"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Stone the Builders Rejected Is the Cornerstone

This is my seventh time to Israel, but the first time I've walked through the Western Wall tunnel underneath the entire length of the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish Temple Mount. After the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Jordan, the Israelis took control of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Though they handed back to the Palestinians their Dome of the Rock, the Israelis began secretly excavating an underground tunnel along the Western Wall. In 1997 the Palestinians rioted when the Israelis opened the northern end of their excavations to allow those who walk the tunnel an exit in the Muslim quarter of old Jerusalem.

When Jesus was alive, the northern end of the Temple mountain (Moriah) was the location of Antonio's Fortress, the place where Roman soldiers headquartered and where Pontius Pilate resided when he visited Jerusalem from his headquarters in Caesarea by the Sea. Antonio's Fortress, built by Herod, was dedicated to the deceased Roman Caesar, Mark Antony. Herod had thousands of quarry men cut out stones from the bedrock of Mount Moriah to build the Temple, the Temple platform, Antonio's Fortress, and the massive Colonnade on the southern end of the Temple Mount.

Antonio's fortress had four towers, one on the southwest, one on the northwest, one on the southeast, above the people in the Temple courtyard and those outside the courtyard on the sidewalk (the sidewalk we now walk in the excavations along the Western Wall). It was here that the people cried "Crucify Him, Crucify Him" and demanded that Barabbas be released and that Jesus die.
and one on the northeast (see picture). It was in the southwest tower that Jesus was brought high

Underneath this southwestern tower of Antonio's Fortress where Jesus stood condemned before the people, on the sidewalk that all the people of Jerusalem walked, was a rock that is part of the bedrock of Mount Moriah. When one walks the excavated Western Wall tunnel, the excavated sidewalk comes to an end directly underneath the southwest tower of Antonio's Fortress. Here, on a public sidewalk, a massive rock stands. The Jews in Jesus day would have been very familiar with this rock. The quarry workers in the days of King Herod (37-4 B.C.) had started to cut the rock out of the bedrock of Mount Moriah (you can see the chiseling), but for some reason, the builders of the Temple rejected the rock and stopped their work to pull it out. So, in the day of Jesus, anyone walking south to north along the sidewalk outside the Western Wall would have come to the rock "rejected by the builders." 

Above that very familiar rock, Jesus Christ was condemned by the Jews. He was...

"The stone the builders rejected." (Psalm 118:22).

Jesus knew the significance of the rock underneath the tower on which He would be rejected and condemned by His own people, and He said, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The Stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.'" (Matthew 21:42).

Relationships Are the Essence of the Christian Faith

Rachelle and I are part of a 28-member group touring Israel. Most of those with us belong to Emmanuel Enid, but a couple from Texas, Rex and Judy Ray, have joined us for this trip. I only knew of Rex through his online presence. He has commented on blogs I've written for the past decade, and we have corresponded periodically via email. Today, our group toured Caesarea by the Sea, Mount Carmel, Megiddo, and Cana. Rex is 85-years-young and he kept us with us from beginning to the end. Today also happens to be Rex's 85th birthday. At Cana, I remarked that as wine ages it can either become better or bitter. So too, when a human being ages, the prospects are either betterment or bitterness. In wishing Rex a "Happy Birthday" at the place Jesus performed His first public miracle, I told the group that Rex is definitely getting better as he ages. Though I'd never met Rex or his wife Judy until we gathered at the OKC airport on Wednesday. After three days in Israel, I feel he's been a friend for life. I'm reminded through people like Rex and Judy, our friend Jan Pointner in New Hamphsire, and a host of other people Rachelle and I have known and loved from a distance, that the essence of Christianity is relationships. Happy Birthday, Rex Ray. We trust the Lord will grace you with many more to come.

Changing Feelings Without Changing Appearance


A 22-year-old man named Vinny Ohh has spent $50,000 and undergone at least 100 procedures in his desire to transition into a “genderless” alien (see photo to the left). Vinny works as a make-up artist and part-time model in California. He says he felt like an outcast during his teenage years, so he grew motivated to pursue various facial surgeries to look extra-terrestrial. "Over the years, I’ve realized I’m not gay, bi, trans or any of these things. I just want to be me. I want to be a sexless alien being. I want my outside to reflect how I feel on the inside.”

This post is not aimed at ridiculing Vinny. I would ask that anyone who comments be respectful and kind to Vinny. In fact, I hope Vinny reads this article. I compliment Vinny Ohh for saying something that has helped turned the light bulb in my mind over something with which I've been wrestling. Vinny said:

"I want my outside to reflect how I feel on the inside."

Vinny feels like a sexless alien from another planet. One can't fault Vinny for feeling. Feelings are amoral. Not all feelings, however, are pleasant. And feeling like "an alien" on your own planet can't be a pleasant feeling at all.

Twenty-five years ago science would have been unable to change "the outside" of Vinny to reflect what Vinny feels "on the inside." But now it's both surgically possible and affordable for many people to do like Vinny. Thus, we have transgendered surgeries, alien surgeries, plastic surgeries for each part of human anatomy, and a host of medicines and procedures "to change the outside" to reflect what is felt "on the inside."

Is this wrong? I'm not sure I'd put it in terms of right or wrong. I think we should consider these things in more pragmatic ways.

Someone once said, "Unless there is a change in the atmosphere, what thaws in the sun will once again freeze in the shade." Every plastic surgery, whether it be Bruce Jenner's, Michael Jackson's, or Vinny Ohhs, will bring a temporary "thawing of the cold feelings." The exuberance and excitement of change  - and the affirmation of a world that affirms changing the outside to reflect what one feels on the inside - will definitely give a temporary warmth to internal feelings. But unless there is a change in the way one thinks (atmosphere), those warm feelings will once again freeze.

The gospel of Jesus Christ changes what one feels on the inside, regardless of the way things are on the outside. To be consumed with the knowledge that God loves you so much that He cmgave His Life for you, that you might find real life in Him, led Paul to write:

"I have learned to be content with whatever I have or I don't have" (Philippians 4:11).

"For by the grace of God I am who I am" (I Corinthians 15:10).

It seems each of us has an option. We can either change our outside to reflect how we feel on the inside, or we can ask God - by His grace - to give us new feelings on the inside.

I'd rather find contentment in the love of God for me in Jesus Christ, and grow old or sick physically, and eventually dying with inner contentment, than spending a fortune trying to control or manipulate my environment for the outside to reflect what I feel on the inside.

Before any of us followers of Jesus condemn Vinny Ohh, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. It's easy to condemn a transgender, lesbian, or alien who changes their body to reflect what they feel on the inside; but sometimes we Christians can't see our own desire for food, or another person, or sports, or things going our way in church, or other desires to change or control our environment as doing the very same thing Vinny is doing.

I want to learn to be content on the inside with who I am by the grace of God. I want to learn to trust God that everything that comes my way outside of or around me is part of His plan to keep me dependent on Christ and His grace.

Lame In Both Feet While Sitting at the King's Table

My favorite chapter in the entire Old Testament is II Samuel 9. It's the story of Mephibosheth (sounds like "Me - Fib - O - Sheth"). His story is my story. His story is your story. His story is the story of us.  II Samuel 9 is the John 3:16 of the Old Testament.

Mephibosheth is a cripple, "lame in both feet" (II Samuel 9:3). King David wished to show kindness to Mephibosheth "for Jonathan's sake" (II Samuel 9:7). Jonathan, Mephibosheth's father, had died at the hand of the Philistines. Mephibosheth's nurse tripped and fell while fleeing from the Philistines with the young prince in her arms. When the nurse fell, Mephibosheth's vertebrate broke, causing the son of Jonathan to be a cripple (see II Samuel 4:4).

So Mephibosheth is just like you and me. Due to a tragic fall, he no longer was the person he was born to be. Crippled and broken, he grew up hiding from others in the little city of Lodebar. His name changed to Mari-baal to possibly reflect his shame and loss of fame. Baal was the god of culture in Canaan, and somehow, the son of Jonathan found himself lost in Lodebar, following the gods of Canaan.

Yet King David, in sovereign grace for a cripple, "fetched" Mephibosheth from his dark place "for the sake of Jonathan."

King David is a type or picture of our heavenly Father who shows kindness to crippled sinners "for Jesus sake." Religion tells you God is kind to saints for their religious performances. Christianity tells you God is kind to cripples "for Christ's sake." God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ (II see Corinthians 5:19).

So the story of Mephibosheth is the story of grace.

David fetched Mephibosheth from Lodebar, "and he sat at King David's table like one of the king's sons" (II Samuel 9:11). So too, when God saves us by His grace in Jesus Christ, He fetches us in our dark, shameful places and brings us to His table and meets our every need by His grace, for our good and for His glory (Philippians 4:19).

Lame in Both Feet

What strikes me in this fascinating story of grace is the description of Mephibosheth at the beginning of the story (II Samuel 9:3) and at the end of the story (II Samuel 9:13). At both the beginning and the end, Mephibosheth is described in this manner:

"He was lame in both feet."

One would think Mephibosheth's story of grace would end like this: "And God healed Mephibosheth of his lameness and he sat at the table of the king as one of his sons." 

No.

Mephibosheth's story begins with lameness, and Mephibosheth's story ends with lameness. 

However, there are two Hebrew words in II Samuel 9, both translated lameness.

The first word, which begins Mephibosheth's story is nakeh, which means stricken, or smitten. It is used of lameness of both body and soul. It speaks of a broken spirit. In other words, while hiding in shame in Lodebar, Mephibosheth was a broken man, both on his feet and in his spirit. 

The best way to illustrate nakeh is with what I've seen in hundreds of suicides. It's been my job during the years of my work with police departments to go to scenes of suicide, take the note that is often left, and inform next of kin of their loved one's death. These suicide notes are filled with nakeh. They are written by broken spirits. 

This describes Mephibosheth prior to the experience of the king's grace.

The second word translated lame in II Samuel 9 is the Hebrew word pisseach. It is ONLY used in Scripture to refer to physical lameness. 

When we first meet Mephibosheth in II Samuel 9, he is a broken man in body and in spirit. At the end of II Samuel 9, after experiencing the king's grace, Mephibosheth is only broken in body. He remains lame under the king's roof, but he's learned "to be content regardless of his circumstances" (Philippians 4:12), because "he's learned he who is by the grace of God" (I Corinthians 15:10). 

God's grace may not cure your cancer, but God's grace will definitely cure your lack of contentment. God's grace may not heal your body, but God's grace will definitely heal your soul. You will sit at the King of Kings table, and have all your needs met, but sometimes what is wanted may remain. 

Grace changes the heart to teach us contentment in all things.

God Looks with Favor on Those with a Nakeh Spirit

I am often asked what I think about lesbians, gays and transgendered people. I sometimes wonder why I'm not as often asked about how I feel about gossips, over-eaters, egotistical, and controlling people. It's amazing how we tend to categorize sin, emphasizing those sins with which we don't struggle. But, let me respond. Do I love sinners? Of course. Will God treat them with favor? 

It depends.

The only other time the Bible uses the word nakeh is in Isaiah 66:2. Listen to what God says.

“But on this one will I look with favor:
On the one who is poor and contrite (nakeh) in spirit."

God is gracious and shows kindness "for Jesus' sake" to the one who is crippled in spirit and realizes nothing good is deserved from God because we "have fallen and can't get up." We are not as He created us to be. To boast and brag and demand that we MUST be accepted and loved in our sin is to not feel brokenness and contriteness over our sin. There is no Savior for anyone who feels they have no sin.

But God looks on the broken in spirit with favor. 

That's why we who sit at the King's table are still lame.

We have nothing of which we can boast but Him.

Warning to Churches Who LIVE Broadcast Services

Faith Assembly Hitachi ZHD5000 cameras 10 11 12 8
A Syrian Muslim converted to Christianity and was baptized at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His baptism was publicized by the church on the Internet. When the Syrian convert traveled back to his home country of Syria, he was kidnapped and tortured by radicalized Muslims who "learned about the baptism from the Internet." The man said he was "blindfolded, beaten and forced into a 55-gallon drum for long stretches at a time, and continually threatened with beheading." The torture only ended when he was able to free himself from his bonds, obtain a gun from his captors, and kill an uncle who was participating in the torture. The man is now wanted for murder in Syria.

Some articles you read in the newspaper send chills up your spine. Today's Daily Oklahoman article by reporter Kyle Schwab, recounting the Syrian man's conversion and baptism in Oklahoma and his capture and torture in Syria, was one such article. 

After the Syrian finally escaped his captors and made it back to the United States, he filed suit against First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The man argued before the court that he never consented to the church's publicizing his baptism, and made it clear he wished it to be confidential. The pastor, disputing the man's account, said he never requested "that the church depart from its normal practices, which includes making records of baptisms publicly available."

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled yesterday on behalf of First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa. The court ruled "the publication of the baptism was an act rooted in religious belief." Further, the court stated,

I have a friend on the Oklahoma Supreme Court named Yvonne J. Kauger. She wrote a dissenting opinion and stated, "the church's autonomy doctrine is only applicable to internal administrative matters and to church action involving members."  First Presbyterian Church frequently baptizes converts to Christ who do not desire membership in their church, similar to the baptism of this Syrian man. Associate Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Kauger argued in her dissenting opinion that the church should be held liable for the torture of this convert.

Wow. 

Regardless of your feelings about the majority opinion or the dissenting opinion, this extraordinary case should cause all of us who broadcast our services over the Internet to pause.  We live in a different world today than we did even 20 years ago. What we used to say in the comfort and security of our local churches is now being broadcast to the world.

In the 1980's police television show Hill Street Blues, a police supervisor would always end roll call with words that are appropriate for churches who use the Internet in 2017: 

"It's a dangerous world. Be careful out there." 

God Will Not Relent in Love Till He Has My Heart

"For Your love is as strong as death; Your ardent love is as unrelenting as the grave." Song of Solomon 8:6.

The power of One.

Some say relationships are mended only when two at animosity with each other finally see eye-to-eye and reconcile. Not always. There is a powerful, unconditional, unrelenting love that will not stop until the one with animosity is won over because of this agape love.

"We love Him because He first loved us." (I John 4:19).

Too many people think God and His love are like us and our love. When our hearts are filled with animosity toward a person who has offended us, we must see change in the offender to be reconciled. So we assume God is the same way. For God to be reconciled with us, He must see some kind of change in us.

Not so.

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet still offenders (sinners), Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).

The unrelenting, unconditional, personal and powerful love of God obtained reconciliation for sinners to Himself even when we sinners weren't asking for it. In other words, sinners were reconciled to God at the cross.

"And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation." (Romans 5:11).

The King James Bible uses the word atonement in place of reconciliation in Romans 5:11.

The great biblical scholar Adam Clarke writes: "It was certainly improper to translate katallage here by atonement, instead of reconciliation; as katallassw signifies to reconcile, and is so rendered by our English translators in all the places where it occurs."

All modern translations (e.g. NKJV, NASB, NIV, RSV, ESV, and Holman Standard) properly translate Romans 5:11 as "reconciliation" - "by whom we have now received the reconciliation."

Why does the King James Version use the word atonement in Romans 5:11?


William Tyndale Invented the English Word Atonement

When William Tyndale (b.1494 - d. 1536) first took it upon himself to translate the Greek New Testament into the English language, he came to Romans 5:11. Wanting to convey in English the full impact of the Greek word katallage (normally translated reconciliation in English), Tyndale struggled. Tyndale did not wish to use the English word reconciliation because of how the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century used the word reconciliation.

I think William Tyndale chose wisely. Atonement is a really good word which properly conveys full reconciliation of sinners with God.

Let me explain.  

The Roman Catholic Church in the days of Tyndale viewed reconciliation as being made to God at the cross for only Adam's original sin, but not for the penalty of individual sins. The Roman Catholic Church taught that Catholics had to pay God for their individual sins by works of special merit and penance.

So the Roman Catholic Church in Tyndale's day taught that a sinner is reconciled to God at the cross by Christ's work for original sin, but not be truly at peace with God, or fully accepted by God, because of their own sins. Sinners must make it up to God for their individual sins. So, according to the Catholic Church, Christ's work at Calvary was only half of what was needed. For the sinner to be at peace with God, one must perform works of penance and works of merit and fulfill the sacraments.

This false Roman Catholic teaching led William Tyndale, while translating the Bible from the original Greek, to want an English word that conveyed the overall teaching of the Bible that God made sinners completely accepted by Him through Jesus Christ at the cross!

Tyndale knew that the Bible taught "God makes sinners fully accepted in the Beloved One" (Ephesians 1:6), but he also knew the church of his day was teaching something different. Tyndale knew that God, by His great grace and love for sinners, made sinners at one with Him through the expiatory sacrifice (e.g. "the removal of the guilt of the offender") of Christ, a sacrifice undertaken by God's own initiative. Tyndale despised the notion that something more than the work of Christ had to be done for sinners to be made right with God.

So Tyndale invented a new English word. At-one-ment

Let's take these three syllables from last to first and see Tyndale's intentions with the word atonement

Ment - is a Latin suffix which means "the act of." It turns verbs into nouns. For example, cement is a word that means "the action or process (Latin: ment) of hardening (Latin: se)." Likewise, when you call someone demented, you are saying they have gone through the process (Latin: ment) of unraveling (Latin: de). At-one-ment is "the act of making one."

One - English definition: Unity, without division.

At - A preposition that points to a specific location or event.

The immortal, invisible and loving Creator, came to earth as Man, to remove the guilt of sinners at the cross, to reconcile sinners to Himself in the act of at-one-ment.

When the King James translators (1611) published their English version of the Bible, they adopted Tyndale's invented word "atonement" for Romans 5:11, believing that it more accurately conveyed the concept that sinners are "fully accepted by God in the Beloved One" (Ephesians 1:6) through Christ's work.


Atonement Is the True Meaning of Reconciliation

Sinners are reconciled to God at the cross. The cross is "the act of making sinners at one with God." Because of Christ, nothing stands between God and sinners. Nothing.

No sin. No unbelief. No hardness. No guilt. Nothing.

"But wait! The atonement must be received!" modern evangelicals cry.

I find it amazing how modern evangelicals are not much different than 16th century Roman Catholics whom Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and a host of other reformers opposed.

It's not that the act of Jesus' atonement "must be received," as much as it is Jesus' atonement "will be received" by those for whom He died, for God will not relent till He has my heart.

God's unrelenting, unconditional, personal and eternal love wins me over to love Him. My love for Him may never measure up to His love for me, but I can rest in the knowledge I am fully accepted by Him in the Beloved One.

400 years ago the Roman Catholic Church wrongly said, "God made reconciliation for Adam's original sin, but individual sinners must pay for their own sins through penance and works of merit."

William Tyndale said, "No! God has made sinners fully accepted in the Beloved One through atonement."

Today, modern evangelicals wrongly say "God made it possible for sinners to be at one with God (atonement), but sinners must receive the atonement to actually be reconciled to God."

William Tyndale would say, "No! God has actually reconciled sinners at the cross through the at-one-ment of Jesus Christ."

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst." (I Timothy 1:15).

"You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

The Bible knows no such language of God "hopes to save." He shall save. He has saved.

We are saved by His grace through faith, but even that faith is "not of ourselves" for He is the "Author and Finisher, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of our faith."

We love Him because He first loved us.


God Will Not Relent in Love Till He Has My Heart

The power of One.

God has done everything.

He has loved me with an eternal love. He has given me His Son. He has reconciled me at the cross. He has made me one with Him through His Son. He is fully at peace with me, though I am never fully in love with Him.

In my previous post, I explained how a "hopeful" universalist like my friend Paul Young, author of The Shack, believes that God has reconciled every sinner without exception to Himself at the cross. Paul believes that God's love for the world means every sinner without exception. I believe God's love for the world means sinners without distinction (e.g. "a great multitude from every nation, from all tries and people and language groups" Rev. 7:9).

Paul Young, I and William Tyndale all believe the same thing about the powerful, unconditional love of God and the efficacy of the cross of Christ.

Paul Young simply disagrees with William Tyndale and I over the question "For whom did Christ die?" 

I have a dear friend and worship mentor named Daniel Brymer. He is an amazing song writer and musician. His gifted son, David Brymer, has written a song that he and Misty Edwards sing called You Won't Relent.

David Brymer wrote the song based on Song of Solomon 8:6 where the people of God recognize that the love of God is strong as death, and the ardent love of God for His people is as unrelenting as the grave.

You will not understand Song of Solomon 8:6 or the words of David Brymer's song - "You will not relent in love till you have my heart" - unless you recognize that nothing can stop the unrelenting love of God.

Nothing.

Jesus reconciled you to God through His work, not yours. God has made you fully accepted in Jesus Christ.

God will not relent in His love for you until He has your heart.

The power of One.

This is the Gospel.


The Shack and Universal Reconciliation: Answers to the Charge of Heresy by Evangelical Christians

In March 2017 the movie The Shack will hit theater screens across the country. It's a guarantee that Tim McCraw and Faith Hill's original song for the movie, Keep Your Eyes on Me, will become a mega-hit. Whether the film itself is a blockbuster is yet to be seen, but without any doubt, some evangelical Christians will again charge Paul Young, author of The Shack, with heresy. Dr. Al Mohler recently wrote a blog entitled The Shack - The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment, where he said,
"The Shack rests on the foundation of universal reconciliation... (The) fact is that the Christian church has explicitly identified these teachings as heresy. The obvious question is this: How is it that so many evangelical Christians seem to be drawn not only to this story, but to the theology presented in the narrative — a theology at so many points in conflict with evangelical convictions?"
I know both Al Mohler and Paul Young. I respect Dr. Mohler and his theological acumen. I have the honor of calling Paul Young a friend, and he's been the source of great encouragement to me.  After observing Paul Young minister to hundreds of people at the church I pastor, spending precious time with each person individually - never rushing to the next person or glancing at his watch as if he had other important things to do - I asked Paul Young his philosophy of ministry. He said, "Wade, there is no person or moment more important to me than the person before whom I stand at this moment." I've attempted to model that philosophy of ministry ever since.

Dr. Al Mohler considers himself a five-point Calvinist. He believes God has a distinguishing love for "the elect" and the cross of Christ actually saves the elect. In other words, Dr. Mohler believes the people for whom God sent His Son to redeem are actually delivered (saved) from their sins at the cross by the work of Jesus (see Matthew 1:21). I understand Dr. Mohler's theology and happen to agree with it, though I prefer to call it "the doctrines of grace" because I see these doctrines taught in Scripture.

Paul Young believes the same thing as Dr. Mohler regarding God's unconditional love and the power of Christ's cross. He simply disagrees with Dr. Mohler over "For whom did Christ die?" Paul Young believes that Christ died for every sinner who has ever lived or ever will live.

Paul Young told me he is a "hopeful universalist." He believes that our loving God sent His Son to die for every single sinner without exception. One day God will effectually reconcile every sinner to Himself. Paul uses the term "hopeful" universalism because he understands that the Scriptures speak of judgment, but Paul is "hopeful" that even in judgment, the love of God will eventually bring the sinner being judged to love for Jesus Christ. Paul Young is "hopeful" that the fire of God's love will eventually and effectually persuade every sinner of God's love in Christ. So Paul Young believes exactly like Al Mohler when it comes to the unconditional love of God and the efficacy and power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Both men believe the cross actually reconciles sinners to God.

However, Dr. Al Mohler believes Christ saves selected sinners because God unconditionally loves only certain sinners He has chosen to save, and not every sinner without exception. Paul Young believes God unconditionally loves every sinner the same, and Christ's death reconciles every sinner to God. Again, Dr. Mohler and Paul Young both believe the same thing about God's effectual love and the power of Christ to save. Where these two men part company is over "For whom did Christ die?"

Paul Young and I have discussed Christ's atonement at length, and after listening to Paul describe the power and efficacy God's love in Jesus Christ, I said, "Paul, you believe in God's unconditional love and a powerful cross. You believe that since God intends to save, He will save." Paul agreed with my assessment. He said, "Wade, you understand my view of God's unconditional love and the power of the cross to save sinners. Most people hear 'hopeful universal reconciliation,' and they think heresy. I do not believe anyone is saved apart from Christ dying for them."

Dr. Al Mohler and others believe any expression of hope in universal reconciliation is "heresy."  I would suggest a little humility is in order. The root of the Greek word for humility is "knowledge." When Jesus followers are knowledgeable about the history of Christians disagreeing over the extent of Christ's atonement (e.g. "For whom did Christ die?), the charge of heresy will be put to rest in the hearse of humility.

I was twenty years old when I first read God's Everlasting Love to His Elect by John Gill. To this day, other than the Bible, no book has impacted my life more. John Gill showed me how God is love, and that the Father's love is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness.

Previous to reading Gill, I had been infected with the delusion that God had a holy hatred for sinners and Jesus had a longing love for sinners. I wrongly believed that the Father desired to punish sinners because of His holy nature of justice, but Jesus offered Himself to the Father as a Substitute for undeserving sinners. My notion of a bi-polar God bothered me, but I just assumed that justice and love were mutually exclusive--- until I read Gill. Then I began to see that God is love, and when He moves to save His people, He saves them in love, through love, by love, and for love through Jesus Christ. The Father and the Son are one in motive. "For God so loved the world...."  (John 3:16).

I never personally struggled with what some call God's distinguishing love for His elect. In other words, it never bothered me to believe that God unconditionally loves many sinners but not all sinners. In my mind, since every sinner is the source of his own sin and rebellion, I felt that if God chose to unconditionally love an innumerable company of sinners instead of every individual sinner, who can complain that God is unjust (see Romans 9)?

I see the Bible teaching that God graciously and unconditionally loves selected sinners from every family, nation, language group and culture (e.g. "the world"), and gave His Son to deliver His people from their sins, while at the same time holding other sinners accountable for their volitional sins. I have no problem with God's distinguishing love. We all make decisions to love certain persons unconditionally (e.g. spouses, children, family, etc...). I might say to you, "I love the person to whom you are married, but I don't love your spouse like I love my spouse." I unconditionally love my bride. I chose my wife. I didn't choose yours.  I've never struggled with believing that God chose to love many sinners, but not all sinners. I think every sinner, including me the chief of sinners, deserves nothing good from God, so any sinner who is the recipient of His unconditional love, mercy, and grace is one sinner more than the number of sinners who deserve it. That's why salvation and the gift of immortal life is is an act of God's grace. None of us deserves it.

But in my journey of Christian faith, I have discovered that not all Christians are as comfortable with God's distinguishing love as I am. Some believe that God's love abides upon each and every sinner to the same degree. The idea that God has a distinguishing love for those God has chosen bothers some Christians immensely.

It bothers Christians like my friend Paul Young, author of The Shack.

And it bothered a Christian named George MacDonald (1824-1905).

You may have never heard of George McDonald. It's your loss if you have not. Christian writers and thinkers like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Oswald Chambers, Mark Twain (yes, there are reasons I call Mark Twain a Christian), and a host of other superb Christian writers revered George MacDonald.

George MacDonald believed in hopeful universal reconciliation, just like Paul Young.

When a Bible teacher first explained the doctrine of predestination to George MacDonald, it is said that George burst into tears. Although the teacher sought to assure George that he was one of the elect, George became very distraught with the idea that God loved some sinners, but not every sinner. He had nightmares.

George grew up and eventually became a Congregational minister.  In time, George was asked to leave his Congregational ministry for suggesting that the consuming fire of God's love would eventually overcome sin and rebellion in every human being. In other words, George MacDonald believed in hopeful reconciliation. After his pastorate, George MacDonald turned to writing. His influence through his writings became enormous. Most American evangelicals have never heard of George MacDonald, but we have read books written by authors George MacDonald mentored.

C.S. Lewis called George MacDonald "my master." Lewis had picked up a copy of MacDonald's book Phantastes at a train-station bookstall. "I began to read," says Lewis, "and a few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier."

G.K. Chesterton said MacDonald's book The Princess and the Goblin "made a difference to my whole existence."

Mark Twain was greatly influenced by George MacDonald, as was the great Christian devotion writer Oswald Chambers who said, "It is a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that George MacDonald's books have been so neglected."

George MacDonald would eventually write many books, but two of them, Robert Falconer and Lilith,  show his intense dislike for the idea that God's saving love is given to some and not to others. C.S. Lewis describes in George McDonald: An Anthology  how MacDonald kept the "worthy portion" of his Scottish Calvinism while renouncing the doctrine of predestination: "In the very midst of his intellectual revolt (from Calvinism), MacDonald forces us to see elements of real and perhaps irreplaceable worth in the thing from which he is revolting."

Don't gloss over what Lewis is saying about MacDonald. In the midst of rejecting God's distinguishing love, MacDonald kept his readers focused on the real worth of Calvinism. If the "real worth" of Calvinism is not God's distinguishing love, then what is it?

MacDonald believed in and wrote with a real sense of God's majesty, sovereignty, and power. MacDonald absolutely believed that God does as He pleases at all times, or else He would not be God. This was the portion of Calvinism that MacDonald deemed worthy.

What MacDonald despised was the belief that God chooses to save some sinners but not all sinners. So George MacDonald believed in hopeful universal reconciliation.

C.S. Lewis never fully adopted George MacDonald's eschatology of universal reconciliation. However, Lewis did challenge the traditional doctrine of hell, showing how much he was influenced by McDonald. Lewis also wrote about hopeful reconciliation in his book The Great Divorce.

In The Great Divorce,  Lewis writes of a person named "MacDonald" (coincidence?) who appears as a heavenly guide. MacDonald shows how a person who continually spurns God's love might spend eternity in total isolation and darkness. Then, a character named "Lewis" challenges the heavenly guide (MacDonald) by reminding him that he (MacDonald) had believed in universal reconciliation while he lived on earth (sound familiar?). MacDonald responds that indeed he believes "it is possible that everyone will eventually be saved,"  but "we cannot know this with certainty."  That's up to God. This is why George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis refer to it as hopeful universal reconciliation.

George MacDonald believed that God, during the judgment of sinners in hell, could eventually and effectually convince every sinner of His love for sinners in Christ Jesus.  In time sinners could freely and volitionally bow their knees to the Lord Jesus Christ, coming to an understanding of God's love for sinners. In time, according to MacDonald, all of God's creation could be reconciled to God.

This is exactly what Paul Young hopes in The Shack.

Hopeful universal reconciliation is not heresy. Paul Young, George MacDonald and other Christians who hope in universal reconciliation believe in a loving God and a powerful cross. The disagreement with men like Al Mohler and myself is over the question, "For whom did Christ die?"

C.S. Lewis came very close to embracing the universal reconciliation of his master George McDonald, but C.S. Lewis is certainly no heretic. Questioning the eternality of hell (as Martin Luther did versus John Calvin), or postulating a hopeful universal reconciliation (as George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis and Paul Young have done), does not place one outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy.

John Piper once tweeted "Goodbye Rob Bell" when Rob Bell published Love Wins, a book that questions, but does not deny the existence of an eternal hell. During that same time period, John Piper extolled C.S. Lewis as the greatest influence in his life. Both men, Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis, asked the same theological questions in their writings.  C.S. Lewis asked his questions wrapped in a narrative of fantasy, while Rob Bell spelled out his questions in plain English.

John Piper has never tweeted "Goodbye C.S. Lewis." Could it be that it's far easier for us to fire the gun of heresy at those we've never taken the time to thoroughly read, or if possible, get to know as friends?

If a person chooses to reject the doctrine of God's distinguishing love and finds comfort in hopeful universal reconciliation, we who follow Jesus might be careful before we charge our fellow believer in Christ with heresy. Both Calvinism and hopeful universal reconciliation believe in a God of love and an efficacious cross. The difference is over "For whom did Christ die?"

The only alternative to denying God's sovereign, selective love or God's universal love is to turn God into a weak, impotent deity with a fickle love dependent on the performance of His subjects. A god with fickle love isn't good news; it's rotten news. When we make our god as fickle as we are, we have turned our god into a person just like us.

Thankfully,  God is not like us.  His love is an artesian spring that is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness. He is love. His love continues. His love never ends. His love can't end because God continues and He never ends, and God is love (I John 4:8).

Both Al Mohler and Paul Young believe the same thing about God's unconditional love and Christ's effectual death. They just disagree for whom it was intended.

So go and enjoy The Shack.

It is not heresy.

Oppression Olympics and Victimization as a Virtue

During my freshman year in high school, I took a Civic's Class. The energetic teachers of the class, a young man in his first year of teaching and an older woman,  nurtured a seedling love for politics within me.

One day they asked the question, "Define what it means to be a liberal."

Forty years later, I still remember the discussion that ensued. Maybe my memory is clear because I could tell they had a fondness for my scholastic aptitude, and they called on me to answer their question. 

But I was stumped.

It was in the days of President Jimmy Carter, and my poor answer revolved around picking and choosing some things President Carter did that I heard people call "liberal politics" in the late 1970's. I gave a weak description of what I thought liberalism was.  I couldn't give a definition of what liberalism is.

The rebuttal my teachers gave me went like this: "You chose to define a liberal by his actions. You've not given us a definition of the word "liberal." The Patriots of the American Revolution were called "liberals" by the English Parliament in 1776, but today Americans deem 1776 American Patriots as "conservatives." One generation's liberal is another generation's conservative. Give us a definition."

After a flurry of back-and-forth, we eventually came to a definition of a liberal. 
"A liberal is one who believes in freedom." 
The root word of liberal is liberty. So a liberal is one who cherishes human freedom. The freedom to speak, the freedom to worship, the freedom to think, the freedom to live, and the freedom to pursue happiness as the individual pleases, as long as the pursuit of that personal freedom does not impinge on the freedom of others. 

Freedom is the key.

There seems to be a loss of true liberalism in America.

The political left is not liberal anymore. It is regressive in its pursuit of freedom. The regressive left is actually desiring to remove individual freedoms.

The regressive left categorizes people based upon victimization. They class groups of people into classifications of victimhood, and then remove personal liberties for people not in that class. The regressive left has created a modern Olympics of Oppression.

Victimization has become the highest virtue in American leftist culture. 

If you are a minority woman who believes in abortion, then you can march in the Women's March on Washington, D.C. But if you are a pro-life woman, you're barred from the freedom of marching and expressing your views, regardless of your color.

If you are a Muslim refugee from Syria whose been victimized by radicals, then you are given American freedom without restriction. But if you are an American Muslim who speaks out against radical Islamic terrorism, then you are called a bigot, and your freedom to speak out against radical Islamic terror is removed.

If you are a minority transgender person, then you are exalted onto the platform of freedom of expression and given your own bathroom, but if you are a straight person with children, then the regressive left seeks to repress you from expressing your views in public and wishes to force you to take your children into a transgendered bathroom. 

If you think like the regressive left on university campuses, you are bestowed individual freedom to speak, protest and lead. But even if you are a black woman (minority), and you think like an evangelical Christian, your freedom to speak, protest and lead on a university campus is removed.

Freedom is given to only the virtuous in the regressive left, and the greatest virtue in their way of thinking is victimization. 

At some point, America will wake up and see that a true, classical liberal believes in freedom for every individual, regardless of whether or not that individual is in a category of victimization.

One should never be given freedom of worship if one's intention is to hide guns, bombs, and terrorists in a house of worship. Your freedom of worship cannot impinge on the freedoms of others. 

Ironically, even some true classical liberals in America are waking up to the fact that their individual freedoms are being removed by the regressive left.  

For one of the few times in my life, I find myself agreeing with the New York Times
CLASSIC liberalism exalted tolerance, reflected in a line often attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”"On university campuses, that is sometimes updated to: 'I disapprove of what you say, so shut up.' Universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians. As I see it, we (on university campuses) are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us."
The regressive left has left liberalism. They've embraced a form of intolerance that is eroding the freedoms of individual Americans who do not think like them. I will fight for my regressive left friends to express their views freely, but when they plug their ears to hearing a value system different from their own, I will freely point out they've left liberalism and become intolerant.

Oppression olympics are games we Americans should never play.

Avoid at All Costs the Soul Virus Called "Stiff-Neck"

At the heart of the gospel message is transformation. God is in the business of changing lives, taking what is broken and fractured due to our self-destructive habits and hang-ups, and transforming us to look more like Jesus (see Romans 8:29). 

Our conformity to Jesus isn't natural. Sin and selfishness are inherent to us all. Jesus is selfless and sacrificial, and we are not. That's why God is in the business of transforming lives. God, by His grace and for His glory, transforms us to conform us. Over time, we look more like His Son in character and lifestyle. That's God's purpose for us.

God forbid we resist.

God calls any resistance to His transformational work by the name stiff-neck.  For example:
  1. "I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people." (Exodus 32:9). 
  2. "You are a stiff-necked people." (Deuteronomy 9:6). 
  3. "He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord." (II Chronicles 36:13).
  4. "Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to Me" (Jeremiah 17:23). 
  5. "You stiff-necked people! You always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). 
Stiff-necked is used as a description of God's people when they resist the Holy Spirit and refuse to do what they know God desires.  We don't use the compound word "stiff-neck" often today, so Christians have little understanding of its meaning. Let me see if I can help bring some clarity to this soul virus to help us avoid it.

This word is transliterated from the original Hebrew as qesheh `oreph. It literally means "hard of neck." We use the English phrase "bowed-up" to describe someone who gets angry or defensive. "Bowed-up" is similar to what the Bible calls "stiff-necked." It's becoming hard to the truth. It's obstinacy. It's defensiveness. It's a spiritual condition of hardness to the truth of God. 

I'm a lover of God's people. I'm also a vocational pastor. My role is to simply speak the truth in love. I am never the transformational Agent for God's people. That's the job of the Holy Spirit. I speak the truth in love, but it is between God and His people whether they receive it or not.  

In religious circles, pastors and people play God. They speak the truth and then they "goad" people to obey the truth. It's God's job to goad, not pastors.

Let me explain. 

The term "stiff-neck" (qesheh 'oreph) came from ancient farming when the Hebrews used oxen to plow their fields. The farmer tied the plow to a pair of oxen, and the oxen pulled the plow. Sometimes, an ox would move to slow so the farmer would use a goad to poke the oxen in the hind legs to pick up the speed. The goad was a long pole with a pointed end, and when an ox got poked on the rear end or hind legs, it became quite uncomfortable, even painful for the ox. Every now and then, a "stiff-necked' ox would "kick against the goad" and literally stop and fight the farmer. The farmer, with reins in one hand and the goad in the other, always won the battle. But the fight could sometimes be intense. 

When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and transformed Saul's life, Jesus said something to Saul that is interesting: 
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14). 
Three things I learn from Christ capturing Saul, things that are always helpful to me in pastoral ministry. 
  1. Christ is the one wrestling with Saul. Nobody else even heard Jesus speaking.
  2. Christ has more than one goad in His arsenal of change, for it's "goads" (plural).
  3. Christ moves in mercy toward Saul, revealing "it is hard for Saul" to fight Him. 
I'm reminded of the Scripture verse that should put every Christian at ease when it comes to other people and their relationship with God. "Being confident of this, He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:6). God's got this; we don't. We should be confident He'll always win the fight in the end.

One of the ways I always know if I love my brother or sister in Christ unconditionally is by measuring my ability to tell people the truth without playing the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

God's people are only truth-tellers. We are not the Holy Spirit. 

If we become stiff-necked and decide to go our own selfish way and do our own destructive thing, God will intervene. He sends people like prophets (eg. Jeremiah) and others to plead with His people "to change the way they are thinking."  God will sometimes take direct action, without any intermediary, like He did with Saul on the road to Damascus

God's got this.

When we stop playing Holy Spirit and simply love people where they are, loving them enough to always speak the truth, but accepting them whether they obey God or not, then we can relax and rest in the confidence that the God who began His transformational work will finish it. 

The goads of God are always effectual in their purposes. We'd be wise to avoid the painful soul virus called "stiff-neck" ourselves, but we should rest easy if others are infected. God knows how to cure.

Do you see the picture at the top of this post? It's an actual drawing of ancient Englishmen plowing with oxen. The prayer says this: 
"God speed ye plow; bring us corn now." 
The fruit of one's life (corn) is in the hands of the One who carries the goad (God), and when I wish someone God speed, I am asking God to "prod them along" the path of what is right, for the good of all.

God speed.

Victims Don't Conquer So Christians Aren't Victims

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

Syrian Christians are being tortured, crucified and beheaded in Aleppo, Syria because these Christians are reaching out to their neighbors with the love of Jesus. This isn't a bible story. It is happening now. Radical Islamicists in Aleppo ordered Christians in their city to leave or face death. These followers of Jesus refused to leave their hometown, choosing to remain in the city to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors of the carpet bombings.

When the deadline to leave Aleppo passed, these Christians were apprehended, and their torture began. One Syrian Christian father watched as his twelve-year-old son's fingers were cut off. When the father still refused to renounce Christ and convert to Islam, the radicals then beat both father and son, and crucified them with a sign above their heads that read "infidels." During their torture these Syrian Christians sang, prayed for their torturers and displayed super-human inner strength. One eyewitness said the way these Christians died astounded their persecutors. They died as conquerors, not victims.

Meanwhile, we American Christians sip our lattes and nibble our pastries, but find it impossible to overcome the "hurt and pain" we've experienced in life. Most of us can't even spell Aleppo, much less see the difference between the pain and suffering in their lives when compared to ours. We complain about the songs we sing in church,  the lack of Facebook likes we receive, and the various ways people disrespect us. We find it easier to point our finger at someone else as the cause of our pain than to look within ourselves to find the reasons for it.

We American Christians have become masters at playing the role of victims.

Jesus said,  "Things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart" (Matthew 15:18).  To express "I'm a victim" in life is the ultimate sign of a void within my heart. When I see myself as a victim, I have little or no comprehension of God's love for me in Jesus Christ.

Oh, sure, I may say I understand God's love for me. Maybe I'll even sing about God's love. But the proof is in how I live. When crunch time comes, if I find my satisfaction and happiness in other people, or other things, or in my ability to control life, then I'll play the role of victim. I must play the victim because I am. That in which I trust for my happiness and security has been stolen from me.

Never find the source of your happiness today in what you may lose tomorrow. 

I can never lose the love of Christ.
 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in this world, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). 
If I'm void of a comprehension of Christ's love for me, then when things get out of control - like a son's fingers being cut off by a radical Islamicists - I'll scream and fight, seek to control and manipulate, lie and steal, look back and payback, and ... well, you get the picture. But when "I know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, then I am filled up with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3:19).

And when filled with the love of Christ, then what comes out of me when squeezed by painful events is the love of Christ. So God will sometimes allow the heat to surround me to reveal the heart that is within me. 

Now for the Good News.

God is at work in all His people, turning us from a mindset of victimization to a mindset of being "more than conquerors."  The same passage in Romans 8 that points us to the love of Christ trumpets what it means for Christians to be "more than conquerors" in this life. Read it carefully:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:35, 37). 
The little phrase "more than conquerors"  translates one Greek word - ὑπερνικ. I'll transliterate the root words of this compound Greek word in English - SUPER NIKE.

Super is the Greek preposition which means more than or superior.
Nike is the Greek word for victory. Nike is more than a logo; it's a state of mind.

Christ's love for me makes me "more than victorious" in my mind, no matter the troubling situation that comes my way in my life.

This is really Good News.

The gospel is not just about "going to heaven." It's about being able in this life to be "more than victorious" even when your son's fingers are cut off. It's about having the ability to pray for those who are in the process of actually crucifying you. It's about having the power to be kind to those who hate you and cause you affliction or distress (trouble),  famine or nakedness (loss), and danger or sword (harm).

By pointing my finger at someone else as the reason for the loss of my happiness, or the source of my pain, or the one I believe is responsible for my struggles in this life, I am playing the role of victim and am losing any sense of being more than victorious through Christ's love for me.

I must stop it.

For when I rest in the love of Christ - something that no one or no thing can ever take away - I will find that this life's troubles, losses, and painful events only give me an opportunity to show the world that I am more than victorious through Jesus Christ who loves me.

My New Year's resolution is to go through 2017 with a mindset that I am never a victim of my circumstances. I am always more than a conqueror through Him who loves me.