Half the Distance

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.
~ Psalm 119:136

A modern fable and the interpretation thereof

Theoretical physicist, Grayson Eccles, BS, MS, PhD, solely occupied a table for two at his favorite restaurant. At the late hour he preferred, the dining room was quiet and sparsely populated. He cut a portion from his filet mignon and winced at the clatter of plates and knives and forks, which interrupted his reverie. The diner opposite Eccles had a white-knuckle grip on the circular table in front of him with both hands. Eccles was mentally noting the diner’s pallor when commotion set to.

“We need a doctor!” Lots of people were rushing about and talking at once, but that cry at least was clear. If Eccles had not understood it, it was repeated sufficiently so he could make it out. “Hey!” Eccles turned his head as his waiter nearly perched on his left shoulder. “Aren’t you a doctor?” Eccles sighed. “I am not that kind of doctor.” The waiter moved closer, though Eccles didn’t think that was possible and concluded the waiter must be attempting to resolve the dichotomy paradox.

“I think this guy’s choking! Don’t you know the Heimlich?” Eccles thought about reaching for the glass of wine on his table, but rather drummed his fingers. “Sir, I am in the unbroken line of intellectual investigators traced back to the Copernican Revolution. If you wish to know about Descartes, Newton, Lagrange, or Einstein, I will happily oblige. If you’re trying to work out an understanding of thermodynamics, general or special relativity, or quantum mechanics, you could not apply to a better man for assistance. While Dr. Henry Heimlich was a commendable researcher and accomplished thoracic surgeon, I am not studied in his maneuver.”

A deathly still descended on the room. The waiter looked up at the victim, no longer struggling. EMTs poured through the doors and knew they were too late. They set about their solemn work. Eccles looked at the remains of his steak with pursed lips. He finished off his wine and sat the glass down. He glanced at his bill, mentally calculated 18%, laid down his cash, and left to go home. The waiter, as he later recounted the events of the evening, said Eccles went through door, putting on his hat, and muttering something about “half the distance.”

What meaneth this?

It is natural to be disgusted or angry with the Eccles character. How could he sit nearby, eating and drinking, while a man choked to death? How could he return home in his own cloud of abstract thought without being affected by what had just happened? It’s unthinkable, but do we well to be angry? In Eccles’ defense, he was a brilliant physicist. He was a man engaged daily in the great work of life. He had no medical training—not even a simple class in CPR. Staying consistent with the story, had he stood up and rushed over to the man, he would not have been able to save his life.

You recognize I have a point here. We can hardly fault the man for not saving someone’s life when it was not possible for him to do so. But…But, though he was not able to save the man had he tried, his indifference to the man’s suffering and death are inexcusable. Aside from the interruption from the waiter, his evening went on much the same it would have if the man had not choked. This is reprehensible. How could he simply not care?

Thou art the man

How can so many Christians be coldly indifferent to the condition of their lost family, friends, and neighbors? How can they go on about life while the lost are dying around them? Many Christians are scrupulous concerning abstract points of theology and distinctive doctrinal formulations, but are unmoved by the lost around them. We have all heard the excuses for indifference.

“I can’t save anybody. God does the saving.”
“No use pleading with sinners to come to Christ.”
“God’s going to save his elect regardless of what I do or don’t do.”
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
“You will be eaten by cannibals!”

It is absolutely true that we cannot save anyone else. We cannot even save ourselves. However, to disobey the commands to evangelize and to be without compassion for the lost is to not follow or be like Jesus. Jesus was moved with compassion for the lost and wept over the lost (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Luke 7:12-13; 19:41-42). Paul was similarly moved concerning his lost kinsman (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Paul plead with sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Even in the Old Testament we find a compassionate call to the lost (Isaiah 55:1-7; 65:2; Jeremiah 31:18-20). God has revealed himself as a God of wrath but also of mercy. Because he is so great in mercy, sinners are bid to come to him (Psalm 51:1; 130:7; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Do not blame doctrine for indifference. We could not produce a sounder theologian than Paul, or even Jesus himself, yet they both were moved with compassion toward the lost. Brother pastors and preachers, have we misplaced the emphases in our preaching such that we have lost Gospel-centeredness, and Christ-centeredness, producing a people with calloused indifference toward the lost and dying world? If so, we are actually leading people away from following Jesus and becoming more like Christ. Brothers, we must repent of such disobedience and misleading of God’s sheep and return to knowing nothing but Christ crucified and the preaching that manifests Christ in the sight of all (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

May God break our hearts and loose our tears over those who go on in unbelief. Let us never sit coolly by, eating and drinking, while thinking abstractly with people dying around us. And as far as our moral fable is concerned, we have only covered half the distance.

An Evangelism Story

I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and the unwise.
– Romans 1:14

An encouragement with practical helps.

Most Fridays I work from home instead of going into town where my office is. Not last Friday. I was behind on things and needed to get caught up and have access to my printers, so I went to the office. About the middle of the day, I was getting hungry. I went to the store to get some lunch meat and cheese to make a wrap back at the office. When I got back to the office, there was a man I had never seen before raking leaves in front of the building. I greeted him with a smile and went in.

I was putting away my things and preparing to make my lunch. It had only been a couple of minutes since I had come in and I heard a knock on the door. It was the man I had seen earlier. He asked if he could ask me a favor. He went on to explain that he was trying to get a job and he needed to get home so he could go get his ID. He told me how he had been trying to find work and the other man that worked there was the only one that had helped him out. (He was talking about the owner of the building. Apparently, he had paid him something to rake up the leaves around the building.) He told me that he felt like he had already done so much for him, he hated to ask him for anything else. I asked him where he lived and he told me. It was across town. I told him I would give him a ride and asked for just a couple minutes to put my things away and get my coat.

I put my stuff up quickly and rummaged around in my office but I didn’t have any more tracts. I hurriedly pulled one up on the computer and printed it out. I hurriedly texted a couple of brothers to ask them to pray. I grabbed my coat and stuck the tract in my pocket. I went out to the street and we got in my truck. I asked him his name and told him mine. As I pulled away from the curb I knew that we could spend the time in idle chit-chat or I could use the time to witness to him. He had already asked me what kind of work I did there and I had told him. In order to put myself thoroughly in the soup from the outset, I told him, as we were pulling away, that I was also a pastor. I told a little about our church, described where it was by the landmarks he knew, and invited him as best as I knew how so that he would know that he was welcome to visit.

I asked a couple of questions and he told me that he had been in prison for ten years and recently got out. He told me he had four children and twelve grandchildren in another state. He talked about his struggles and how hard it was as he was trying to get his life together. I told him I had seven children and knew that it can be hard to keep above water sometimes. I told him I would be praying for him and that I would tell the church and we would all be praying for him.

He had mentioned God a couple of times and kept talking about trying to get his life together. I told him that I did not believe in accidents. I believed God had brought us together that day. I asked him directly, “How is your relationship to God?” He admitted that it was not very good. He went on to talk about how he was trying and he needed to do better. I told him that no matter who we are, we can never do enough to make ourselves acceptable to God. I couldn’t do it and neither could he. I told him that sometimes people think we need to clean ourselves up in order to pray to God and be forgiven. I told him that one of the amazing things about the Gospel is that we don’t clean ourselves up in order to come to God. We come to him as we are, confessing our sins, repenting, and trusting only in Jesus Christ. I told him God cleans us up by washing us in the blood of Jesus Christ who died that sinners could be forgiven. I explained the Gospel to him as well as I could in a couple of minutes.

I asked him if there was anything specific we could pray for him about. He mentioned work again and that he really needed a job. He asked me to drop him at the corner, so I pulled over. I said if he had just a minute I wanted to pray with him before he got out. He agreed. I took off my hat, bowed my head, and called out to God to have mercy on him, to open his eyes to Jesus Christ and to find forgiveness in him alone. I asked God to manifest himself to him by opening the door for him to get the work he needed.

With tears in my eyes, I invited him to church again and told him I would be happy to see him there. I had never seen him before in my life and may never see him again. God knows. I came back to my office and prayed. I hope the Lord saves him. I hope that my motives were right and I left a blessed memory (Proverbs 10:7) where he will know that he needed help and he met a man on the street named Jeff who helped him and cared about him. I pray he will come to praise and glorify God because of it.

Why tell this story?

I do not tell you this story to make myself look like a hero. I could tell you about many failures. I have not done as much I should in life. A year or so ago I was leaving my office to get to church for the Wednesday service. While walking to my vehicle, I met a man that asked me for help and I told him I was sorry but I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anything, not even a dime on me. I got into the vehicle and immediately felt a weight of rebuke on me. I pulled out and went down the street to find the man, determined to do what I could for him and to share the Gospel with him. I drove all around two or three blocks and didn’t see him anywhere. I have no idea where he could have gone in such a short time. I drove away knowing I had neglected my responsibility and an opportunity.

I tell this to encourage and I want us to encourage one another. I was overwhelmed by the encounter I had that Friday. I have had others that didn’t go that well. I couldn’t seem to think of good things to say or couldn’t get the conversation to go right. Honestly, every one of us knows enough to have the conversation I had. I had not prepared beforehand. In fact, I had been distracted with my mind overwhelmed all week long. I know it wasn’t the greatest evangelism encounter in the last 100 years, but I believe the Spirit helped me in one of the most powerful ways I’ve experienced in a long time. I don’t know all God’s purposes in it, though I know they will be accomplished.

A few lessons learned along the way

Let me try to encourage by sharing some things I see in this encounter and others that will help us in our personal evangelism. These are just some practical things I’ve learned. My goal is to help someone get started. I am thinking mostly about cold-contact evangelism on the street where the encounter may be a one-time event.

     • We have to be willing to do it. We have to be willing to talk to people and especially the kind of people society teaches us to avoid. The example I have given is where someone came up to me to ask for help. I have found that people who really do have a need are much more open to talk to. People that come up to us may only be looking for a handout or may even be trying to swindle us with a fake story, but it is an opportunity handed to us to witness the Gospel to them.

     • It takes humility to connect with people. If we think of ourselves as better than them on some level, we will be condescending and they will know it. We have to be sincere in what we are doing.

     • We must be willing to listen to what they are saying, empathize with them, and respond to what they are saying. In other words, we need to have an actual conversation as far as we can and not give them a door-to-door salesman’s pitch. This goes along with the previous point and we must be concerned about the people we talk to. Evangelism is not a quota to meet.

     • We can have a hard time turning conversations sometimes. We initiate contact and quickly get sidetracked and struggle to bring the conversation to the Gospel. One way to help this is to step right in it early on. Tell them your first name, and that you are a Christian, and invite them to church. Give them a tract or card. This way you have at least put the conversation on a certain track quickly and also committed yourself to it.

     • We can sometimes get an opening to talk further by telling them we’re going to pray for them and then asking them if there is some specific need we can pray for them about. Again, we must be sincere and not trying to use a gimmick. We should be prepared to pray for them if we can right there. It’s a way of disarming a person and sometimes it opens the flood gates.

     • If we have listened, there have probably been a few cues we can use to bring the conversation to the Gospel. I noticed how the man I met kept talking about trying to get his life together and I used that to talk about how we cannot get ourselves together before God. It led easily to the Gospel and our need for repentance.

     • As a general rule it’s probably not a good idea to give money to people on the street. If someone tells me they need gas, food, or something like that, I usually offer to go get it for them. Few take me up on that offer. Some have. There is no playbook for how things are going to go. We should at least try to get something of the Gospel to people in every encounter.

Our job is to sow the seed and trust God for the results. Some people will refuse to talk or take anything from you. Some may want to argue with you. Some may be indifferent. Some may seem interested and give you openings to talk further. Remember we have successfully evangelized when we have made the Gospel clear to another person. We should always be inviting them to church. We also have to be willing to follow up. We have to be willing to receive them when they show up at church. We certainly must pray for them that God will work effectually in them.

The rest of the story

So what happened to the man I talked to that day? He came to our service the Sunday after I had met him. I was encouraged by that. I had a fairly long conversation with him after service that was mostly disappointing. He told me a lot of things about himself and his life. I don’t know if they were true or not. He may have been partially honest with me, completely honest, or lying about everything. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since.

We also have to realize we are going to have disappointments. Sometime we may invest in a person over a long time only to have them fall away. It can be painful. I pray for him. I am concerned about him. I have no idea what will happen with him. I am thankful that I at least had the opportunity to give him the Gospel and I pray God will use it to his salvation even if I never see him again.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 9

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 9

By our sins we are guilty before God and we need our sins to be covered. We don’t need the kind of covering that a child uses when they’re supposed to clean their room and instead they cover their toys with a rug. To the child the room may look clean, but a more discerning eye sees the problem has not been dealt with. We need the kind of covering for our sin that is a doing away with our sins permanently. We need them covered and remembered no more.

In the Bible we are taught about such a covering called atonement. Atone generally means to cover and is used in the Bible to describe the complete putting away of our sin and reconciling us to God. Because of our sins there is a breech between us and God that cannot be mended without doing away with our sins. In the atonement God provides, our sins are done away and we are reconciled to him.

The Bible teaches the atonement in a few different ways to reveal a fuller picture of what it means to receive atonement for our sins. There are two main categories of teaching on the atonement in the Old Testament—types, or figures, and prophecies. These teach us about the nature of the atonement and what it does.

Types in the Bible are figures or representations where one thing is a picture of something else. For instance, if you’re familiar with the life of David at all then you’ve seen David as a type of Christ. Certain events or even certain conditions in David’s life are representative and teach us about Jesus Christ, the Savior. Likewise, there are figures for the atonement.

The first type of the atonement we meet with in the Bible is in Genesis 3:21 where God took “coats of skins” and clothed Adam and Eve.

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
– Genesis 3:21

God had created Adam first and then created Eve from Adam. God brought them together as husband and wife and placed them in the Garden of Eden. They were created in a sinless state and, as husband and wife, they had no clothes or coverings on their bodies and they were “not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Their nakedness represented their sinless state, intimacy of relationship, and vulnerability before God. They had nothing to hide. However, Eve sinned when she took and ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. She also gave to Adam and he ate after her.

Upon eating the fruit, their eyes were opened, i.e. they gained the knowledge/experience of sin they previously lacked. They were no longer sinless and they immediately tried to cover their bodies because they were now ashamed.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
– Genesis 3:7

They made themselves small coverings of fig leaves, but these were not adequate. After pronouncing the curses because of sin, God slew the animals and made clothes out of their hides to cover Adam and Eve.

This type teaches the need for a covering. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves because of the shame of sin, but man cannot cover his own sin no matter how hard he tries. His covering is not acceptable. God mercifully covered them with an acceptable covering as a picture of the covering they needed.

The next major type of the atonement is in the blood of the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:1-30. God was going to bring a plague of the death of the firstborn on Egypt. He had Moses warn the Israelites that this plague was coming and he gave them instructions to be delivered from it. Each house was instructed to take a first-year, unblemished lamb for their house. They were to kill the lamb and eat it in a certain way. They also had to take the blood of the lamb and smear it on the door posts and lintel of the door of their house. God sent his angel throughout the land of Egypt that night, and every house that did not have the covering of blood experienced the death of the firstborn of the house.

Israel was taught that a covering of blood was required to save life. The instructions were specific about the lamb and what was done with it. Just any covering would not do and they were not free to come up with their own plan. When the covering God provided was on the house, the angel passed over that house and life was saved. They learned that the covering protected them from the judgment of death.

The next types of the atonement are found in the law of the offerings in Leviticus chapters 1 to 7. These were the animal sacrifices required by the law to cover sin, restore fellowship, and to make clean what had been defiled. The law contained detailed directions for what animals could be offered in different situations. They specified how the sacrifices were to be killed and the steps for burning on the altar. When these were done properly, the sinner was told it was accepted and atonement was made for him. His sins were covered.

These sacrifices were a type of the atonement because they were not the actual atonement but only pointed to it. In other words, these sacrifices weren’t actually effectual at covering sin.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshipers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
– Hebrews 10:1-6

These animal sacrifices taught that sin required the shedding of blood for remission (Hebrews 9:22). The fact that they had to be repeated continually showed they weren’t an adequate covering but that a better covering was needed.

Another type of the atonement covering was figured in the Day of Atonement when the high priest would go into the holy of holies in the tabernacle annually to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:1-34). The holy of holies was separated by a thick curtain and no one was ever allowed to go behind that curtain except the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. In order for him to enter, which is a type of coming into the presence of God, he had to have a covering of blood and the smoke of the incense. We could plunge deep into all the details of this, but it suffices our purpose here to recognize that once again we are taught that we must have a covering to come into God’s presence and not die in judgment.

Types are figures that point us to the antitype, or the reality. This quick survey of some types of the atonement teaches us the need for a real covering. The one covering we need and the one covering that is acceptable is not anything we can make or contrive ourselves. Beside types, the Bible also teaches us about the atonement through prophecies and that’s what we want to consider in the next chapter.

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.

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