"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Is Good?

 John 1:1-3 ESV
  1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  2. He was in the beginning with God.
  3. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
      One might wonder what all that has to do with good. That’s an easy one: And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31 (ESV) And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone, Mark 10:18 (ESV) which is why his creation is good.
      As Mankind was the culmination of God’s creation, we were naturally included when God said, “It’s all good.” And as long as his creation was intact, it remained good. So, from God’s perspective, we are good when we live the way he created us to live.
      Oh, how the standard for “good” has declined. Now, when something pleases us for any reason, we declare it “good,” and we’re not at all discriminating.
2 Corinthians 5:10 (NASB) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
      But living any other way is sin. That’s why apostle Paul wrote, Romans 3:23 (ESV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That idea wasn’t original with him, though. Paul simply summed up the body of Scripture, as human depravity is one of its major themes, as are God’s mercy and justice.
      An observant farmer might say, “Wait a dad-burned minute. That stool don’t stand!” Human reason balks at those three principles when we try to understand how they can coexist. How can God deal justly with disobedient mankind, and still show mercy? Does he sentence us to community service, as do today’s judges? Hardly, as that’s neither justice nor mercy. If God is indeed both just and merciful, he seems to have painted himself into a corner by creating humanity so we could sin.
What in the world was God thinking?
      Discerning God’s ways is indeed a hard thing. Again, we look to apostle Paul for insight: 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NASB) But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. And where did he get that idea? Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.
      From the outset, God planned for all these eventualities. Some folks think of God’s Plan of Salvation as a Jesus thing, or just a gospel tract, but that’s selling God way short. In fact, all of history is his plan of salvation, from creation to humanity’s fall, from the horrible things mankind does to one another to his church’s work today; nothing takes God by surprise! If we can’t see a connection between mankind’s cruelty and God’s mercy, so what? We don’t even know which heartbeat will be our last, but God does. As movie spies say, “We’re on a need to know basis,” and all we need to know is what he tells us through his word. Oh, sure, some people claim special knowledge or a new revelation and get folks all riled up, but they’re full of it, and “it” isn’t God.

What in the world is God doing?
      Short of studying, in depth, all of God’s word and all of human history, there are a few things we can take to the bank: Remember the apparent conflict between God’s mercy and justice, and Man’s depravity? As God made us for fellowship with himself, he necessarily shared with us some of his divine attributes so we could relate to him, and he to us. One of those attributes is free will.
      God’s eternal Word knew, when he began creation, that Man would abuse that divine gift of free will to sell out to the lowest bidder. God even knew that he, in Christ Jesus, would have to pay the ultimate price to buy us back from Satan.
      Admittedly, this seems like a roundabout process when God could have just prevented the whole sin thing, but as his incredible gift of free will made sin inevitable, eliminating it simply wasn’t an option. Instead, by refusing to coerce us into obedience, but allowing us to sin, all the while knowing how he would deal both justly and mercifully with us, God proves to us how wonderful is his love for us.

Old Testament Law—Spiritual Nanny
      The most misunderstood concept in the Bible is the relationship between law and grace. On one side of the issue are believers who insist that we must obey at least part of Old Testament law, and then God will love us, and Jesus will give us his grace-pass into heaven. Then there are the believers who embrace God’s loving grace as the cure for all but humanity’s worst transgressions. The one side says, “God’s Ten Commandments are not Ten Suggestions.” The other says, “Just believe in God and be nice to your neighbors, and St. Peter will open wide those pearly gates.”
      Both of those persuasions ignore God’s truth, revealed in his word. God’s law is both the Old Testament and the New Testament, even if they seem to proclaim contradictory messages.
Apostle Paul distilled this complex truth into just four Bible verses:
Galatians 3:23-26 (ESV) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. (24) So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (26) for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
      That’s a nutshell that encloses a big part of God’s infinite truth. It tells us why God instituted his law, who(Christ Jesus) and what(faith) fulfills the law, and who we become through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s not simply a “That was then, this is now” type of thing, because God’s law still applies to those who are not yet sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Let’s backtrack for perspective
Galatians 3:5-14 (ESV) Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-- (6) just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? (7) Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (8) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." (9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (10) For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." (12) But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"-- (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
      In verse five we can see the apostle wrote this to a group of believers who were a bit confused about the law-versus-faith issue. So we shouldn’t feel slow if we can’t seem to grasp the concept.
      Verse six gives us a role-model for faith. Apostle Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 to establish faith’s part in Abraham’s righteousness before God.
      Verse seven takes the idea one step further. The author establishes our identity as “sons of Abraham,” or honorary Hebrews, through faith.
      Verse eight takes a flying leap, at least where the Jews are concerned. He uses Genesis 12:3 as the basis for his claim that all peoples, not just God’s chosen Hebrews, are qualified for justification by faith.
      As verse nine just restates that fact, let’s jump to verse ten, where he wades into even deeper water. Here he slaps the religious Jews—and all who depend on the law for justification—sharply on their pride, by openly declaring they are under a curse because they can’t keep the whole law.
      Verse eleven brings in another Old Testament passage, Habakkuk 2:4, and yes, there was such a prophet. Using that passage, Paul says the fact that the law cannot justify anyone is evident, meaning anyone who has half a brain should see it.
      Verse twelve pushes the two-edged sword even deeper, with a quote from Leviticus 18:5. Now we see that “the law is not of faith,” explaining why those who lived by the law could never be fully justified by it.
      Till now, Paul has talked a lot about faith, but he wasn’t specific as to that faith’s object. With verse thirteen he ties up that loose end by saying plainly, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” (Deuteronomy 21:23) What a powerful declaration!
      Verse fourteen continues that thought, tying up the faith-gift of God with a beautiful bow.
      So, to answer the title question, we are good when we live as God originally intended.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Objective Proof of God’s Existence

Nonsense! Despite this essay’s title, objective proof that God exists does not exist. Honest believers will admit that faith in God produces its own proof. Nonbelievers have no faith, so they are incapable of perceiving what faith makes obvious to believers. However, while those who have faith can never be truly objective about the object of their faith, they can, by careful avoidance of cliché arguments, participate in a reasonable discussion of the issues surrounding it.

      Cosmologists and physicists, as well as us normal folks, stand in two theological camps: Theistic, and atheistic. Yes, theistic scientists actually exist, though their atheistic colleagues seem the more vocal of the two. Both theistic and atheistic scientists recognize the universe’s delicate balance. What they do not agree upon is the existence of a supernatural or spiritual component in the universe. As neither side has any way of “proving” their position empirically, we must call it a presupposition, or worldview.
      Theism covers a wide range of, primarily monotheistic, religions that have evolved through attempts to explain the material universe’s cause, either by a personal Supreme Being or by an impersonal, Causative Force. Atheism theorizes a variety of cosmic-scale, spontaneously generative events, with either a natural but unknown cause, or no cause at all.

      Two foundational categories of differences exist between theistic and atheistic ideologies: The first lies in their positive or negative experiences with, or observations of, religion. The second lies in their relative willingness to accept the existence of entities that scientific inquiry cannot detect.
      My mother was a “Type One” atheist, at least partially because of an uncle who was a Methodist deacon and “enjoyed” bouncing her on his lap in a way that gave her the creeps. Her mother refused to believe her complaints. Then she converted to Romanism so she could marry my father, and a new series of questionable experiences began. To my knowledge she never managed to disassociate the religion of Christianity from the personal Christ.
      Most atheists like to view themselves as the “Type Two” variety, generally skeptical about “the god thing,” and especially religion. Many of these folks are perfectly sincere in their non-belief on ideological grounds. Either they invest their confidence in “Science,” or they simply refuse to be persuaded by a belief-system they don’t understand.
      Theism is an extremely broad brush that attempts to cover many different philosophies, theologies and religions, bound loosely by the common acceptance of one or more supernatural, or spiritual, supreme beings. While theism’s greatest strength is its diverse appeal, atheists see that lack of unity as one of its greatest credibility gaps. Reasonably, atheists ask, “Why would a sentient, intelligent supreme being who is capable of communicating with its subjects, not tell everyone the same thing about itself?”
      Of course, they've answered their own question: “Either no such supreme being exists, or it’s playing cruel games with its subjects.” What, no third option?

Other Options
      To assume that humans can be privy to all knowledge and understanding, accountable to no one and absolutely sovereign, is to elevate those select folks to godhood. Of course, those who possess such esoteric knowledge must impose their rule over the rest of us, as we aren’t bright enough to rule ourselves.
      Absurd? What other ultimate conclusion can come from believing that humans are equipped to observe and understand all that exists? Is it not possible that such marvelous knowledge is beyond our finite imaginations and scientific state of art?
      Not long ago, cosmologists and physicists discovered something missing in the universe. They knew it must be there because the universe wouldn’t work without it. For lack of a better name, they called this theoretical necessity, “Dark Energy,” because they had no way of seeing it, and even now they can only detect it indirectly. Then of course, since energy and matter are just alternate states of the same thing, they coined the term, “Dark Matter” to go along with it.
      Since they are certain that nothing of a supernatural or spiritual nature can exist, as Science would have surely seen it by now if it did, relating that theoretical, cosmic necessity to “God” is out of the question. Is a measure of theophobia at work among Big Brains in academia? Why else would such brilliant scientific minds deny that something exists, whose existence cannot be scientifically proved or disproved?

      Does God exist? The debate has persisted over the centuries, both sides “proving” their arguments in their own eyes with little impact on the opposition. Yes, theists have become atheists, and vice versa, but those changes have nothing to do with the debate. It’s all about disillusionment and enlightenment.
      Despite the complete certainty both sides maintain, one ultimate truth stands: Death will decide the issue. If atheists are right, what a hollow victory that will be, as in their oblivion they will know nothing. But if God exists as he said in his word, the Bible, believers will rejoice in unison at their faith's fulfillment, while tragically, nonbelievers will learn of their error the hard way.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Matthew 12:1-8; Lord of the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8 ESV
(1) At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
(2) But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath."
(3) He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
(4) how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
(5) Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
(6) I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
(7) And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.
(8) For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."

This is a standard proof-passage for those who defend worshiping on the Lord’s Day, rather than on the seventh-day Sabbath. The argument goes, “They did it, so we can do it too.” Of course, Sabbatarians counter with their two standard arguments: First, that God instituted seventh-day Sabbath observance the day after he finished creating the universe, so it’s not part of the ceremonial law that Jesus fulfilled. Second, that Jesus never rescinded seventh-day Sabbath observance, so it still applies to us. And the debate continues ad nauseam.
Any conscientious debate judge would, at this point, award victory to the Sabbatarians, as the Lord’s Day proponents’ argument is pathetically weak—so far—but let’s reexamine the above Scripture passage.
In verse four, Jesus cites the historical precedent of King David breaking a ceremonial law for expediency’s sake. Then, in verse five, Jesus gave ceremonial law precedence over Sabbath law. So, on two counts, Jesus negated the primary, seventh-day Sabbatarian argument.
Verse six establishes Jesus’ superiority over the temple, and thus, over all ceremonial observations related to it. Since verses four and five establish a higher priority for ceremonial law over Sabbath law, seventh-day Sabbath comes in dead last.
In verse seven, Jesus stresses love over law by quoting from the Old Testament: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 ESV) Thus, the King of kings declared his disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath, and by extension, we are not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by worshiping on the Lord’s Day.
Verse eight caps off Jesus’ Sabbath teaching by declaring himself, Lord of the Sabbath. In other words, “Look, people, when I talk about the Sabbath, you can take it to the bank.”
In their letters to the churches, Jesus’ apostles had to deal repeatedly with Judaizers. Apparently, seventh-day Sabbath advocates felt the need to snip a bit out of the New Testament.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think of using Bible verses and passages to prove religious teachings?
  2. What do you think of debating other Christians about differences in teachings?
  3. What is wrong with celebrating corporate worship on Saturday?
  4. How does King David’s experience apply to the situation Jesus faced in the story?
  5. What does “Sabbath” mean?
  6. On what basis does Jesus claim to be Lord of the Sabbath?
  7. Why is the general Sunday Sabbath argument, given in the presentation, so lame?
  8. Who were the “Judaizers,” and what did they teach?
  9. Why did the letter-writing apostles come down so hard on the Judaizers?
  10. What does our liberty in Christ mean to you?

Luke 9:18-27--Fan or Follower?

Luke 9:18 (ESV) Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"
Jesus actually asked after the rumors concerning him. The implication of his question was that the common people were a bunch of crowd-followers who had no idea as to the truth of who he really was and didn’t really care. On a number of occasions he pegged them as opportunists, tagging along because they wanted a free lunch.
Today’s churches are filled with those who want the respectability of religious association, social and business networking, the power of a big spoke in a small wheel, or even some vague notion that religion will make them good enough for, “The Man Upstairs.” Seeking these church perks is no less opportunistic than joining the crowds following Jesus, hoping to fill their bellies.
The New Testament tells of Jesus-fans who spread their cloaks and palm fronds on the road into Jerusalem and cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” but later demanded his crucifixion. Today’s church too often models its behavior after those crowds by raising our hands and joyfully singing praise choruses in church, but denying Jesus with our gossip, hateful attitudes, and worldly entertainments and excesses. Self-centered expectations kill our marriages and embitter our children, dooming them to a life of cynicism and unbelief because they don’t know what to believe.

Verses 19-22 don't directly apply to this study, so I'll leave them for another time.

Luke 9:23 (ESV) And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
What a contrast with our religious carnality, yet this is Jesus’ standard for discipleship. What does taking up our cross mean? By Galatians 3:13 we see that Jesus’ cross was his curse: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." (quoted from Deuteronomy 21:23) So we might conclude that he meant, Take up your curse and follow me, but for the fact that only Jesus could do that.
So, what else was the cross to Jesus? It was the means by which he was put to death. Apostle Paul explained in Romans chapter 6, the role of death in our redemption:
Romans 6:3-8 (ESV) Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (6) We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (7) For one who has died has been set free from sin. (8) Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Jesus may as well have said, Take up your death and follow me.

Luke 9:24 (ESV) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
More death, but not in the sense that we normally think of it. Death carries a morbid stigma because of the coldness and corruption of the flesh that we associate with it. Jesus’ death, however, involves none of that. King David prophesied about Jesus’ death in Psalms 16:9-10 (ESV) Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. (10) For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. So in Jesus, death is not ugly, but a beautiful thing, unless, of course, we value our own mortal lives higher than the eternal life we have in him.

Luke 9:25 (ESV) For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Obviously, the correct answer to this question is, “Nothing!” Problem is, the world is so seductive to us that it blinds us to what we know is the truth. And speaking of seductive things, Satan’s lies, cloaked in partial truths, lead us gleefully into his pit of perdition. Apostle Paul dealt with one such lie. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)
What a popular lie! Only we don’t think of it in exactly those terms. We think, “Oh, I can’t help my compulsions. Anyway, that’s what grace is for; God’ll forgive me for this little thing.”
Another of Apostle Paul’s Spirit-led insights smashed that “reasoning” to bits. Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV) Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (8) For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Luke 9:26 (ESV) For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
This pretty much speaks for itself.
The big question is, “Do I want to be a Jesus-fan, or a Jesus-follower?” One is easy. The other is hard. One costs more than you can imagine. The other pays eternal dividends.

Discussion Questions
  1. In Luke 9:18, why did Jesus ask what the crowds were saying about him? He already knew the answer, so what point was he trying to make with his disciples?
  2. We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s my cross to bear.” How does that compare with Jesus’ statement in verse 23?
  3. In view of Galatians 3:13, why can’t the cross Jesus calls us to bear daily be a curse, as it was for him?
  4. How do you feel about death?
  5. People are willing to sacrifice their eternal spirit for a lot less than the whole world. Can you think of anything you could gain that would be worth losing your soul?
  6. What does being ashamed of Jesus and his words look like?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why I Follow Jesus

I put in my time
following religion.

That’s why I now
follow Jesus.

Rest, Assured

This morning’s Daily Manna From The Net is Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB) “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
      What a beautiful promise; all of us are in some way weary and heavily burdened, and need Jesus’ rest. His yoke is His perfect law of liberty, and by obeying it, we too will become gentle and humble in heart as we find rest for our souls. This is the simplest formula of all for a godly, happy life.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Some people keep their domicile scrupulously clean. One will never enter their home, only to discover dust atop the china cabinet or have some offensive odor assault his senses.
      But then there are those people whose homes one must simply never enter at all. Their living space needs a thorough cleaning from top to bottom before those of us with sensibilities would even consider visiting. 
      Too often, however, the most persistent offenses are found in ones Church home, and even a thorough dousing with Clorox cannot eradicate that kind of nastiness. Christ’s Apostle Paul wrote in chapter five of his letter to the Galatian church:
Now the actions of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that. I am telling you now, as I have told you in the past, that people who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
      Of course, your congregation would never be guilty of the really bad stuff, but what about the attitudinal sins, like rivalry, jealousy, quarrels, conflicts, factions and envy? While no self-respecting church would advertise such things, the “saints” too easily find themselves consumed by the carnal nature’s power struggles.
      You say your church never falls into such sins of attitude? Paul added one more offense to the list in 1 Timothy 5:13b Not only this, but they even become gossips and keep busy by interfering in other people's lives, saying things they should not say. Now what honest gossip would admit to such a thing? To clear up the subject just a bit, let’s take a little quiz:

  1. Do we share our speculations about others’ motives?
  2. Do we ever participate church leadership roasts?
  3. Do we encourage friends to share tidbits of information about others?
  4. Are we that friend, volunteering information about others?

      Then there’s good old Colossians 3:8 But now you must also get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene speech, and all such sins. Of course, we church folks would never do such things. Right? In case anyone wants further Scriptural commentary on attitudinal sins, Mark 7:22, Matthew 15:19, Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:1, James 4:11, and Titus 3:2 get pretty explicit about them. While these aren’t the obvious sins of the flesh, such as listed in 1 Timothy 1:9-11, they are still the product of our carnal nature that is supposed to have been crucified with Christ. Perhaps you think sins of the tongue are no big deal? If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. (James 1:26 ESV)

      Philippians 2(audio)clearly states the standard by which we who are in Christ Jesus must live, but here are a couple of specifics:
Philippians 2:3-4 ESV
(3) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:14 ESV
(14) Do all things without grumbling or disputing,

      Obviously, gross sin is a grave problem in this corrupt world, but not so much in God’s church. The Scripture passages above, however, detail the historically thorny issues within the church that have earned us the reputation of haters, rather than lovers. Statistics have proven that it takes twenty positive reports to offset the effect of one negative report, and regardless how private we think our backbiting is, news of it spreads like wildfire.
      Is getting our own way worth the dirt we smear on our Savior’s name? Not even a boatload of Clorox will clean that kind of filth.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Wild-Eyed Preacher

A character that movie producers love to use as either a foil against the protagonists, or comic relief, is the wild-eyed, hell-fire and damnation preacher. Typically he is unkempt, wears a clerical collar and long, black suit coat, wields his oversize Bible like a club, and spits Old Testament curses with sinister fluency. If you’re a typical movie-goer, he’s the character you love to hate, along with his message of judgment and despair.
      Today’s church world reacts to that stereotype by making the New Testament God as different as possible from that Old Testament God of judgment and wrath. To hear them tell it, God has either grown up, or he’s been through anger management therapy until he’s all niceness and light. Grace is the twenty-first century rule, as he is now loath to offend anyone. And of course, our God of love and grace would never condemn nice folks to That Other Place. Why, even if we were sinners, we’d be okay because Jesus came to save that which was lost.
      Today’s gospel says, “Relax. Just do what seems right, be a nice guy or gal and don’t hurt anybody too badly, and our loving God will personally welcome us into eternal bliss.” The Old Testament seems to confirm all this New Testament wonderfulness in first part of Deuteronomy 28:

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 ESV
(1) "And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.
(2) And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.
(3) Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
(4) Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.
(5) Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
(6) Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
(7) "The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
(8) The LORD will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
(9) The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways.
(10) And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.
(11) And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.
(12) The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
(13) And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them,
(14) and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

      Admittedly, that’s a lot of closely spaced reading, but at least it’s not Elizabethan English, and it’s all pretty nice stuff. The rest of the chapter, however, is a bit—no, I’d have to say, a lot—harder to read, as it has to do with some really nasty curses and judgments. If you’re a sensitive sort, or if you're going cross-eyed from all the Scripture, you might want to just briefly scan the following:

Deuteronomy 28:15-68 ESV
(15) "But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
(16) Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.
(17) Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
(18) Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.
(19) Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
(20) "The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.
(21) The LORD will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
(22) The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.
(23) And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron.
(24) The LORD will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.
(25) "The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.
(26) And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.
(27) The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed.
(28) The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind,
(29) and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you.
(30) You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit.
(31) Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat any of it. Your donkey shall be seized before your face, but shall not be restored to you. Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, but there shall be no one to help you.
(32) Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless.
(33) A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually,
(34) so that you are driven mad by the sights that your eyes see.
(35) The LORD will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.
(36) "The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.
(37) And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away.
(38) You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it.
(39) You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them.
(40) You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off.
(41) You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity.
(42) The cricket shall possess all your trees and the fruit of your ground.
(43) The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower.
(44) He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.
(45) "All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.
(46) They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever.
(47) Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things,
(48) therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
(49) The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand,
(50) a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.
(51) It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish.
(52) "They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you.
(53) And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.
(54) The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left,
(55) so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.
(56) The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter,
(57) her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.
(58) "If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God,
(59) then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting.
(60) And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.
(61) Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.
(62) Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God.
(63) And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
(64) "And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.
(65) And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the LORD will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul.
(66) Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.
(67) In the morning you shall say, 'If only it were evening!' and at evening you shall say, 'If only it were morning!' because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see.
(68) And the LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer."

      Now that’s more like the wild-eyed, movie preacher’s spiel, and all that gruesomeness pivots on one deceptively short word in verse 15: If
      The good news is, the New Testament law, the “Perfect Law of Liberty,” (James 1:25) is a whole lot simpler than the Old Testament law. Jesus first stated his New Testament law in Matthew’s gospel:

Matthew 19:16-21 ESV
(16) And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"
(17) And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments."
(18) He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
(19) Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
(20) The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?"
(21) Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
      That poor guy wasn’t poor at all. In fact, he was quite well off. “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:22 ESV)
Admittedly, Jesus was making a point that must be understood if we are to follow him, but that makes it no less binding. Jesus’ apostle Paul rephrased it into a pithy statement: For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 ESV) The quality of love the apostle specified is the same as in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV
(1) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
(2) And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
(3) If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
(4) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
(5) or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
(6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
(7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
      That should be easy enough, right? Exhibiting such traits as listed in verses four through seven should be no problem at all, especially with ones spouse, or kids, or parents, or neighbors, or coworkers, right? That’s all Jesus is asking of his followers. Why, it’s just a piece of cake, compared to the Old Testament law.
      For a little perspective on who’s who in God’s church, take another quick look at verses one through three. Are you well-spoken? Without love, you’re just a noise-maker. Are you a prophet, and have nearly infinite understanding and knowledge? Without love, you’re nothing, regardless of your position in the church, community or business.
      Answering the inevitable question of whether a person who fails the love test can still be saved, let’s listen to Jesus’ best friend, the apostle John:

1 John 2:4-6 ESV
(4) Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
(5) but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
(6) whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
1 John 3:10 ESV
(10) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:17 ESV
(17) But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?

1 John 4:7-8 ESV
(7) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
(8) Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:19-21 ESV
(19) We love because he first loved us.
(20) If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
(21) And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 5:2-3 ESV
(2) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
(3) For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
      Some might say, “Enough with the Scripture passages already. I get it.”
      To that I would have to answer, “If you get it, show your love by your life.” I’m no rocket scientist, but even I can tell by someones actions whether they are living in love, or not. And if you can’t fool me, you certainly can’t fool God.
      Unlike the wild-eyed gospel preacher, I’ll leave the fire and brimstone between the lines, with the understanding that we have two choices for our eternal destination … ’nuff said?