Monday, June 27, 2011

No Baptists in Heaven

The title of this post sounds like the setup for a joke, doesn't it?  But it's not.  It's the simple truth: if you have been saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, you may be surprised, when you get to Heaven, to find that there are no Baptists there!  

That's a sobering thought for me, because although I've been a member of several denominations, I happen to be a Baptist!  That's why I chose that title for the post.  I could just as easily have called it "No Catholics in Heaven," or "No Quakers in Heaven," or "No Episcopalians in Heaven" .... or a hundred more.  And any of those titles would be true.


 This is not, however, a post about denominations, or denominationalism.  It's not about the name over the church door, or any of the ecclesiastical traditions of men. And it's certainly not about which denomination is right, and which is wrong.  This is a post about Heaven - - - who will be there, and who won't be.

There won't be any Baptists in Heaven.  My Grandfather, who died in 1959, was one of the leading Southern Baptist preachers of the twentieth century; he was Chairman of the Baptist Sunday School Board for 35 years, and Pastor of First Baptist in Nashville, Tennessee during those years.  He baptized me when I was six years old.  If anybody in this world has a Baptist "pedigree," it's yours truly.  But it's not going to get me one inch closer to Heaven - - - just as my Grandfather's "ecclesiastical status" didn't get him one inch closer.


There won't be any Roman Catholics in Heaven, either.  You can be baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, you can have a private "blessing" from the Pope himself, and you won't be any further from Hell than the lowest murderer or pimp who ever lived.  I'm not equating Catholics with killers and pimps; I'm saying that there won't be any Catholics in Heaven.


Well, surely there will be Pentecostals and Charismatics in Heaven, right?  They talk so much about the Holy Spirit in their lives, they're bound to know something!  And they do know some things, just as the Baptists and Methodists do.  But there won't be any Charismatics or Pentecostals in Heaven.  Heaven wasn't made for them, or for any of these other groups.


What about Mormons?  What if a man is baptized in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, and is a member of the "Melchisedec Priesthood," and has a Temple Recommend?  Nope, he won't be in Heaven, either.  Sorry; no offense.  But the facts are the facts ... no Mormons in Heaven.

All of this begs the question: if none of these folks are in Heaven, who will be?

And the answer is very simple: the only people in Heaven are, and will be, miserable, helpless sinners who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and have received Him according to John 1:12.

Down here, a lot of those people attend the churches I've mentioned.  There are saved sinners in the Baptist and Charismatic and Presbyterian and Catholic churches .... and there are unsaved people in those churches, too.   But when we get to Heaven, we won't be Baptists any more, or Calvinists or Arminians or anything else, except saved sinners, focusing not on our ceremonies and traditions and theologies, but basking in the Presence of our Saviour and Lord.

I'm not comparing denominations, and I'm certainly not saying that this one is better than that one.  I'm saying that the churches we attend down here can help us in many ways, and we can serve God in those churches .... but they can't save us.  My Grandfather couldn't save me.  The Pope couldn't save a dead cat.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, or the LDS Council of Elders, couldn't save a crippled hummingbird.

Only Jesus Christ, God the Son, the one true Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), can save us.

And He will .... if we let him.

I thank God that, by His grace, I was saved by receiving Christ in August of 1969.  And, when my time on earth is done, He'll receive me on that basis alone - - - and he won't even hold my being a Baptist against me!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Studies in Islam: The Ideal Woman

We've heard a great deal from Muslim men about what "their" women should be like: how they should dress, how they should behave, who they should hate, who they should love, and all the rest.  Perhaps it would be helpful to hear from some Muslim women themselves - - - apart from the magnificent ex-Muslim, Wafa Sultan, whose words are often featured in this blog.


The following two videos are self-explanatory.  I will merely comment that I would (honestly, no kidding) rather see my daughter and granddaughters raised in the old Soviet Russia or Communist China than in any Islamic country.


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Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Ushpizin"

Every so often, I like to use this space to draw the readers' attention to movies that have been overlooked, or, if not overlooked, deserve a second glance.  I did this with the French film "Diva"; this time around, the film is quite different, but even better.  The Israeli movie "Ushpizin" (2005) is a perfect little gem, and should be of especial interest to Christians and Jews alike.



Directed by Gidi Dar and set in modern Jerusalem, "Ushpizin" (which translates as "The Guests") deals with the trials and adventures of a very loving, very orthodox couple, Moshe and Mali, who are preparing for the upcoming celebration of Succot (what the English Bible calls the Feast of Tabernacles).  Celebrated in the month of Tishrei (late September to late October), the festival commemorates the Hebrews' 40 years in the wilderness, when they dwelled in crude "booths" (Americans might call them shacks) covered with  bamboo shoots or other wooden branches.  During the "Holy Week" which includes Succot, Jewish families move into these booths to live, or use them to host guests: the holiday is important to Jews visiting Israel.  "Ushpizin" concerns the adventures of Moshe and Mali during this week.

Moshe was not always an observant Jew, much less an orthodox one; his background was apparently pretty wild, although the film wisely avoids spelling this out.  But now the couple truly live for their faith, although they are hamstrung by financial difficulties: Moshe can't even purchase the materials for the sukkah (booth), much less the prescribed "Four Species" of fruits and vegetables required for the feast.  Added to this, they have an ongoing problem: they are childless.

"Ushpizin" is a film containing little miracles, coming from the hand of God: some directly, some indirectly.  Moshe unexpectedly receives the wherewithal to build his sukkah, and, as he shops one day, he finds a particularly beautiful citron (a citrus fruit, pictured in the above poster), to which he is irresistably drawn.  He pays the outrageous price of one thousand shekels (about $300) for the fruit, and takes it home.

Then, unexpectedly, two friends from Moshe's "old days" show up, having just been released from prison.  Moshe excitedly invites them to spend the holiday with him and Mali, although Mali is very troubled by the presence of these obvious ne'er-do-wells.  Nevertheless, Moshe gives them the sukkah to stay in, and treats them as honored guests, as hospitality is the rule of the day on this holiday.

Then the drama really begins: the misunderstandings, the misadventures, and the miracles - - - about which I will say no more.  This is a wonderful film, and well worth renting or buying.

The film is in Hebrew, with English subtitles.  I doubt that Adolph Hitler could watch this movie without loving the characters.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No more schools or supermarkets!

This is too good not to share.  Coming from mererhetoric.com, this crudely-produced little video, based on State Department cables published in Wikileaks, gives a good summary of the Obama administration's solution to "the Middle East problem."  It's really no more complicated - - - or logical - - - than this.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Affliction, Part II

Where is your heart?  What touches you, and intrigues you, and demands your desire and affection?  The answers are different for everybody, of course: but there are good answers, and answers that are not quite so good.  If your affections and desires are running along the wrong path, what can be done about it?


In a previous post, we discussed the nagging, age-old question, "Who's responsible for affliction?"  After looking at God's word, the answer came through loud and clear: God Himself is responsible.  He claims to be, with no equivocation, in such passages as Exodus 4:11 and elsewhere.  But, if God is the ultimate Author of affliction and suffering, the question arises: "Why?  Why does He do it?"  Nobody is surprised that God might punish a person like Herod or Charles Manson or Saddam Hussein, but  why does God afflict His children, who are trying to please Him?


Well, if it's true that God is actually causing the affliction - - - always remembering that Satan is no more than God's "errand boy" in these matters - - - then there must be a good reason, or reasons.  If God "does all things well" (Mark 7:37), then He must have very good reasons indeed.  He's not a sadist, and He doesn't play cat and mouse with us.  If we know Him, if we have come to Christ by an act of the will, according to John 1:12, then God constantly seeks ways to help us and teach us and bless us.  




In our previous post, we glimpsed a few ways that God might bless us, or bless others, through our afflictions.  Now, we'll start studying the matter in detail.  This will be the first in a series of posts on the practical reasons for our afflictions in this life.


To get back to the original question: where is your heart?  What do you think about, when your mind is wandering free, and you have the luxury and privacy of indulging your favorite thoughts?  That's a very important question: so important that God mentions it repeatedly throughout his word.


Some people, who are in love, think about the person they've come to care for above all others: and there's nothing wrong with that. Some people dream of making the world a better place to live, or helping improve the lives of others: and there's certainly nothing wrong with that, as long as it's realistic!  Others think of their families, or of plans for the future: and that's very understandable.  None of these things are bad, and we all think of them.


But what does God want us to think about?  The Bible is full of answers, but the one that really strikes at the heart, as we live in this fast-paced, fallen, frantic, sinful world, is this: If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth
(Col 3:1-2).


It's been said that this is the single toughest thing for any Christian to do.  "The world is too much with us," said Wordsworth, and he was right.  So many distractions, so many necessities, so many diversions, both important and unimportant, crucial and trivial, vying for our attention.  Who has time to think about Heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father?  And yet, that's what God wants us to think about.  Of course He wants us to do our jobs, and love our families, and enjoy His creation; but He wants us to set our affections on the things above.




When was the last time you thought about Heaven?  I mean, really thought about it.  Pondered it.  Studied it.  It's pretty important, after all: after 70 or 90 or 100 short years, you'll be spending eternity there, if you've been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Do you remember exactly what you were doing one thousand hours ago?  Of course not.  But someday, this short span of earthly years will be as remote as whatever you were doing a thousand hours ago. And the business of eternity will be the only business you have to think about, or attend to.


There are always cynics, of course, who snort at such thoughts, and they invariably say the same thing, because they lack imagination: "Some people are so 'Heavenly minded' they're of no earthly use!"  What they mean is, "I don't want to think about Heaven, or Hell, and I don't care to be reminded of them!"  They're just not honest enough to say it that way, so they mock those who are concerned with the really important things.






(By the way: I am a callow and inexperienced youth of 61 years, but I've been a Christian for 41 of those years.  I have never met anyone who was "too Heavenly minded."  If you know such a person, send him or her my way: I probably have much to learn from them!)


Regardless of the cynics, or the "Christians" who think that God's ultimate desire is for Christians to "bring in God's Kingdom on earth," God Himself wants us to think about Him ... and to think about Heaven, and the eternal things.


Somebody, a saved somebody, might object, "Well, I'll have plenty of time to think about Heaven when I get there!  I'm busy down here right now!"  That is an exceptionally ignorant thing for a Christian to say.  Ignorant and arrogant, as a matter of fact.  For one thing, if you slip on a banana peel, you might be in Heaven tomorrow morning.  But don't you know, you foolish, shallow-thinking chucklehead (I speak in charity, of course), that you're in Heaven right now?  I've been in Heaven ever since August 12, 1969.  Don't believe me?  Try God's word again:


And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins .... Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1, 5, 6).

If you've been saved by Jesus Christ, you're in Heaven already!  It's just your body that's lingering down here on earth!  Hadn't you better start thinking about it, learning about it, setting your affections on it?

God wants us to be a Heavenly-minded, Christ-centered people.  And if we won't center our affections where they should be centered, He will, quite frequently, help us, with what is colloquially called an "attitude adjustment."  And some of God's "adjustments," the ones that seem to work best, come in the form of affliction.

Does a man's well-paying job come between him and thinking about God, and the eternal things?  (I'm talking about Christians here.) Then God might give him some financial affliction, by causing him to lose his job.  Does a young woman love her fiancé so much that she has no time to think about her Saviour and Lord, and eternity?  Then God might take the fiancé away.  It happens all the time, although it's rarely recognized as God's doing.  Does a young athlete spend so much time in training that his Bible remains unopened for months at a time, and he never thinks about God and Heaven?  Then God might strip that athletic ability away, in a split second.  That's not "cruel;" that's God helping the kid to get his mind on the right thing.



Does your good, robust health keep you completely busy with outdoor pursuits (which are not bad in themselves)? Then God might simply touch your lung, or your heart, or your spine, and take that robust health away.  That's affliction ... and it may be the only thing that causes you, or me, to set our affections on things above, and not on this earth.



That's one of the purposes of affliction: to make us more Heavenly minded, more concerned with God and the things of God.

But it's only one of the purposes.  We'll discuss others in due time.





Friday, June 10, 2011

When preachers actually preached.....

And now, for something refreshingly different.  Although I was unable to find a complete sermon by Billy Sunday (part of whose story is told in the post "Scars," ), here's just a taste of what real preachers used to be like.  I'm not saying that there's no room for individual approaches or styles, and I love the sermons of Ben Haden or Francis Schaeffer just as much as I do Billy Sunday: but when was the last time you heard a "megachurch" preacher or "purpose-driven" charlatan say things like this?


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Monday, June 6, 2011

What is a "besetting sin?"

The man just couldn't control his temper, and his impulsiveness. He could go for days or weeks without losing his composure, and he knew Jesus Christ face to face, and walked with Him. He was loyal and steadfast and brave: there wasn't an ounce of cowardice, or infidelity, in his entire character. But when his temper flared up .... or he became impatient ... even the physical Presence of Jesus wasn't enough to keep him under control. And this one "little" flaw in his personality led him to violence and bloodshed ... and then to actually turning his back on Christ, and angrily denying that he even knew him.



The woman was what we'd call, today, a "control freak." She knew exactly what needed to be done at all times, and, to her credit, she was always willing to do it. She was the "go-to" woman if you had a job to be done, or if daily tasks had been ignored by others. She didn't necessarily try to control people, but she was constantly involved in arranging her environment and "taking care of things" and doing the little jobs that others overlooked. From a human standpoint, she was a good person to have around! But her compulsive nature led her to neglect the things that were really important - - - to the point that it became a liability to her spiritual life. She was even too busy to see her problem: it had to be pointed out to her by Jesus Himself.




And there are so many others, some seen in characters from the Bible, some seen in our daily lives - - - especially in the mirror. The man or woman who loves to gossip: not necessarily because they want to hurt someone, or slander them, but simply because they can't keep their noses out of everybody's business. (Some Christians try to disguise this behavior by couching their gossip in terms of "prayer requests:" "Oh, isn't it terrible about Brother Jones running around with that secretary of his? We need to pray for him!") The Christian women or men who try, really try, to live a life pleasing to God ... but they simply can't do without that daily can of beer, or that daily fifth of whiskey. The young man or woman whose healthy physical instincts have been twisted into a pattern of chronic, almost helpless masturbation. They're grieved by their own behavior, and they pray about it, and stop it for awhile ... but the temptation always comes back. Sometimes it remains a temptation; sometimes they succumb. But oftentimes, a single "weakness" like this, whether gossip or a wild temper or lascivious thoughts, continues to tempt them all their lives.




It goes without saying, of course, that we all have a variety of sins. I might be tempted to lose my temper, and be a glutton. You might be tempted to use foul language, and harbor resentment toward your mate. We all have plenty of temptations to deal with: the world, the flesh, and the Devil provide them in abundance.

But Christians often speak of "besetting sins." What does this mean?

Paul, inspired by God, writes: Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1, 2).


In verse one, the word "sin" can refer to sin itself: our sinful natures, the "old man."  But it can also refer to a single sin, a particular, individual sin that tempts and torments us on a habitual basis.  (I didn't say that we habitually succumb; I said that the temptation is habitual, or continuing through the years.)  It is probably the universal experience of every genuine Christian that there's one temptation, one sin, that hangs on, and hangs on, and never seems to go away - - - except for brief periods of time.  It doesn't torment us 24/7 (although it can, if we're not keeping up our prayer and time in the word), but it's frequently with us for a lifetime.


Sound familiar?  I certainly know what my "besetting sin" is, although I have several others that hang on pretty tenaciously!  If you're honest with yourself, you probably know yours, too.  But the point of this post is not to look inward, at our own sins; and it's certainly not to try to make you "meditate" on your sins, trying to figure out which is the besetting one!  Looking inward, in that sense, is not productive at all, to say the least.


What's your besetting sin? There's a hint in Heb. 12:1: the sin which doth so easily beset us.  Your besetting sin is the one that pops up with very little provocation, sometimes with no provocation at all.  Here's an example: I'm not a thief, by the grace of God, and stealing is not a big temptation for me.  In fact, it would take very drastic circumstances to drive me to steal: like feeding my family (and even then it would be a sin).  So, since stealing doesn't really tempt me, since it doesn't easily beset me, it's probably not my "besetting sin."  If it were, I'd be like a shoplifter, compelled to steal just for the sake of stealing.  It would be a regular temptation.


But my besetting sin is a different matter.  It was there the day after I came to Christ, and it's been there ever since: the temptation, I mean.  It pops up very easily.  It pops up for no reason at all; and it may be this way for the rest of my life.  I've let it trip me up on many occasions, and it still tries to trip me up.  It's like a weight that's shackled to me - - - exactly the metaphor that Paul used.




I heard a very wise preacher say, "There are three things that, once they've got their hooks in a man, almost never let him go: drugs, sex, and money."  I'd add a fourth: the desire for power.  The preacher wasn't saying that Christ can't deal with these temptations; he was saying that you simply don't drop them in a month or a year.  He was right; but those are only a few examples of what might be "besetting sins."


Let's be very clear, however: I'm not saying that a besetting sin is one that we constantly commit. I'm saying that the temptation is always there: that's what besets us.  I'm not saying that these sins can't be avoided and resisted and beaten, by the grace and power of Jesus Christ; I'm saying that the temptation hangs on.


My maternal Grandmother may have been the Godliest woman I ever knew.  She was the kindest, and most selfless, and most patient, by the grace of God.  A preacher's wife, she always had an encouraging word for everyone, whether socialites or prostitutes (literally).  But do you know what her "besetting sin" was?  I do.  It was a sharp, sarcastic tongue.  I know this because my Mother told me.  But I never heard my Grandmother speak an unkind word in my life.  She had a besetting sin for all of her 83 years, but Christ gave her victory over it.


So, how do we deal with it?


I try to use a lot of scriptures in these posts, but these two little verses from Hebrews are so rich that we really can find our answers right here.  The way to deal with a besetting sin is given in verse two: Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.  Don't concentrate on yourself, or on the sin, or on strategies for beating it: look unto Jesus!  That's where the power and the liberty and the victory lie.  Concentrating on our own sins only makes us more likely to commit them, because we get discouraged.  But who can get discouraged looking at the Lord Jesus Christ?


If you're a drunk, don't read the stories of drunks who've beaten the bottle.  Look unto Jesus!  If you're a fornicator, don't read about fornicators who have become chaste.  Look unto Jesus!  If you have a sharp tongue, like my Grandmother, don't take psychology lessons on how to control your words. Look unto Jesus!  It's not weird or mystical: just open your Bible, and read about Him!  When the besetting temptation comes, think about Jesus' eyes.  Think about Jesus' nail-scarred hands.  Think about what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman.  But look unto Jesus!


The weight won't disappear ... but Jesus will have lifted it for a time, and you'll be ready to resume the race.  But the only way to win the race  - - - not salvation, which has already been won at Calvary, but the race every Christian runs - - - is looking unto Jesus!


Come on!  So, you've got a besetting sin.  Who doesn't?  If you've come to Christ according to John 1:12, you also have a victorious Lord and Saviour!  Let's go!



Sunday, June 5, 2011

Help from God

For there stood by me this night the angel of God. (Acts 27:23)

Tempest and long darkness, coupled with imminent risk of shipwreck, had brought the crew of the vessel into a sad case; one man alone among them remained perfectly calm, and by his word the rest were reassured. Paul was the only man who had heart enough to say, "Sirs, be of good cheer." There were veteran Roman legionaries on board, and brave old mariners, and yet their poor Jewish prisoner had more spirit than they all. He had a secret Friend who kept his courage up. The Lord Jesus despatched a heavenly messenger to whisper words of consolation in the ear of His faithful servant, therefore he wore a shining countenance and spake like a man at ease.

If we fear the Lord, we may look for timely interpositions when our case is at its worst. Angels are not kept from us by storms, or hindered by darkness. Seraphs think it no humiliation to visit the poorest of the heavenly family. If angel's visits are few and far between at ordinary times, they shall be frequent in our nights of tempest and tossing. Friends may drop from us when we are under pressure, but our intercourse with the inhabitants of the angelic world shall be more abundant; and in the strength of love-words, brought to us from the throne by the way of Jacob's ladder, we shall be strong to do exploits. Dear reader, is this an hour of distress with you? then ask for peculiar help. Jesus is the angel of the covenant, and if His presence be now earnestly sought, it will not be denied. What that presence brings in heart-cheer those remember who, like Paul, have had the angel of God standing by them in a night of storm, when anchors would no longer hold, and rocks were nigh.

"O angel of my God, be near,

Amid the darkness hush my fear;

Loud roars the wild tempestuous sea,
Thy presence, Lord, shall comfort me."     

- - - C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening    


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wafa Sultan strikes again

Once again, my heroine, Dr. Wafa Sultan, lays it on the line against the Muslims who tormented and oppressed her family for so many years.  Dr. Sultan, a native of Syria, immigrated to the United States in 1989, ten years after seeing one of her most beloved professors murdered by Muslims in the classroom.  She has become completely secular, and has not converted to Christianity, but is one of the mightiest voices against Islam on earth. She is a founder of Former Muslims United, and in 2006 was listed in Time magazine as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World."  She is absolutely fearless, and is hated by Muslim leaders perhaps more than any woman on earth.  She discusses her personal heartaches, including the tragic fate of her beloved niece, in this post.


Here, she briefly debates a certain Ahmad bin Muhammad, an Algerian Muslim.  Notice how she makes intelligent criticisms of Islam, but Muhammad never responds to a single one, choosing instead to catalog the sins of the western nations. (Incidentally, his "facts" are less than completely accurate.) He never even attempts to defend Islam.  In this, he is wise: one cannot defend the indefensible. Wafa Sultan deserves our admiration and our prayers.

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