The Ultimate Solution

… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:23)

… the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

We have a problem. The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, and no one meets God’s standard of perfection. We have offended God and wronged him by violating his standard. God is holy and righteous. He cannot tolerate sin. You and I, because we have sinned, even if only once (and who has sinned only once?) cannot be good enough to see God and have a relationship with him; every human is a sinner. The guilt we all live with is not just some psychological feeling which we should attempt to rationalize away; we feel guilty because we are guilty of offending the God who created us. Each of us falls short of his mark, glory, and standard. And because of our failure to live perfectly, our just reward is eternal death. We cannot earn our way to heaven.

Imagine trying to jump the Grand Canyon; here, being close would not count, and failing to clear the chasm by one foot would leave us just as dead as if we failed by 100 feet. Because you and I are not perfect, which is God’s standard, we deserve death and separation from God forever.

But, God loves sinners. He offers sinners like you and me the opportunity to know him, love him and live each day with him now in a close relationship with him; he offers the opportunity to live with him forever in heaven eventually. He sent his only Son, Jesus, to open the way for us.

Jesus came to earth as God and man simultaneously. He was perfect. He never sinned, but he died on the cross to rescue sinners. His death on the cross had a purpose: to save people from their sins. His death was no unfortunate accident; he died by intention. Jesus took our sins upon himself on the cross and in exchange offers us his righteousness. Jesus took our place at the cross and offers us eternal life. Jesus took our “wages” (death) and, instead, gave us his “free gift” (eternal life).

Jesus is the only way to God. You and I will never know God or eternal life without Jesus. We will never be good enough. We cannot be moral or sincere enough. We will never even be religious enough. We will never pay our own way into God’s favor or presence by doing enough good deeds.

God does not ignore sin. You and I have a choice: either accept the wages each of us deserves for our sin, or accept the gift Jesus offers us. His shed blood on the cross pays the price for your sin and mine, and cancels it. His blood cleanses us from sin.

Notice that God offers eternal life through Jesus as a gift. How do we receive a gift? We reach out our hands and accept it. We receive the gift of eternal life from God by raising the “empty hands of faith” (Francis Schaeffer) and accepting it. This is known as faith, or believing in Jesus. God has promised us eternal life in Jesus; we believe him and ask for the free gift, trusting him to give it to us. He does.

“What must I do to be saved?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved…”(Acts 16:30,31). This belief is based on facts and history, but is more than mere knowledge of facts about Jesus. It is an entrusting of yourself to him to save you. You stop trusting yourself and stop thinking you can be good enough to earn heaven. We must stop trusting in our good deeds, our morals, our religious duties, no matter how well carried out. We can add nothing to what Jesus has already done for us. You and I, individually, must trust in Jesus alone to save us, to forgive our sins, and open the way to God.

Here’s how to receive this salvation:

1. Come to God in prayer and admit to him that you have sinned against him; tell him you are sorry.
2. Repent of your sins. Repentance is turning away from your sins. Turn your back on them and walk away from them. God will enable you to do this.
3. Ask God to forgive your sins because of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead for you. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Believe in Jesus, what he did, and what he said. Trust in his promise to save you and his power to save you. Trust him alone; you and I can add nothing to the transaction. Ask him to give you freedom from the enslaving power of sin in your life.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NASB)

4. Ask Jesus to come into your life as your Savior and Lord. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev 3:20 NASB)

God promises eternal life to those who come to him through Jesus. Realize that Jesus did not come to simply save you from hell. He came to rule in your life now as King. He loves you too much to leave you as you are; he will save and rescue you from your sins, your guilt, and yourself. He came to give you real life now, and a relationship with God himself now.

Realize also that God will not fail you or lie to you. If you ask Jesus into your life in this way, he will come in and live there by his Holy Spirit.

There is nothing greater in the world than knowing God personally through Jesus. You will have fullness of life and joy; you will have life with God forever. And with God, life keeps getting better.
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Copyright 2005 Jerry A. Miller, Jr. All rights reserved.

Don’t Wreck Your Life Before You’re 20

A Plea to My Teenage Patients: Don’t Wreck Your Life Before You’re 20

Dear Teenagers,

I have taken care of most of you since you were babies. Your parents have trusted me with your care, and I think of you as my own children. I think we have a pretty good relationship.

That’s why I’m writing this letter to you.

You are in a dangerous period of your life. What you do now, and in the next few years, will have a great impact on your entire future life. You can either grow into more and more maturity, usefulness, and happiness, or ….you can wreck your life even before you really get started.

How can you destroy your life? I can think of lots of ways. But, I’ll focus on the two most common things I see, and two of the most destructive. These are not just theoretical. I see these things happen all the time. I want you to know about them before you take the bait that hides the hook that may wind up ruining you.

1. Sex.

How can sex wreck a life? Isn’t it a good thing? Isn’t it encouraged by everyone, and don’t they tell you how to use condoms for “safe sex?” Don’t “they” expect teenagers to experiment with sex?

Human sexuality is a good and beautiful thing. God created humans and human sexuality. He created the sexual act. This was all God’s idea. And he wants humans to enjoy sex and their sexuality in the way he designed. He made us males and females, and he intended for the sexual act to occur in the safety and love of marriage between one man and one woman. Sex outside of these parameters is dangerous, damaging to both parties, and an offense to God. Does that mean that God will not forgive sexual sin? Of course not. God, through Jesus, forgives our sins as we go to him in trust and repentance. But, there are usually consequences, often severe, that result from doing things our way instead of as God intended, and this is not less true in the realm of sex.

So, here’s the problem. We live in a hyper-sexualized society. Many people in your lives will say they expect you to have sex, because after all, you are teenagers. Or, others will turn a blind eye and pretend they don’t notice. Or, others will teach you all about “safe sex”, how to use a condom, etc. Or, the media (movies, books, the internet, billboards, advertisements, and on and on) will make you feel like there is definitely something wrong with you if you are not sexually active. Many people will act like the word “virgin” is a joke: “what, are you kidding me, you are still a virgin?” Girls are openly or subtly encouraged by stores at the mall, by so-called “celebrities”, even by otherwise responsible adult authority figures, to dress provocatively and immodestly.

Girls, boys will tell you that if you really “love” them, and because they really “love” you, you will yield to their desire for sexual intimacy. What they really mean is that they want to have sex with you. They don’t love you; if they did, they would not ask for and demand sex. This is a selfish manipulation.

Guys, you will get pressure from the culture and from your friends to be a real man: real men have sex with their girlfriends. And too often, girls are willing to oblige your desires.

The problem is that all these things are lies. They are lies. And if you believe the lies, you could wreck your life, or at least diminish what God intends for you to be.

How can sex outside of marriage wreck your life? Easy.

a. The obvious thing is STD’s. Sexually transmitted diseases. This is what everyone talks about. You know, stuff like HIV-AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV, chlamydia, venereal warts. Stuff like that. But, wait a minute. Can’t modern medicine handle all of this? Nope. Only some of it. And much of it is increasingly more difficult to treat. These things can all affect you, and can affect your future spouse, and maybe even your babies.

How about prevention? Won’t a condom protect you from all this stuff? Isn’t that what you are taught? Isn’t the condom one of the miracles of modern science? No. A condom may confer only partial protection.

b. Pregnancy. Birth control methods have eliminated this concern in many cases. And some will tell you that birth control allows girls and young women to be as promiscuous as they want to because pregnancy is no longer a big issue, not as much of a “problem” as it used to be. Also, thanks to easily available abortion, there is a back up plan to birth control. Pregnancy can be ended quickly, quietly, and efficiently. Not mentioned by abortionists is that abortion is killing a baby. You don’t want to live with that guilt.

The other option is to go ahead and have the baby if you become pregnant; this is the only right choice. But, then you face the gut-wrenching decisions about whether to give your baby up for adoption or keep your baby, whether to marry the father, how to raise your baby, how to support yourselves, and so on. I admire the courage of young mothers who keep their babies and raise them; it is very difficult, and often limits life choices. I get angry at “fathers” who sire these babies and then leave the mother to figure it all out; these guys are nothing but sperm donors and selfish abusers of girls, spineless wimps, and creeps. They are not real men and they are not real fathers.

c. Your soul. The thing never talked about is what sex does to the person. God intended it to be a thing of beauty and pleasure between a married man and woman who love each other, and as an expression of total oneness. Sex within marriage binds the husband and wife together at the level of the soul and psyche. It is given as a gift from God to be enjoyed; there is no guilt in ever enjoying God’s good gifts in the way God intended.

But, abusing or using God’s gifts in ways he has not given will always result in pain, misery, disappointment, and suffering. And the same is true with sex, and especially true with sex. Sexual union with another before marriage will injure your soul, will damage your psychological state, and will cause great mental suffering and guilt. I have seen it. I have seen it cause depression or great anxiety in young people you would think have it all together. The expression that “condoms do not protect the heart” is all too true.

d. Your future husband or wife. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for the two of you to enter marriage as virgins? Wouldn’t it be great to have nothing to hide, no surprises for your spouse in the form of former lovers or STD’s to explain? Wouldn’t it be a beautiful gift to your future spouse to say you have waited for him/her and can give yourself now fully, without guilt, and love openly, without secrets? You may think that this vision of marriage is unrealistic and never happens, but it can and it does, and I guarantee that you will have no regrets if you wait for your future husband or wife.

One more thing: pornography. This usually is an affliction of guys, and it holds a perverse attraction for any male. It is so easy to enter the world of pornography. Don’t take the bait. Stay away from it. It will make you a slave. You will have images burned into your mind that you cannot get rid of. It is not a victimless and innocent activity. It offends God. It diminishes you. It demeans women. It is a sin against your future wife and marriage. Don’t get burned by pornography; it is playing with fire. Stay far away.

So, I implore you, don’t give in to the lies and pressures of our culture. Your future spouse will love you all the more for your sexual purity, and you will avoid a whole world of problems.

2. Drugs and Alcohol. OK, I know, you know all this. Just say no to drugs, right? But, how many of your friends are doing drugs, legal or illegal, and are ruining their lives in the process? We all know that drugs are readily available. You can get them if you want them. And, alcohol is just too easy to get your hands on. So, what is the big deal with drinking or doing drugs? Everyone knows that all teenagers experiment with this stuff, right?

That is one of the problems. You may feel that you need to experiment a little just to show you are a normal kid. You may feel pressure from your friends, from movies where the hero does recreational drugs or is always stoned, etc. But, everyone does not do them, and you don’t need to feel pressured to.

Why not use them a little?

a. Drugs and alcohol are addictive. There are many people out there whose lives have been completely taken over by drugs. They are addicted, and they have to have them. They are slaves to drugs and alcohol. They will lie, steal, kill, ruin their families, isolate themselves, lose jobs, and so on, to get the drugs or alcohol they need. And, when I say need, I mean it. They cannot live without these substances. And rehab hardly ever works for the long haul. I don’t even discuss the legal problems here.

Are you willing to take a chance on becoming addicted for your entire life? You may be saying, “that would never happen to me.” But, that is just what every drug addict and alcoholic used to say. Do you think they ever intended to become addicted? That was never the plan. Their lives are gone, ruined, wrecked. Is that what you want?

b. Drugs and alcohol are mind altering. You will do and say things you would never do or say without these substances on board. How many casual sexual encounters or date rapes occur under the influence of drugs or alcohol? How many fights and auto accidents are the result of these substances? A whole lot. And when an innocent child is killed, or one of your friends dies because you are drinking or using, you may not even remember what happened. But, how will you feel, and how will you ever shake the guilt?

I plead with you, stay away from drugs and alcohol.
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There are lots of ways to wreck your life before you turn 20. These are only two of the easiest, and two of the most common.

This is my plea to you to avoid drugs and alcohol, and stay sexually pure until you are married. Avoid these two landmines. I plead with you because I love you and care about you enough to warn you and tell you the truth. I want you to be what God intended you to be; don’t short circuit yourself. God created you to live with dignity, in his presence, enjoying the good gifts he wants to give you.

Please….

Don’t wreck your life.

Dr. Miller

Copyright 2011 Jerry A. Miller Jr. All rights reserved.

Suicide: How Jesus Christ Keeps Us From It

Have you ever felt the urge to end it all? To just be done with all the pain and disappointments of life, the selfish and mean people you have to deal with, the seemingly impossible circumstances of each day, and most of all, the hopeless horror of your own dark thoughts? Many people have; I believe most have had at least a fleeting thought that it might be a good idea. It seems an easy answer. Just do it, run from my problems and kill myself; whatever awaits must be better than what I am dealing with.

It seems an easy answer. But, it is a lie. The one whispering to us to kill ourselves is the devil himself, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. Puritan Thomas Watson believed that the sudden impulse to murder oneself to be one of the devil’s fiery darts.

Why are we tempted to take our own lives? There a many reasons, some seemingly rational and others completely irrational.*

1. People. People are sinners, just like me. And because of that, even at their best, they will do and say things that hurt or disappoint us. People are far from perfect and they often fail us despite good intentions. But, it is much worse than this. Many have experienced unspeakable abuse at the hands of parents, spouses, children, or friends. Many have been unnaturally abandoned, whether physically or emotionally, by those they trusted. Broken promises, painful words, and despicable deeds all injure our souls. It is enough at times for some to want to take their own lives.
2. Circumstances. In the midst of great adversity, hardship, and suffering, we can be convinced that suicide is the way to peace and the escape from our troubles. People with painful or terminal physical illness, those in mental anguish, those who are in great physical need, or those who are in a seemingly hopeless social situation are easily persuaded to end their own lives.
3. Myself. I am my main problem. We can each be filled with high-intensity self-loathing. We may hate ourselves for our failures, whether moral, physical, relational or financial. We may hate ourselves for our lack of discipline, for our glaring sins, for our perceived failure to achieve even a minuscule amount of greatness. We often lacerate ourselves for our own foolishness and stupidity, and we frequently are filled with regret and remorse. We are often crippled by our own sense of guilt. It may be specific, or it may be free-floating. We feel guilty because we are truly guilty: we have offended God and other humans in many intentional and unintentional ways. Yet, we often are loaded down with false guilt we should never take on. We know we need to be relieved of the guilt and the guilty feelings we have. If we believe we can never objectively and really be rid of our guilt, suicide seems a reasonable solution. We need forgiveness from God and others.
4. My thoughts. Sometimes, we can be wracked with hopeless or horrible thoughts that we cannot shake. Sometimes my mind can be a frightening place to inhabit. Sometimes, I can be obsessed by terrible thoughts that come unbidden. And self-murder may seem a plausible escape.

The common theme, description, and expression connecting all of these reasons is despair. When we are hopeless and desperate enough, for any reason, death seems to be a very welcome option, and we can be drawn to it easily. And the devil is there encouraging us to go ahead and get it over with. This is a mercy killing, we are told. I am being merciful to myself if I put myself out of my misery.

So, why not kill myself?

1. It is wrong. “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) This commandment includes all human life, even my own.
2. Suicide destroys the image of God placed in me by virtue of my being human. I am an image-bearer of God, no matter how marred and defaced. I have no right to destroy myself.
3. Only the sovereignly good God has the power of life and death. To take my own life is to take God’s glory and prerogative for myself; it is idolatry.
4. Suicide leaves no room for God to work. It circumvents God’s active rescue. God is patient with me; why cannot I be patient with God, hoping in him, waiting for him to act? God acts in his own timeframe, according to his own will, and his plans are never thwarted. His plans, actions and timing are always perfect. But, in suicide, I am giving up on God. I am saying that he is not good, he is not able to deliver me, he does not keep his promises. I am saying he is bad, powerless, or a liar. I am saying that all is utterly hopeless. I am saying that there is no God of the Bible.
5. Ultimate despair contains ultimate faithlessness, and it will always lead to suicide or death by some other means. God graciously and lovingly desires, even requires, that we trust him no matter what, and he will give us the ability to believe him so that we can hang on.
6. Do I really want to face Jesus immediately after my final act on earth of killing myself, one of the most God-dishonoring acts possible?
7. My greatest need is to be at peace with the God who made me and loves me. My greatest need, to put it another way, is to have my sins forgiven, for it is my sins that keep me from God and a full, open relationship with him. Jesus offers us forgiveness of any sin; he made it possible through his death and shed blood on the cross. Have you ever had the perverse and terrifying thought that God can never forgive you for your sins, or for a particular sin? This thought is from hell. Jesus is accepting, humble and gentle, and he offers forgiveness to any who will come to him and ask. Jesus would have forgiven Judas if he had only asked. Here on earth, in the time we inhabit, Jesus gives us the peace and forgiveness that we need.
8. Jesus Christ loves me and he has promised to never leave me. He has promised to deliver me, to save me, to rescue me, to bless me,to lead me, and to use me. And he always keeps his promises because he is good and he is all-powerful. The love of Jesus Christ for me is enough to keep me from euthanizing myself. He proved to me that he loved me by his death on the cross for me while I was a sinner and his enemy. He proves to me that he loves me by the Holy Spirit he has given me to remind me of his love. And his plans for me are always for his glory and my good.

John Bunyan understood the overwhelming power of despair and doubt. He discusses it at length in his allegory, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Christian and Hopeful are caught by the Giant Despair and taken to his stronghold, Doubting Castle. Here is what Bunyan says:

“Now there was, not far from the place where they lay, a castle, called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair, and it was in his grounds they now were sleeping…..So they were forced to go, because he was stronger than they. They also had but little to say, for they knew themselves in a fault. The giant, therefore, drove them before him, and put them into his castle, into a very dark dungeon, nasty and stinking to the spirits of these two men. Here, then, they lay from Wednesday morning till Saturday night, without one bit of bread, or drop of drink, or light, or any to ask how they did; they were, therefore, here in evil case, and were far from friends and acquaintance. Now in this place Christian had double sorrow, because it was through his unadvised counsel that they were brought into this distress.
Now Giant Despair had a wife, and her name was Diffidence: so when he was gone to bed he told his wife what he had done, to wit, that he had taken a couple of prisoners, and cast them into his dungeon for trespassing on his grounds. Then he asked her also what he had best do further to them. So she asked him what they were, whence they came, and whither they were bound, and he told her. Then she counseled him, that when he arose in the morning he should beat them without mercy. So when he arose, he getteth him a grievous crab-tree cudgel, and goes down into the dungeon to them, and there first falls to rating of them as if they were dogs, although they gave him never a word of distaste. Then he falls upon them, and beats them fearfully, in such sort that they were not able to help themselves, or to turn them upon the floor. This done, he withdraws and leaves them there to condole their misery, and to mourn under their distress: so all that day they spent the time in nothing but sighs and bitter lamentations. The next night, she, talking with her husband further about them, and understanding that they were yet alive, did advise him to counsel them to make away with themselves. So when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner, as before, and perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be forthwith to make an end of themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison; for why, said he, should you choose to live, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness? But they desired him to let them go. With that he looked ugly upon them, and rushing to them, had doubtless made an end of them himself, but that he fell into one of his fits, (for he sometimes in sunshiny weather fell into fits,) and lost for a time the use of his hands; wherefore he withdrew, and left them as before to consider what to do. Then did the prisoners consult between themselves whether it was best to take his counsel or no; and thus they began to discourse:
Christian: Brother, said Christian, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable. For my part, I know not whether it is best to live thus, or to die out of hand. My soul chooseth strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon. Shall we be ruled by the giant?
Hopeful: Indeed our present condition is dreadful, and death would be far more welcome to me than thus for ever to abide; but yet, let us consider, the Lord of the country to which we are going hath said, “Thou shalt do no murder,” no, not to another man’s person; much more, then, are we forbidden to take his counsel to kill ourselves. Besides, he that kills another, can but commit murder upon his body; but for one to kill himself, is to kill body and soul at once. And moreover, my brother, thou talkest of ease in the grave; but hast thou forgotten the hell whither for certain the murderers go? for “no murderer hath eternal life,” etc. And let us consider again, that all the law is not in the hand of Giant Despair: others, so far as I can understand, have been taken by him as well as we, and yet have escaped out of his hands. Who knows but that God, who made the world, may cause that Giant Despair may die; or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in; or that he may, in a short time, have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs? And if ever that should come to pass again, for my part, I am resolved to pluck up the heart of a man, and to try my utmost to get from under his hand. I was a fool that I did not try to do it before. But, however, my brother, let us be patient, and endure a while: the time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers. With these words Hopeful at present did moderate the mind of his brother; so they continued together in the dark that day, in their sad and doleful condition.
Well, towards evening the giant goes down into the dungeon again, to see if his prisoners had taken his counsel. But when he came there he found them alive; and truly, alive was all; for now, what for want of bread and water, and by reason of the wounds they received when he beat them, they could do little but breathe. But I say, he found them alive; at which he fell into a grievous rage, and told them, that seeing they had disobeyed his counsel, it should be worse with them than if they had never been born.
At this they trembled greatly, and I think that Christian fell into a swoon; but coming a little to himself again, they renewed their discourse about the giant’s counsel, and whether yet they had best take it or no. Now Christian again seemed for doing it; but Hopeful made his second reply as followeth:
Hopeful: My brother, said he, rememberest thou not how valiant thou hast been heretofore? Apollyon could not crush thee, nor could all that thou didst hear, or see, or feel, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What hardship, terror, and amazement hast thou already gone through; and art thou now nothing but fears! Thou seest that I am in the dungeon with thee, a far weaker man by nature than thou art. Also this giant hath wounded me as well as thee, and hath also cut off the bread and water from my mouth, and with thee I mourn without the light. But let us exercise a little more patience. Remember how thou playedst the man at Vanity Fair, and wast neither afraid of the chain nor cage, nor yet of bloody death: wherefore let us (at least to avoid the shame that it becomes not a Christian to be found in) bear up with patience as well as we can.
Now night being come again, and the giant and his wife being in bed, she asked him concerning the prisoners, and if they had taken his counsel: to which he replied, They are sturdy rogues; they choose rather to bear all hardships than to make away with themselves. Then said she, Take them into the castle-yard to-morrow, and show them the bones and skulls of those that thou hast already dispatched, and make them believe, ere a week comes to an end, thou wilt tear them in pieces, as thou hast done their fellows before them.
So when the morning was come, the giant goes to them again, and takes them into the castle-yard, and shows them as his wife had bidden him. These, said he, were pilgrims, as you are, once, and they trespassed on my grounds, as you have done; and when I thought fit I tore them in pieces; and so within ten days I will do you: get you down to your den again. And with that he beat them all the way thither. They lay, therefore, all day on Saturday in a lamentable case, as before. Now, when night was come, and when Mrs. Diffidence and her husband the giant was got to bed, they began to renew their discourse of their prisoners; and withal, the old giant wondered that he could neither by his blows nor counsel bring them to an end. And with that his wife replied, I fear, said she, that they live in hopes that some will come to relieve them; or that they have picklocks about them, by the means of which they hope to escape. And sayest thou so, my dear? said the giant; I will therefore search them in the morning.
Well, on Saturday, about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day.
Now, a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out into this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That is good news; good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.
Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the dungeon-door, whose bolt, as he turned the key, gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the castle-yard, and with his key opened that door also. After he went to the iron gate, for that must be opened too; but that lock went desperately hard, yet the key did open it. They then thrust open the gate to make their escape with speed; but that gate, as it opened, made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s highway, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.”

For John Bunyan, the key that released Christian from Despair and Doubting Castle was something he had possessed all along: the promises of God. God’s promises are given to us for our good. He pledges himself to us, and he always delivers on his promises because he can and he is good. We must know, love, and find stability in the promises God makes to us in Scripture. God’s Word drips with his promises to us. His promises are real, they are external to us, and they are objective.

Despair is an awful human condition; it leads to death. And suicide is the demonic, counterfeit answer to our despair. The real cure for despair is outside of us: hoping in Jesus Christ is the only cure. If it were not for Jesus Christ, what ultimate reason would any of us really have to keep living? But, with him, we have every reason to live with hope, joy, and peace.

Never give in to the urge to self-murder. Rest and hope in Jesus Christ, and believe the solid promises your loving Savior has made to you. He is ever faithful and ever true. And he never fails or deserts us.
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* Here is another reason some take the road to suicide: our culture. We live in a culture in which human life is not highly valued. Abortion and euthanasia are discussed as rational options. So, why not suicide? Besides, suicide has a certain cachet, an aura of being cool. It is fashionable. It is a dramatic last statement declaring to all who know us that we are in the throes of misery. It can also be a way of seeking revenge, an effort to heap lifelong guilt upon those who have loved us.
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Copyright 2010 Jerry A. Miller Jr.  All rights reserved.

Spitting Cobra

I hate snakes.

I hated them before Indiana Jones hated them.

And when I learned that there were spitting cobras in Zambia, I prayed that I would never even see one.

We were in Zambia to care for patients at Mukinge Hospital for about a month, and the eye specialist, a Zambian, told us about these snakes. The spitting cobra spits, or sprays, his venom into the eyes of his victim, up to a distance of 8 feet with remarkable accuracy. This low dose of venom does not kill. It only blinds, often permanently. Afterwards, the serpent comes in for the kill, able to take his time before he sinks his fangs into the victim’s body, injecting a lethal dose of venom that results in blood, organ, and neurologic damage and, eventually, death.

I never saw a snake there at all, but I was always scanning the bushes and brush as I walked to and from the hospital, especially at night. God was gracious to me.

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Our great adversary, Satan, the devil, that great serpent, works in much the same way. He attempts to spray blinding venom into our eyes, and if he is able to do it, rendering us temporarily and then permanently blind, the blindness eventually results in death. And as long as the victim is blind, it really does not matter when death occurs. Satan will come in for the final kill at his leisure. Who cares when the victim dies, as long as he is dying and eventually dies?

Satan’s strategy is always based on blinding the eyes of his victims. His bag of tricks always includes deception and deceit; he is the father of lies, as Jesus said. He is also a murderer. So, lying and killing, blinding and murdering, are the strategies he employs.
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To combat Satan, we must know about him and his schemes in order that he not gain the advantage over us (II Corinthians 2:11).

I. The Bible takes Satan seriously, and so must we.

He is real and he is powerful, but he is not God. We tend to make one of two mistakes about the devil. We may underestimate his power, thinking he is non-existent or some kind of cartoonish character, either way of no real threat or significance to us. Or, we overestimate his power, knowledge, and presence, giving him credit for far more than he is capable of doing, thus resulting in a servile fear of him. Genesis 3:15 sets up the reality for us: Satan bruised the heel of Jesus, but Jesus crushed his head. Satan is powerful, he is real (just as evil and hell are real), and he is our mortal enemy. Satan hates God, he hates Jesus, and he hates his followers. He hates you. He hates your marriage and family, your children, and your church. He will do all he can to destroy you and anything good. But, and I say it again, but, Jesus is far more powerful than Satan. On the cross, and with his resurrection from the dead, Jesus has already defeated Satan; he has crushed him. And, Satan cannot touch us without God’s allowing it, nor can he ever ultimately destroy those who belong to Jesus Christ. He may inflict great pain and suffering, but he cannot ultimately do you any harm. Satan is limited by God in both his timeframe and his scope of action. Do not cower before him, but realize that you are no match for him on your own. You are safe only in the cover that Jesus gives you.

The name “Satan” means adversary. He is our sworn enemy, and he will attempt to destroy you at every possible level. He viciously and aggressively attacks believers as a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8). To accomplish this destruction, he lies to us and deceives us about what is real (God’s promises vs. our circumstances, the beauty of Jesus Christ vs. the fleeting beauty of this world, etc.). He uses deceit and lies in his attempt to kill us or destroy us. He will try to destroy you, but failing that, neutralizing or paralyzing you is his next objective. This is not a game. Peter tells us to be serious about this. Our life with Jesus Christ is a war with the devil and with evil.

“Devil” means accuser, maligner, and slanderer. He will accuse you before God, but Jesus is there interceding for us and continually making the case that he died for us, that no matter what we have done, our sins are forgiven because of his shed blood. God the Father will not accuse us or find us guilty because of what Jesus has done. And, the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us. No one can truly bring a charge against God’s people and make it stick (Romans 8:33).

The devil will accuse you to yourself. He will bring up real sins you have committed, either in your pre-Christ days or after you began following him. He will dredge up old things you have done and are utterly ashamed of, telling you that you really could not be forgiven for those sins, and he will heap crushing guilt on you. Or, he will tell you that you can never really be forgiven for “that one sin” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones), the one that plagues your conscience. And, in ourselves, we have no defense; only the blood of Jesus can defend us from these attacks, because his blood cleanses us from all sin. Satan will tell you that you cannot really be saved: you are such a sorry example of a follower of Jesus; after all you still sin and fail miserably, and your progress in holiness is hardly evident, or not there at all to your own eyes. How can God’s Spirit live in you? Satan will tell you that you are worthless, that God could not really love you or do anything with you; you must be delusional. He will tell you that all you have attempted to do because you love Jesus is futile; so, give up, he says. He will tell you that you have committed the unpardonable sin (I have experienced this horrible attack). Loading on false guilt is also a favorite method of accusation, resulting in an amorphous, shapeless, pervasive sense of guilt that can immobilize and cripple you, without any obvious way out of the web. Real guilt or false, it does not matter. Either way, guilt kills us.

All these accusations against us are designed to discourage and dishearten us, to lead to depression, and to despair; suicide appears to be a reasonable option. His accusations against us are given with no possibility of resolution. We are caught in his web if we listen to him as he loads on guilt. The Holy Spirit, by contrast, may convict us of sin, but always offers a way out by repentance and faith in Jesus: we can be forgiven and restored, and we can be free of guilt. The Holy Spirit does not accuse and condemn us. He convicts in a way that is specific, gentle, humble, and kind. He always offers a way out if we have sinned, and that way is through the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from all sin. Through Jesus, we can have a clear conscience, and we are freed of our true moral guilt and our guilty feelings.

The devil also maligns us because he maligns Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior. Have you ever wondered why the name of Jesus is a favorite expletive of many? Why would any rational person hate Jesus so much that he would use his name as a curse? Jesus was wholly good, did only good, gave himself for us, and showed us only infinite love. Why do people hate him so? It is because Satan maligns him, and so do those who do not know Jesus.

II. How does Satan work? What are his schemes?

He is the ultimate liar and murderer (John 8:44). Every one of his strategies and tactics flow from these two things. He deceives, lies to humans, and blinds them to the truth for one purpose: to kill them. His primary objective is to keep humans from being saved because their salvation brings glory to God and brings ultimate and absolute good to them. Secondary objectives, which feed into the first, are to keep believers in Christ out of the battle by neutralizing them with fear, crippling them with guilt, and paralyzing them with lies about what will satisfy them (comfort, affluence, materialism, power, etc.). And, because he is evil and hates all that is God-created, he also desires to destroy as much good as possible, and to inflict as much pain upon the believer as he can. You may notice, as I have, that the battle often intensifies and the vicious attacks increase when we are attempting to do something for God; it is not a coincidence. Satan wants to keep us on the sidelines, so he turns up the heat when we engage his minions in battle.

Satan is crafty, wily, and subtle. He deals in lies, trickery, and half-truths. He is able to appear as an angel of light, looking good, making plausible arguments, and thus deceiving us (II Corinthians 11:13-15); he even uses Scripture to trick us. He plants seeds of doubt in our minds about God, his character, and his promises, often asking leading questions, just enough to cause us to doubt God and his goodness. Here is a sampler of questions you might find yourself asking, planted in your mind by the deceiver.
1. Is the Bible a book of myths, and is Jesus as Savior just a fairy tale? There are many intelligent people who think so, many much smarter than you. How can you think this is true?
2. Are God’s promises real? Are they real for you? Will he fulfill them? How can you be sure, since it looks fairly bleak at the moment? Can you really trust God with your life and your soul? Has God deserted you forever?
3. Is God really in control? Look around you and get a taste of reality; does it really look like a good God has a handle on things?
4. Does God really love you? Does he even care about you? Does he even know you exist? If so, how can he allow you to suffer as you are? Where is he, anyway?
5. How can you think that God will make you happy? Do you really think he can or will satisfy your deepest desires? Isn’t he keeping you from what you really need and want? Then, go for all the self-created happiness you can find. If it looks good, feels good, and feeds your pride, do it.
6. What makes you think you will be faithful to Jesus until you die? How can you keep this up all of your life? What if Jesus deserts you at the end?

Satan does not fight fair. He will attack you when and where you are most vulnerable (e.g., sick, weak, sleep deprived, discouraged, etc.). He will kick us when we are down, and in fact, that is the best time for him to attack us. He waits for an “opportune time” (Luke 4:13). He is a bully, but he is also a coward, and cannot stand to face Jesus Christ who has already defeated him. He is the original terrorist, and his goal is to terrorize our hearts to such an extent that we have difficulty trusting God and seeing what is real. Fear is a potent weapon that can demoralize and paralyze us.

III. How do we fight Satan?

First, we must know him, his schemes, strategies, and tactics (above).
Second, there are certain things that we are to flee, such as immorality, idolatry, the appearance of evil, and the occult. We are extremely foolish if we open ourselves to sin and temptation. Run as fast as you can from obvious sin, and give the devil no opportunity at all.
Third, we should make no provision for evil. Sometimes we are stupid and we think that just a little playing on the edges of sin will be alright. But, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to be ruthless with sin. Paul tells us to mortify (put to death) sin. Do not feed your sinful tendencies. Do not play with sin. It is like fire, and we will get burned if we play with it.
It helps for us to realize the extreme evil of sin. Jesus had to give us life and shed his holy blood to ransom us from our sins; nothing else would have worked. Sin is so evil that, without Jesus, we are damned forever, removed from the presence of our holy and good God forever, deserving hell. Sin destroys us and those around us. Sin destroys or severely damages our relationships with God and people. There is no such thing as a victimless sin.
Fourth, there are times when we must stand and fight Satan. We cannot stand against him in our own strength, but Jesus has already defeated him. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James tells us in James 4:7 (cf. I Peter 5:9). How do we resist him? We stand and we fight in the power of the Lord and in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff.). Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, and he tells us repeatedly to stand. Do not give up and do not surrender. Stand and resist the onslaught of Satan, and God promises that he will flee. God also promises that there is no unique temptation, and that with every one, he provides a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13).
Fifth, what about our weapons? Paul outlines them in Ephesians 6. Very briefly, our armament includes:
1. Truth- we fight the lies of Satan with the truth of God. Jesus used the Word of God, memorized, as a weapon to fight Satan and defeat him in the wilderness temptation. God is truth, and his Word is truth. His promises made to us are true.
2. Righteousness- we are righteous in God’s sight (and his sight is all that matters) because of the righteousness given to us by Jesus. Who can place any blame on us?
3. The preparation of the gospel of peace- I think that this at least refers to the fact that we are to keep moving in gospel ministry and service to Jesus, stay in the game, and keep on showing up. Do not give up, retreat to your bedroom, pull the covers over your head, and cower. Keep going.
4. The shield of faith- we trust in Jesus alone to protect us from Satan’s arsenal; God is our refuge, and he protects us. We are safe.
5. The helmet of salvation covers our brain, the central nervous system of our being. If we think rightly about what God has promised, what Jesus has done for us, what the Holy Spirit is now doing for us, this salvation will cover us and protect us. The salvation of God protects our most vital organ.

The only offensive weapons Paul mentions in this passage are the are sword of the Spirit (the Word of God), and prayer. We must know the Bible, study it, think about it, and be saturated in it. We must take time to pray. Without these, we do not stand a chance against the schemes of the devil. We are either arrogant, ignorant, apathetic, lazy, or just plain stupid if we do not spend time with God in Bible reading and prayer. This is survival. It is not so we can impress our friends, ourselves, or God with our personal devotions.

Light is a weapon, as well. I have discovered that admitting my sins, confessing my weaknesses, and exposing my experiences to the light of God and to others weakens the attack of the devil. He is of darkness, and cannot abide the light. I have found that when I have been under savage satanic attack, as I planned to tell someone of my struggles, even before I actually told them, I had unusual peace and relief from attack. And the actual telling has brought even greater relief. We must be so desperate for help that we do not care who knows we are sinking. Bringing our whole experience into the open light of the God who loves us, of the truth of Scripture, of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and into the confidence of people who love us will help defeat Satan, and will bring healing to us. Transparency and openness must mark our dealings with each other in the church of Christ. We are called to walk in community with other believers, and this open sharing of our lives with them helps defeat the power of Satan. If Satan can keep us isolated from others, or convinces us that we must keep our inner failures or struggles as secrets, he will have the upper hand. Exposing things to the light of God also exposes what is real, because everything false melts away and disappears when God’s light shines on it. God’s light destroys the lies, deceptions, and deceit of Satan.
( Ephesians 5:13 “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.”)

Finally, we must follow the example of the believers in Revelation12:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:10)
“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.”
(Revelation 12:11)

I have loved verse 11 for many years, ever since some German missionaries we met in Haiti, Johannes and Luise Schurer, pointed it out to me. This verse tells how these believers overcame Satan, the accuser. They defeated him by the blood of Jesus; the blood of the Lamb utterly destroys the weapons and work of Satan. Why? First, because in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, we are washed, cleansed, forgiven, and declared righteous. Satan cannot legitimately accuse us of anything. Second, the blood of Jesus is the symbol and reality of the permanent defeat of Satan, and all the forces of hell know it. Third, the blood of Jesus is a symbol and proof of the love Jesus for us, and of his infinite commitment to us. And, fourth, the blood of Jesus protects us from the rage of Satan against us. We have a safe refuge where nothing can ever really, ultimately harm us as we are in the precious blood of Christ. I have often prayed, “dear Jesus, cover me with your blood.”

The believers also overcame Satan by the word of their testimony. I think this means that they continued to proclaim, out loud, audibly, their hope in God; their hope was based on his promises to deliver, his goodness and faithfulness to always perform what he has promised, and his infinite power to actuate his promises. For me, this means that I must, at all times, but especially when I am under satanic attack, verbally speak forth the goodness of God and his salvation, so that all (God, angels, demons, and fellow believers) can hear, . This means public worship as well, participating in worship and singing hymns and songs of praise to Jesus Christ. I might not feel like it every time, but to force my body and lips to praise God even then is honoring to God, and a defeat for the devil. I must sing and say what is true, out loud, no matter what.

These believers also did not love their lives, even if it meant losing their lives. They had courage, and were not afraid of risk, danger, and self-sacrifice. This kind of courage comes from hoping in God, from the joy that he gives, and from the love we have for him. Satan cannot stand against a foe who has counted the cost, and is willing to die for Jesus.

Satan will run from the power of God, and that power is accessed through the Word of God and prayer, and shown at its greatest in the blood of Jesus Christ. Satan cannot endure this power. He cannot endure the Light of the World.
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Satan is a spitting cobra, eager to blind and kill us. He will attack us. And he may hurt us. But, ultimately, he can never really harm us. We may arrive in heaven beaten, bruised, and bloodied from our battles with the devil and evil, and we may barely be able to crawl into glory because we are so wounded. But, we will get there, because God has promised that in Jesus, we are safe forever. We will arrive in heaven safely because we are united to Jesus, who has the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16). If Jesus is indestructible, and his followers are united to him, then we can be destroyed no more than Jesus can be destroyed. We are indestructible. Do not fear Satan or his attacks; he is a defeated foe. Jesus is the victor, and he will reign forever. He is in control, and he knows exactly what is happening to us, limiting the ability of Satan to harm us. Our Sovereign God is actively directing all things for his glory and our good. And, Jesus has promised to take us to heaven, to be with him, the most beautiful and pleasant person in the universe, forever.

…. I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
(2 Timothy 4:17, 18)

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Copyright 2010 Jerry Miller, Jr. All rights reserved.

The Worth of the Human Soul

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Jesus (John 7:24)

What is a person worth? What is the value of the human soul? How important is a single soul? How much should we trouble ourselves for a person in need? Who has the right to decide the relative value of one life over another? On what basis do we make these decisions?

The Road to Death and Hell

Answers to these questions are essential and necessary if we are to treat humans properly. In one form or another, in large and small ways, these questions are being asked in our society today. And the answers inform our actions. At one extreme, some people would say that humans are simply accidents of millions of years of random chance, and that time on earth is our span of life: we are born, we live, and we die. That’s it. There is no real objective meaning, there is no final consummation, there is no human eternity. All is random, and thus, all is meaningless. Life, in this view, is a short stay on earth where one must reap all the pleasure and comfort he can during the few years he has. And, in this view, the approach to decisions about other people becomes very short-sighted, pragmatic and subjective. Utilitarianism and functionalism rule, and individual persons are not really significant (unless that person happens to be one’s self!). Convenience is key. No one is really ultimately important, but subjective thinking allows for a differential scale of value, and by that scale, some are viewed as more significant than others. The powerful trump the weak, the wealthy rule the poor, and the intelligentsia lord it over the simple. People are assigned their relative value based on their assessed worth to the strong, the wealthy, and the self-proclaimed wise. The results are predictable.

If the individual person is not of value except as assigned by certain powerful groups, then anything can happen. The eugenics movement of the 1900’s brought us Hitler and his extermination of Jews and others who did not fit his criteria for the super race. The same movement, from another branch, brought us Planned Parenthood, with its evil racist foundations and continuing advocacy of abortion. In our day, the issue of abortion of unborn babies is a prime example of the devaluing of life by many. (In the US, since 1973, there have been almost 50 million aborted babies- 50 million!! The number is almost unimaginable.) Some are even saying that a child does not achieve true personhood, or is not fully human as others are, until a certain age, maybe two to five years old. Here, as in Hitler’s day, a single human soul is seen as unimportant, or less important than others, in certain specific cases. In contrast, Scripture clearly teaches us that from conception, an embryo is human, a person with a soul. It is ironic that some advocate late-term abortions at gestational ages at which, if these babies were born prematurely, they would be heroically saved (usually) at immense expense and effort. This thinking is schizophrenic, at best. And to think that a little child is not of equal value to any other human is almost unimaginable.

Otherwise serious and intelligent people advocate physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia (both euphemisms for murder) as if they were credible and logical positions to take. And, they are, if all we have is individuals who are here by chance with no externally given value, and nothing on which to make to decisions except the subjective, pragmatic opinions of the day. So, where do we draw the line? If one says that an unborn baby and a sick, old man can each be killed, how about those children who are developmentally delayed (think Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy) and will never contribute to society, but will drain its resources? What about those who are chronically ill? How about the weak, the poor, the below average student? How about those who believe differently from the majority? Those that are racially or culturally different? What if it is just plain inconvenient to have someone or some group around? It may seem far-fetched, but if we take the position that the powerful can kill the weak, using only subjective and pragmatic thinking, the foundation will shift ever downward, becoming less solid and more fluid, and the killing will include more and more. And, people will say it is good for society, for the greater good. It happened in Hitler’s Germany.

The Almost Infinite Value, Depth, and Vastness of the Human Soul

How would we answer the questions about the value of a human soul if we look at God’s perspective on life? The answers and conclusions should guide our actions. All we need to know is God’s mind on the subject, and then we will have an external, objective, consistent basis for making decisions, for viewing people, and for properly treating other people in large ways and small. God has given us his views in the Bible, his Holy Word, so we know clearly how he thinks. In the Bible, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, he has revealed all we need to know.

1. God created humans in his image.

And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (soul). (Genesis 2:7)

Humans are living souls created in the image of God. He gives us life, and he had made us to live forever into eternity. He gives us the ability to think, plan and communicate. He endows each human with the capacities to give and receive love, to enjoy God and others, and to create. God has given each human dignity and eternity, and we are qualitatively much different from any other organism in God’s creation.

Because we are not mere accidents in time and space, but are specially created as living souls in God’s image, each person is of great value. The human is God’s greatest creation. Each of us is made a “a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2: 7). There is no such thing as an ordinary, insignificant, unimportant, uninteresting, expendable person.

… the LORD … stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him…(Zechariah 12:1)

2. The soul of a person is vast.

… the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep (unsearchable). (Psalm 64:6)

Each human soul is a vast, deep, unsearchable region. “There are few things in the universe as vast as the human soul,” says Ray Ortlund Jr. We are often surprised at the creativity, the inner strength, the adaptability, the perseverance, and the self-sacrificing love we see from people. God gives us a near-infinite capacity to know him, the infinite God of all eternity. We are often amazed that we cannot plumb the depths of another person’s inner being. And, we are often unable to understand even ourselves, including the depth of our sin. “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jeremiah 17:9)

3. Each human soul is of almost infinite value.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36, 37)

Jesus here asks two rhetorical questions. It is obvious to all of us that no one would want to forfeit his soul (equivalent to going to hell and being separated from God forever) for all the riches, property, power, in sum, the entirety of the whole world. Jesus asks us to make a value judgment. What is worth more, a human soul, or the whole world? The answer is self-evident: the soul. What can possibly ransom a human soul, what can one give to buy back his own soul? The answer is plain and stark: I have nothing, even if I could give the whole world, that I can give that equals the worth of my own soul.

No man can by any means redeem his brother, Or give to God a ransom for him–
For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever–
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for he will receive me. (Psalm 49:7,8, 15)

What can possibly ransom my soul, what can be given in exchange for my soul? I cannot redeem or ransom another, or myself. Even the whole world will not do the job. And, if the whole world is not at least an even exchange, what is of greater value than my soul, and can redeem it? Only one thing, or I should say, one person. The answer is found in Mark 10:45 where Jesus says,

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

The human soul is of such value that, in order for even one of them to be ransomed, the payment required the death of the Son of God. Jesus came to die for our sins, the perfect Son of God offering his life in exchange for ours, willingly being slaughtered on the cross to take away the sins of those who will receive his redeeming gift. The blood of Jesus Christ is the only thing in the universe capable of buying a single human soul. The blood of Jesus Christ is more than sufficient to cover the sins of each human soul who receives his offer of ransom, redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. His love and grace exceed the cost of our redemption. And since his blood is of infinite value, and only God is infinite, the individual soul Jesus died for is of almost infinite value

4. The human soul is far too great to be satisfied with anything less than God himself.

All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite (soul) is not satisfied.(Ecclesiastes 6:7)

Our own experience teaches us the seemingly sad truth that all the world will never satisfy us. We may receive a temporary and superficial satisfaction from wealth or things, from power and ambition fulfilled, from recognition and prestige. How many of us try to fill our lives with meaning from careers, family, friends, success, sports, busyness? They never ultimately satisfy us. We even often mistake as means of ultimate fulfillment the many good things God has given us when these are simply loving tokens from the loving God, gifts given to us to whisper to us that God loves us. Yet, behind the gifts is the Giver, the Reality. So whether we attempt to find our ultimate satisfaction in good things or evil things, we still miss being fulfilled, and find ourselves empty. Why is this? It is because God alone can fill us and satisfy us. He alone is able to give us deep, inner satisfaction, peace and joy.

The truth is that we can never be satisfied with anything less than God himself. If God created us in his image, and our souls are almost infinitely vast and deep and valuable, it stands to reason that our souls need far more than the good gifts of God in this created world, or than things we selfishly grasp for ourselves to fill our deep need for joy. We need God in our souls. We were created for him, and to know him. We were never meant to be filled with anything but him, and nothing else can do it. We were made to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

They were hungry and thirsty; Their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. (Psalm 107:5,6)
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good. (Psalm 107:9)

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:1,2)
Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and he will have compassion on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.(Isaiah 55:6,7)

I cannot improve on God’s Word. Only God can satisfy the human soul, and he freely offers himself to us in a relationship that will fill what cannot be filled with anyone or anything else. He is near. All we can do is call upon him for Jesus’ sake and ask for him to fill us. When we do, he never rejects us, he never despises or mocks us, and never sends us away empty.

5. Even a single human soul is worth a lot of trouble.

Jesus came to earth to free human souls. He came to free us from our sins, our guilt, our slavery, our misery, our deadness. He had to die for us to accomplish his mission. To greatly understate the fact, he went to a lot of trouble to free us, coming down from heaven, taking on himself humanity, living with us, and then dying for us. And even one soul is important to him.

Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee in Mark 4 “to the other side.” The disciples probably think to themselves, “Oh, boy, another great adventure!” After a horrific storm, they wind up in in country of the Gerasenes where they immediately meet a man who is demon-possessed, who lives among the tombs, who is fearsome to all his neighbors, and who himself is in constant misery, torment, and the bondage of self-destruction (Mark 5). Jesus heals this man and frees him from his demons. And then, to our surprise, Jesus turns around and goes back across the lake to his hometown. To our way of thinking, this does not make any sense. Let’s get this straight: Jesus crosses the lake, he encounters a storm that scares his disciples out of their minds, he rescues one man from slavery to the devil, and then he goes home. No one else was saved. It doesn’t sound like a very successful evangelistic campaign, does it? Yet, Jesus saw the near-infinite value of one soul, and he went to that soul, freed him, and considered his mission accomplished. That man’s salvation was what Jesus had planned to accomplish, and that was enough to cause him to hazard the storm, to go to that man, and spend his time and energy on his behalf. The salvation of one soul was a success in the eyes of Jesus. Our thinking is so far from that of our Lord’s.

Finally, consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke 15 where he tells the parables of the lost sheep the lost coin. The emphasis is on the value of the single animal or coin, and Jesus concludes in verse 10 that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

One soul matters to God, and should matter to us. One soul is worth a lot of trouble.
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The human soul, even one human soul, is vast, deep, humanly immeasurable and unsearchable, and almost infinite in worth. There are no unimportant people. There are no insignificant people. God’s Son, Jesus, died for human souls, and he gave us his life in exchange for ours.

How does this alter our thinking and actions?

1. We must think of people as God does, each one being of great value, and even one being worth all we can do to give them the gospel. We must be willing to suffer, and actually suffer, if we are going to give the gospel to people. It will cost us something, but they are worth it because Jesus Christ is worth it.

2. No human soul can ever be satisfied with anything or anyone but God himself, and he gives himself to us through Jesus. We are fools if we believe we can ever be fulfilled by anything else, no matter how good or innocent it may seem. We must every day seek God alone, and call out to him to be our joy and satisfaction. We must help others see their need for him as the only source of full and eternal joy.

3. Followers of Christ must be in the vanguard of those who speak up for and defend the rights of the weak, the helpless, the poor, the crushed, the sick, the disenfranchised, and the hopeless. Every human soul deserves life, freedom, peace, and joy. There are many more specific areas, but to mention only two, abortion and physician-assisted suicide are blights on our nation. These concepts have become sanitized and legitimized only as we have turned from God and his objective Word. If we continue to turn from him, our nation could experience the same horrors as Germany. It is bad enough already. Jesus came to give life, not death. Cultural attitudes about death and life are the markers for the direction our culture is taking.

4. Be amazed at the vastness of your own soul and of those of others. Explore, with the Holy Spirit as your guide, your own soul. Cultivate the greatness God has given you. Give great honor to others. Treat other human beings in a manner worthy of the dignity God has given them, offering grace, mercy, love, patience, and kindness in our dealings with others. It is often easy to say we love the worth of the human soul when those souls are “out there” in our thinking, outside our day to day experience; but, in our routine relationships with friends, family, and others, we show them little of the honor they deserve as human souls created in God’s image, often damaging their souls rather than offering them a taste of the gospel of Jesus in our actions and words.

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“There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky. There is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul.”
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
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Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2009. All rights reserved.

The Master Diagnostician

“…God…knows the heart…” Acts 15:8

As a young medical student, I was often amazed by physicians who were able to come to a diagnosis with apparent ease. They asked the right questions of a patient, performed a thorough and expert physical examination, ordered focused and targeted lab work, and applied critical thinking skills undergirded by innate intelligence and honed by years of experience. These physicians could get to the bottom of a patient’s problem in a way I could not. They could get to the essential core of the matter quickly and efficiently. They knew what was wrong with their patients and could then proceed to the required treatment. They were excellent diagnosticians in that they considered their patients’ symptoms and signs, and then were able to know the true condition of their patients. It is obvious that without the correct diagnosis, the patient will likely receive the wrong treatment. Also, even with the correct diagnosis, if the proper treatment is not initiated, the diagnostic work-up is futile.

Luke, a physician of his day, wrote the books of Luke and Acts in the New Testament. I love reading these books because it is obvious that Luke is a physician. He is observant, precise in his language, painstakingly descriptive, and often uses medical terminology. In Acts 1:24 and Acts 15:8 he depicts God as the one who knows the heart. He uses the Greek word kardiagnostes in these verses, and the full implication of the term is easy to see. Luke tells us that God is the great heart-knower, the great diagnostician of the hearts of humans. God knows the diagnosis of our hearts, the condition and status of our inmost beings. He knows who we are and what we are. He knows us better than we know ourselves and, therefore, he knows what each of us needs.

God knows that each of us has a sinful heart, that we tend to do evil and rebel against him. He knows that we have broken, wounded, and hurting hearts from the disappointments and traumas of life. He knows we have sick hearts. He knows if we are hardened and he knows if we have no heart to keep on living. He knows if our hearts are empty or bitter. He knows if we have little or no heart for him. He knows the shame and guilt we hide deep in our hearts from others. Yet, here is an amazing thing: he knows us fully and deeply, yet loves us anyway. God does not hate us or despise us, and he does not reject us. He accepts us in Jesus.

God is God and therefore knows all. He is the diagnostician of your heart condition and mine. He has the cure. God looks at us and makes the diagnosis, then offers the cure. He loves us even though he knows we have sick hearts. He promises to heal our hearts and give us new hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27). What God is doing, in essence, is making the diagnosis and offering the cure, a radical cure through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to give us new hearts, new inner beings. He gives a heart that is new, free from disease, and full of joy and goodness. He gives a heart that is free of guilt, a heart that desires to good and that is able to do it. He can heal our hurts and our disappointments because he is the Son of God, risen from the dead, alive forevermore, and he loves people like you and me who have diseased hearts.

God knows our hearts better than we do. We have very limited self-awareness. Yet, we each have at least a nagging doubt that there must be more to life than we are experiencing, and that even though we are no different from anyone else, the condition of our hearts is not normal, maybe average, but not normal. Something is wrong. God knows the problem, and he knows the cure which he offers to you and me for free in Jesus.

There is no safer place in the universe than to be in the hands of God, the Master Diagnostician, who knows us completely, loves us, and offers the cure for our sick hearts.
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See “The Ultimate Solution” to discover how to receive God’s cure.
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Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. All rights reserved.

Faith

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

A baby was born to a young couple. In many ways, he was like any other baby, and the parents like any other new parents. He had been eagerly anticipated, he was already well-loved, and he had a name. His parents were excited about the new addition to their family, and now that he was here, they could hardly contain their joy. They had plans and dreams for their son. However, he was born prematurely, and had serious congenital anomalies that were life-threatening. His parents loved their newborn son. He was very sick, but he was beautiful to his mother and father. He was beautiful to his doctors and nurses. His parents prayed for him, and they asked everyone they knew to pray for him. He died when he was almost 48 hours old. The parents were cruelly and incorrectly told that he had died because they did not have enough faith. They concluded from this twisted, perverse misinformation that it was their fault that their son was dead.

Fairy tales and popular stories teach us that if we believe something hard enough, it will come true. Really?

We hear often, in our postmodern culture, that he or she is a “person of faith.” What do we mean when we say that?

It used to be common in the 1960’s and 70’s for very cool and very hip baby boomers to say, “keep the faith!” What did they mean, and did it have anything to do with Biblical faith?

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So, what is faith? Why is it important, or does it really matter? How much faith do we really need? Do we get all we want if we have enough faith? Does it matter if we have faith in anything or anyone in particular, or is the faith itself, however nebulous, enough? Do we control our destinies by having enough faith, and do we make God our personal servant, obligated to give us our desires, no matter what?

God is very clear in his Word, the Bible, about faith and why it is important.

Little Faith

In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds 5000 men (and additional wives and children) from five loaves of bread and two fish. This was a supernatural work of Jesus, the Son of God. There is no intellectually honest and satisfying explanation for this feat other than that it actually happened. . Matthew’s account is clear and measured; in fact, it is almost “ho-hum” in stating the facts as they occurred. It happened.

Next, Jesus sends his friends, the disciples, ahead of him while he prays. He meets them next in the middle of the sea, they in their boat, and he walking on water.

(Matthew 14:25) And in the fourth watch of the night He(Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea.
(26) And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
(27) But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
(28) And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
(29) And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
(30) But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
(31) And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
(32) And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
(33) And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”

The disciples are scared out of their minds as they see this “ghost” walking toward them in the middle of rough seas. Jesus tells them to have courage, and not to be afraid. Why? Because the real presence of Jesus should dispel any fear. Peter, as impetuous as we expect him to be, says that if this person is really Jesus, to command that he also walk on the water. Jesus invites him, no, commands him, and Peter obeys. He walks on the water toward Jesus, and does fine until he notices again how rough the seas and wind are. He stops looking to Jesus, takes his eyes off of him, and instead looks at the danger surrounding him. He realizes how precarious his situation is. He becomes afraid, and begins to sink, and with a last desperate cry says to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”

Does Peter’s fear cancel out his faith, making it impossible for Jesus to help him? He trusts in Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk, however far, on the stormy sea. (Peter does better than I would have done in his water walk.) His words and action prove that he has faith in Jesus because he obeys him. But, he becomes fearful, and as he goes down, he cries out for help. He now has only a faint glimmer of faith; it is only enough to cry out to the only one who can help and save him.

Notice Jesus’ response. If he were like us, he might have said, “too bad, Peter. Your faith wasn’t strong enough. You didn’t trust me, you became afraid, you doubted, and you looked at your surroundings instead of keeping your eyes (and hope) on me. I’m going to have to let you drown. Sorry about that.” Or, Jesus could have said to Peter, “have a little more faith, and I’ll save you. I know you’re bobbing up and down, and taking in some water, but if you only believe a little more, I’ll save you.” Or, he could have berated, belittled and scolded Peter for blowing it with his lack of trust, letting him suffer a little more while he reprimanded him, and then continuing to do so after he saved him. Our tendency is to think very dark thoughts about God; we are naturally suspicious of him, and we think he is like us. He is not. He is infinitely good.

Notice Jesus’ response. He saves Peter by taking hold of him with his hand, “immediately”. He then gently asks him a redemptive question, “why did you doubt?” and makes an assessment, that Peter has “little faith”. Peter’s little faith did not keep Jesus from rescuing (saving) him. And, Peter’s little faith was in the right object: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So what emerges here is that God’s threshold for recognizing our faith is very low; a cry for help to him is counted as faith. Repeatedly in the Bible, God tells to call upon him, to call to him for help. He invites us to ask him for help. He recognizes as faith our merely asking him for help, mercy, rescue, salvation, or deliverance. “Jesus, have mercy on me!” represents faith. Your faith or my faith may register barely +1 on the Faith-o-meter, but it is enough for God to recognize it. What is important is not the amount, intensity, strength, or sincerity of our faith. What matters is the object of our faith, in what or in whom we trust. Faith in faith, or in some nebulous, amorphous force will not get us anywhere, except maybe to make us feel better psychologically ( in Peter’s case, nebulous faith would have taken him straight to the bottom of the lake, but he would have felt good about himself). The object of our faith must be Jesus. That is the key. We trust in Jesus Christ, his infinite goodness, his promises, and his ability and willingness to keep every one of his promises.

God, are you good, and do you care about me?

Little faith is not our goal, but it is better than no faith. God sees and recognizes our little faith, and he will rescue us, but little faith is damaging to us. Little faith robs us of peace, makes us anxious, and causes us to be timid cowards. Jesus says that little faith is evident when we are anxious instead of trusting God for all that we need (Matthew 6:25-30); we could have inner unworried peace and joy if we really trusted God to do as he says, and left our needs and problems with him. Instead of fear and cowardice, we could have courage in the midst of the storms of life. Jesus says his disciples are timid and of little faith when they fearfully come to him in the raging storm of Matthew 8:25-26 and ask him to save them. Jesus is relaxed and totally free of anxiety. He is so relaxed and unworried that he is sleeping! Jesus has complete trust and faith in God to protect him and his friends and must be awakened by his terrified disciples. In Mark’s account of the same scene (Mark 4:38), the disciples awaken Jesus with the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It seems that the root of faithlessness is a distrust of God, really thinking deep down that he does not care about us or what is happening to us. We do not really believe he is good.

Jesus also tells us that our littleness of faith in him robs us of power that we could have. A mustard seed is very tiny, but Jesus tells us that if our faith were even as much as a mustard seed, which by comparison dwarfs little faith, nothing would be impossible for us. ( In Matthew 17, his disciples ask him why they were not successful in casting out a demon; his answer, in verse 20 is, “… Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you”). Now, Jesus is not recommending that we spend our time moving mountains around. His point is that with more than little faith, even a little more, we could do anything God asks us to, anything consistent with his will and character. Little faith saps us of spiritual strength.

Why is faith important?

Why is it important for us to have faith in God? Or, why does the Bible tell us that without faith, it is impossible to please God? Let’s answer these questions with another question. What is the most important aspect of any healthy relationship, whether it be with a friend, a child, a spouse, or a parent? I think the most important thing in any interpersonal relationship is mutual trust. In my marriage, I trust my wife to be faithful, loyal, and good to me. I trust her to keep her promises to me. I trust her good intentions toward me. I trust her not to betray me. She trusts me in the same way. If we did not trust each other, we would have no marriage, or, at best, a severely dysfunctional and unsatisfying one.

We are in the ultimate relationship with God through Jesus. If we doubt him, if we can’t trust him or have faith in him, then we have a very damaged relationship. If we do not trust him, we are saying to God and to others that we really suspect his goodness, that we do not think well of his character, that we do not really think he is good, loving, kind, gracious, or trustworthy. Or, we are saying that God might be a nice God, but he really has no power to help us. This lack of trust itself damages our relationship with God, it dishonors him, and it cripples us. It also makes us miserable, for we could trust him, and have peace, freedom from worry, courage, and power to live.

Our faith in God, or lack of it, says loudly and clearly what we think of God, his character, and his power. It says whether we really think God is good.

What is faith?

What is faith in God? It is not some abstract concept which means whatever I want it to mean. It is believing God and his promises based on his character of goodness and love. It is trusting him, resting in him, wholly relying on him. Biblical faith means that we trust in nothing else and no one else to save us and deliver us in an ultimate sense. It is staking my very life and destiny on God; if God does not come through for me, then I am ruined. If he does not deliver me, save me, and rescue me, then I am lost forever in time and eternity, I am wasting my life and I am destroyed forever. If God does not help me, then I may as well blow my brains out, for there is no one and nothing else to help me.

The Greek word “pistis” is the word used for faith in the Bible. It means a full persuasion, conviction, and confidence (W.E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 401). Faith in God means that we are fully persuaded and convinced at the deepest level that what he tells us in his Word about himself, about us, and about life is true; we have total confidence in him and an absolute conviction. This total trust in Jesus inevitably results in loving him, following him, and obeying him. It radically alters and reorients our lives according to God’s priorities. This confidence allows us to see what is real in life as opposed to what is not real; by that I mean that by trusting in God, we can see unseen realities, things which are much more real and solid than what we see with our physical eyes. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:7 that “we walk by faith, not by sight (appearances).” He says in II Corinthians 4:18 that
“we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal (time bound, temporary),but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Faith in God allows us to accept his version of life: what it means, what is true, what is real, what works, what will make us happy, what our final destiny is, what we should be doing with our lives and how to order them, and how to joyfully accept pain and suffering. Things often are not as they appear, and our perception of things often is at odds with what God tells us is true.

Job trusted in God, and he was able to say with full confidence and persuasion:
(Job 13:15a) “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

(Job 23:8-10) “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Having faith in a loving, caring, all-powerful and all-knowing sovereign God allows us to suffer with patience and joy, knowing that he is in full control, and realizing that now, and in the end, we are safe. With God, nothing can harm us, not in an ultimate sense. Our faith in God does not eliminate suffering and pain from our lives, but we do know that our good God is with us. We are free to ask God for miracles of deliverance, and, we are invited to do so. But, God makes the decision about deliverance for us, as to when, how, or if it is to come. And, God does not punish us by not delivering us as a way of saying that our prayers are of too little faith. We trust our good and all-powerful God to do what is best for us.

Faith must have an object. To say “I have faith that it will all work out” is meaningless; to be a person of faith means nothing unless we are told in whom the faith rests. “Keep the faith” many years ago was a way to convey, “keep rebelling against the establishment”, and later became a cool way to say good-bye; it meant nothing of consequence. Biblical faith must rest in God alone.

Our faith in Jesus is the way we access his grace and goodness. Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us: “ For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Our salvation is all of God and his grace toward us. Faith is the instrument or means by which we take hold of this grace and salvation. As Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to say, faith is the lifting of empty hands to God in order to receive his gift or blessing. Our faith does not earn us salvation; it accesses it. Salvation is all of God, and even the faith that we have is a work of God in our hearts. Faith in God is itself a gift from God. We would never come to him at all if he did not move us to do so. So, we do not trust in our faith, but only in God and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Faith, as portrayed in the Bible, must be in Jesus Christ. He can be trusted. He has made promises to us, he demonstrated his love for us and good intentions for us by giving his life for us, and he has the power to deliver because he is God’s Son who showed his power over death by rising from the dead. We do not trust in some abstract idea, and we do not have faith in our faith, but in Jesus alone. His life, love, promises, and deeds are enough to base our entire lives upon.

Your faith and my faith in Jesus

John tells us in John 7:37:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”

The meaning here is one of continual coming to Jesus, everyday and at all times. This verse really says, “if anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me, and let him keep drinking.” Jesus invites us to come to him.

Jesus invites us again in Matthew 11:28-30:
“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 shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

Jesus invites us to come to him, to trust him, to have faith in him. Our very coming to Jesus and asking for help, mercy, and rescue is evidence of faith, possibly only little faith. Yet, faith in Jesus is enough because he is far more than enough. Never look at how much, how strong, how intense your faith is; you will despair every time. Never look at your degree of sincerity in coming to him; we can always be more sincere. Never look at how sorry you are for your sins and failures; we can never be sorry enough. Never look at whether your coming to Jesus is done in exactly the right way; we can never come to him perfectly. Never look at the storms raging about you and threatening to drown and destroy you; we will sink every time. Never look to yourself to examine whether you have received the salvation of Jesus correctly; we would break his gift of salvation as we received it if any part of it depended upon us.

Our part is to keep coming to Jesus in faith, trusting him alone for everything in this life and into eternity. We can safely trust him, for he cares about us. He will receive and save those who come to him; he will give peace, strength, and power to those who walk with him through life; he will heal us and make us well. He will satisfy our thirst and our hunger for what is real: he will satisfy us with himself. He will give us peace and rest for our souls, and as he does so, he will treat us with love, gentleness, and humility. He does not despise, mock, berate, or belittle us for our weak faith; his threshold for recognizing faith is astonishingly low. He remembers that we are only dust, and has compassion on us.

We can rest in the sovereign goodness of God; he is good at all times, and his decisions for our lives are always right. Trusting in our good God is always rewarded with God himself.
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Go to “The Ultimate Solution” to understand how to receive and know Jesus Christ.
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Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008.All rights reserved.

Hoping in God

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5

Hope. We need it to live. Hope gives us courage and purpose to go on. With hope, we look forward with anticipation to some future event, and we are motivated and encouraged to keep going. Think about how you feel when you have something good to look forward to. How do you feel just before Thanksgiving or Christmas? How did you feel before you got married? How about the coming birth of a baby, or an eagerly anticipated event in your life like a job promotion or graduation from school? All of these things give us hope because we expect something good in the future. And because of that expectation, we are motivated to go on to fully experience the good thing we hope for. Hope fills us with endurance, perseverance, courage, and strength to keep going.

Hopelessness, on the other hand, has just the opposite effects. It saps us of courage and motivation; without hope, there is no point in going on. Do you ever feel hopeless? Have you ever thought about what life would be like to have no hope? Hopelessness leads to discouragement, which can lead to depression, which can lead to despair; at this point, life does not seem worth living.

God knows how we work, and exactly what we need. He should: he made us and knows us intimately. God is gracious to us. He is much better than we think he is, he is much better to us than he needs to be, and he loves us far more than we can imagine. And, God knows that humans need hope to keep living. He makes great promises to us in the Bible, and he backs these promises up with his character. He is both able and willing to deliver on the promises, and he obligates himself to us, even though we deserve nothing good from God. Even better, he goes to great lengths to tell us about his promises and to convince us that he means everything he says. What greater encouragement could we humans have, than to know that the God who created all things is good, loves us, intends good for us, and makes great unbreakable promises to us? God’s promises to us give us a double benefit: they motivate us now as we look forward to their future fulfillment, and the fulfillment of the promises gives us joy once the promises become solid, present reality. God is good to us.

Now, God is not like you and me. If he were, he would not bother to save us from our sins and from judgment as he has done in Jesus Christ. If he were like us, he would not reveal his good intentions toward us by making us promises, and in fact would likely make it hard to know his intentions; if he were human, he might want to keep us guessing and off-balance so he could control or manipulate us. He would not keep his word, and would not really care to convince us of his goodness. But, God is not like us. He goes to great lengths to reveal himself to us, to reveal his plans to us, to reassure us of his good purposes for us, and to keep without fail every promise to us.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,
in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.(Hebrews 6:17-20)

God does not want us to miss his promises to us. God accommodates himself to us and our needs; he adapts himself to us. His goal is to convince us of his love for us and to give us certainty about him. He goes to a lot of trouble to make it clear that his intentions toward us are only good and loving, and he gives us his promises in such a way that they must be fulfilled. God cannot lie; he is Ultimate Truth, and he is truthful. Yet, he not only promises us things, but goes on to back these promises up with an oath. He voluntarily doubly obligates himself to us so that we might have strong encouragement as we cling to the hope he gives us. We are pictured in these verses as being desperate, as we flee to Jesus Christ alone as our only hope. This hope anchors our souls to heaven, as if we had a tether attached to our hearts on one end, with the other end attached to God himself.

There are two important questions to be asked. First, is God able to deliver on his promises? This is likely the easiest question to answer. If there is a God, and I am certain that there is, he is by definition infinite and eternal. The God of the Bible is the only God, and he is able to do whatever he pleases now and into eternity. He is unlimited in power, wisdom, and knowledge. Nothing and nobody can keep him from accomplishing his purposes; neither all the powers of hell, nor the strength of evil people, nor our own personal weakness and sin can possibly pose a barrier to God’s ability to carry out his promises and purposes. Nothing can thwart God.

The second question is just as important: can God be trusted? This is really a question of what we think God is like. What is his character? What is God, really, at the core of his being? What is his essence? The following exchange in Exodus between Moses and God is enlightening.

(Exodus 33:18-23 ) Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.
( 34:6,7) Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Moses asks to see God’s glory. We might expect for God to then reveal himself in infinite, unapproachable light and holiness. Or, we might expect God to show himself as all-powerful, doing something like exploding a nearby mountain or immediately causing a tornado. Or, we might expect God to demonstrate to Moses how he created the universe and sustains it moment by moment. But, we are surprised at God’s answer. God says, “I will show you my goodness” (33:18). God equates his glory with his goodness. God’s glory, God’s essence, God’s core personality, is his infinite goodness.* More than any of his other attributes, God wants us to understand that he is good. He shows Moses his glorious goodness in chapter 34 where he proclaims his goodness in more expansive terms: he is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth. God’s glory is his goodness. We can trust God’s character because he is infinitely and eternally good.

Psalm 103:8-14 expands on this theme of God’s goodness.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.

God is full of compassion, lovingkindness and grace; he is slow to anger; he forgives and removes our sins. He understands us in all of our weakness, just as we understand and have compassion on our own children. God is thoughtful and faithful. He is understanding. Our natural inclination is to misunderstand God, to think he is like us, and to distrust him. But, God is not like us, and we can trust him. He is not petty, not touchy, and not easily provoked. He is not harsh and he is not impossible to please. He is not irritable and he is not unapproachable. He is infinitely good. We can trust God’s character, for he is good.

God’s goodness is not some abstract concept. He demonstrated his goodness to us by sending Jesus to be our Savior. And, Jesus provides all that we need for salvation from sin, from ourselves, and from hell.

(Romans 5:8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 8:32) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Jesus is God’s Son, and he is God’s concrete demonstration of his goodness towards us. How can we doubt God’s love, goodness, and character? If God promises something, he is able to fulfill the promise, and he will fulfill the promise.

We should read the Bible through the “lens of promise”.** God has made us a multitude of promises in His Word, the Bible, and gives them to us through Jesus Our Lord. They are given to us, and God will deliver on them. They are for our encouragement and strengthening. They will help us press on. They give us hope. And God has gone out of his way to make them, to assure us of their certain fulfillment, and to make us aware of them. His promises are on almost every page of the Bible. All we need to do is read them, and thank God for them, believing they are for us through Jesus.

Here are a few verses that describe God’s promises to us, or are actual promises God makes to us.

(2 Corinthians 1:18-20) But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.
For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us– by me and Silvanus and Timothy– was not yes and no, but is yes in Him.
For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

(2 Peter 1:2-4) Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

(Hebrews 13:5,6 ) Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”
so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT SHALL MAN DO TO ME?”

(Deuteronomy 31:6,8) “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
“And the LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed.”

(Psalm 50:15) And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”

(Psalm 55:22) Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

(Psalm 91:15,16) “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him.
With a long life I will satisfy him, And let him behold My salvation.”

(Isaiah 40:28-31) Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait (hope) for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

(Isaiah 43:1-5) But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.
“For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.
“Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west.

(Isaiah 48:17) Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go.

We need hope to live, not just hope in relatively trivial events that we look forward to somewhere out in the future, or some general hope that tells us to stay positive and to keep hoping (in what?), but hope in God himself and the real and solid things that God has promised to us through Jesus. Hoping in God is not wishful thinking, it is not mere positive thinking, and it is not hoping in hope. It is confidently expecting God to be with us and to act on our behalf because, through Jesus, he has promised us these things. God gives us his promises, he binds himself by an oath to fulfill them, he makes certain that we are aware of the promises, and he undergirds it all with his character which is, in its very essence, good. God’s glory is his goodness. Hoping in a good and loving God is the only cure for despair, and the only thing that can give our lives meaning and joy. Hoping in God enables us to press on until we arrive safely in heaven.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5

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* I had never seen this concept from this passage until I heard our pastor, Dr. George W. Robertson, refer to it in a sermon.
** Dr. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.
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To discover the only way to experience the hope discussed in this article, please see “The Ultimate Solution.”
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Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.

Love

“Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13

Sonny didn’t look much like a hero. He looked pretty much like a typical, middle-aged guy who had a great smile. But, we all know what a real hero is supposed to look like: just turn on your TV or go to a movie and you’ll have no doubt what a real hero is.

Sonny loved his wife and children. He worked hard for them to provide for them. He nurtured them and protected them. He was in love with them.

And, after I talked on the phone with his widow, I could not speak.

Sonny had been at home when the gunman came in. The gunman brandished his sawed-off shotgun and threatened to kill Sonny’s family, but Sonny wouldn’t allow it. He put himself between his family and the man with the gun. He stalled for time, and finally said, “if you’re going to kill someone, go ahead and kill me.” His family had time to escape out of the back of the house as the killer raised his gun to Sonny’s chest and squeezed the trigger. Sonny crumpled in a pool of blood. He was dead.

Sonny loved his wife and children.
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What is love? We have a lot of misconceived, distorted, and perverted notions of love. Most of them are way off target. Our culture tells us that real love occurs in bed, and that it is all about sex. (Sex in marriage is a beautiful thing; human sexuality is a good gift from God, but it is not the essence of love.) We think that if we love someone, that person will love us. We use the word “love” often without meaning and without action. We use “love” as a weapon to inflict pain or exercise control; it is conditional. Love, we think, is something someone else does for us. Love becomes a selfish thing: it is all about me.

True love has its roots in the heart of God. If you want to know what love is and what it does, look at God and his display of love in the Bible. God is love, he is the source of love and he is the ultimate example of love After Jesus came, the idea of love was changed forever, and the ancient world had to coin a new term for this unimaginable love, the word “agape”. Agape love is used throughout the New Testament for the love of God and the love of his followers. The Bible demonstrates well the qualities of God’s love, which is true love, the measure of all love.

1. True love gives, and gives sacrificially. God’s love for us cost him the life of his Son, Jesus Christ, and for Jesus to show his love to us, he willingly gave his life for us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 )

2. True love demonstrates itself. It acts and doesn’t just talk. It is observable, obvious, and measurable. We see real love in action, and we know when we have seen it.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
“For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone
would dare even to die.”
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

3. True love uses words as well. God tells us that he loves us. He speaks kindly and gently to us. He wants to be absolutely sure we don’t have any doubt about his love. He wants us to be certain that he loves us, so he acts and he speaks clearly to us in his Word, the Bible, to explain his actions.

“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness (steadfast love).” (Jeremiah 31:3).

4. True love is not conditional. God loved us while we were sinners, enemies, and rebels; he loved us when we were helpless, needy, unlovable, and ugly. Real love doesn’t love because the one loved deserves it, has merited it, or is either lovely or lovable. We cannot make God love us more, and he will never love us less. The love of God is not used as a weapon of control, manipulation, or pain. God loves us without conditions. There is nothing in us to attract or require God’s love; in fact, the wonder of God’s love is that he loves us even though we, in our sins, are absolutely repulsive. We never merit his love, nor does he love us for the potential we think we have (see Romans 5:6-8 above.).

5. God’s love forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14)

Because Jesus died for our sins and took them and their punishment upon himself, God forgives us for our offenses against him. Our offenses are real, and much worse than we imagine; they are sins of actively transgressing God’s law, and sins of passively just simply not doing what we should have. They are external and internal sins. And, the worst of it is that we have offended God in a personal way and rejected his love. We have damaged our relationship with God beyond anything we can do to repair it.. But, God, for Jesus’ sake, forgives us and tells us so. He no longer holds these sins against us and, in Christ, we are free of our guilt and our guilty feelings . But, he goes far beyond that and makes us his children. Knowing that the God of the universe holds nothing against us is of infinite value. If God can forgive us, how can we withhold forgiveness from others who have offended or wounded us?

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

6. True love initiates and pursues the loved one. God does not wait for us to come up with a plan of self-salvation, or for us to be worthy of his love, or for us to get our acts together; he does not even wait for us to love him. We cannot save ourselves, we will never be worthy of his love, we are unable to reform ourselves, and we will not love God until he first loves us. He pursues us and moves toward us because he knows that we will never move toward him otherwise. And, all we can do is to receive his love as a free gift, which means believing God and his promises made to us. Jesus died to give us the free gift of salvation.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
“We love, because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)

7. True love is life-giving, not life-killing, smothering, stifling, or enslaving. God’s love gives us life, freedom, and joy that we can never experience otherwise. It opens life up for us. His love for us is never constricting.

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9)
Jesus, said, “… I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

8. True love is committed. God has committed himself to us, and has promised to never desert us, forsake us, or abandon us, no matter what. We can be secure in his love. He has already committed the life of his only Son, Jesus for our good and salvation. He will never back out on us.

“… for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU, “ (Hebrews 13:5)

9. God’s love is immeasurable and far beyond abundant. The best human mind cannot fully comprehend it, and no one can really express its vastness. He freely and liberally lavishes upon us his love, mercy, grace, and goodness.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

God is infinitely rich in every way, and he delights in giving these riches to his children. He gives us what we need to live here on earth, for he knows that we are human and he knows what we need to live physically. But, much more than that, he showers us with the riches of his love, mercy, grace, goodness, and kindness. He delights in giving himself to us in a deep Father-child relationship.

10. God’s love is eternal. God is eternal, and love will always be wherever God is. “Heaven is a world of love,” said Jonathan Edwards. And, nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35,36,39)
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Have you ever been loved by any human the way God loves you? Even the best human relationships reveal only a faint glimmer of the way God has loved you. It is hard for many to believe that there is, anywhere in the universe, a love like the love of God. Too many have been abused by those who supposedly love them, or have been abandoned and deserted by fathers, mothers, or spouses. Too many have been manipulated by those who say they love, when all they want is self-gratification or control. Too many have been choked emotionally by those who “love” them. Too many have been loved only under certain conditions, which, if unmet, have resulted in withdrawal of “love.” And, far too many have experienced the kind of love that talks well, but does not result in actions that prove real love. Finally, some have been loved, but have never had anyone tell them that they are loved. Humans have grossly perverted our “love” for each other. What passes for love is a sad statement about our condition, and the fact that we often accept it shows how desperate we are for real love.

Yet, God’s love is more than a theory, an ideal to strive for, or a model. His love is real, factual, and demonstrated. We can experience the love of God through knowing Jesus Christ.

“…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

The Holy Spirit of Christ tells us that the promises of God in the Bible are true and that the love of God for us is certain. We experience his love as he pours it out into our very innermost beings. We know God loves us, and we can’t miss it.

As we experience his love through the Holy Spirit, the love of God changes us. As we are filled with his love, we find we love others in ways we never thought possible. We take on the family traits of God, the family likeness, and we find we love from our hearts. We love both God and other humans, and our love looks to an increasing degree like the love of God described above. The quality of our love changes not by self-effort or self-discipline, but because the love of God has been poured out (or shed abroad) in our hearts, not in a miserly or stingy fashion, but with great liberality and generosity. Once we experience this love, we cannot stay the same. Secure in the love of God, we want to share it, and don’t fear the rejection of others or the sacrifice it may cost us. Our lives gradually take on the qualities of love befitting one loved by God.

So, when we are told to love one another (John 13:34), to lay down our lives as a demonstration of love (John 15:13), and to show others that we belong to Jesus by our love (John 13:35), we are not instructed to work ourselves into a state of love. When Paul tells husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), this does not occur as a result of grim duty or self-improvement. Love becomes a part of who we are as people who have been flooded with the love of God. And, it is a love that has the loved one’s best interests at heart. It is a love that sacrifices, that initiates, that gives, that is freeing, that is unconditional, and that pursues. It is a love that is committed for the long haul, and a love that forgives.

God is love. He is the definition of love, and he continues to show us what real love is in each generation. Our perverted, distorted, selfish, whittled-down versions of love are nothing like the love of God. Jesus came to give us love, life, and joy. Because of him, we can offer real love to others…… even if it means taking a bullet for them.

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If you desire to know the love of God and to be transformed by it, please see “The Ultimate Solution.”
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Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.

Transplantation

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

“Your son’s heart is failing. We’ve done all we can do with medication and palliative surgery. Unless he undergoes heart transplantation soon, he’ll die. He needs a new heart.”

These are shocking words, yet words that parents hear each day. How would you feel if your child’s cardiologist spoke these words to you? You would probably be filled with a mixture of fear, anxiety, and guarded hope. You would probably be stunned into silence. And, after the idea sank in, you would have many questions. Is it really necessary? Can we somehow do without it? Is it safe? Who is the surgeon? What is his track record; what kind of survival rate do his patients have? When will we do it? How is it done?

Two of my patients have undergone heart transplantations. They and their families have lived the experience of hearing “your son needs a new heart” and then waiting, praying, questioning, fearing, and hoping until the surgery took place.

God tells us in the Bible that we, all of us, have a sick and failing heart, and each of us, therefore, needs a new heart. God’s plan has always been for his people to be characterized by right actions and goodness, and for these to flow out of a heart given to us by God, a heart that loves him and is grateful to him. God is not interested in our feeble attempts at appearing good, moral, or religious to him, others, or ourselves. He is not impressed by external morality, rules- keeping, religious duty, or ethics, any of which can hide a heart of hypocrisy and sin. Instead, he offers to give us a new heart resulting in the desire and the ability to obey him and to do what is good and right. The process is much the same as the physical heart transplantation many patients have undergone. God, our physician, tells us we need a new heart, and then he proceeds to give us one if we ask him to.

1. A heart transplant is performed because a patient has a serious heart problem. A life threatening problem requires radical treatment. It is necessary. Otherwise, the patient will die. There is no other choice. It is do or die.

God is clear in the Bible that each of us has serious heart disease in the spiritual sense. In fact, it is so bad that anything short of a new heart, a heart transplant, will not do the job. He says the same thing in many ways: we need a new birth, we need a new heart, we need to be transformed. The point is, we need a new heart only he can give to us, or we will never experience the joy of knowing him, the life only he can give, the desire and ability to do what is right and good, and the relationship God gives us with him both now and into eternity. Without a new heart, we are assured that we will spend eternity without God in hell. Each one of us has a fatal heart problem, and we need a radical solution. This is not optional, and it is not simply cosmetic surgery.

2. A radical cure is necessary in certain instances. And, who would argue that a heart transplant is not a radical cure? In a patient with a failing heart, a heart with only a very limited ability to sustain life, reassurance, medication, placebo, or palliative surgery will never cure him. This patient needs the radical cure of a new heart.

God tells each of us that our spiritual heart disease demands the radical cure of a new heart. He does not falsely reassure us that we are OK as we are; he tells us the awful and ugly truth about ourselves: we are dead in our sins, radically corrupted and totally unable to help ourselves. He does not give us false hope by placing us on a regimen of self-improvement or sin-management. He does not medicate us by prescribing that we follow a set of religious duties so we will feel better about ourselves. He does not anesthetize us or hide from us the effects of our spiritual heart failure by deluding us about our true condition, or by making us forget how serious our condition is. No… he gives us the straight and honest truth about ourselves. Sin has so damaged our hearts that we are totally helpless and can do nothing to help ourselves. We need a radical cure: we need a spiritual heart transplantation. Only Jesus Christ can give us the new heart that each of us needs. That is why he came to earth and died for us: to give new hearts, new lives, new freedom, and new joy. If we did not require a radical cure, then why would Jesus have ever come to die for us?

3. A heart transplant is dangerous. Can you think of anything more frightening than to undergo general anesthesia, realizing that soon the surgeons will be cutting your heart out, placing you on a heart-lung machine, and then will be sewing a donor’s heart into your chest? Can you think of anything more dangerous? This operation is not like changing a memory chip in your camera. What thoughts would you have before such an operation? The big recurring thought would be: what if I don’t wake up? A heart transplant is not completely safe, and not everyone survives the surgery, much less the long term. You and your family would submit to the risks and dangers of the operation realizing that there was no other choice, trusting in the surgeon’s abilities, and above all, trusting in God.
In a spiritual sense, a heart transplant seems dangerous to us as well. Why? Because all that we normally trust in is revealed as useless. We do not have the control that we thought we had. We cannot help ourselves. And, we are completely in the hands of another. If this transplant fails, we die.

We cannot save ourselves. We cannot please God without the new heart he promises to give. All of our good deeds, religious acts, morals, duty, and honor come up short every time. (Romans 3:2124 …the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…) We can never be good enough on our own to earn God’s favor; that is why we often feel so frustrated and unfulfilled in our efforts at self-improvement, self-reformation, self-control, anger-management, etc .Each of us needs a new heart. Each of us must realize that we are not in control, and we must abandon our own efforts to help improve our standing in God’s sight. It is scary and seems dangerous to stop trusting in our own efforts. Yet, we have serious, deadly heart disease, and we have no choice but to accept a radical and seemingly dangerous cure

4. A heart transplant requires a skilled, expert, and experienced surgeon to perform the operation successfully; this is not a do-it-yourself operation. Anyone who undergoes heart transplantation needs a surgeon to do it for him; that much is obvious. The patient would want the best, most experienced, most skillful surgeon he could find. Any of us scheduled for a heart transplantation would carefully research the surgeon, his record, his reputation, his integrity, and his expertise. Trust in the surgeon must be full and implicit because in the most immediate sense, the surgeon holds the patient’s life in his hands, and in the most concrete sense, he holds his old and new hearts in his hands during the surgery. The patient gives up all control here, and must stop trusting in anything he can do. The patient submits to the surgeon. The patient brings one thing to the operating table: his old, failing, weak, sick heart.

In the same way, God, our heavenly surgeon, must perform this spiritual heart transplantation for us. He is infinitely expert at this procedure, he never loses a patient, and he is full of integrity. God promises to give us a new heart for the asking. We can add nothing to this operation; all we bring to the operating room is our sinful, weak, failing, sick hearts. We give up trusting in anything we can do. We must submit to our heavenly surgeon and trust him to give us a new heart: he never turns us away or rejects us as we come to him asking for healing. We trust God’s goodness, his promise, his integrity to deliver on his promise, and his power to do what he promises. Finally, we trust his success rate: it is 100%, even in poor candidates for heart transplantation such as you and me. This heart transplantation may seem extremely dangerous, but in reality, there is no risk at all.

5. A heart transplant requires the death of a donor and acceptance by the recipient. The provision of a new heart for any heart transplant patient requires a donor who has died. The donor must die before the heart can be harvested for the living patient. The donor, or his family, must be willing to give the heart to a recipient. Then, the patient and/or family must receive the donor’s gift. If the donor has not died, the transplantation will not occur. Likewise, if the patient refuses to accept and receive the donor’s heart, the operation never comes off, and the patient dies. The patient may refuse the donor’s heart for any number of reasons. Pride (“I don’t need anyone’s help or charity”), fear (“I’m afraid this won’t work, so I won’t take the risk”), lack of trust (“I don’t believe my doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis” or “I don’t trust his skills”), or self-delusion (“I’m really not as sick as they say, and I will do just fine if I ignore my problem”) all lead to the same ultimate result: death. The reason for refusing the remedy does not matter, because without the only possible cure, the patient dies.

In the same way, it was necessary for Jesus to die for our sins in order to provide for a new heart for you and me. There was no other way; if that were possible, an infinitely wise God would have had another solution. Jesus died to give us a new heart; this required his death.* And this solution to our failing hearts is not just a solution, or even the best solution, but the only solution. He offers us a new heart freely and willingly; he offers it now and without charge. There is no waiting list, and every one of us qualifies for this spiritual heart transplantation. The heart you and I need is there for the asking and taking. We pay him nothing, and we do not work off our debt to him. As with any heart recipient, we must accept the heart God promises us, not refusing to receive it because of pride, fear, lack of trust, or self-delusion. God offers the only possible remedy, and without it, we will die-separated forever from the presence, goodness, light, and joy of God.

So, if you are growing weaker and sicker because of your failing heart, go now to God through Jesus and ask him for a new heart, offering nothing to him but your sins and your sick heart. You and I have nothing else to offer. He promises to give you and me a new heart, replacing our cold, stony, sick, dead, sinful, failing hearts. He is able and willing to do this, for he is God, and the donor, Jesus, has paid the ultimate price. A new heart is given by God for the asking and receiving, a heart that is alive, that loves and enjoys God, that functions properly, that is full of love and joy, that desires to do right and is able to do so, and that is dependent upon God himself. You and I need radical surgery; we need a heart transplant. And, God is the only one who can cure us.
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*The analogy breaks down here. Jesus rose from the dead, was resurrected, and became alive again. He did not stay dead like a heart donor in the physical sense. It was necessary for him to become alive again to demonstrate that he was the Son of God, to validate all that he said about himself, and to use the same resurrection power in our lives to give us new hearts and eternal life. A dead Jesus staying dead would have been a dead and useless savior. His resurrection is key and central.
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See “The Ultimate Solution” to explore further how we can receive Jesus Christ into our lives.
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Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.