Tag Archives: Graham Maxwell

Looking Down on Deathbed Confessions

We think the wrong way about the thief on the cross, Pastor Mark Welch explained this weekend.

Someone He Could Trust Forever

You remember the story: as Jesus behaved in a gracious and forgiving way to people who were hurting and killing Him for no good reason, one thief being crucified beside Him had a change of heart. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” he requested. And Jesus promised He would.

Graham Maxwell wrote that maybe that thief thought that if this Man was going to have a Kingdom, he wanted to be there. He would be a great King! He’d be Someone you could trust.

Pastor Welch stated that we normally think of this thief as a “deathbed confession,” someone who sees death approaching and only decides to repent because of it. And we think it’s great that God is able to save someone like that, but we think it must take a special effort to do so and that we are better because we repented earlier in our lives, not on our deathbeds.

How I’m Like a Pharisee

But that’s similar to the attitude that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. A tax collector and a religious leader are both praying out loud in the temple. The religious leader loudly thanks God for not making him like this sinner standing beside him. But the tax collector just sinks to his knees and pleads with God to have mercy on him, because he knows how bad he is.

And maybe we’re like the Pharisee when we look down on deathbed confessions. The fact is that God uses just as much grace to save me as to save someone who confesses on her deathbed. We both required the infinite sacrifice of His Son.

I was an enemy of God when He saved me. Up to that moment, I had wasted my life just as much as everyone else — even a deathbed confession person. I had no chance to save myself.

Grace is never based on our good works, the Bible says, so that no one can boast. So repenting a little earlier than someone else can’t make me better than them.

The Greatest Need in the World

Finally, the person who thinks he has the least need for grace needs it most.

We all need God’s grace throughout our whole lives, every day. It’s the universal human desire. People all over the world want to be let off the hook, to be treated with mercy, with leniency. We want a judge at the moment of sentencing or a police officer standing at the window to take a deep breath and say, “You know what? You’re free to go, get out of here.”

Someone who knows they’re helpless and lost and humbly asks God for help makes Heaven ring with shouts of joy, no matter when they ask.

So don’t worry about when someone else repents or is born again. We’re all nothing without God. Instead, realize that all people, from the deathbed confession person to you, need grace every single day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

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Feeling Confident Reading the Bible (Part 1)

Imagine sitting down and reading the Bible for, say, a whole hour. Someone has asked you to study it and understand it and really get something out of it. How does that make you feel? If you rate your feeling on a scale of 1, reluctance, to 10, excitement, what is it?

I’m at a 4 sometimes, scared to read the Bible. Part of why reading the Bible doesn’t seem appealing is we don’t totally understand it and so are not confident that it’s worth spending time on.

Passion Comes After Learning

I heard an author, Cal Newport, last week explain that people who are really passionate about their jobs often get that way because of long experience in which they developed rare and valuable skills that they then enjoy exercising.

They didn’t start out with great passion — they weren’t good at their jobs at first — but they had just enough of a seed of interest that it could grow into great skill and then passion later.

Remember that point when you think about reading the Bible. Don’t expect to have great passion and amazing positive emotions right away. That takes time and growth in certain Bible-reading skills. But if you start with at least a small seed of interest, that can grow if you give it time.

It Takes Time To Learn

How much time? Well, some research says it takes 1,000 hours of practice to get pretty good at something. For example, if you work at a job for eight hours per day for six months, that gets you to 1,000 hours.

But in reading the Bible we might read for ten minutes per day. Getting to 1,000 hours could take years at that rate. So we need some special techniques to get better at understanding the Bible as soon as possible. And I’ll reveal some of those tricks a little later.

In the meantime, cut yourself some slack. It’s not realistic to expect to be a Bible expert if you’ve only read the Bible for a few hours total. But also remember that God is patient; in His grace, He gives us time to grow instead of expecting instant excitement and perfection.

Be Like Mike: Coaches Focus on What’s Most Important

Also, people have found that you can cut 1,000 hours down to 100 to 200 hours if you learn shortcuts — even to 20 hours, in some cases. The Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 Rule, says that 80% of results come from only 20% of the effort, from focusing on the best, most important parts of any skill and ignoring the rest.

How do you learn what to focus on? Well, you need coaches — people who have gone before you and done the trial-and-error work to find out what works and what doesn’t so you don’t have to. Even great sports stars still use coaches.

For you, coaches can be books, online Bible commentaries, pastors, Bible teachers, and YouTube sermons, as long as they are trustworthy: they need to express the ideas of the whole Bible, not just their pet part of it.

Two of my favorite authors of this type are C.S. Lewis and Graham Maxwell. Maxwell’s book Servants or Friends? is powerful; Lewis’ book Mere Christianity is another good one.

In the next post, I’ll reveal more of what I shared with the class last weekend when we discussed this lesson: some key ideas about how to understand the Bible much better that you can practice for just a few minutes per day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Two Poisons and an Antidote

Satan got two main lies into the mind of Eve in order to get sin into our lives. The only way to discredit a perfectly loving God is through lies. (This is a reaction to the February 3 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less06.html.)

When he told Eve that they would become like gods if they ate the forbidden fruit, he implied that God was withholding something good from them, which would mean God was unloving, God was not generous, God was untrustworthy.

Then he said that Eve wouldn’t die from eating the fruit, that being separated from God doesn’t really lead to death. He wanted us to think that being separated from God is preferable.

Why do I say “being separated from God”? My understanding is that sin is the condition of being separated from God. Here’s why. The Bible says that sin is “lawlessness,” a lack of law. Well, what is the Law? It’s love. And it says that God is love. So sin is lawlessness, which is a lack of love, which is a lack of God. So sin is separation from God.

We see this in the Garden: as soon as Adam and Eve broke their promise, they experienced separation. God walked around calling to them, instead of them running to Him as usual. They were separated from their own bodies by shame. They were separated from each other by blame. They were separated from their home. That’s the state of sin: separation.

Those two lies became real in Eve’s life when she took action on them, when she actually ate the fruit. She created distrust within herself – as Adam did soon after – by acting on the idea of not trusting God.

The distrust, fear, and blame against God in our minds is like a poison that Satan put there through these two lies, separating us from God – a separation that leads to death.

Now, what type of antidote could God give us to a mental poison? Jesus on the cross gave us a mental antidote: He showed that God is loving and generous and that sin really does cause death. Even while being tortured, He prayed for forgiveness for His tormentors, and that showed God’s amazing love. He went to the Cross unresistingly, “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), showing God’s generosity.

And Jesus didn’t die of the wounds He received but rather because of the separation from God the Father: as evidence that They were being separated, right before He died, Jesus cried out that God had left Him alone. Then, the soldiers saw that He was already dead far before someone would normally die from natural causes.

Satan wants us to think that God is unloving and that separating ourselves from Him is safe. That’s the poison. But Jesus gave an antidote that goes in through our eyes and ears by the power of the Spirit when we contemplate Him.

Graham Maxwell said in his book Servants or Friends? that only a best Friend will share an unpleasant truth with you. Well, God in Jesus used His own body to show us the truth of His love so that we don’t have to be separated anymore.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)