Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for March, 2021

TRANSFORMATIONAL LOVE, Part 2

IF YOU HAVEN’T READ PART 1 of this two part reading, please do so now.

3.  THE RESIDENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself,for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20a NLT).

When Jesus was speaking to the religious leader, Nicodemus (John 3), He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God … I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.  So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again (John 3:3, 5-7 NLT selected).’”

The Holy Spirit of God doesn’t take up residency unless you give Christ an invitation, i.e., you open the door of your heart and invite Him in. (See Revelation 3:20) Jesus Christ will not barge into your life or mine and just take over.

So many of us are driven by our feelings.  Feelings can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness.  I am a feeler, and when I’m not on my toes I can be ruled by my feelings and ignore the cold, hard facts.  God’s truth can give way to my feelings.

The facts, when it comes to having life in the Spirit and following the will of my Master and Lord, Jesus, center around this idea: I must begin to transform my natural, human nature by obedience to Him … whether I feel like it or not.  I must be obedient to the leading and help and encouragement that comes from Christ and the Holy Spirit.  They make the Word of God come alive in me as I “… work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

To be clear, and in case you’re wondering, I know I cannot save myself.  That is, I cannot rid myself of the sin that separates me from a Holy God just because I wish it so, or because I work at being a better person (so I come to believe I deserve to enter His presence based on my “works”).   

The facts about our salvation are clearly stated in Ephesians 2, “God saved you by His grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (Eph. 2:8,9)

The salvation piece of our eternal spiritual life is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit.  We are born again when we come to believe that Jesus died on the Cross to redeem us from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death (separation from God according to Romans 3:23, 6:23), and when we confess (speak) that we are deliberately turning away from a life of sin in order to live for Christ, and when we confess that Jesus not only died but was resurrected from the dead, we are saved (Romans 10:9, 10). Period.  Exclamation mark!

 Hallelujah!

But your followership and my followership is on you and me.  God doesn’t make us live righteously.  We are declared righteous (right with God) when we come to faith in Jesus, but we live righteously by purposefully obeying Him and His Word every day.  As the scripture says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” and “Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You.” (see Psalm 119:105, and 119:11)

4.  TRANSFORMATIONAL LOVE

Jesus made this idea of living righteously crystal clear, and it all centers around LOVE!  Our love for God, our love for others, and our love for ourselves.

Transformational LOVE is described so beautifully as the Apostle John recalls the words of Jesus in his Gospel

(See the blogs: “Love in Our Day,” March 12, 2021, and “Agapā At An Execution,” March 13, 2021, lowellequalls.com.)

  • “So now I am giving you a new commandment:  Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34 NLT).
  • “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).
  • “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15 NLT).
  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.  And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21 NLT).
  •  “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10 NLT).
  • “This is my commandment:  Love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12 NLT).
  • “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17 NLT)

You and I build our spiritual lives upon the foundation of AGAPĀ LOVE. We shared what agapā was in the previous two messages, March 7thand 14th.

Agapā, in a Christian context, means “unconditional, self-sacrificing love … the kind of love that will endure, no matter what the circumstances may be.”

Apapā is the word used in John 3:16, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

Agapā is the LOVE that took Jesus to the Cross!

Our Lord, when asked what the greatest commandment was, gave this answer.  He said:

“‘You must AGAPĀ the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘AGAPĀ your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Love transforms us.  Love changes us.  Love for God and His Word transforms and changes us.  And equally, love for others transforms and changes us.  But not just any love.  The love that transforms us is unconditional and self-sacrificing.

That truth is the reason I have been defeated in spiritual battle.  I loved myself, and in doing so opened the door of my heart to the deceptions and lies of the enemy.

Getting personal, my “go-to” response to life’s challenges WAS to withdraw, to pull away from God and away from others.  Rather than living out the commandments of Jesus, I protected my SELF.  It didn’t matter who I hurt or damaged, I elevated SELF.  My SELF was in control.  And as a result, people around me were damaged, and my relationship with God was filled with guilt and shame.  I was a SELFISH CHILD!

When SELF is on the throne, life seems perfect, but THE TRUTH is, when I’m in control 

  • my life is lonely, 
  • my life becomes depressing and shameful, 
  • and my life exhibits the ugly traits of my human nature described in Galatians 5:19-21

19 When you (I) follow the desires of your (my) sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.

When I lived for SELF, I would practice many of these listed sins.  I repeat:  I hurt my family first, my fellow believers second, but most importantly, I put barriers and walls up between me and God.  I couldn’t pray.  I lived a lie.  I was a hypocrite.

I want to live a transformed life!

When Jesus is on the throne of my lifeand your lifeGalatians 5:22-24 becomes a reality:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there.  25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 

What a difference, eh?  Pretty attractive, don’t you think?

We were created by God to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit, NOT the fruit of our sinful nature.

When you and I are living our lives humbly loving God, sweetly loving others, and purposefully nailing our sinful nature to the Cross, you and I experience REAL LIFE!  FREEDOM!  A TASTE OF HEAVEN here on earth … but only a taste.  (Heaven is even better!)

But that’s a future waiting to be revealed.

TODAY, begin a new walk with God, and like never before, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  See what happens.  I wager you’ll live a transformed life!

(See February 27, 2021 blog, “Foundations – Choosing a Way to Live Life” at lowellequalls.com.)

TRANSFORMATIONAL LOVE, Part 1

The Apostle Paul wrote about one of God’s greatest desires, that is, to form His Son in you and me, setting us apart from sin and making us holy in His sight.  

Paul had established many Christian communities throughout the First Century Mediterranean world, and one of those fellowships, located in the Roman province of Galatia, received one of his significant letters – a letter we have in our New Testament today.  (To give you some geographical context, Galatia was located in the area of modern-day Ankara, in Turkey.)

In Galatians 4:19, Paul wrote: “I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.”

1.  SOMETHING NEW

When Christ is “formed in us” by the Holy Spirit, our human nature changes dramatically, mysteriously, and I believe miraculously.  Jesus called the beginning of this process being “born again.”

In Paul’s second letter to the Christian community located in Corinth (Greece) he wrote, “14… Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.  15 He [Jesus] died for everyone so that those who receive His new life will no longer live for themselves.  Instead, they will live for Christ … 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new personThe old life is gone; a new life has begun!”  (2 Cor. 5:14b-15b, 17)

Becoming that “new person” is where the rubber meets the road, where God loves to work, and where Satan, the devil, cranks up his opposition to the transformational work of God being done in us.

Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis (1898-1963) is best known for two fictions: The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia.  He was a prolific writer and brilliant defender and champion of Christianity.  Some of his best known writings are Mere Christianity (also known as The Case for Christianity), MiraclesThe Abolition of ManThe Four LovesSurprised by JoyGod In The Dock, and The Problem of Pain.

This wonderful man I consider a personal friend, even though we’ve never met, because his writings have so profoundly affected my life.  I recently downloaded (on Audible) several of the books mentioned above, some being read by the author himself, and I’m enjoying them immensely.

In The Screwtape Letters (remember, this is fiction), Uncle Screwtape is writing his nephew, Wormwood.  They are both devils, but the Uncle is a demonic mentor, and the nephew is his student.  Screwtape refers to God as “The Enemy” and to Wormwood’s target human as “the patient.”

Chapter two begins, “My dear Wormwood, I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian.  Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties; indeed, in your better moments, I trust you would hardly wish to do so.  In the meantime we must make the best of the situation.  There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us.  All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favor.”

For the rest of Lewis’ book Screwtape and Wormwood conspire to bring about the patient’s downfall.  

Lewis was communicating a truth throughout his book: we are being opposed by the kingdom of darkness and death, and Satan wants you and I to be tripped up by our human-nature with its unrighteous, unholy and impure habits.  Our enemy uses ungodly habits against us!

But Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:11: “Satan will not outsmart us.  For we are familiar with his evil schemes.”

While Paul was confident that the Corinthians were up-to-date on the treacheries of the great deceiver, I’m not convinced modern day believers are aware of “his evil schemes,” or understand the importance of knowing that we are in a real war between God and pure evil.  We need to be.

Why?  Because our souls are the prize, and after we realize this WE must DO battleWE must get in the fight for our lives and our eternity.

That’s why God said through Paul, “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we (you) are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:10-12 NLT

(See the February 13, 2021 blog, Spiritual Warfare is Real, at lowellequalls.com.)

2.  YOUR PART (AND MINE)

The Holy Spirit is adamant throughout the whole of the Word of God: 

  • WE must be STRONG IN THE LORD if WE are going to live a transformed, victorious life.  
  • WE must have “the mind of Christ” because the battle takes place in OUR minds. (1 Corinthians 2:16, 2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • WE are not bystanders while God and Satan duke it out.  
  • WE are engaged, WE are involved, and WE must be wholeheartedly!

Does Jesus have your mind?  Does Jesus have your heart … the core of your being and the center of your life?

If He does have your heart it is because, at some point in time, you decided to accept Him as Master (your owner, boss, or quarterback).  

If He has your heart today it is because you have cooperated with Him, agreed with Him, and intentionally followed His guidance.  You are not just a believer.  You are a follower.  

Jesus was clear about this when He said, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow Me.”

And understand this:  Jesus deliberately used another term to describe this kind of intimate followership.  He deliberately used the word “disciple.”  

According to Wikipedia, “A disciple in the ancient biblical world actively imitated both the life and teaching of the master.  The term ‘disciple’ [mathētḗs (μαθητής)], generally means ‘one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice’, or in religious contexts such as the Bible, ‘one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical (definition:  related to teaching) reputation or a particular set of views.’”

Accordingly, followers could be part of the crowd, and they could come or go as they pleased.  

But when Jesus spoke of true followership He was describing someone who had decided to be a loyal, and a committed imitator of His life and lifestyle.  Jesus actually required that anyone who would choose to be His disciple understand He was not offering a casual relationship but a new identity.

I would call what Christ longs for is a people who whole-heartedly accept Him as “Lord.”  That would require Jesus’ ownship of your heart and mine – the core of our beings!  We’re talking sons and daughters who see themselves as servants first and beneficiaries second.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “God blesses those whose hearts are pure” (Matthew 5:8 NLT).   As an example He said, “… anyone who even looks at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT).  Christ declared, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21).

Our hearts and minds are the prize in the battle for human souls. 

The Lord, when confronted by His enemies who would eventually demand His death, said, “How could evil men like you speak what is good and right?  For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”   

Later in His ministry Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart (Matthew 12:35).  

In the parable of the Sower and the seed, Jesus spoke about various kinds of “soil” where the seed of God’s Word would be sown.  When He spoke of soil He was speaking of hearts.  He identified one such soil as hard.  “The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it.  Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts(Matthew 13:19 NLT).

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law came from Jerusalem and challenged Jesus because it appeared that He didn’t respect or practice their traditions, i.e., their legalistic approach to life. 

In His response to their challenge He quoted from Isaiah, “These people honor Me (God) with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.  Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:8-9 NLT, referring to Isaiah 29:13 in the Greek translation).

Does Jesus own your heart?  You must give up ownership.  That is your call.  That is your choice, your EVERYDAY decision.

Agapā At An Execution – #2

[I recently read a sermon by Owen Bourgaize entitled:  Three Crosses At Calvary.  It was contributed to Sermon Central by Rev. Bourgaize on October 18, 2000.  His sermon blessed me so much and inspired many of the points made in this message.  Thank you, Owen.[1]]

Fox Nation did a documentary called, The Passion of the Christ – The Controversy.  The film, The Passion of the Christ, debuted in 2004, and it is still making waves … and history.

“Mel Gibson’s epic movie, The Passion of the Christ, is considered one of the most controversial films of all time.  It takes viewers through pivotal events of Christianity:  the trial, condemnation, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“The movie faced harsh criticism for scenes of brutal violence, and many accused it of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.  Many people remember seeing the film as too violent.  One person said, “I don’t know anyone who could sit through that and not feel some emotion.”

“Many people that watched the film said they cried or screamed, and sometimes they had to turn away because it was very graphic.  One person testified, “When you’re watching it, it’s sickening.  It’s very emotionally difficult.  This has to be the bloodiest movie that I’ve ever seen.”

“Actor Jim Caviezel (Jesus in the film), who suffered sickness, a dislocated shoulder, and a lightning strike during the grueling filming said, “The film is an artistic work that will affect everyone who sees it, regardless of their faith.  I believe this film can be great for all Jews, or Muslims, or anyone in America … in the world!  It is not just a religious film.”  Caviezel said the uproar “…comes as no surprise.  If we did the story right, then we should have controversy.  Not much has changed in 2000 years.”

The CENTRAL COMPONENT of the Passion of the Christ is The Cross.

The Cross of Jesus has been an offence from the day He was crucified.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 22-23 – For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles …

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul continued, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

On the day that Jesus was crucified He put on display the AGAPĀ … the love of God.

Last week (SEE THE BLOG – MARCH 12) I wrote about the four Greek words for love, and how AGAPĀ is set apart as unique to Christianity. I said, there are four words for love in the ancient common Greek language.  They are agapā, storgā, philā, and erōs.

Agapā is what has come to be known as a Greco-Christian word because when the First Century Bible was written, agapā was the word of choice for the highest form of love – that love that God has for human beings, and that human beings have for God.  Agapā, in a Christian context, means “unconditional, self-sacrificing love … the kind of love that will endure, no matter what the circumstances may be.”

Apapā is the word used in John 3:16, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

Agapā not only brought Jesus to and into our world, but Agapā is the LOVE that took Jesus to the Cross …

To help us see how great the love of God is I would like to focus your attention on The Cross. While He was being executed … nailed to The Cross … the Lord made SEVEN (7) statements. Each one is significant; each one is amazing; each one is packed with meaning. Starting with the THIRD STATEMENT of the seven:

3.  “Jesus said to His mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your Son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:26,27).

4.  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46).

5.  “I thirst” (John 19:28).

6.  “It is finished” (John 19:30).

7.  “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

In Luke’s gospel, chapter 23, LUKE records the FIRST TWO statements, and they are the ones I believe we should concentrate on today.

1.  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

2.  “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The FIRST STATEMENT, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” embraced all mankind. Think about that for a moment and then read on.

The people surrounding the Cross that day served as a microcosm of humanity … a cross section of humanity … a sampling of humanity.

  • There were the Roman soldiers, following orders, doing their job.  They added cruelty and indifference to the mix, and that brutality, that meanness and coldness was of their own making – coming from their jaded hearts.
  • There were the religious people.  They were the ones who gleefully judged Jesus to be a heretic and triumphantly expressed their disdain.  They mocked Christ and dared Him to come down from the Cross if He was the Son of God. Religion can kill you!
  • There were the curious.  They were inquisitive to a point.  Maybe they had heard something of the miracle worker from Nazareth, but they had other fish to fry, other places to be, and were in no mood for inconvenient thought.
  • There were family members.  Some were believers, but others were not until after Jesus was raised from the dead.  Until then, they were skeptical … even dishonoring. Family can be cruel sometimes.
  • And there were, at the foot of the Cross, people who hated death and capital punishment, especially at the hands of the Romans.  They were political, probably zealous. Government had solutions as long as they were the ones calling the shots. Power hungry maybe.  But there was no spiritual concern for their own souls.  Jesus was just a hook to hang a cause for change on.
  • And finally, there were the disciples turned deniers and deserters.  Fearful, disillusioned, confused and let down.  They stood furthest from the Cross, in the shadows.  They didn’t want to be so close they could look into His eyes.  Filled with shame, they wept in the background of the horrible scene.

All of these people were within earshot of the Lord Jesus Christ as He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Christ’s blanket statement of unconditional forgiveness was a harbinger of what He would be offering the whole world after His loving, sacrificial death … that is, for all who would believe.

The SECOND STATEMENT gets really personal.

2.  “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Christ’s second statement narrows its focus to one single needy sinner.   God not only sees the whole world, but He sees it made up of individuals.  He’s got your number. He knows how many hairs are on my head. He saw you and me in our mothers’ wombs. He’s got your picture taped to His refrigerator door. Ha!

Two thieves were crucified next to Jesus.  Isaiah declared that the Messiah … the One who would give His life as an atonement for sin, “… poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (53:12).

700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be executed along with “transgressors…”  Two thieves, obviously known to each other. Maybe partners in crime – we don’t know. But they were career criminals and the Romans had a way to dealing with that sort. Death! No mercy.

Luke 23:32-34, 39 NLT

32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with Him.  33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed Him to the cross.  And the criminals were also crucified — one on His right and one on His left.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  And the soldiers gambled for His clothes by throwing dice. (And now, skip down a few verses…)

39 One of the criminals hanging beside Him scoffed, “So You’re the Messiah, are You?  Prove it by saving Yourself — and us, too, while You’re at it!”

I totally get that guy.  He’s being put to death … hanging naked before gawking onlookers and his terrible executioners.  He’s lashing out.

He had lived a vile life up until the moment he was nailed to his cross.  All the resident bitterness and anger and frustration came bubbling up from his sinful heart.  He began to scoff.  His target was the GOOD GUY.  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  To that dying thief, Jesus was just another in a long line of false messiahs, charlatans, and pretenders who had deceived the stupid masses.  He wasn’t going to fall for whatever Jesus was selling.

But … The other thief saw Jesus in another light.  He watched as …

  • The Roman soldiers had nonchalantly dropped His stipes … the vertical, upright beam … into its hole.  
  • The patibulum … the horizontal beam that He had carried from Pilate’s judgment hall … had been dropped on the ground.  The soldiers had stretched out His arms and dislocated Christ’s shoulders. Then they hammered spikes through His wrists and into the wood.  
  • These expert killers had next lifted and then dropped the patibulum onto the stipes.  
  • They had nailed Christ’s ankles to the suppedanneum, a small piece of wood that would help Jesus try to raise His body up long enough to catch a breath.

Now crucified, “standing” upright, with the weight of His body literally hanging from the nails, Jesus offered up His prayer of forgiveness. 

The second thief may have known something of the life and ministry of Jesus because when the other thief was scoffing, his partner in crime tried to restrain him.  

Luke 23:32-34, 39 NLT

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?   41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this Man hasn’t done anything wrong.”   42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

No man is beyond hope,

  • as long as there is breath in his body, 
  • the fear of God in his soul, 
  • and the faith to call on the name of Jesus!

Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 6:11: “Some of you were once like that (thieves, drunks, male and female prostitutes, homosexuals, greedy, abusive, cheats, idolaters, etc.).  But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

When Jesus heard this man cry for salvation, He replied: “I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

This SECOND STATEMENT that Jesus made from the Cross teaches some wonderful and solemn truths.  

  • First, it illustrates that the way of salvation is wondrously simple. The devil has blinded the eyes of men and women to thinking that it is hard to become a Christian.  But this clearly isn’t true.  The man was saved simply by asking the Lord to save him. He felt his need and confessed his need of salvation; he believed the Lord could and would save him and he committed himself to the Lord and trusted him to save him.
  • This SECOND STATEMENT Jesus made from the Cross reminds us that the worst sinner may be saved. There can be no doubt that the man was a criminal, but the measure of his sin didn’t alter his chance of being saved one little bit.
  • Another important lesson to learn from the personal encounter of the dying thief with Jesus is that salvation doesn’t depend on knowing the Lord’s prayer, reciting the Creeds, having a history of good deeds, water baptism, or receiving Communion.  There was no time for any of these things to take place that day on Calvary.
  • There is one further point to mention before we leave this text, and it is the solemn one.   There were two thieves crucified with Jesus – one repented but the other didn’t.  A time of decision came for both.  Rebellion or repentance.  It was a “now-or-never moment.”  There will always be a dual tug – the pull of evil, and the pull of God’s Spirit. 

Thank God for conscience – that voice within that tells us that we have done wrong, and nags us to a point of hurting for the mistakes that we’ve made.  

When we’ve missed the mark and fallen short of God’s best for our lives it’s then that we too can look up to God and say, “Lord, remember me”.  

There’s salvation at the Cross and in the Cross.

THERE WAS AGAPĀ AT AN EXECUTION!

Do you need that kind of love today?

Ask for it.


[1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/three-crosses-at-calvary-owen-bourgaize-sermon-on-paradise-6844?page=1&wc=800

Agapā At An Execution – #1

The following is taken from a Fox Nation documentary called, The Passion of the Christ – The Controversy.  The film, The Passion of the Christ, debuted in 2004, and it is still making waves … and history.

'The Passion of the Christ: The Controversy' on Fox Nation

“Mel Gibson’s epic movie, The Passion of the Christ, is considered one of the most controversial films of all time.  It takes viewers through pivotal events of Christianity:  the trial, condemnation, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“The movie faced harsh criticism for scenes of brutal violence, and many accused it of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.  But others considered it a masterpiece and a must see for all believers.

“Now, nearly 20 years later, The Passion of the Christ is still both deeply important to Christians and a topic of fierce debate among viewers.

“The film made its much-anticipated debut on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2004.  Hollywood had long concluded that there were not big profits to be made making movies on religious themes.  The film seemed doomed from the start.  Very few in Hollywood believed in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  But his very personal and spiritual project was a huge success.  It turns out it sold a lot of tickets!  ($611 million world-wide, after being made on a modest $30 million budget.)

“Movies on religious topics had never really been treated that well in Hollywood, but Mel ended up with something we had never seen before – a religious movie that had all of the intensity and the violence of the modern studios and filmmakers.

“Many people remember seeing the film as too violent.  One person said, ‘I don’t know anyone who could sit through that and not feel some emotion.’

“Many people that watched the film said they cried or screamed, and sometimes they had to turn away because it was very graphic.  One person testified, ‘When you’re watching it, it’s sickening.  It’s very emotionally difficult.  This has to be the bloodiest movie that I’ve ever seen.’

“Actor Jim Caviezel (Jesus in the film), who suffered sickness, a dislocated shoulder while on the Cross, and a lightning strike during the grueling filming said, ‘The film is an artistic work that will affect everyone who sees it, regardless of their faith.  I believe this film can be great for all Jews, or Muslims, or anyone in America … in the world!  It is not just a religious film.’  Caviezel said the uproar ‘…comes as no surprise.  If we did the story right, then we should have controversy.  Not much has changed in 2000 years.’

“The Passion of the Christ is controversial to this day, which is a testament to it.  Gibson said, ‘I mean, the controversy didn’t emanate for me.  It came from people who were against it.  I worked very diligently to help this film find its audience, and a big part of that process was advanced screenings and conversations … to explain the movie to people who might otherwise be put off by its violence and its rawness.’

“One Catholic bishop said, ‘I was invited to go to a screening, and my reaction was that the violence was overwhelming.  In filmmaking you have to understand what the audience can bear, and it seems to me that artistically, they hadn’t taken that into consideration.  The focus on the bloodshed contributes to the idea that, ‘Wow this was some gift that Jesus gave to mankind,’ or ‘this thing has all the components of being a snuff film.’

“A man that was interviewed as he left the theater said, ‘It brought me to tears.  People will leave the theater just stunned.  I was really feel moved to silence, and I feel that I would like to go and stay quiet for time and just allow the film to sink in.’

“One woman said, ‘Gibson put his finger on something – that there were millions of people out there like me who were open to watching the gospel according to Mel.  I think there is an awakening across our country.  There are more Bible studies going on in churches and homes.  People need to be more aware about Christ.’

“The US conference of Catholic Bishops warned that The Passion of the Christ ‘… is for adults only.  No one under thirteen should attend Mel’s version [of the Cross] … it is darker, it is too violent and disturbing.’ 

“Whether The Passion of the Christ will provide ‘spiritual uplift’ or will provide emotional exhaustion … that is pretty much up for you to decide.”


Love In Our Day (and In the Days to Come)

I love cheeseburgers, especially cheeseburgers from 5 GUYS!  If you’ve had a 5 GUYS cheeseburger, you know what I’m talking about! And I love Toyotas … well … some Toyotas.  I had one Toyota Tundra pickup truck since 2004, and when I gave it to my son it had 275,000 miles on it.  Before that I had a Toyota Camry, and I put over 150,000 miles on it.  Before that I had a Toyota Corolla and l had it for a long time.  Last year I bought my 4th Toyota, another Tundra, and I’m hoping to keep it for at least 15 years.

I love my sons and stepsons … Brandon, Chris, Ryan and Daniel.  I love my daughters-in-law … Vita, Jess, and Beth!  (Beth is pregnant with twins!)  I love my grandchildren … Kirra, Kayden, Graham and Reese.  I love my brother and sisters, and I love and miss my parents who, along with my first wife, are now in heaven.

I love Becky, my wife.  We’ve been married for coming up on 15 years, and I thank God for her every day.  She is truly my best friend, my lover, and my companion for life.  Becky will tell you that she loves Star Wars movies, and her latest loves in the Star Wars list of characters are The Mandalorian and The Child.

And I love God.  I love the Father, the Son … Jesus … and the Holy Spirit.

It’s unfortunate, but the English language has limited itself to only one word – LOVE – to express or describe strong likes, various degrees of passion, good feelings for people as well as strong and good feelings for inanimate objects. As a result, the English word “LOVE” is overused, often abused, and has lost much of its value.

The Greeks got it right.  They came up with 4 (four) words for love, and these four words help us make sense of the various times the Bible talks about love … and that’s important because God has placed a premium on LOVE.  He is LOVE, He has commanded us to LOVE Him and each other, even our enemies, and the first Holy Spirit-born characteristic of a Christian is the first word on the list of the Fruit of the Spirit!  LOVE.

Understanding biblical LOVE, and how we are to live our lives now and in the future, is critically important. Today, and I suspect tomorrow and the days to come, our LOVE for God and our LOVE for each will best tested like never before.  Why?  Because we are living in “The Last Days,” and Satan knows his time is short.  The devil is going to pull out all the stops, he is going to pour out hatred, and he is going to try to pitch one believer against another.  He’s out to destroy the human family, and, in particular, his sights are fixed on the Family of God.

You don’t believe me?  Doubt me at your peril.

Let’s turn to the Word of God, and let’s start with 1 John 4:7-12: Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God.  Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His One and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him.  This is real love — not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God.  But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.

John wrote these Holy Spirit-inspired words in Greek, and the Greek word for “LOVE” he used throughout this text is a form of “agapā.”  For example, what is translated “Dear Friends” is actually “agapātoi,” and that word actually means “beloved ones.” He continues this way:  “agapātoi agapōmen allālous” meaning “Beloved ones, may we be loving each other …” etc.

Let me just take you to the first two verses of this text and illustrate it this way:

Dear friends (agapātoi), let us continue to love one another (agapōmen allālous), for love (agapōn) comes from God.   Anyone who loves (agapā) is a child of God and knows God.   But anyone who does not love (agapōn) does not know God, for God is love (agapā).

There are four words for love in the ancient common Greek language.  They are agapā, storgā, philā, and erōs.

Agapā or agape is what has come to be known as a Greco-Christian word because when the First Century texts were being written, agapā was the word of choice for the highest form of love – the love that God has for human beings, and that human beings have for God.  Agapā, in a Christian context, means “unconditional, self-sacrificing love … the kind of love that will endure, no matter what the circumstances may be.”

You can appreciate that definition of apapā because it is the word used in John 3:16, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” God unconditionally loved the whole world for all time that He sacrificially gave the world His one and only begotten Son, Jesus, to redeem anyone and everyone from the curse of sin who believes in Him. Wow! Think on that for a moment.

The word agapā was rarely used by First Century Greeks, so the Christian community “grabbed” it and made it their own.  Christians defined this LOVE, agapā, as the unique love of God and the love that comes from God.

There’s a series of verses often used at weddings to describe the kind of love the bride and the groom HOPE to model in their marriage.   Maybe you’ve heard, “Love (agapā) is patient and kind.  Love (agapā) is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.   Love (agapā) never gives up…”. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7a NLT)

The lead-in to those beautiful words, 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love (agapā), I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love (agapā), I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love (agapā), I gain nothing.”

This love … this AGAPĀ … is the LOVE we must have for one another and for God Himself if we are to live our lives as citizens of the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter how gifted we may be. If we are not unconditionally, sacrificially loving people while we are exercising our gifts, we’re just noisy and selfish. As a result, we gain nothing.

AGAPĀ, AGAPĀ, AGAPĀ!

Make it a point to read 1 John 4 with your family, your friends, your fellow believers.  When you do, focus some attention on verses 20 and 21. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?   And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”

STORGĀ means “affection” and it covers a variety of loves, but especially family love … the love kids have for Mom and Dad, and their siblings.  

C. S. Lewis wrote that STORGĀ is familiarity and affection for buddies at college, soldiers and sailors as they serve together, a ship’s crew, etc.  It’s “…the normal day-to-day of life, is the majority of the love we experience, even if we don’t label it.”

PHILĀ is friendship or brotherly love.   This level of friendship seems to be the “…the happiest and most fully human of all loves,” says Lewis, “the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”  

Why?   Because it’s time consuming for one thing.  And this kind of love, this philā, usually centers around having something in common. But to the First Century Greeks, philā was the noblest kind of love because it resembles heaven, where our lives are intertwined.  It’s not as powerful as agapā, or as selfless, but it’s close!

After the crucifixion and the resurrection, after Peter had denied he even knew Jesus, Jesus came to Peter and asked him, “Peter, do you agapas Me?” Peter answered, “Lord, I am very fond of you.”  Peter used the word “philō” to describe his love for the Lord.  He was being totally transparent and real.  He wanted to say that he loved Jesus with agapā, but he knew he couldn’t because he hadn’t been willing to sacrifice for Jesus unconditionally.

Jesus asked Peter the same question again, and Peter answered the same way. But when Jesus asked Peter the question the third time, the Lord changed the “love” word. Peter was so sorrowful and repentant. Jesus knew his heart and knew that Peter was looking BACK on his failure and denials. But our Lord graciously asked Peter, “Do you phileis Me?” (Peter, are you truly fond of Me?)

Peter, still broken, answered, “Lord you know all things.  You know that I philō You.” Simon Peter was confessing his weakness and his love for Christ, love that was just a step below agapā, and Jesus was restoring, forgiving and recommissioning Peter. Beautiful!

I am not going to go into ERŌS at this time … that sexual/physical, fickle, romantic, and passionate kind of love … the love a man has for his wife that often leads to sexual intercourse.  That’s for another time.   And one day I hope to tell you what happens when ERŌS meets AGAPĀ in a marriage.  When sexual love meets unconditional love.  It’s amazing … but that’s for another time.

I want to conclude by referring to C. S. Lewis again, and I’ll quote from him.  He wrote that “Family love, friendship love, and romantic love are each the training ground for agapā to grow. We are made to AGAPĀ, and we are in want of it.  If we play it safe, we are not living out the Gospel.”  

Lewis reminds us that with agapā love, “There is no safe investment.   To AGAPĀ at all is to be vulnerable.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and trepidations of love is Hell.  If we think that perhaps AGAPĀ is not worth the sorrow and pain, then we are more pagan than Christian.”

Only God can awaken this kind of love in us … this unconditional, self-sacrificing kind of love that we long for, and that when we are receiving it and giving it, we find our hearts and minds are fully connected to the living God.

Tough times are coming.  Our love for each other, and our love for a lost a broken world is going to be tested.  

God’s great love for this world commanded us to “go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them everything Jesus taught us.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

God’s great love is looking for partners and partnership. He is looking for and hoping for us to come alongside Him and live our love for Him by reaching out to people who may not know Him, and declare, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)