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A to Z Answers: Zero Tolerance in Heaven?

Zero tolerance is a popular phrase, drawing a firm line against everything from bullying in school to manufacturing mistakes. When we call out against error or evil in any form, we call it zero tolerance.

Does God honestly have a zero tolerance policy against sin? Could a loving God actually be wholly intolerant to the foibles and failings of flawed humans?

You bet He can.

God is holy, through and through. In fact, He wouldn’t be holy, if He could coexist comfortably with evil.

Imagine a gallon jar, filled with fresh drinking water. What if someone added just a drop or two of arsenic or cyanide into the jar? Wouldn’t it be poisoned, even with a scant bit of toxicity? Would you be willing to drink from that vessel?

It doesn’t take much to corrupt the whole supply.

The Almighty Jehovah is good and pure and just. And goodness, purity and justice cannot stand for evil, corruption and injustice.

Having said that, it sure sounds like we mortals are out of luck.

How can any of us measure up to God’s perfection, if a single sin counts us out? Does anyone have a chance of being saved?

Thank God for grace!

Sin costs dearly, but God paid the price. He bought us back from the clutches of death and demise by calling on His own perfect Son to sacrifice and pay the penalty in our place.

Christ offered himself to God without any flaw. He did this through the power of the eternal Holy Spirit. So how much more will his blood wash from our minds our feelings of guilt for committing sin! Sin always leads to death. But now we can serve the living God.
(Hebrews 9:14, NIrV)

The Holy One gave His life for all of us who are unholy.

For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually,
(1 Peter 3:18. Good News)

Hallelujah. God makes us holy enough to join Him in eternity. He cleanses us from our own dirt and wipes away our wickedness.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.
(1 Corinthians 1:30, NLT)
So God is both loving and holy. He made a way to make up for our inability to reach His holiness, preserving both His perfection and His infallible justice and covering us with His amazing love. And it cost Him everything to offer us eternity.

What a great God.

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A to Z Answers: Yes, Lord!

Have you ever heard God calling?

Some have said they have perceived the voice of God audibly, while others may claim they have experienced a tug in their spirits. Others may have been drawn divinely through varied means.

God certainly speaks through His Word, open-hearted believers, His own creation and other avenues of communication.

However He calls, how will we respond?

God willing and by His strength, I hope to answer “Yes, Lord,” when He beckons me. Belonging to God is a divine privilege, and I pray for the presence of mind to hear His summons, as I have heard many times.

I only wonder how many times I may have missed His voice as well.

I want to be like young Samuel, who answered positively, once he realized he heard the voice of the Lord.

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, "Samuel! Samuel!"
    Samuel answered, "Speak. I'm your servant, ready to listen."
(1 Samuel 3:10, The Message)

It only took Samuel a few times (and some wise counsel) to discern God’s voice. Surely the Almighty One will be both patient and persistent with the rest of us as well. May we not miss His message.

(Raise your hand, if you thought I was gonna embed “Yes, Yes, Lord,” rather than the Rich Mullens classic.)
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A to Z Answers: eXtol the eXcellent One

Let us exalt the Lord together and extol His Holy Name.

What is extolling?

The word “extol” may be traced to the 14th Century Middle English term “extollen,” which is derived from a Latin word meaning “to raise” or “to lift up.”

Today, “extol” has several synonyms. To extol is to acclaim, applaud, celebrate, comment, exalt, glorify, laud, magnify, or praise. When we extol the Lord, we pay tribute to Him. We bless His Name.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
   let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
   and extol Him with music and song.
(Psalm 95:1-2, NIV)

Who’s ready to praise the Prince of Peace?


Authors and teachers, gurus and speakers ask a common question: “What is excellence?” We need only look upon the Excellent One, and we will know. Excellence is extolling the Creator who deserves all praise.

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A to Z Answers: Wisdom Adds Wonders

Wisdom is wonderful when it comes from the almighty all-knowing One!

A favorite traditional hymn by William Cowper spells this out so well. Cowper was a personal friend of John Newton, penning several songs together. Cowper’s best known hymns included “There is a Fountain” and “O, for a Closer Walk with Thee.”

Take a look at these lyrics by 18th Century English poet and humanitarian Cowper (from Ol­ney Hymns, Lon­don: W. Ol­i­ver, 1779, No. 52).

Ere God Had Built the Mountains
(from Proverbs 8)
By William Cowper

Ere God had built the mountains,
Or raised the fruitful hills;
Before He filled the fountains
That feed the running rills;
In me from everlasting,
The wonderful I Am,
Found pleasures never wasting,
And Wisdom is my name.

When, like a tent to dwell in,
He spread the skies abroad,
And swathed about the swelling
Of Ocean’s mighty flood;
He wrought by weight and measure,
And I was with Him then:
Myself the Father’s pleasure,
And mine, the sons of men.

Thus Wisdom’s words discover
Thy glory and Thy grace,
Thou everlasting Lover
Of our unworthy race!
Thy gracious eye surveyed us
Ere stars were seen above;
In wisdom Thou hast made us,
And died for us in love.

And couldst Thou be delighted
With creatures such as we,
Who, when we saw Thee, slighted,
And nailed Thee to a tree?
Unfathomable wonder,
And mystery divine!
The voice that speaks in thunder,
Says, Sinner, I am thine!”

Wow. I wanna be wise! Wouldn’t anyone?

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A to Z Answers: Vision is Vital

Blindness can be a terrifying experience.

Have you ever stepped out of a dark theater and found yourself blinded temporarily by bright sunlight? Blindness is baffling.

As children, we used to consider crazy hypothetical questions. We’d test one another’s mettle with daring queries about the grossest things we’d be willing to eat or the scariest things we’d ever done. 

A popular debate focused on this dichotomy: “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” Although I am certain that hearing impaired life is challenging, I always thought blindness would be the worse choice of the two. Growing up, I discovered what a visual person I am.

Don’t ask me why. We were kids.

Of course, I never actually considered that I might become blind, even temporarily. But I did.

A few years ago, I lost vision in one eye. Depth and color perception vanished, along with most of my sight on that side.

Doctors were befuddled. An emergency room doctor prescribed antibiotics for a possible sinus infection, but it wasn’t. Two optometrists suggested brain cancer or lupus, but it wasn’t.

A battery of tests and scans revealed optic neuritis. A specialist put me on medication, and people prayed.

For several weeks, I learned more than a little about depending upon others for such basics as driving, reading product labels, and picking out clothes in my own closet. Walking in town, I occasionally noticed one of my kids would grab my sleeve to keep me from bumping into something or someone.

As a writer and an avid reader, I had to step back for more than a month. But I saw something I may not have seen before.

Sometimes vision has little to do with eyesight.

God met me in my blindness. I gained a new focus, even while my eyesight was dim. Sometimes God speaks most clearly when we curb all the extra input.

Finally, my vision returned. God is able.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
   along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
   and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
   I will not forsake them.
(Isaiah 42:16, NIV)
Honestly, I hated being blind, even in one eye. But I loved seeing how God stepped in.

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A to Z Answers: U-Turns Are Uplifting!

U-turns may be illegal in some states, but they are the stuff of Heaven. At least, they may provide entertaining fodder for fellowship in the eternal kingdom someday.

Earnest believers will likely confess to making u-turns often … maybe even daily … in this life.  Oh, how we need His grace and mercy every single day!

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
(Lamentations 3:22-23, NLT)

Several years ago, a popular automotive bumper sticker said, “God is my co-pilot.” Maybe that’s more often true than such drivers would like to admit. For as long as the Lord is the co-pilot, rather than actually steering the vehicle, the journey may require u-turns.

How often do we grab the steering wheel, insisting on our own directions?

Once we do, we’re likely headed for another u-turn.

As much as I am enjoying the journey, I find myself looking forward to the day when I will no longer veer off course and need to make a u-turn. For only then will I know I have arrived … exactly where I was created to be.
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A to Z Answers: Trust is a Test

From time to time, perhaps even the most faith-filled believer may be fearful for a fleeting moment. Does fear signal a lack of trust in God?

Of course, we know that God is omnipotent, or all-powerful. We understand that Jesus has already won the eternal victory. We have banked our hearts in His hands for Heaven.

Still, don’t we have those scary little moments, when something sets off an alarm inside of us? Can you remember a moment when you wanted to creep under the covers and pull the coverlet right up over your head?

Yes, we know that God is greater than all of our fears.

We get that, and we are more grateful that we can even express. In the big picture, we lean on the Lord for His powerful protection.

We may confess wholeheartedly and sincerely that we are willing to go to the mat for the Master. And we mean it. So why do we tremble when we stumble down scary streets, listen to rumblings of potential layoffs at work, or await a potentially unfavorable medical diagnosis?

Welcome to humanity. We’re still fighting with our own flesh, aren’t we? The battle has been won, but we’re still living it out.

But He is bigger than our battles.

Personally, I just wish I could remember that in those temporary times when something scary startles me. When I feel threatened momentarily, I want to react faster in faith.

After all, even when we’re not paying attention, He is holding us.

The LORD is my light and my salvation--so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?
(Psalm 27:1, NLT)
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A to Z Answers: Sound Mind

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).

What is a sound mind?

When we speak of the limbs of men or beasts, soundness is something akin to strength. Sound legs are able hold weight with balance and athletic firmness. When horses’, hounds’ or humans’ legs are sound, those creatures can stand securely.

Conversely, an unsound limb can lead to a fall.

A sound mind is strong and balanced and secure as well.

The Amplified Bible puts it this way:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.

What a promise!

As the years pass, I must admit that I occasionally suffer from the “Here-After” syndrome. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Here’s an example. I might climb all the way upstairs in my home, only to ask myself:

“What did I come up here after?”
Thank God for His promise of a sound mind!

God’s guidance and His infinite knowledge are tremendous helps. When we look to Him for insights and understanding, He leads us into greater clarity.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you.
He will not rebuke you for asking.
(James 1:5, NLT)

Whether we are digging in God’s Word for scriptural truth or simply hunting for a lost item at home, He can be our Guide.

Now … where did I leave those car keys?
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A to Z Answers: Recoiling at the River Jordan

Have you ever recoiled in repulsion during a religious experience? I know that sounds rather ridiculous, but it’s certainly possible in a fallen world.

Not long ago, I had the amazing privilege of visiting the Holy Land. While we were there, I opted to be baptized in the Jordan River, along with several dear friends.

I’d been baptized twice before, counting infant christening and immersion as a young adult. Still, the opportunity to share such a spiritual milestone with my fellow travelers seemed too good to miss.

We filed into the gift shop at the designated spot, situation along the Jordan River in Israel. We anted up our American greenbacks for the requisite white robes and towels. We slipped into flip flops and lined up at the crowded river gate that was designated for our group. And we waited for our turns in the river.

The water was murky and muddy. The riverbed was slimy and slippery.
Still, we stuck with it.

“If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me,” one cheery church lady chirped, as we waited in queue.

My moment of baptism has become a cherished memory. I’m glad I stepped into the waters of the Jordan River to confess my faith again and be baptized. I’m not convinced that there’s anything magical or mystical about the muddy water there, but it was a lovely landmark in my personal walk with the Lord.

It was a holy privilege to share the experience with a great group of fellow believers as well. We laughed and cried and loved our time together.

The whole Jordan River experience changed a bit, however, as soon as we stepped from the water.

As we stood on the shore, drenched and shivering, a friend showed us the video footage she had shot during our baptisms. She had intended to record us in the water with our pastor, but she had been distracted by some other spectators.

Look what she was watching, just a few feet from our baptisms.
I can't speak for the rest of the group, but I know if I’d seen what was going on in the River Jordan while we were there, I might have thought twice about participating in the baptisms. Wouldn’t anyone?

Sometimes I wonder whether God shields our eyes from circumstances that might simply set us aside.

He will cover you with His feathers,
and under His wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
(Psalm 91:4, NIV)

I think perhaps His wings covered our eyes, as we entered the water. And it’s a good thing they did.
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A to Z Answers: The Quick and the Dead

The familiar and regularly recited Apostles’ Creed directly states that the risen Christ will return from Heaven “to judge the quick and the dead.” What does that mean?

First, here’s the entire text of the Protestant Version. (The Catholic version is slightly different, substituting “The holy Catholic Church” for “The holy Christian Church.”)
The Apostles’ Creed
(Protestant Version)

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Christian Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.
Wanted: Dead or Alive?
Fans of Hollywood Westerns might think of outlaws, sheriffs, deputies and high-noon gunfights. 

The quickest draw would not only win the duel, but also remain alive. The slowest draw, of course, would become the newest client for the town undertaker.

What does the Bible say about “the quick and the dead”?

This wording occurs twice in the King James Version of the Holy Bible:

Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
(Acts 10:40-43, KJV, emphasis added)

Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.
 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
(1 Peter 4:5-7, KJV, emphasis added)

Intriguingly, the Apostle Peter was the speaker of both passages. Throughout Christian history, Peter has been characterized as a strong, animated, and perhaps even impulsive personality. One might say Peter could be quick on the draw.

Certainly, Peter was quick and not dead.

Still, what does it mean to be “quick” or “dead”?

The sentence structure in both Bible passages, as well as in The Apostles’ Creed, positions the two terms as opposites. Therefore, “quick” must be intended as an antonym to “dead.”

Does the prophetic warning that Jesus will judge both quick and dead mean that He will separate the two, like sheep and goats (as in Matthew 25)? Or does it mean that all men, those yet alive at His appearing and those who have already passed, will face judgment at that time?

Maybe we don’t know for sure.

Even so, I’d surely rather be quick than slow, when it comes to preparing for Christ’s return. As long as I live, I want to want to love Him more. I desire to desire to follow Him more faithfully. I long to long for His smile upon my soul.

Maybe you do too.

Quicken us, Lord!

Make us ready for Your appearance.

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A to Z Answers: Patheticalness = Practicing What We Preach

People love to point at Christians and exclaim, “Practice what you preach.”

Perhaps it’s time we did. Here goes.

I’m pretty pathetic.

In fact, my attempts at holiness are holey indeed.

As the Scriptures say,
"No one is righteous--not even one.”
(Romans 3:10, NLT)

That pretty much does away with the whole “holier than thou” bit. How can one of us be holier than the others, if none of us is holy at all?

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
“Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV)

Although I don’t want to wallow in it, I know my heart is sinful. Even my best moments don’t measure up.

"The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9, NASB)

Oh, how I need the Savior!

I’m only pathetic, if I try to reach God’s standard on my own strength. Nope, it’s not gonna happen.

But God says I’m not pathetic at all. In fact, He calls me His work-in-process, and He promises to keep on working in me until I’m completely His (see Philippians 1:6).

Perhaps practicing what we preach is simply a matter of recognizing our own need for pardon. Pretend holiness leads nowhere. But honest soul-searching leads us to the One who can make us clean and whole and alive again.

Praise Him.

Thanks be to the Healer of our hearts, the Savior of our souls, and the One who redeems us from ourselves. To Him be all glory and honor and praise.

Sounds like I’m preaching again.

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A to Z Answers: Overflowing with Ordinariness

Sometimes I feel exceptionally ordinary, but I think that’s OK.

Sure, everyone can be outstanding in some area. Anyone can make a mark, even in a small way. But we need not all be superstars.

I guess I’m learning that God’s not asking me to change the world.

He’s already done that. I just have to follow Him. If I obey Him, He promises to make me an overcomer. That doesn’t mean I’ll be rich and famous. It simply means He’ll work through me somehow.

Yes, I can be frustrated with my own failures. I can wring my hands and sigh over struggles. But in the big picture, I know my God is forever fond of me. (He adores you too!)

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Father simply chuckles when He sees me kicking and screaming over some silly little thing. I’m convinced God has a sense of humor. After all, He created toddlers and teenagers.

God cherishes ordinary people.

The Holy One poured His power into 12 very ordinary men, who walked and talked with His Son on earth and then went on to begin the Church. Those guys were not sports celebrities, movie stars, or best-selling authors. They wouldn’t have made any A-lists by the world’s standards.

Clearly, Christ wasn’t regarding resumes. Jesus tagged a couple of fishermen, a tax collector, a rebel-outlaw, and a bunch of unknowns. The one who might have been a banker or accountant ended up betraying Him.

But the Lord chose them as His own.

These ordinary men were minding their own business (for the most part), and Jesus walked up and hand-picked them. Most of them were probably shocked at the time, as they didn’t seem to fancy themselves as local luminaries.

But they followed. And it’s likely all but one gave their lives for their faith in Him.

I used to want to be “somebody.”

Lately, I’m growing ever more content with the idea of simply being “Somebody’s.” Belonging to the Master of the Universe, who calls me His Beloved is more than enough.

Did I mention He’s crazy about me?

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
   “I have loved you with an everlasting love;
   I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
(Jeremiah 31:3, NIV)

All it takes to change the world is a bunch of ordinary people, who have experienced God’s extraordinary grace.

Hey, I can do “ordinary.” How about you?

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