living in today! We are not evolving into a higher species, we are not enlightened. We are getting worse every day and there’s no safe spaces left on the planet, if there ever were any in the first place. 

Jesus Christ came into this world born of a woman, the Virgin Mary, and sired not from Adam’s seed but by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35). We may never fully understand how that happened, but somehow the second person of the Godhead came to earth as a human being. Fully God, because he IS God, and fully human because he is the son of Mary. He didn’t have any sin because he wasn’t born of man’s seed but rather by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22.

So what happened on the cross? Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. He could do that because He was God and only God is big enough to handle the job. Remember Psalm 49 one more time: 

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay. (v 7-9)

and then:

But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. (v 15)

Jesus redeemed our life from the grave! He came to do what we could never do for ourselves. And he did it. On the cross his blood was poured out as the sacrifice that would wash away our sins. He could carry the weight of our sin because He is God. He could die because he is human. Christ’s blood covers our sin. So if we call on Christ as our savior then when God looks at us he sees not our sin, but the righteousness of Christ. 

We were dead in sin, but in Jesus we have NEW LIFE. We are a new creature. We are born again! In the beginning, Adam died spiritually instantly and then awhile later his body died as well. When we give our lives to Christ, our spirits are made alive again instantly because in that instant we are restored to a right relationship with God. And then one day our bodies, which are decaying now, will be made alive again forevermore. Jesus could die because he was human. The grave could not hold him because the wages of sin is death (as we saw with Adam and Eve) but Jesus never sinned. And now because He paid the price we could never afford to, we are free from bondage to sin and death. We are alive with Christ. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection and we will be like him.

Paul sums it up in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

So when Jesus was talking with Nicodemus that night and said, “you must be born again,” he was talking of the new birth of our dead spirits and the eventual resurrection of our dead bodies into eternal ones that will be like his — eternal, incorruptible, free from all stain. The broken relationship with God has been restored in Christ. Jesus endured the agonizing pain, humiliation and suffering of the cross because he wants us to be restored to him. God himself loves us so fully and completely that he holds nothing back from us. He gave everything he had to give in order to save us — he gave us Himself. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  …For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:9-13

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

The entire Bible, all 66 books of the Old and New covenants, are about how we got separated from God and what God has done to set things to rights. All I’ve put here is just a smattering of everything the Bible has to say. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to pick up the Bible and read it from cover to cover and hear the whole story for yourself. Don’t rely on anybody else to tell you what it says.

We are living in scary times. But don’t be afraid! Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. What can any man or group or government do to us? If we are His, then we have a glorious, joyous, happy and free eternity in our future.

If you haven’t yet given your life to Christ, don’t delay! None of us are guaranteed that we will live out the rest of today, let alone see tomorrow. Don’t leave this planet without making your decision for Christ. We are already in hell. He is our only way out. The Lord Jesus Christ loves you more than you could ever imagine and He gave you Everything. He gave you Himself. All you have to do is accept Him.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” – Jeremiah 31:3

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1

The mega-fun topic of SIN, DEATH, and FORGIVENESS!

Jesus said, “You must be born again.”  John 3:3

Why can’t God just forgive us and be done with it?

I have to admit, I have put this off for months. It’s been nagging at me since September, now here it is, almost Christmas. All I do for this blog is just read scripture and write down my thoughts, so why is this so much harder than any other post? Maybe because that pesky question of forgiveness is what the entire Bible is all about?

Our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, were given Paradise and completely screwed it up by the third chapter of the first book of the Bible. I found this hard to understand when I was a little kid reading my Children’s Bible for the first time. Why was eating some fruit so terrible? It sounds silly, even comical. They didn’t kill anybody, right? Sure, God told them not to do it. But they were sorry afterwards, weren’t they? Why didn’t he just forgive them and let everything get back to normal? He’s a loving God, right? Why kick them out of the Garden and curse them (and us)? That just seems cruel.  

James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” But there are over 600 laws in the Old Testament! Who then has a chance? It isn’t fair! Is it?

Theologians, atheists and everybody and their grandma who’ve ever given any thought at all to the God of the Bible wonder about this sooner or later. I’ve read a lot about it, and heard a lot of scholars talk. I’ve read the Bible myself and prayed over it, gotten angry over it, and questioned God over it. I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching, examining choices I’ve made and wondering about the effects I’ve had on other people. The conclusion I’ve come to is there is no such thing as a sin that’s “no big deal.” It’s not possible. 

The above verse in James is hard to grasp for most of us. For myself, at least. Is God really saying that if you broke one point of the law you’ve broken all of it? So, me snapping at that clerk in the store and making her cry condemns me just as much as Hitler slaughtering 6 million Jews? 

Yes . . . and here are just a few reasons why I believe it:

1. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke Chapter 16, the guy in hell wants Lazarus to bring him some water. But Abraham tells him “…between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” A lot of Bible teachers believe this is a story of actual people and not a parable. So if we assume that there is a real chasm between heaven and hell, then the question is how and why did it get there. I think the moment Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit, they were on the rich man’s side of the chasm. They rejected God because they rebelled against the only law He gave them. They thought it was more prudent to listen to a snake than to listen to the voice of God. And from then on they were separated from God, with no way to get back to Him. All because they ate a piece of fruit. It wasn’t a “little thing,” after all.

2. God gave mankind authority over all the earth in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” But when they listened to the devil’s lies instead of to God, they handed that authority over to Satan, thus becoming the servants of Satan (sin/rebellion/death). Remember when Satan tempted Jesus he said, “I will give you all their [the earthly kingdoms’] authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.” (Luke 4:6). Jesus called Satan the “prince of this world” in John 12:31.

(Note: Satan doesn’t own this world and he isn’t the supreme ruler. God has always had that authority. “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” – Deuteronomy 10:14.  It’s kind of like God owning a building, giving the superintendent’s keys to Adam and Eve, then they give those keys to Satan. Satan may be able to run all over the building for now, but he doesn’t own it and he never will.)

3. When Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority by eating the fruit, they died. Their spirits were dead from that day on, and their bodies started on the road to decay and death. What God told them in Genesis 2:17, “…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” was the truth. So if He had just said, “oh, well, you silly kids, you shouldn’t have but I guess I’ll let it slide this time,” then He would have been a liar and a fool and therefore not someone worthy of our worship and our trust.

4. The sin is laid on Adam’s shoulders, not Eve’s, even though she ate first. There are debates on this but I think it was because Adam was the head of the house. It sounds like he was right there when the snake was talking to Eve. He had the authority to order the snake to be quiet, but he didn’t. He could have corrected Eve when she misquoted God’s command, but he didn’t. He could have knocked the fruit out of her hand, but he didn’t. He could have refused the fruit when she offered it to him, but he didn’t. Eve was deceived; Adam made a deliberate, conscious choice to reject God. We are all his descendants and so we all inherit his nature—the nature of a dead spirit that is enslaved to sin. All the pain, suffering, greed and hate that we call history happened because of the choice that one man, the ancestor of all of us, made one day thousands of years ago.

The first sin recorded in the Bible was eating a piece of fruit. 

The second was murder.

No small sin.

————

(This isn’t my original thought; I’ve heard it many times but it makes sense and is in perfect alignment with the Bible) If God is perfect, then he can’t just sweep sin — any sin — under the rug. Because if He does that, then He is not a just God. Nor would He be a loving God, if you think about it. If a drunk driver ran me over and crippled me for life, I would want justice. That driver knew it was wrong and dangerous to drink and drive but he did it anyway. His choice ruined the rest of my life. I would cry out for justice. When the case came to court, if the judge said to the drunk driver, “I forgive you. Cased dismissed,” he might be very merciful and kind toward the driver but he wouldn’t be fair or kind to ME.  

And think about eternity. God’s kingdom is absolutely perfect. It is a place of perfect love, joy, peace, beauty, and community among all its inhabitants. I think it is a place that almost all of us desperately long for in our hearts. So what if God swept just one sin under the rug and it was never dealt with? Just one little thing, say one person who occasionally gossips about other people. How long would it take for that one little thing to destroy all of Heaven and turn it into the same cesspool we’ve turned Earth into? Remember, Adam and Eve snacked on some forbidden fruit, and their son murdered his own brother. God absolutely cannot allow even the smallest taint of sin to go undealt with . 

Paul warned the people of Corinth, “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” Sin MUST be dealt with, or it will grow like the yeast in bread dough and infest everything.

It’s no good trying to deal with it ourselves. Remember that chasm that has been fixed between hell and Heaven. As sinners we are on the wrong side of that chasm. What can we do to fill the abyss so we can cross over? It’s eternally deep. What are our “good deeds” worth? They are a joke. Most of our works are selfishly motivated anyway, if we are honest with ourselves. And even the most noble thing a person can do, which is to die to save someone else, can’t fill that hole because we are dead sinners trying to save other dead sinners. 

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—
The ransom for a life is costly,
No payment is ever enough—
That he should live on forever and not see decay.
– Psalm 49:7-9

We sin every single day and we know it. Even if we really, really don’t want to. That cruel remark slips from our lips, that lustful thought enters our head, that little thing is just sitting there for us to steal, that little white lie is so easy to say….I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry! I’ll do better tomorrow! But tomorrow comes and we don’t do better. We don’t fill that chasm, we just keep digging it deeper and deeper. We are lost. We are in that rich man’s same hell and we are as hopeless as he is to ever get out of it.

UNLESS . . . . . 

Sinking down for the last time

Oh boy! Kathe’s Kraptastic Art is Back!

STILL MUSING ON JOHN 3:3 – “YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.”

Sorry this is late. I’ve been on vacation, escaping the smoke to go someplace where there was slightly less smoke. When you can’t breathe, “slightly less smoke” is a gift straight from Heaven. We’ve had a lot of rain since I’ve been back, so everything is perfectly lovely and clear again. Thank You, Jesus! My lungs and I are extremely grateful.

On my September 6 blog I was reading through different Bible verses pertaining to original sin, going back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3. If you’ve ever read the Bible straight through, you see how generally depraved people have been from the very beginning and will continue to be straight through to the bitter end. No character in scripture apart from Christ is flawless. The closest we see is Daniel; we aren’t told any of his character flaws but we do see him confessing his own sin in Daniel 9:4-6. I don’t have to search my own conscience very deeply to know that I am a sinner. How many times in my life have I lied, cheated, stolen, raged, slandered, gossiped, etc.? More than I could ever count. Every time I hear someone say something like, “I’m a good person! I don’t need any saving, thank you very much,” I want to laugh in their face. I know they’re lying, I know THEY know they’re lying, and I know that THEY know that I know that they’re lying, so why do they bother?

Because we don’t want to be accountable to anyone. Because we know in our heart of hearts that we don’t have an excuse. Every rotten thing we’ve ever done or said or even just thought is piling up on our souls like Jacob Marley’s chains.* And we don’t want to face it. Pretend God isn’t there and He’ll go away, right?

But the day of reckoning is coming. Each and every one of us will have to stand before the Lord God Almighty and give an account for our lives. Do any of us really think we have any merit at all? That it is one big cosmic scale and our so-called “good deeds” are going to outweigh our bad?

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28. — Whoah! If even our own private, fleeting thoughts make us sinners, who then who of us could be saved? We’re screwed!

Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. – Isaiah 45:23

As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. – Romans 14:11-12

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes. – Romans 3:10-18 (quoting various OT passages).

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21.  OUCH! TOO CLOSE TO HOME!

Okay, I think now I understand what Jesus was getting at when he told Nicodemus that we must be born again. The first birth is the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. No matter how much we want to be good, or how hard we try, we keep falling flat on our faces. Like Sisyphus in the old Greek story, we are doomed to keep pushing a rock up a hill; a rock that always gets away from us and rolls away before we reach the top. No matter how hard we try, we can never get to the top.

In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we are told that there is an eternal chasm fixed between heaven and hell, and no one can cross it. (Luke 16:26). We are trapped in our sinful nature and we cannot and will not ever get out of it by our own power. A man going down for the third time can’t save himself from drowning even if he is a good swimmer. A woman falling to her death from a cliff can’t save herself even if she is the best rock climber in the world. We cannot escape the sin nature we’ve had since the moment we were conceived. We are on a one-way trip to hell and eternal punishment AND, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we deserve it. We’re not the innocent victims of Adam’s original sin. We sin and we like it. It feels good to get our own back on someone we hate. It’s fun to have sex even if we’re not married. Who doesn’t secretly enjoy a good meltdown fit of rage? Who hasn’t said we deserve it, it should be ours, as we nick something that belongs to someone else?

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob doesn’t send people to hell on a whim based on his own capriciousness. We walk there all by ourselves. What God does is offer us a way OUT. A new nature, free from sin—no more pushing an endless rock up an endless hill. He offers us a restored relationship with Himself. That is what being born again means.  

The bad news and the good news: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:27-28

Next time: HOW DOES GOD SAVE US? WHY CAN’T HE JUST FORGIVE US AND BE DONE WITH IT?

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  …for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13

*Jacob Marley was the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.