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Author: Michael Bannon

For God’s Sake: Faith in Jesus will save you

A less tolerable description is one I heard from a store clerk, who said, “it’s hotter than hell outside!” I know he was speaking hyperbolically, first, because it is certain that he has never been to hell, and second, hell will be much hotter than the temperatures we’re dealing with today by anybody’s measuring system.

The doctrine of hell and judgment has become increasingly unfashionable in our day. Instead, people invent for themselves a god and an eternity shaped by their own value system, which guarantees that they, and those that they love, are in. Any notion of judgment rarely figures into their scenario, unless, of course, the person is “really bad.” The standards for that call are nebulous and subject to change.

Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. In Matthew’s gospel, he described hell as “a fiery furnace,” and in Mark’s gospel as a place, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” It is, he warns in Luke’s gospel, a place of eternal torment from which there is no reprieve. Just as the beauty of heaven is infinitely more than the magnificent environment – its most sublime beauty is the radiant glory of God himself – so too the greatest horror of hell is not the environment, but the unrelenting wrath of holy God poured out against unrepentant sinners for eternity.

That Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven should not surprise us – if you knew that a horrific danger lay ahead and that there was a way to avoid it, wouldn’t you continually sound the warning? It would be cruel to remain silent or to whitewash the danger with some invented story. Jesus warned that, “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them in the fiery furnace.” The burning question, if you will excuse my pun, is whom does God deem “evil” and “righteous”?

Many will be surprised to learn that the Bible says that no one is righteous, not even one. God himself is the measure of righteousness. “But I try to keep the Ten Commandments,” someone might argue. God gave his laws to reveal our sin, not to make us righteous. Further, you would have had to keep God’s law perfectly your entire life and not be a descendant of Adam. How then can anyone be made righteous?

God has made his righteousness available to us through faith alone in Jesus Christ, whom God has set before us as the only Way to heaven, to be believed on by faith. Your creative inventions about heaven may make you feel better, faith in Jesus will save you. Repent and believe!

For God’s Sake: Trust in what God has provided for redemption

My weight gain started after I moved to Navarre. Lamenting my gain with a portly colleague, he boasted that he had actually dropped several waist sizes. Looking at his unchanged girth, I couldn’t figure how that was possible. Now I know.

Last week, my wife measured me for a pair of shorts she was buying online. She wrapped the measuring tape around my waist and reported a number 6-inches bigger than the pants I am wearing now. “No way!” I protested.

She measured again, and diplomatically shaved an inch off the earlier report. “How can that be?” I stammered, “The pants I’m wearing aren’t that big!” She said, “Show me where you wear your pants.” In that instant, my portly colleague’s secret was revealed: if you wear your pants lower on your waist beneath your belly you can achieve a more desirable measurement. Apparently, that is what I had begun to do.

That is our modus operandi as human beings whenever we are measured and don’t like the results. No one likes to feel badly about themselves, so we just lower the standard to make the measure more agreeable and, for a season, more achievable.

And having lowered the standard once, lowering it again becomes easier each time. The doctored results agree with the illusion we have about ourselves, and we once again feel good about ourselves.

In one of those person-on-the-street video polls, the pollster asked, “Are you a sinner?” Most responded easily that they were not. “Would you agree that a sinner is someone who sins?” All agreed. “Is lying a sin?” Yes. “Have you ever lied?”

All admitted that they had. “Doesn’t that make you a sinner?” During the uncomfortable silence that followed some hasty, inner repair work must have been done on their illusion, because the majority still insisted that they were not sinners.

Biblically speaking, we all are, by nature, sinners, so we sin as naturally as we breathe. Though we might measure our sin on a sliding scale, the actual standard is fixed; it is God’s perfect righteousness. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Bible reports.

Worse yet, it tells us that even one sin earns us eternal death. We could try to prop up the illusion to feel better about ourselves or we can take real action. The only acceptable action is to admit your sin and trust in what God has provided for our redemption – trusting in Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, who died for our sins and in whom we can be declared righteous.

For God’s Sake: Trust in Christ today

This year, there seems to be a larger number of a nasty, little fly that is very quick, very agile, and likes to take chunks out of human flesh.

My wife is an amateur “bug-ologist,” and, after a few bites, she looked her tormentor up on an app she frequents. Its name sounds like something out of a fantasy tale – the yellow fly of the dismal swamp. I know, I had a hard time believing it myself. Now, I have become a fantasy hero who has been summoned by the lady of the manor to do battle with the yellow fly of the dismal swamp. I have emerged victorious.

Look this fly up online and you’ll see that it is quite beautiful, somewhat gem-like in its coloration. It is hard to imagine that such a small, beautiful creature can inflict such pain and be such an annoyance. Perhaps that is its most effective trait – deceptively beautiful and insignificant. Another pest shares those traits – sin.

Sin portrays itself as something to be desired, something that will improve your life, something beautiful.

In our moment of deliberation, sin presents itself as small and harmless, nothing compared to those heinous crimes like stealing and murder. “What harm can come from eating a piece of fruit?” Adam surely thought before he bit. “It is desirable and will make you wise,” the tempter pressed. Since Adam took that fateful bite in defiance of God’s one command, we, his descendants, have had a massive problem with our perception of sin.

Rightly perceived, all sin is rebellion against God, high treason, and worthy of death. The finite creature looks up at its infinite Creator, balls up a tiny little fist, and defiantly declares, “I don’t care about your laws, I’m doing what I want!” Our horribly skewed perception of sin’s beauty and benefits provides us with all the justification we need. We even malign God in our rebellion, accusing him of withholding from us something good. “God knows that in the day that you eat of it your eyes will be opened,” the tempter suggested, “and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Whenever I think that my sin is insignificant, beautiful and beneficial, I need only look at the cross where Christ willingly bore God’s just wrath for our sins in our place.

Even from the spare descriptions in the Bible, the cross is hideous, and so is our sin that hung him there.

What is truly beautiful and truly beneficial is God’s gospel, the good news that by faith alone in Christ, who died for us, rebellious sinners can know the joy of every sin forgiven and the assurance of eternity with God. Trust in Christ today.

For God’s Sake: God like music score for our new life in Christ

Yet, it was only after two decades of being deeply entrenched in the music field that I was encouraged to use a metronome and that by my jazz guitar teacher!

For the benefit of those with no knowledge of things musical, a metronome is not an elf who commutes. It is an adjustable device that unerringly produces a tick or a tock or a pulse that defines the tempo, the frequency of beats-per-minute.

The dedicated musician sets a tempo on a metronome, then practices their etudes and exercises striving to keep pace with the device. My jazz guitar teacher insisted that I use a metronome in my practicing, and in hindsight, I am forever grateful.

Novice musicians tend to hurry through the sections of their etudes and exercises they can play well, but slow down to navigate the more difficult.

The ideal is to set a metronome at the slowest speed at which you can play the whole exercise without mistakes and without slowing down or speeding up. The click of the metronome is there to reveal to you when you are not maintaining the tempo. Slowly, under the discipline of the metronome, the novice begins to master the instrument and not be mastered by it. How much like a metronome to the musician is the Holy Spirit to the Christian.

Before using a metronome, I did not perceive that I had a problem keeping tempo; my playing sounded fine to me. Once I started using a metronome, my tempo problem was revealed.

So it was before I was redeemed, I had no perception of having a sin problem, I was quite satisfied with my life. Now that I have the Holy Spirit indwelling me, I realize that I have a sin problem.

The promise of God to those whom he has redeemed in Christ is the Holy Spirit, who indwells the redeemed both as the assurance of their salvation in Christ and as the agent who enacts in them the benefits of their salvation.

The Holy Spirit of God works through the Word of God to transform the child of God to become more like Christ, the Son of God, to the glory of God.

In this way, the Word of God is like the music score for our new life in Christ, and the Spirit of God like the metronome. He reveals to us the sin in our life, the places where we are not following the score and where we have not kept pace with righteousness.

Wonderfully outfitted, the general trend in the Christian life should be a growing steadfastness to the Word of God and the ever clearer evidence of that promised transformation in our lives.

The Bible assures, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

For God’s Sake: Disciple-making creates a win-win situation

This win-win arrangement she was touting was one that she and I had put together where, in exchange for me giving Jack guitar lessons, he would mow my grass.

Jack is dropped off at my house every Thursday afternoon around 5:00, goes through a guitar lesson, and then we head outside where I sit in a lawn chair in the shade and watch him mow. It is a beautiful thing watching someone else mow your lawn particularly when there is no monthly bill. Jack’s mom thinks it is a beautiful thing to have her son get guitar lessons and there is no monthly bill. It’s a beautiful, win-win arrangement.

One of my other teaching opportunities is a weekly men’s class where, most recently, we have been going through Matthew 28:16-20 with the proverbial fine-toothed comb to learn well what is commonly known in Christian circles as The Great Commission.

The resurrected Jesus appears to the now eleven apostles and tells them how all authority in and heaven and on earth has been given to him, then he commands them to go and make disciples – other followers of Jesus Christ – of all nations.

Some Christians regard Jesus’ command as extending only to the eleven and is of no concern to any other Christians then or now. Were that the case, Christianity would have been a flash in the pan, dying out in that first generation. Jesus went on to say to the eleven that they were to teach these new disciples to observe all that he had commanded them, which naturally would include making disciples. They were to make disciples who make disciples.

It has been my observation that, even among those who recognize that Jesus’ command is to them, there is a reticence to obey.

Disciple-making is rarely done these days. While we are thrilled to be in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are often afraid to share this good news with anyone else lest they reject us or write us off as crazy. And there is also the strong likelihood of failure.

But this fear is misplaced, because whenever a Christian obeys Christ and puts their hand to disciple-making, it is a win-win arrangement. How so?

The first win is that the Christian is being obedient to Christ even if their disciple-making efforts are met with rejection. We call Christ “Lord,” we should obey him as Lord.

The second win happens when someone, by the grace of God, responds to our disciple-making efforts and puts their faith in Christ and begins to walk with us as we follow Christ. Think of it, you have been used by God to bring someone into an eternal relationship with God. Win!

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to go outside and watch a certain someone mow my lawn.

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