The man upstairs…

“The man upstairs was watching out for me…” You’ve likely heard people say this hundreds of times. Perhaps you have said it yourself. Last week when NFL quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a serious automobile accident, he said words to this effect: the man upstairs  was watching out for me.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what he meant or his frame of reference. In an interview, he indicated that he is “a religious person” and that he was spared from greater injury by “the man upstairs.” Reflecting back, my first reaction was somewhat pompous and self-righteous. I felt like I had to defend God’s reputation. It is certainly both inaccurate and disrespectful to refer the Almighty as “the man upstairs.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes well what God has revealed about himself in Scripture: God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, goodness, holiness, justice and truth. We humans have physical bodies and are temporal, limited, changeable and dependent! Surely, it’s an insult to God to be referred to as “the man upstairs.”

But on only one moment’s reflection, I recalled that there is a man upstairs, in heaven, who watches out for me. He does have a real physical body and is 100% human. There is someone who watches out for his people. His name is Jesus. And especially at this time of year, we reflect upon the wonder of his coming. Theologians refer to this as the incarnation – God becoming flesh to give his grace to those who don’t deserve it.

The first five centuries following the advent (coming) of Christ were marked by a seemingly endless series of errors regarding the person of Christ. There had been many attempts by church leaders and councils to clarify and crystallize the Bible’s teaching about his identity. Near the end of that time, there was a church council which met in the city of Chalcedon, where over 600 Greek bishops met, deliberated and proposed a creed. The result was more like a statement of what the church believed than an explanation of its doctrine. Since then, the church has recognized three precise statements called axioms summarizing the fundamental principles taught by the NT regarding the person of Christ.

Chalcedon’s Axioms (AD 451): Christ is God. Christ is man. Christ is one person. These axioms are like boundaries within which the church must work, when considering the person of Christ. In other words, a lot more could and should be said, but these facts must always be regarded as true and authoritative. Christ is God. Christ is man. Christ has two natures, but he is one person. To guard against further errors of understanding with regard to the relationship of these two natures to one another, they issued 4 famous negatives: without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.

There is at least one more historical understanding that will assist us in our inquiry. It yell less of a Chalcedon all that comes from the great Reformer, John Calvin. It is called the extra Calvinisticum.

extra Calvinisticum: Calvin’s explained the wonderful truth that the Word became man in this way. Even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of a man in one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning. (Calvin: Institutes 2.13.4) This affirmation has been called the extra because it recognizes that Christ remained infinitely more than what was seen as flesh. Ever since the Incarnation, there is still infinite deity beyond Christ’s human nature. The beyond is “extra” or outside, infinite.

Some of my favorite biblical phrases and teachings build on this theme: He who knew no sin became sin for us in order that in him we might become the righteousness of God… He himself for our sins in his body on the tree… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Appropriately and providentially Handle’s Halleluiah Chorus resounds in the background as I dictate. Enough said. I have given you much to ponder.

“I like your wheelchair. What can it do?”

Our conversation actually began a couple weeks ago, one Sunday morning. A smiling, bright – eyed boy greeted me after I entered the building and was being helped with my hat and coat. “… I like your wheelchair. What can it do?” So I showed him that by using my joystick and chin I could not only drive the chair but also elevate my feet, raise my whole body or recline. The technology fascinated him but it was time for the worship service to begin. He disappeared into the crowd.

The following Sunday morning, once again I was confronted by his glistening eyes and beaming smile. This time he mustered up a little more courage and inquired, “How long have you been in the wheelchair?” I responded that I’d been using it for about 4 1/2 years. Then he made a statement which could have floored me. “My mom says that you will always be in the wheelchair.”

Wow! What a depressing thought. Although I am very grateful for the technology and availability of my power chair, the very idea of being confined to it forever is both dismal and discouraging! Further, I fully realize the intent of the boy’s mother; she was trying to impress on her son that my confinement and injury is permanent. Yes, my injury is C – 3 complete. I am very fortunate to have the mobility and function I enjoy with my level of injury.

But I look forward to leaving this chair behind one day. I must admit that I’m not very optimistic about being miraculously cured, although this could happen. I am certain however, that at the last day, I will be raised with Christ and will have no further use for this chair. So I explained to my young friend that when Jesus returns, I’m dumping this chair! I won’t be in it forever. The future is bright.

In the meantime, life is hard. 2 Corinthians 4.7–18 provides a Christian understanding for dealing with these difficult issues:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–18, ESV)

Dig into this gold mine yourself and discover at least one vital truth to help you today. Now, reflect upon it and apply it to your personal circumstances. Your situation may be difficult but your future is very bright.

Blog humbug…

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m new to blogs and blogging. Although I have used a computer for years, I’ve never been able to sustain a journal. This is because I’m not all that introspective – I’d rather be doing something than reflecting. Nevertheless, I am committed to keeping in touch with my friends and am determined to pass on what God is teaching me through his Word and my life experiences.

Blogging, at least for me, is reminiscent of an experience in junior high school (now referred to as middle school!). My assignment was to write a term paper on any aspect of the Roman Empire. After trekking to the community library and selecting several volumes from the shelves, I began reading and making notes on the prescribed index cards. I soon accumulated a lot of information, some of which was even recorded on 3 x 5 note cards. This process persisted for far more than two trips to the library. The project due date was approaching and I knew that I should begin to actually write the paper. My big problem was deciding on the subject. I had amassed heaps of information but was not quite sure how to organize and present it. So I sat there gazing at a paper just as blank as my mind… There was a lot I could write but it was difficult to get started.

Well, here I am now staring at a blank screen and wondering what to write which will be not only interesting but also edifying and uplifting. I’ve had tons of good ideas and in fact have written several outstanding blogs as I passed the night my bed. I have things all worked out and worded just perfectly. The problem is that by the time I get out of bed into my computer, you guessed it – my mind is blank. By the way, I was recently telling someone of the three sure signs of old age: memory loss…… I can’t recall the other two just now, but I know that they will come to me a little later!

You might be wondering by now about why it takes so long for me to get up and get to the computer, or why I don’t just write down some notes. If you are, please poke around on this blog site a little bit; find the “Welcome Page” or “My Story” to see a quick explanation. I’m not lazy but it does take me about three hours to get up, dressed, into my wheelchair and at my computer.

Another issue I struggle with is how to best address you, my readers. Some of you are reading this on a computer screen, others on a tablet and still others on cell phones. I have been tinkering with this blog a bit and will experiment with its form. I will attempt to write short blogs and then make reference to other, longer posts which will fill in details and give the expanded explanations. In the words of one of my professors, to expatiate! The target length of shorter posts will be 500 to 750 words. For your information, my word processor informs me that I recently dictated word number 500. Hopefully this length will accommodate tablet and cell phone users. If you are interested you can then get to a computer to handle longer posts. If you have read this far and are interested, please let me know what you think. Hopefully my future posts will be a little bit more substantial.

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t know why there are two different fonts on this page. I tried but obviously my attempt to correct it were unsuccessful. I told you I was new to blogging.

 

 

God’s quad

One of the objectives of this blog is to pass on some thoughts and insights which have especially helped me since my injury. There are several passages of Scripture to which I can turn. But first I’d like to reflect on Psalm 23. This well-known Psalm is a favorite to many people but it has been extremely helpful to me as I meditated on it.

Let’s begin with an overview and then consider some specifics as we go on.

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, ESV)

David refers to the Lord as his shepherd. When he says Lord he is speaking of the divine name, sometimes translated Yahweh, but more often Lord. This is God’s personal name which was revealed to Moses in the wilderness (see details in Exodus 3 and 6). Among other things, this name reminds us that God is without limits. Not only does he have no beginning and no end, but he is also all-powerful and ever-present. Yahweh is God’s covenant name, which also reminds us that he is a covenant making and covenant keeping God – nothing is beyond his control or ability. He does whatever he pleases and he does all things well. Being ever faithful to his word both glorifies himself and gives him pleasure.

So this One, who (in the words of the apostle Paul) is able to do exceedingly abundant beyond all that we ask or imagine, has bound himself to us in a personal, loving and gracious relationship. No wonder the psalmist wrote: our help us in the name of the Lord, i.e. Yahweh.

The Lord is our Shepherd. Again David introduces a loaded word: it has more than one nuance. Shepherd – the lowliest occupation in the ancient world – describes Yahweh’s relationship with us. On one level, he protects, provides for, nourishes, leads and guides us. David is using his life experience as a shepherd to describe the way that Yahweh has watched out for him. This is David’s original intent in writing this song. God has watched over him all his life and has promised even greater blessings in the future!

The Lord Jesus used the same imagery to describe  himself in John’s Gospel (chapter 10) when he said, “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Again, powerful words are packed full of significant content. For now, please notice  the intended connection with Jesus. He is our Shepherd and we are his sheep. Jesus says assume the responsibility of completely caring for us as meeting all of our needs. Our greatest need regards our relationship to God. This is why Jesus laid down his life for his sheep: he sacrificed his own life so that we could live in peace and harmony with God.

For me, this truth has been transforming. I realize that I am not my own. I am bought with a price – the life of my shepherd. This reminds me of how much I am cherished by God, who gave his one and only Son for me. More than that, he tells me that the Lord Jesus himself is committed to meeting  by every need. This means that I must learn to relax in his care and trust in his providence. Easier said than done…

This leads me to a lifetime of learning how to be God’s quad. For instance, not long  after my injury I was haunted with thoughts of how we could survive financially. I knew that I was not prepared for retirement and that my medical costs were escalating. What were we to do? This very brief restatement of my situation is not really seem to do justice to the recurring pressure and anxiety we feel times like this.  Have you  been in situations where you feel overwhelmed and the circumstances seem hopeless?

This is just were the opening words of Psalm 23 are a great encouragement. The Lord God Almighty is my shepherd. He has gone on record committing himself to care for and provide for the needs of his sheep. As a follower of Jesus, I am assured of his continuing love for me. I often ask him to help me rest in his commitment and relax from my concerns. This of course doesn’t mean that I can act irresponsibly. But it does mean that I can learn to rest his promises and expect his provision.

Thanksgiving

During my first semester of seminary and in the very first class meeting for public speaking,  we students were required to read assigned Scripture passages. One passage that I heard several times was Psalm 103. For whatever reason, I didn’t recall hearing that ever before. The word echoed and reverberated in my mind: “Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name. Blessing soul and forget not all his benefits…” Instantly this became my favorite Psalm and has remained one of my favorites to this very day. I was further delighted to learn that this Psalm was also one my grandfather’s favorite passages of Scripture .  In fact, it was used of the Lord to bring  him to faith in Christ.

Since then, it is a fond tradition in our home to read Psalm 103 prior to eating our Thanksgiving meal. After a few short explanatory remarks, we take turns expressing  our thanks to the Lord for his many benefits and blessings us, his children.

Chief among the multitude of blessings is God’s forgiveness. One of the most beautiful and memorable glimpses of God’s grace is found in verse 12: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Just how far is the ease from the west? They never meet. Begin to travel in either direction and you will not come to the other. For example, if you begin traveling west and continue traveling in the same direction you never know east – always west. They don’t meet. So it is with God’s forgiveness. Once he forgives us, we are forgiven. We never meet up with them again.

Another great blessing I received from the Lord is a loving and faithful wife. Judy gives so much of herself to me and my care that is hard to describe. Her unending love and diligence in helping me and  meeting my needs far exceeds my appreciation and what I deserved. I thank my Lord for providing her for  me.

There are a great many things for which I am thankful and will not recite them here. But I do praise the Lord for his provision of all of our needs. I appreciate more and more the way God hears and answers my request for “daily bread.” I encourage you to join me by taking a moment to consider God’s faithfulness and blessings to you and your family.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1–5, ESV)

Help wanted and found!

One sunny summer afternoon, several years ago, I was alone the mountains of northern Georgia. My flyfishing adventure in the wilderness presented me with a dangerous challenge. I was following a large stream and expected it to be joined by another smaller stream. Not having a topographical map, I had earlier noticed a stream as I traveled in the car. My expectation was to fish one stream for a while and then work my way back to the road, fishing upstream on the secondary tributary. I rounded a bend on the larger stream and observed not one but two streams – each one going in a different direction and away from where I perceived the road to be located. It was getting dark I knew if I didn’t get back to you quickly as I would be in trouble. My predicament was thoroughly confusing and I was bewildered. Which way to go? What should I do? I prayed for wisdom.

Again and again these situations occur in our lives – confusion flourishes. There seems to be no way of escape. The situation seems hopeless and I don’t know where to turn.

The writer of Psalm 121 may have felt similarly. Although there are some who think that when the psalmist lifts his eyes to the hills, he  focuses on the grandeur of God and responds. Others think that he surveys the high places of the pagan idols, worshiped by the unfaithful. Whatever the case, he asked the question: where can I find help? Apparently he needed help to finish his journey towards Jerusalem.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)

As a Christian, I am encouraged and gain confidence; I can call upon the Lord for help in any situation. The One to whom I call is the One “who made the heavens and the earth.” That is, the Lord our God has great power and wisdom (not to mention is concern for me). The Psalm of abounds with encouragement for the bewildered! Almighty God – the one who made heaven and earth, is committed to keeping me!

More than once I’ve been in a hospital, lying alone at night and wondering, “What am I going to do? Where can I turn for help?” Sometimes the issue might be relatively small like needing a nurse to get me ibuprofen for a headache. On other occasions more momentous issues concern me. “What is going to happen to me? Where is God in all this mess? How do we survive financially in the future?” Often, I need a reminder of where to turn for help.

God, in Psalm 121, reminds me that the Lord keeps all of his people collectively (all Israel) and each one individually (your keeper). The Hebrew word translated keeper implies one who was guarding, paying careful attention to and one who protects and provides. Our God, who made the heavens and the earth – the one and only true and living God reminds us that he is our keeper.

So, even when I think I am all alone and in a hopeless situation, I am reminded that my Creator and Redeemer is deeply concerned about me. He never tires – he doesn’t take a break or change shifts. He promises that he is always concerned. He has the power and wisdom to keep all and each of his people. The New Testament put it this way: cast all your care upon him because he cares for you.

By the way, I made my way back safely to the road; a nurse to come and give me ibuprofen; and God is providing my daily bread. The Lord is my keeper!

Overwhelmed and discouraged

 I just can’t handle it anymore!  No doubt you’ve been there and you know how it feels to be pushed to the limit. You feel like you’ve taken as much as you can and there is no hope for help or relief. At other times, we are face-to-face with desires or circumstances which threaten to destroy us.

This is the precise point where we find help from the Bible. Consider 1 Cor. 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Several observations will help us:

Temptations overtake us – the word  translated temptation can mean 1). To test in order to demonstrate authenticity; 2). A trial of any kind; 3). An enticement to evil or to do wrong. It is this third meaning in view here. The idea is that enticements to do evil/wrong do confront us. The source of these temptations could be our sinful fallen natures, Satan or his forces, or the fallen world around us. In other words, the Christian should not be surprised when he is confronted with temptations to sin. They threaten from the outside it was and within us. As a matter of fact,

Temptations are experienced by everyone. Often times when we are confronted with a temptation we think that no one else has ever experienced anything like this. Here, God is reminding us that we are wrong. What confronts us is common experience to all people.

Temptations are governed by God. Our Heavenly Father will not let temptations overwhelm his children. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability. Just as it seems when we will be overwhelmed, we are reminded that God has not given us any more than we can handle. This implies that God has at least allowed the temptation to occur. We also know from Scripture that he uses all things were good (Romans 8.28). So, even when we do not know what he is up to, we can be sure that God will not give us more than we can handle and that he is also using it for our good. We can be sure this because God is faithful. The faithfulness and love our heavenly father was to put our circumstances into perspective. We are reminded of God’s commitment to bless his people so that we can contemplate and consider the graciousness of our God. God is faithful even when we are not.

Temptations may be escaped. When we are tempted, God is providing a way of escape. We often may feel assist we are being defeated and are without help but God reminds us that he will provide for us. Victory against temptation is possible because God provides some way to win. We may feel we are whipped but we are not.

Temptations can be endured. This is usually not what we hoped for – we wanted God to remove us from the temptation; God wants us to endure it so that we mature in him. The help we can count on is the strength to stand up under temptation. God will help us to endure it.

So here is God’s encouragement for you.  Just when we think that we do not have the strength, desire or ability to continue on, God steps in and says, “You can do it I will provide for you. I will help you.” God is faithful and he will provide a way for us will to endure!  God will see to it; you will stand.

Introducing 3 close friends…

Driving my wheelchair down that busy passageway of the VA medical center, I observed the director of our unit and wanted to thank him for all of the good care I had been receiving. I made my way next to him and introduced myself. He responded, “I know who you are. You’re the one with such a strong will to live.”

I frequently hear comments like this: “I admire your strength.” I suppose it’s because I seem to be functioning rather well in my wheelchair even though I am paralyzed from my shoulders down. Actually, this is surprising to me since I am much more familiar with weaknesses than ever before. Since my injury in the spring of 2010, I have become intimately acquainted not only with paraplegia but also three of its associates: UTIs, pneumonia and C. diff.

During the first three years following my injury I repeatedly and continuously struggle with these problems. More often than not it seemed that these struggles resulted in hospitalization. These three maladies are a constant threat and imposing enemies. One bout with anyone of them seriously weakens my condition and saps almost all of my energy. Often times there is a follow-up visit with one or both of the others.

On more than one occasion I have been laying in a hospital bed and felt too weak to read the Scriptures or to pray. I am very grateful that the Lord has provided me with a loving wife and God has repeatedly used to strengthen me in the Lord. There’ve also been visits from pastors and friends who have encouraged me. I thank God for these encouragers.

There have also been many times when no one is around and I am feeling very low – too tired to think and barely able to pray. At times like these I usually get a visit from one of my three close friends.

Following my injury, in the early days of my current situation, I started recalling bits and pieces of The Apostles Creed. This is not surprising as I had been preaching a series on it and so many of the words and supporting Scriptures were relatively fresh in my mind. I remember thinking about (okay just remembering) and rejoicing in the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit for me. But couldn’t remember all the words at first but I kept trying and eventually they came to mind. Since then, I frequently return to meditate upon these words and concepts.

Likewise, even while my mind was clouded with medications and fatigue I could pray for my wife, children and grandchildren. As I tried to expand my prayers I began to think upon the words Jesus instructed us to pray – frequently known as the Lord’s Prayer. Again, I struggled to remember it in its entirety but persevered and was eventually rewarded. I began to remember it in entirety and began to meditate and expand on each of the phrases.

More recently, I have added Psalm 23 to my inner circle. I am learning to focus not only on the complete Psalm also the words and phrases to receive comfort and strength from the Lord. It is truly a great comfort to know that the Lord is watching over me for good and not for evil.

So, I’m glad to introduce to you these three intimate friends of mine. I am visited by the very often, especially during the night and early mornings when I am unable to sleep. I also encourage you to become more familiar with them and to treat them like close friends.

What I believe… Core value 1

In order to understand my response to being a quadriplegic you need to understand what I believe because this governs how I respond to my present how respond to my circumstances. So I thought it might be helpful for me to outline my core convictions. So here goes with the first one.

I confess that I am a sinner and without hope except for God’s grace. By this I mean that I was born into a state of rebellion against God and have continued that rebellion by my motivations, attitudes, choices and actions. I would have no hope apart from God. This may sound startling but it is absolutely true. The Bible teaches that all people – that includes me, are actively rebelling against the authority of God. We are sinners because we sin and we sin because we are sinners.

I naturally see myself in the most favorable light possible. For instance, I only become inpatient because I’m tired or because I’m sick or I’m not being treated well… I think you get the idea. My most natural tendency is to cover up my impatience or to excuse it. At the same time, I’ve become pretty adept at putting my best foot forward and make a good impression on others. Oh, I’m not always as bad as I could be but at the heart of things I am selfish and self-centered. In God’s word, Jesus tells me to love God with all my heart, soul and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. But if I am honest, I must confess that I love myself with all my heart, soul and strength. I simply prefer things my way. Even when I try to please God, do I do it with all my heart soul and strength? No. I just can’t pull it off.

There is a narrative in the Bible that helps to clarify these statements. In Acts 10 we find the account of Peter’s interaction with a man named Cornelius. From this account of Cornelius, we learn that even good people need forgiveness in order to be accepted by him.

Luke initially describes Cornelius in such a way that he is to be admired. You could almost say that he is exemplary in his character. Consider how the Bible characterizes him:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man, who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people and prayed continually to God.

Let’s make some observations.

The name Cornelius is not a Jewish name. Cornelius is a Gentile. This would have been a red flag to Jews reading this book. Gentiles were not regarded as worthy subjects of salvation. Everybody knew that God loved the Jews and that implied, so they thought, that he hated the gentiles.

Cornelius was a centurion, attached to the Italian regiment. That is he was a member of the Roman military. The Romans organized their army around the centurion and his men. Each centurion had 80 to 100 men under his command. F. F. Bruce quotes an ancient historian (Polybus) who suggests that “centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. Centurions were not required to be bold or adventurous so much as they were required to be good leaders of a steady and prudent mind. They were not prone to be offensive and start fighting, but rather they were to be able when overwhelmed and hard pressed, to stand fast and die at their post if necessary.”  A centurion was required to exercise good judgment and be of loyal character. He had to be even-tempered and able to handle authority. He was noted for his stability. He was dependable and most of all, he was loyal.

Cornelius had worked his way up the hard way. He was like a non-commissioned officer in our military. He had proved himself in the military campaigns of Rome and was rewarded for his service by promotion. The hard work and loyalty of Cornelius had paid off. He had been promoted to a position of authority and had most likely retired with a nice pension and the bonus of being awarded Roman citizenship.Cornelius had proved himself to be a hard worker. He was loyal, stable and respected.

Next, we are told that Cornelius was devout and feared God. The term devout suggests that Cornelius was godly or pious. That is, he was morally upright. V. 22 suggests that he was upright or righteous. Cornelius was very concerned to do the right thing.

V. 2 tells us that he prayed to God regularly. When you combine these facts, what kind of impression do you get? You begin to picture Cornelius as a pretty religious man. This was not uncommon. Historians inform us that many of the soldiers in the Roman arm were sincerely religious. And as a matter of fact, the NT holds centurions in high regard. Centurions are mentioned fairly often in the NT and almost always with admiration. Jesus himself praised a centurion for his faith, saying that he had not found anything like it in Israel.

Luke uses another word to describe Cornelius in this connection. He is called God-fearing. This term has special significance in religious settings. It describes a category of gentiles who were adherents to the Jewish synagogues, but were not full converts to Judaism. They were attracted to the worship of the living and true God. They attempted to attain the high ethical standards of the law of God. But they hesitated to submit to circumcision, the dietary standards and other rituals regarding ceremonial cleanness and to temple worship in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, these God-fearers were almost converts, and became fertile contacts for the rapid spread of the gospel of Christ. Thus, Cornelius was a sincerely religious man, who was attracted to the God of the Bible.

Notice that Cornelius was a good family man. When v. 2 describes Cornelius as sincerely religious, it is also speaking of his family.   He feared God with all his household… this seems to indicate that he had a church in his house. He was actively leading his family in what he regarded as the true worship of God. This is further demonstrated in v. 24, where we see him calling his entire household to listen to the message of Peter. Moreover, some have suggested that the name Cornelius indicates that his Latin heritage was from a good and well-known family. From all indications, Cornelius was a good family man.

v. 2 further depicts Cornelius to be both compassionate and generous. Luke says he gave alms generously to the people… Thus, we understand that his religion was not empty but that it also impacted his lifestyle. He was quick to open his wallet or checkbook and give to those in need.

Finally, notice v. 22. This scene comes after Cornelius has had a vision in which he is commanded to send for Simon Peter in Joppa. Immediately, he dispatches two of his servants and one of his soldiers to get Peter. Get the picture? The boss sends three of his workers on an errand.

V.22 describes their unbiased impression of their boss: Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to dome to his house and to hear what you have to say.Think about this for a minute. Who is making these statements? They are made by men who know Cornelius intimately. Two are his servants and the third is a soldier, who also attends him.

Now, notice what they have to say about him. They call him upright and God-fearing. So far, there is nothing new. We have already discussed these attributes. But they go on to assert that he well-spoken of by the whole Jewish nation.

Think of it! Cornelius, a gentile, is well respected by all the Jewish people. How do Jews and gentiles normally get along? Like a cat and a dog in bag. They hate each other. You would expect animosity and bitterness. But all the Jewish people respect Cornelius! He had a good reputation in the community.

Let’s review for a moment. So far, we have discovered that Cornelius:

  • Proved himself to be a hard worker. He was loyal, stable and respected. He worked himself up the hard way. He was patriotic.
  • Was a sincerely religious man, who was attracted to the God of the Bible.
  • Was a good family man.
  • Was both compassionate and generous to the needy.
  • Had a good reputation in the community.Now let me show you a stark reality.We have just been extolling the virtues of Cornelius. He is a model man; he exhibits many noble characteristics. But now consider Acts 11.14. This verse is Peter’s restatement of Cornelius’s account of the vision he had. He saw an angel who told Cornelius to go and get Peter because v. 14: He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.

These are all traits that every Christian should emulate. Cornelius is a good example for us to follow.

Do you see what we are taught? Cornelius had to hear and receive the message of the gospel from Peter before he could be saved. In other words, even though Cornelius was such a fine person, he was not saved until he heard and received Peter’s message of salvation through Jesus.We think of Cornelius as a nice guy, a model citizen, who possesses many noble qualities. He is a good man.

Several years ago now, Angelo Bruno, the reputed head of a Philadelphia mafia family was gunned down as he left his home one morning. Later that day, a news reporter interviewed another mafia chieftain named Philip Testa. He said this concerning his former rival, “He was a good man. He never hurt nobody. He went to church. He loved his family. He was a good man.” The irony of the situation is laughable — one gangster calling another gangster “good”.

This is how we must seem to God when we look at ourselves or our friends and neighbors and think of them as good. In his Word God tells us that our righteousness, that is our best efforts, is as filthy rags.

A person may exhibit many fine character traits and not be approved by God! Cornelius was a good man. But our “good” is a relative term. High and noble qualities do not make a person acceptable to God.

Lesson: You can seem to be a really good person and need to be forgiven! Even good people need God’s help to become a Christian.

To put it another way, nice people need Jesus. Romans 3 gives us what I call a “God’s-eye-view” of humankind and enlightens our understanding. The Holy Spirit inspires Paul to group together several Old Testament scriptures that describe everyone. What is true of all people is obviously also true of the nice people that we know. Listen to how God sees them (and us!):

Romans 3:10-20: … as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

What are we to make of these teachings? How are we to apply this passage to our situation?

Some people live very moral lives. In fact, many Christians should feel ashamed that some non-Christians live more exemplary lives than we do.

As Christians we should strive to emulate an exemplary lifestyle. People who look at our lives should say: That is how I should be. I should live this way.”

But even so, we should remember that we can never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. We are sinners at heart; redeemed sinners, sinners saved by God’s grace. Our good works are never the basis of our acceptance with God. We simply cannot be good enough to merit God’s approval.

“Good people” need to hear and receive the gospel of Christ. Remember that we use the term good in a relative sense. God uses it in an absolute sense. He demands perfection. This means that those nice people that live next to you, or those nice people in your family or at your work, need to know about Jesus if they are to be saved. Let that sink in. There are many “respectable” people whom you know that are unacceptable to God. Learn to see people as God sees them…

Examine yourself. Are you trusting in your good works as the basis for your acceptance with God? I hope not. Because you can never be good enough.

I once had a golden retriever named Paz. He loved to go for a run with me. Since we lived out in the country, when we got on a desolate road, I would release him from his leash and he would run ahead of me. Paz delighted to run in a ditch and get all muddy and nasty looking. Worse yet, his favorite thing was to find some manure or a dead animal and roll in it. I couldn’t stop him. He loved it! To make matters even worse, he thought that he smelled just wonderful. So just about the time I was to run up a steep hill, here would come Pazzy. He wanted to run close to me and show off his new aroma! I was huffing and puffing to get up the hill. Then I would literally gag on the stench of my beautiful dog who thought that he was so wonderful.

What we think of as “good,” God regards as stinking rags.

Friends, acceptance with God comes only through Christ. Nice guys – good people need the gospel.