Heaven Has a Wall, a gate and extreme vetting

In Revelation 21:10-12 the Revelator was carried away by an angel to “a great and high mountain.” At that mountain the angel showed John “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” John depicted this holy city as “having the glory of God,” and he remarked that its “brilliance was like a very costly stone . . . a stone of crystal-clear jasper.” John then noted that this holy city “had a great and high wall, with twelve gates.” This past week I asked our Publicity Committee to put the following message on our sign located street-side on McMullen-Booth Road: “Heaven has a wall, a gate and extreme vetting.”  Not surprisingly, there have been those who have not only excoriated the message but also Countryside Baptist and her members.


I will get back to the sign in a moment, but first, allow me to say that Jesus often utilized shocking statements for the purpose of provoking thought, that is, He started with an outrageous statement as an attention-grabbing mechanism and then sought to move His audience to the awe of the truth represented by the statement. For example, in Luke 14:26 Jesus said: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters . . . he cannot be My disciple." Wow! Can you imagine the public outcry if those words were placed on our church sign? Another example is found in Luke 14:33 in which Jesus said: “None of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Can you imagine the public outcry if those words were placed on our church sign? Or, what about Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Consider also the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:30, “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Can you imagine the public outcry if those verses from the Sermon on the Mount were placed on our church sign? 

Note the words of Jesus in John 6:53-54, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life." How does that grab you for a sign-board? In John 6:63 Jesus attempted to explain that He was speaking of spiritual things: “It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” However, rather than accept His explanation many of His listeners stopped following Him altogether. John 6:66 says: “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” The reason for their withdrawal is stated in verse 60: "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" One translation sets forth verse 60 like this: “This is more than we can stomach! Why listen to such words?” 


Now, as then, there are those who stumble over the shock of seemingly outrageous statements and miss the meaning of the message entirely, even to the degree of abandoning Jesus. Let’s get back to the depiction of heaven in Revelation 21 as having “a great high wall.” In the ancient world, walls were common. Many cities had walls, and those that did were considered to be fortunate. The first city encountered by Israel in the conquest of Canaan was Jericho, a municipality surrounded by a wall. Joshua 6:1 refers to Jericho as being “tightly shut because of the sons of Israel.” No one could go out, and certainly, no one could go in. That wall was meant to be an instrument of security for those who lived within. Jerusalem, and many of the cities against which the Israelis fought, had walls. In verses 20-21 of 2 Samuel 11, King David’s general, Joab, set forth several questions during Israel’s battle against Rabbah: “Why did you go so near to the city to fight?  Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall?  Who struck down Abimelech . . . ?   Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?”  Following David’s defeat of the Philistines, King David penned a song of praise that included the following line: “By my God I can leap over a wall.” (See 2 Samuel 22:30.) Walls were significant in the ancient world as a means of security. The entire book of Nehemiah is centered on the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem following the years of Israeli exile in Babylon. Enemies were pouring in from all sides. Nehemiah led the Israelis to correct that problem. In Ezekiel 22 the prophet used the terrific illustration that pointed to a reach in Israel’s moral and spiritual wall. Ezekiel said that God had been searching “for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” (See verse 30)


Revelation 21:12 says that heaven has "a great and high wall," which is meant to depict the utmost security for those who reside within. Heaven will be absolutely secure – no death, no sorrow, no mourning, no crying, no pain. (See Revelation 21:4)  No one or no thing that is anti-God or anti-Jesus will be present. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Revelation 20:10) Revelation 21:12 also tells us that heaven has 12 gates, and a gate is a means of controlled access.  The number twelve, in Scripture, represents the government of God.  Thus, those who enter those gates are those in whose hearts the Lord has reigned and ruled. However, there’s more. Jesus is the gatekeeper.  In fact, He, Himself, is the gate.  In John 14:6 Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me," that is, Jesus alone controls who enters those gates. I n John 10:1 Jesus said: "I say to you, he who does not enter by the door . . . but climbs up some other way is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door . . . 3 To him the doorkeeper opens."  In John 10:9 Jesus reiterated what He set forth in verses 1-3: "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved."


These words are indicative of what may be referred to as “extreme vetting,” a process by which a person or issue is appraised, verified, or checked for accuracy, authenticity and validity.  In order to be verified as authentic or fit for heaven one must have been “born again,” as Jesus said in John 3:3 & 5, or as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, a person must be wearing the righteousness (perfection) that belongs to Christ. Revelation 20:15 says: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  To say that a person won’t make heaven without Jesus is considered to be an extreme idea by secular society and even by some beneath the “Christian” umbrella.   Thus, the idea of extreme vetting is appropriate. When we stand before the judgment at the throne of God, His vetting will not entail generalized questions such as: “Were you a good person? Did you do more good than bad?  Were your intentions sincere?”   No, only those whose name appears in the book of life will get in, and only through putting one’s trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ will anyone’s name be found there. What a terrific conversation starter for those who know the truth of the Bible and are willing to engage those who have questions about it. Now, as then, there are those who stumble over the shock of such statements and miss meaning of the message entirely.


Jesus moved from what people knew to what He wanted them to consider, more precisely, He most often moved from some reality in the physical realm to a reality in the spiritual realm.  The question is: "Do you get it?" 

Trump's Executive Order

On January 25th a well-known Christian publication posted the following article on its web-site: “Evangelical Experts Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban.” My immediate reaction to that title was this: “Whoa! I am an evangelical, and I am in no way opposed to President Trump’s refugee ban.” Of course, my interest was sufficiently stirred so I read the article. In actuality, the piece primarily focused on Christian organizations such as “World Relief” whose ministries work toward the resettlement of refugees, which somewhat tempered the shock elicited by the title. However, one church training specialist representing “World Relief” said: “Most evangelical Christians are not thinking as Christians on the issue.” To me, that comment seems to paint Christian thought on this issue with a very broad brush. In any case, what “is” Christian thought on the President’s recent executive order regarding immigration and refugees? John Stonestreet, writer for “The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview” suggests that the best starting place is clarity, in particular, what exactly does President Trump’s executive order say? First, the order temporarily bans entry to the U. S. for those holding passports from seven nations previously identified by the Obama Administration as “countries of concern.” Second, administration officials are to develop a plan for uniform screening during the next three to four months. Third, the number of refugees is to be limited this year at 50,000, less than Mr. Obama’s level but more than Mr. Bush’s. Fourth, the order provides wavers for religious minorities, with a special emphasis on persecuted Christians. Admittedly, there has been some confusion as the President’s order has been initially carried out. This is not uncommon. Any new program or policy at any level, as it is implemented, will naturally produce various hiccups regardless of intensive planning. Quick learners, however, make rapid adjustments. If this is true for church leadership, much more it is true for leaders in the realm of world affairs.


So, can biblical principles be found that address this issue? Of course! Biblical principles engage both the individual and the state. On the one hand, as an Christian individual I am to respond in a loving, positive way to any person in need as I encounter those persons. See Luke 10:25-37, James 2:1-17, and 1 John 3:17-18.  On the other hand, the government’s first responsibility is to protect its borders and secure the safety of its people. When God established Israel as a nation He also delineated specific borders – north, south, east, and west – in which He intended for His people to dwell in peace. Those who sought to cross those borders with the intent to harm individuals or the nation at large were immediately resisted and repelled. Sojourners were different, however. Sojourners were resident aliens or non-citizens who desired to live peacefully in Israel. They were to be treated with kindness, had to abide by and be judged by Israeli law, and were given various common sense civil rights. They were also required to assimilate into the Israeli culture but could not serve as rulers over the Israeli people. As individual Christians we are to take care of our responsibilities as to behave with kindness and consideration toward those resident aliens.


At the same time, governmental leaders are to take care of their responsibilities to promote the safety and security of this nation. Religious liberty is precious to us as Americans, not just for Christians but for all people of every religion who desire to live in peace. Peace is the operative word. Mr. Trump’s order has PEACE at its heart. All are welcome, but PEACE IS PARAMOUNT.


On a personal note, there are those who say that creating a more thorough vetting system will not make the country safer.  Isn't that like saying the installation of cameras in a bank will not make the bank safer?  Isn't that like saying locked doors will not make a home safer?  Isn't that like saying the presence of law enforcement officers will not make a city safer?  Of course, no action can guarantee 100% safety, yet common sense tells us that increased security measures will greatly increase the chances of safety.  For me, I had rather see 10,000 travelers inconvenienced than to see one American lose his or her life to at the hands of those who hate this nation and wants to harm its citizens.

The presidential election,   August 2016

Using the pulpit for a political platform is not something I normally do except in periods

when significant elections are approaching, such as that of a President. And then, I

generally reserve my remarks to biblical principles that should guide us in casting our

vote for a particular candidate. Those principles are not hard to find in the Word of God,

and they are meant to provide wisdom in making our decisions. Of course, the Bible

speaks to more than decision-making in choosing political leaders. It also establishes

guidelines for righteous and just behavior from our governmental leaders as well as the

policies they put in place.


We may talk about some of those things in the near future, but for the moment I

want to address what I believe is a grave concern for all of us, both as Christians and as

citizens of the United States. It is my understanding that our current President has

appointed numerous men and women to consultative positions who are also Muslims.

This group includes: top presidential advisor, Valerie Jarrett, who was born in Iran

where her parents still live; Assistant Secretary for Policy Development for Homeland

Security, Arif Aikhan; Homeland Security Advisor, Mohammed Elibiary; founder of the

Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam al-Marayati; and Sharia Czar, Imam Mohamed

Magid, of the Islamic Society of North America. This is, by no means, an exhaustive

list. It is also my understanding that Hillary Clinton"s top advisor, Huma Abedin is a

Muslim, whose mother and brother are involved in the activities of the Muslim

Brotherhood.


You can do your own research as to the implications of what may or may not be

going on in the administration of our highest political leader and what may or may not be the dangerous results. I have my opinion, but your interpretation of this information falls

squarely in your lap. However, Donna and I had a conversation recently with a man

who was born and raised in Egypt, a man who is now a naturalized citizen of the United

States, a man who is a born-again follower of Christ, and a man who has personally had

face-to- face encounters with Islam. Donna asked that man what he thought about

Donald Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the USA until an appropriate vetting

plan can be put in place. He replied, “Mr. Trump talks too much.” That may be true, but

it didn’t answer the question. He then said, “If Donald Trump is elected President and

keeps his promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until an appropriate vetting

plan can be put in place, he will save America. If America goes, then Europe goes –

and freedom will become a precious treasure lost due to lack of diligent watchfulness.”

This upcoming presidential election is not just about saving America; in a way it’s

about saving the world. It’s about remaining free to worship and believe as we are

convicted in our hearts. It is about the freedom to evangelize and express our views

publicly. It is about our children and the future they face. As for me, I believe that

among the primary responsibilities of government are the obligations to serve as the

guardian of our borders and a force for law and order, in other words, to protect and

defend this nation against all enemies both foreign and domestic, a phrase that stands

as part of the oath of office taken by all federal officials, both elected and appointed.

The leadership choices may not be great, but the stakes have never been higher.

Determine which candidate you believe will take that oath of office most seriously and

deal most urgently and effectively with those who are bent on destroying America by

any and every means possible. Know what’s going on. Get involved. Pray. And take

courage.


Stay in the Word and apply it to your life every day. Spend time on your knees

and ask believing. Keep a spirit of enthusiasm and expectation foremost in your heart,

mind and body. Above all, RADIATE POSITIVITY!!!!!

2525 N. McMullen Booth Rd

Clearwater, FL

33761


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Ph. 727.726.2550