Author Archives: Dr. Richard J. Alberta

About Dr. Richard J. Alberta

Retired Pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Forty years of Ministry. B.A Rutgers University; M. Div. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; D. Min. Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“What Happens to the Christian at Death?”

December 11, 2018

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV) ” So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,  for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Several times lately, I have been asked about the state of the Christian after physical death. More than a few people have been confused and discouraged by some bad teaching on this topic. Namely, some say that at death the believer enters into some kind of “soul sleep” and will remain at rest until the final resurrection. Whereas, in the hundreds of funerals over which I have presided, I always say that the departed Christian is “more alive than we are and would not come back if we could arrange it!” That hardly seems to be a reasonable assertion if they’ve gone off to some great place of sleep only to be roused back to life when God gives us new physical bodies. In fact, that word picture is downright boring to contemplate. Yet, it is taught by certain writers and theologians. Why?

One reason seems to be the use of the word “sleep” as a way of saying death. When Jesus spoke of Lazarus we read:

John 11:11-15 (NIV) 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Sometimes the Jews spoke of death as sleep. A sort of gentle way of referring to physical death. Some who believe in soul sleep point to the thief on the cross. You’ll remember that our Lord told the man:

Luke 23:43 (NIV) Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

That should settle the matter but it does not, in the minds of some preachers. Why? Because the text literally says: “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.”

In other words, according to some minority theologians, Jesus was not saying that the man would be with him THAT DAY but eventually. As if Jesus was saying “Today I tell you the truth…” That would suggest that on other days Jesus did not necessarily tell them the truth? Absurd. No, the emphasis is on the truthful promise that THAT DAY the penitent thief would be with Jesus in paradise. It would hardly be paradise if Jesus just took the man’s spirit to a place of sleep. As if the Son of God is minding a great nursery of sleeping spirits.

Aside from those thoughts, what evidence do we have that the Christian at physical death is nonetheless alive in the spirit and alert and filled with joy at the presence of God? Let me suggest several factors:

FIRST, our eternal life does not begin when we die but when we are saved. The shedding of a broken body simply frees our spirits to enter into God’s presence as we await a new body. But we were already eternally alive while on planet Earth.

Remember, Jesus said: John 5:24 (NIV) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” For the true Christian, death is simply a physical event; he or she has already “crossed over” and death is simply a change of zip code! That is why Jesus said to Martha:

John 11:25-26 (NIV) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Our spirits cannot die … so why would they “sleep?”

SECOND, we do not need a physical body to be alive. Notice that God is very much alive without a body as we know bodies to be. He has some “form” and perhaps in that in-between state, we will have a “form also” … I do not know.

THIRD, as mentioned above … why would Paul say it would be better to be away from the body and present with Christ if all that “presence” meant was a long boring sleep!

FOURTH: Jesus said “I will come back for you!” (John 14.3) This promise makes no sense if all Jesus does is scoop us up like sleeping toddlers and carry us to some divine nursery. Rather, he promises conscious and delightful life in that “in between state.” Remember the promise of our Lord only makes sense if our spirits, out of these physical bodies, are alive and alert and aware: “Well done good and faithful servant” found in Matthew 25.21 This clearly teaches a review of our lives when we come into his presence.

Finally, the Apostle Paul had several dramatic visions of the world beyond and he could not wait to get back there. And it was not sleep that excited him.

Consider:
Philippians 1:20-24 (NIV) “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

This is why I always say that the Christian who has left the body behind is more alive than we are. Don’t worry about “soul sleep.” Departing these bodies is “better by far!”

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Six: Two Critical Requirements: Patience and Productivity” 12.08.2018

Matthew 25:1-5 (NIV) 1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

Matthew 25:14, 19 (NIV) “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them… After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.”

“What? Would my Master find me idle when he returns?” John Calvin

It is May of 1564. In Geneva, John Calvin is quite old and sickly. His Elders and friends urge him to reduce his schedule of preaching and shepherding. “Get more rest!” they say. His response is bewilderment. For the great reformer, there is no time to lose and as long as he can be productive, he will be. Even on his deathbed, he is writing letters to distant places to encourage others in the Christian faith. Actually, he is probably a bit of a work-a-holic but at least he is passionate about the Kingdom of God. Yet, the story has greater value than one man’s actions. It touches on a critical question. Namely, how are we to conduct ourselves as we await the return of our Lord? In short, with patience and productivity.

Consider these two parables found in Matthew Twenty-Five. Parables always have a central meaning, but they also have sub-themes. Little hints of other truths that are revealed by Jesus. Ideas that speak to us in this in-between age. I mean by that we are a strange people living between the first and second comings of Jesus. Often called the period of “Already But Not Yet.” The Kingdom of God has already broken into humanity with its power and might. Jesus has conquered death and opened the way to eternal life. But the Kingdom of God is not yet fully in place when sin will be no more and the redeemed will live in paradise in His presence (See Revelation 21.1-5) So … how shall we then live in the “in-between?” Again, in short, with patience and productivity. Consider the first of these stories. Sometimes called “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” We read:

Matthew 25:1-5 (NIV) 1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

These “virgins” were the bridesmaids expected to be ready with their lamps. A groom might well come in the dark and they would lead him to his bride. So, they needed to be ready! But readiness requires planning and thought. Five of them were “foolish.” Literally, they were “moronic.” Rather harsh but think about it. They did not have enough forethought to allow for any “delay” or the idea that the groom’s plans might be different from their expectations. The early church struggled with this also. Many obviously thought Jesus would return very shortly. We might not find anyone in fifty AD who would have thought the world would go on to the year 2018! The wise disciple does not have a “timeline” for our Lord’s return. He or she must simply be ready.

Now, this parable is about many other things. Including the frightening realty that the door will, at some point, be shut! It’s a hard word picture:

Matthew 25:6-13 (NIV) “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

This reminds us to share the Gospel whenever possible. To be ready and in possession of extra oil for our lamps. And it reminds us that we are to be patient. Just because our Lord is a long time coming does not mean that he is not coming! Those who are not ready for him will be told “I don’t know you!” What a terrible thought to contemplate. Hearing that from Jesus would be the worst experience of one’s life. Anyway … we are to be patient and keep ready.

PATIENT. The following parable is about being PRODUCTIVE. The time in between should never be spent just goofing off waiting for Christ to take us or return. That was Calvin’s point. Our Lord portrays a person who had used his time wisely. We read:
Matthew 25:19-21 (NIV) “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Interesting that once again, Jesus says there was a “long time.” By now we really should get the idea that it may be much, much longer than even today before he returns. Until all the elect from all the ages have been gathered in, his return will be on hold. But he will return.

This raises a practical question. “What can I do to serve the Lord and advance the Gospel at this point in my life?” Still working for a living or retired, there are many opportunities to serve in the Bible-believing church and in the community. Nurseries and grounds keeping are always in need. Teachers and sweepers and drivers. Etc. I’m working as a part time chaplain in an assisted living facility. I try to find ways to share Christ daily. Donna is working for “Love, Inc.” (Love in name of Christ helping to assist the needy.) Everyone can serve him with patience and productivity. A very old person without much physical strength said to me “I have a full-time ministry … in prayer!” Her notebook was bursting with entries that she prayed over daily.

I hope this provokes much thought to us as disciples lest we take the discount route. Are we patient and productive?

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Hello Blog Friends!

Friday 12.7   5 PM

Hello Blog Friends,

Pastor Alberta here.  I did not forget about all of you.  Here’s the deal: a few weeks ago, I took a position as the Chaplain at Woodland Village in Brighton.  A retirement home.  It’s a half time pastoral slot and I’m enjoying it very much …  but it’s been busy getting started.

THEN. I came down with the flu that laid me out for nearly a week!  So, I’m way behind on my writing.  At the moment, I’m working on a discipleship article for tomorrow … Saturday … and I’ll try to get it out I promise.

Thanks for your continued encouragement.  Blessings!  Pastor Alberta

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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Five: “Arguing With Jesus” 11.22.2018

Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV) “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”

When I was a kid, we all called my father “Pop.” One day, he wanted to do something nice for a carpenter who worked for him. The man always had a cigar in his mouth. So, my father pulled up to the corner store and sent me in with these instructions: “Tell the man that you want five one-dollar cigars” and he handed me a five-dollar bill. Well … when I got inside, I saw that they had perfectly “nice” cigars for a dime each! So, thinking I knew better than my dad, I bought five ten cent cigars and proudly returned to the car with them and four dollars and fifty cents change left over. I mean … I thought “A cigar is a cigar, right?’” Actually no. But I was sure I knew better than he did about the matter.

Pop just looked at me. Shook his head. I said, “I found nice ones for ten cents apiece.” And he said “But that is not what I sent you to do! You don’t know what this is about! Let’s go back into the store!” He talked with the guy inside, traded in the cheap cigars … bought the expensive ones and we went home. All the while I’m thinking “Why did he do that?” I just could not understand Pop that day.

Much of the time, the people who went around with Jesus did not understand him or what his purpose was. They liked him and even loved him. But they had their own ideas about what he should be doing. Getting rid of the Romans who ruled over them. Re-establishing the Glory of the Kingdom of Israel. Making sure the Gentiles understood that they were not wanted. Not offending the ruling classes among the Jews. Probably all the early disciples had their own agendas for the Messiah and none of them got it right. They all thought they knew better than Jesus. Especially Peter.

We often find ourselves quite ready to argue with God or at least suggest to Him that He might be on the wrong track. That’s what Peter did. He had been with Jesus nearly three years, but he really had no idea why Jesus had come. Why did God take on flesh and live among us without sin? Why would Jesus go to the Cross to pay for our sins? Peter did not know and worse, he thought that Jesus had it all wrong! A disciple telling his teacher that he does not know what he is doing.

How often God leads us in ways that seem nonsensical. Remember the Israelites being led thru the wilderness after leaving Egypt? No doubt they thought that Moses was a complete failure as their leader. We read their accusation against him:

Numbers 16:13 (NIV) “Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert? And now you also want to lord it over us?”

Moses did not even want the job of being their shepherd/pastor/leader. But one thing Moses knew was that God was exactly sure of what He was doing. But the curious reactions to Jesus were more puzzling because his disciples had seen him at work teaching and healing and even raising the dead. Yet, they could argue with him. Why? Because they had absolutely no idea what he was about! When Jesus told them that he would be abused and put to death, we read:

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

The text says he “rebuked” Jesus! Really!? The word used means to “bring a charge” against someone. Peter is going to set Jesus “straight.” Interesting how often we would like to do that in our Christian walk. We want to say “Lord, you should not have allowed so-and-so to die.” Or “Lord, you’ve brought the worst possible circumstances into my life!” We are like Job, thinking we know as much as God does. Forgetting that He does know all things and has even ordained the days of our lives. Consider His words to our beleaguered ancient friend:

Job 38:4-5 (NIV) “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?”

Job ended up speechless before God. Apparently, so did Peter. Jesus was harder on Peter than God the Father was on Job. Our Lord said this to him:
“‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”

Just imagine as a disciple of Jesus having him tell you that you are not only thinking like Satan but acting like him? The word used by Jesus … “Satan” literally means “accuser” or “adversary.” Unless Jesus meant that at that moment Peter had been possessed by Satan. That’s doubtful. The point was that he was making Satan’s argument and taking his side. There is a terrifying thought. That when we reject the will of God or question it and dare to say “Never!” to Him, we are thinking like a mere human without any real knowledge. And worse … Peter’s opposition to God’s will was causing Jesus to stumble. Oh my … if we were disciples when Jesus was in the flesh would he have found us helpful or people who got in his way and wanted to lecture him?

Anyway, what my father wanted when he gave me the “cigar assignment” was obedience. He expected me to trust him and do what he said. Not slow him down. That’s what Peter did with Jesus. Complicated his mission. So … we want to be more than true disciples. We want to be humble and trusting disciples because much of the time we have no idea what he is planning. After all, He is God. And we are not.


Peace. Pastor Alberta

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One Christian’s Observations About Election Week November, 2018

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

At this moment, I am a man without a wife (she is touring in Israel) and without a kitchen (it’s been literally stripped to the two by fours). It is being “renovated.” “Renewed.” And it is a mess. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but the whole event is inconvenient and requires patience and accommodation. Kind of like waiting on the promise of Jesus that all things will be made “new.” Literally, (Matthew 19:28 (NIV):

28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne…”

Where Jesus spoke of renewal, we have the word “palen-genesea” in the Greek text. Notice: “palen” means “to repeat.” No doubt you’ve already sensed that “genesea” is related to “genesis” having to do with origins and beginnings. OK. So, the language of Jesus tells us that a time is coming when the entire creation will be “re-generated” or made new. But we are waiting. I’m sure at some point, we will have a new kitchen but for now we rely on the microwave, the coffee pot and the little sandwich shop up the street. That is how we Christians must live. In a state of waiting. Waiting for the renewal! But sometimes it is hard because somehow the feeling of hopelessness comes in waves.

So, as a Christian I look forward at all times to the Kingdom of God in its fullness. We who know God through the Lord Jesus Christ have every reason to be cheerful no matter what is going on in our society. And there is a lot going on. Let’s consider…a few observations:

THE ELECTION: Nothing very unusual happened. I regret that several of my pro-life votes failed as my candidates were not chosen. I continue to remind myself that I will be misunderstood, perhaps insulted, by many who disagree with me. I vote pro-life and pro economic sanity and pro-police and pro-military and pro-border security etc. Because of those positions, I have been told I am a racist and homophobic and Islamophobic and xenophobic and should be ashamed.

(For the record, I am not afraid of any of those things. I am, however, afraid of snakes but I try not to put my human enemies in that category.) That last part is a badge of distinction when people who advocate crushing the skulls of the unborn say it. Really? “I should be ashamed?” See Isaiah Chapter Five:

Isaiah 5:20 (NIV) “ Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

I’ll take my chances on Judgment Day when God declares who should be ashamed. But it is troubling when people on opposite sides politically speak with such grotesque condescension about those who disagree with them. There is nothing new under the sun.

THE CONTINUED INCIVILITY: As I’ve said before, this is also nothing very new. If one reads history, we can find brutal exchanges during the Constitutional Convention and in the early days of America. Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel! Trace the acrimony between Teddy Roosevelt and those who opposed him, and you will be stunned. Things said by FDR and by Richard Nixon. Frankly, statements made by the president who preceded Mr. Trump and, of course, his own troubling tongue. But to watch as a CNN reporter in almost every Presidential Press gathering constantly interrupts and insists on arguing with the president is repulsive. Many in the press are also weary of it and it reflects a contemptuous pride that goes beyond disrespect to clinical narcissism. Contrast that with French President Emanuel Macron telling a young millennial not to address him by his nickname (Micro) but rather “Mr. President.” But again … there is nothing new under the sun.

THE CONDESCENSION: Statements by radical women voters suggesting that women who oppose them are ignorant and foolish. Barely sane. Columnist Allie Stuckey, writing in Town Hall, responded to a series of vicious articles criticizing women with Biblical views. She wrote:

“The claim is that we are voting against our own interests. But this assumes our interests are liberal interests—abortion, closing the “gender pay gap,” gun control, etc. And they’re just not. We women who vote Republican do so because, in general, we believe in things like the Second Amendment, lower taxes and restrictions on killing the unborn. We are not oppressed. We’re just not progressive.”

Many Democrats share her views but her point is valid. Too often people who disagree attack the intelligence and character of the other person. This is an age of terrible condescension. But … there is nothing new under the sun.

THE GUN VIOLENCE: It’s horrible for sure. We live in a culture that has turned violence into entertainment. I recently heard of a psychology professor who is teaching that there is no connection between violent films and games and violence acted out by crazed individuals. This defies common sense. I wonder if he knows that many military specialist groups have used very similar videos for training purposes. To say nothing of Hollywood stars whose movies are dripping with violence but who insist on new laws to control guns.

Personally, I do not like guns very much although I know how to use them in that my father was a hunter and collector. But reality is that the only solution is to “harden” public places and I prophesy it will come to that. I recall being taken aback years ago while travelling in Turkey. It was not unusual to see heavily armed guards in the doorways of fine stores. I saw that recently in Austin, Texas as well. And why not? Can we really ask God to restrain such evil when we murder at least two thousand unborn babies every day? But again … there is nothing new under the sun.

THE IMMIGRATION PROBLEM: This one is troubling. When I see those pictures of needy people walking a thousand miles with small children, I am pained. For a country that many say is racist and rotten, we sure have more people trying to get in than anywhere else in the world!

I cannot blame the innocents among that group for wanting to find a better life. But it is also true that evil is undoubtedly integrated in that “caravan.” Careful reports from law enforcement make clear that drug traders, MS-13 and sex crime criminals are integrated into that mass of people. So, we can’t just open the gates. Interesting that ancient Jerusalem had walls and gates. Managing immigration has always been a challenge and a moral issue. Caring for the needy is a Biblical value but caring for your vulnerable neighbor is also required. So … there is nothing new under the sun.

THE SHAMELESS KAVANAUGH EPISODE: I would be embarrassed to be associated with anyone who supported the effort to keep this fine man from being seated. I perceive that whole event as spiritual warfare because, eventually, the killing of the unborn will return to the court. Such judges will be needed. The very idea that he was guilty unless proven innocent was preposterous. Western civilization has clung to the “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” principle for centuries. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.

Once again, we are reminded of the words of Jeremiah who rebuked idolatrous Israel with these words:

Jeremiah 6:15 (NIV) “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the LORD.

Even so, with all of this, we have the Lord and his covering. Personally, I find great solace in the words of the Psalmist who was weary of evil in his age:

Psalm 73:23-28 (NIV) “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

One last thought: many in the commentariat are mocking the idea of prayer with our current challenges. In an odd way, I agree with them in this sense: what God is waiting for is not prayers for guidance as to how to deal with our problems … but He is waiting … for prayers of repentance. After that, we will see renewal.

Peace and Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Four: “The Importance of Roots!” 11.5.2018

Matthew 13:1-9 (NIV) “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.’”

This may strike my readers as curious … that I would open a devotional and Christ-centered article with a reference to a very “worldly” song. But I can’t resist. It’s just perfectly suited to this passage. At least I think so. I recently heard country singer Garth Brooks presenting his classic “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” and the lyric struck me as funny but true. It tells the story of a guy who went to a very fancy party dressed in his casual cowboy clothes. It opens with:

“Blame it all on my roots
I showed up in boots
And ruined your black-tie affair…”

Actually, this line is a theological masterpiece. “Blame it all on my roots!” Jesus spoke of roots. And the problem of bad roots explains discount discipleship. Let’s look closely …

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”

Surely the word picture is meant to illustrate the sharing of the Gospel. We’ve all seen people who are totally refractory to the Good News of Jesus. They are like sidewalks and the seeds just bounce off. I think our Lord is likening the birds to the evil one who steals away the seeds of salvation before they can take root. Actually, this reminds us that some seed will be wasted in the process of planting a crop. It’s the next illustration that is more unsettling. The person who gets started with Christ but cannot stay in the walk. We’ve all seen this … a reaction to the offer of Christ that is enthusiastic, but the soil is unprepared.

We recently had a re-seeding project in our yard after some excavation work. I was feeling a little lazy, so I didn’t really “work” the soil by softening it and raking and adding in some fresh topsoil. I simply scattered seed and it didn’t take root. But one area did start to respond and quickly. It didn’t last because the soil had no depth. So, the Lord Jesus Christ says:

“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

I’ve often thought of writing a short book about coming to Christ. Its title would be “Do Not Come Quickly to Jesus!” This happens when the warnings are ignored and the Gospel is presented as “Just say these words. Come and be baptized because Jesus really wants to be your friend and all you need to say is ‘Yes! ’”

In the parable the plants were “scorched.” Why? Because they had no depth in the soil. No roots to go down to the water. No strength to withstand the hot sun. They had “no root” … a Greek word that simply means “root!” The part of the plant that goes deep! Discount discipleship has very shallow roots or none. Without deep roots, the disciple will drop away. Or remain lost in worldly living.

The late Charles Colson used to tell a story about a gangster in the fifties named Mickey Cohen. Billy Graham went to California in the nineteen fifties many times. On one visit, the notorious Mr. Cohen met with a Graham associate and went forward to receive Christ. The headlines were fired up! “Gangster says he’s now a Christian!” The believing world rejoiced and many well-wishers contacted Cohen to encourage him in his new way of life.

About a year later, a member of the Graham team met with Cohen and told him there was great concern about his continued lifestyle. He was reputed to be involved in illegal drugs, gambling syndicates and other criminal activity. He was reminded that “Christians do not live that way.” Cohen’s response was stunning. He said: “Well, I see that there are Christian athletes and Christian movie stars and others who are famous. Why can’t I be a Christian gangster?”

That story sounds like fiction but it has been attested by some very reliable people. I suspect that there are some people who think they can trust in Christ without changing their sinful ways. That would be salvation by faith taken to the point of absurdity. They must think that because only faith is required to receive Christ that after salvation there are no expectations from God. To the contrary, God expects us to become more and more like Christ himself! Not to get saved but because we are saved. And that process of sanctification … being made Holy and set apart … that process … will be very hard at times. And the world will not affirm it!

Jesus said the sun will bear down with great heat upon us believers. We will need deep roots to survive the intensity. Simply stated we will need deep roots … because he may have accepted us just as we are but he will not leave us that way.

Next: “Arguing With Jesus!”

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Three: “Counting the Cost”

Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”

Vincent van Gogh lived less than forty years in the nineteenth century. Yet the Dutch artist created more than two thousand works of art. He was a remarkable genius whose life was touched dramatically by an unknown instructor. The late Dr. William Nigel Kerr was a Professor of mine at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Professor Kerr, an eminent historian, used to tell a fascinating story about Vincent van Gogh. It seems the very young man van Gogh was not always highly motivated. At one point, his instructor addressed the young artist regarding his efforts. He was quoted as saying to him: “You have great talent. But talent is cheap. Dedication is expensive. It will cost you everything you have!”

That statement might be a parallel insight for those considering the Gospel. Such a warning should be offered to everyone about to be baptized or make a fresh prayer commitment to Jesus and his Lordship. If great crowds come forward at a baptism where dozens, even hundreds, are invited to the sacrament, do they understand what they are doing? The event might be beautiful to see but one has to wonder … have they been adequately prepared for that commitment?

In pondering this, I recall the great missionary Adonirum Judson refusing to baptize people until he was certain they understood what following Christ would entail. He would not baptize until the one seeking Christ convinced him that he or she understood what true discipleship meant. Whether it be a prayer of receiving/accepting Jesus or a baptism, that moment must only come if the cost is fully embraced. Put another way … Christianity properly understood requires a willingness to give up … everything! But wait. What does that mean? Must we all take vows of poverty? No. But we must all be willing to pay the price. And the Holy Spirit sets the price!

Discount discipleship is that kind of Christian walk that costs nothing. It confuses salvation by grace with no expectations from God. It seems to think because we cannot save ourselves and must come by faith … that God expects nothing from us in response after we are saved …by faith. In reality, we are to deny ourselves not to get saved but because we are saved! But that will work differently for each of us. Consider that unsettling account found in Matthew Chapter Eight. Several disciples have been walking along with Jesus and listening to him. Remember, a disciple is a “student” not necessarily a genuine Christian. In other places, we see some disciples turn away from Jesus (see John Chapter Six.) Consider Luke Chapter Nine: We read:

Luke 9:57-58 (NIV) “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’”

Quite a bold statement. “Wherever you go!?” Really? How would he know where Jesus might go? Is he prepared as Abraham was to leave his family and his connections and just “go?” (see Genesis 12) In other words, it is easy to say, “I’ll follow you anywhere you go!” But Jesus does not give the man a high five. Rather, he says this:

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus just told the man that he doesn’t know where he will sleep and live and, by implication, he does not know if he will have life’s most basic provisions. It’s as if Jesus is saying “You’re sure you want to do this?” It’s as if Jesus just said, “It will cost you everything you have!” We are not sure what that man did next. Then we read:

Luke 9:59-60 (NIV) “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’”

The man’s request was very reasonable especially for the oldest son in a family, which may have been the case with this fellow. In that position, a son was supposed to stay near his father as long as necessary until the father passed on. Then he would be free to leave. As with Abraham, Jesus is saying that can be set aside. His response is certainly abrupt:

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Startling! The lost are spiritually dead! Proclaiming the Gospel is far more important than even your family responsibilities! This is consistent with our Lord saying:

Matthew 10:37 (NIV) “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…”

Not sure what that man did after that. Again, it’s as if Jesus just said, “It will cost you everything you have!” It seems that Jesus wants nothing to do with discount disciples. Then finally, a third man makes what seems to be a simple and reasonable request, but he is rebuked. We read:

Luke 9:61-62 (NIV) “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’”

He is like most of us. Certainly me. It’s as if he is saying “Ok Jesus…I’m with you. But I have a requirement that I think you will appreciate.” But no.

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Once again, “It will cost you everything you have!” If you look back, you will fail in the journey. It will mean that like Lot’s wife, you are longing for what you have left! Do you three really want this? To have nowhere to sleep and to let someone else bury your father and to leave your family even without a polite “Good-bye?”

This is very challenging. Question: What has following Jesus cost me? Cost you? What might it cost us in the future?

Next: “Counting the Cost”

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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