Not Too Far Gone

My wife and I used to be involved in jail ministry. Those incarcerated are often viewed as monsters or worthless. While such a ministry has its challenges, my wife and I did not minister to monsters or worthless ones. We ministered to men who made poor choices, yet had families they loved and cared about. 

Many of the men we talked to grew up in the tough parts of a notorious city. Numerous times persons would tell us, “My daddy is a gangbanger, and my uncles, and my brothers, and my cousins are all gangbangers.” Such criminal living is all they have ever known. I remember looking at my wife one night and saying, “If I grew up in this city and all my family was gangbangers and drug dealers, I doubt my choices would be any bit different.”

Something that broke our hearts is how many men would say something like, “Don’t pray for me, I’m too far gone. But pray for my kid(s), that they don’t make the choices I’ve made and wind up here.” Numerous times we would have to tell them, “We will certainly pray for your kid(s), but you are not too far gone! Jesus loves you so much He died for you!”

No one, no matter what they have done, is too far gone if they truly turn from sin and turn to Christ in faith. The apostle Paul writes,

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. 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 1:15-16

Understand, Jesus is not a “get out of jail free” card. His love does not minimize the seriousness of sin or its consequences. However, His love and compassion reveal at least two things. First, they reveal the great value of the souls of people; and second, they reveal that human depravity does not come from a vacuum. Besides the complexity of original sin, there is the intricacies of personal makeup and various life experiences.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15

Perhaps you feel that you are “too far gone.” If so, Jesus gives this promise:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

Do not let your fear or shame of feeling too far gone prevent you from responding to Jesus’s good and gracious promise.

Lessons In the Dark (Failure Does Not Have to Be Definitive)

There are times when a person must go through times of darkness. The reasons vary, but sometimes darkness comes as a result of immense failure. Such was the case for the man of God Samson.

Before he was even conceived Samson was ordained to be a deliverer for the people of Israel. By the Spirit of God he was granted incredible strength and valor. His life was to be holy and consecrated to the Lord. Yet, when we read the account of Samson in the book of Judges, we read of a man who squandered his privileges (even having sex with a prostitute [see Jud. 16:1]), and who took his abilities for granted. This squandering eventually cost him dearly.

Samson later falls in love with the woman Delilah. The lords of the Philistines convinced her to seduce Samson and find where his strength came from. After three failed attempts, Delilah pouted and reasoned, “How can you say you love me if you are not willing to tell me your secret?” Being beguiled by the woman, Samson shares his heart and what was not to be revealed. After he falls asleep, Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines rush in to subdue him. We then read the dreadful words,

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. ~ Judges 16:20 (ESV)

For so long Samson took his privileges, anointing, and victories for granted he was oblivious to the fact the Lord departed from him. He was to experience such profoundly humiliating defeat. After rushing on him, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes, put him in shackles, and imprisoned him at the grinding mill.

Samson was alone in the darkness of his blindness, yet it was here that he had time to reflect, grieve, confess, and listen. He was learning hard lessons of squandered privileges, of pride, of immorality, etc. Yet, among all these lessons he would also learn of God’s grace and faithfulness. God would yet hear Samson’s prayer and grant him a major victory. Centuries later he would be named among people of faith:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. ~ Hebrews 11:32-33

Perhaps you have tasted the bitterness of failure and experiencing its painful consequences. May you take courage in the Lord and find some peace in His promises. Due to your folly, may you listen to the instructions of the Holy Spirit and gain some wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. ~ Proverbs 1:7

Your failures do not have to define your identity or your future. Consequences might be devastating, but they do not need to demolish hope if you will be still in your darkness. Turn to Christ, and listen to His Spirit. Confess your sin(s), admit your guilt, and own up to your failures. There can still be mighty victories won through Him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

The Greatest Gift of All

This has been a different sort of Christmas season, as my wife and I have recently made a 1400 mile move. For the past few months we were downsizing, going through things to sell, donate, or throw away. It is astonishing how much stuff is accumulated over the years, much of which is not needed, and some not even wanted. My wife and I repeatedly told each other we have too much stuff.

We live in a society that constantly tells us more is better, and having this and that will make us happy. For us, we realized having so much stuff actually added to our stress. Not only by going through it all, but also just looking at it all the time. Even with the house straightened up, there was still clutter.

I have not been in the Christmas spirit at all this year. Granted, I have been preoccupied with the move, but it has become so overly commercialized. It has felt strange going to the store for groceries or cleaning supplies and seeing people do their Christmas shopping. In a matter of a year or two many of the gifts will be trashed, sold, or left to collect dust. So much stuff not needed.

Nevertheless, buried beneath the commercialization, festivities, and wrapping paper there remains for each of us the greatest gift of all, which is the real reason for the season. What makes this gift unique  is it is a provision for what we truly need: redemption, love, joy, peace, and meaning. Yet, this gift is left unopened and unwanted by so many. Still, this wonderful gift is offered to any and all who are willing to receive it. And what is this gift?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. ~ Romans 5:15-17

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23

Have you received this gift from God? If not, why do you continue to reject it when it is freely given?

The Self-destructive System 

A couple of posts ago I wrote on several problems with Critical Race Theory. Does all of the world’s problems boil down to the color of a people’s skin? (Be careful calling this race, lest you think persons of different pigmentation are different races. We are not, for there is one human race).

When one truly considers the problems in the world, the vices affect persons of every ethnicity. Whether North or South American, African, Mexican, Asian, etc. you will find communities infected with corruption, poverty, human trafficking, drug addiction, exploitation, perversions, greed, deception, etc. No group of people has a monopoly over such things. If there was a great genocide of a people of any color, the problems would remain. The problems are not due to the color of skin but the sinfulness of the human heart—including yours and mine.

Confounding the issue more is that of what the Bible calls the “world,” a system which deifies self and exalts even our basest lusts.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. ~ 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Here, the apostle is referring to the world system. Like a strong vacuum,  this system pulls at each of us. Like a raging fire, we feel the intensity of its flames trying to ignite passions and set us ablaze. We can see its ungodly effects in Hollywood, Washington, media, and the universities. Where man is perceived as his own god, and people seek to live and indulge in their own pride and lusts. The color of skin is not even a factor.

Until we recognize the real problems in the world is the fallen condition of human hearts and the godless world system which seeks to exploit them, we will continue trying to blow out matches but never dealing with the actual blazing and destructive fires. And the only way we can begin to do this is by turning to Jesus Christ, believing on Him, and allowing Him to change us from the inside out.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ~ Romans 12:1-2

The Anarchist’s Hellish Paradise

I have not seen (nor do I have any desire to see) the movie, The Purge or its sequels. Part of the plot, the way I understand, is there is an annual holiday, for 12 hours, when crime (murder, rape, etc.) is legalized and no legal authorities are on patrol. Society is free to unleash its depraved desires.

I mention such a movie for a reason. We are living in a day when there has been a growing number of voices desiring anarchy. The voices often claim the desire stems from a desire to promote “justice” and to do away with the corrupt legal authorities; however, the whole reason we have laws is because, if left to our own devices, society would become more unjust, corrupt, and brutal still. Contrary to the warm-fuzzy teachings in much of modern psychology that people are “basically good,” the Bible teaches otherwise—and history surely supports the Bible.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ~ Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

Before the great flood we are told:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ~ Genesis 6:5

Even the apostle Paul writes of humankind in the New Testament:

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

Can we truly argue that these are not accurate portrayals of us as human beings? The thought is scary as to what brutal evil we are capable of if you take God, law, and retribution out of the picture.

You do not believe me? Jesus says that from the abundance of what fills our hearts our mouths speak and actions come forth (see Matt. 12:34; Mark 7:21). Now, consider the vile things people post on Twitter, Facebook, and the internet. From school campuses to political realms people declare persons or groups should get sick and die, be assassinated, burn in hell, etc. There have been pictures posted on the internet depicting President Trump being decapitated, and videos of persons being injured or killed, simply for trying to protect their businesses—their means of earning an income to provide for themselves and their families. We can close our eyes to the reality of the Bible’s teaching of original sin, but what if God, law, and retribution did not stand in the way? Do we not shudder at the thought? If, indeed, people were truly “good” and could self-govern themselves, we would not need so many laws; furthermore, the news would not consistently tell of real life horror stories. But, if we are honest, we know that we are not essentially “good.” Something within us is deeply distorted.

Anarchy does not—because it cannot—promote peace or justice. Without law and order people become a law unto themselves. As in the case of a tragic Old Testament period, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

The anarchist’s dream is, in reality, a hellish nightmare filled with brutality, injustice, fear, and tyrannical reign of the “survival of the fittest.”

It is no exaggeration to say we are in desperate need for redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ, an inner transformation, and the filling of His Holy Spirit. And this is all possible for anyone who calls upon Him and believes.

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 with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ~ Romans 10:9-10

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Only through the redemption of Jesus Christ and the regeneration of His Holy Spirit can our sinful hearts with evil passions be set free from the cruel bondage of sin.

Love of Dogs and Lessons from the Spirit

Those who know me know that I love dogs. I have a Peanuts t-shirt with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The caption reads: “Life is better with a dog.” I have a couple of shirts my wife had made for me that read, “I just want to pet all the dogs.” And our son’s girlfriend had gotten me a hoodie that reads, “Easily distracted by dogs.” Each of these are true of me. I am the person who, if there is a dog in a room filled with people, wants to make a bee line to the doggy.

I shared with my small group leader recently that people think I am joking when I say that I tend to love dogs more than I do people, but I really do. To me, dogs are one of the most noble creatures God has made. Yes, they have some peculiar qualities; however, I know of no other creature that displays such profound and unconditional love, loyalty, and acceptance. People, on the other hand, can be so ugly and mean-spirited. I am perplexed by cities with ordinances which prohibit pit bulls, because each of the pitties I have ever met are sweet little “cuddle bugs”. I have not been bitten by one. However, I have been “bitten” by people many times—even from some whom I had ministered to and thought to be friends.

During a recent small group gathering, the leader had mentioned that God calls followers of Christ to love with agape love; that is, a love that is unconditional and is genuinely benevolent toward others—regardless how we are treated. He reminded us what the Scriptures say:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1 (ESV)

I later told him that it was as if God was saying to me, “Child, it brings joy to Me that you love dogs so much. So do I, because I created them. I am glad they are a blessing to you and that you have no desire to mistreat them. However, they do not bear My imprint. People are the creatures who bear My image. It is people who are redeemable, it is people for whom I died .” People—the only creation fashioned in God’s likeness and the only creation for whom He died. People are redeemable.

Will we see our beloved pets in heaven? I do not know. I sure hope so. What I do know is the Bible says people will be in only one of two places: heaven or hell, and the former is only by people placing their hope and trust in Jesus Christ because of His redemptive work on the cross. The rest will enter the misery and torment of the latter. Nevertheless, God pleads with humanity.

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil w in ays, for why will you die…? ~ Ezekiel 33:11 

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:8-9

Do you realize just how much you are loved by your Creator?