Ambassador of Reconciliation

CP Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

Posted 2/15/12 at 1:42 PM | Diane Castro

"I Can Only Imagine"

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine.

(Bart Millard, 1999; recorded by MercyMe)

The death of Bart Millard’s father prompted the singer to meditate about heaven and eventually to write the song “I Can Only Imagine,” in which he tries to picture what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus. Sooner or later, particularly after the death of a loved one, most people ponder what life after death will be like. Eric Clapton wrote “Tears in Heaven” after the tragic death of his young son. He asks, “Would you know my name / If I saw you in heaven? / Would you feel the same / If I saw you in heaven?” Johnny Cash asks, “Should you go first or if you follow me / Will you meet me in Heaven some day?” We long to know the answers to questions like these.

Meditating about heaven is good. Contemplating God’s awesome works—past, present, and future—causes us to be worshipful and thankful. And thinking about where we are headed changes the way we behave here. Are we looking forward to and preparing for meeting Jesus face to face? Are we living in a way that is pleasing to God, so that we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Are we growing in sanctification so that we will be fit to live in His presence for eternity? Our sanctification will not be complete in this life, but the process should be ongoing every day so we are ready for His coming. As Paul said to the Thessalonians, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). FULL POST

Posted 2/9/12 at 1:04 PM | Diane Castro

Heir of All Things

In “Reconciliation: The Heart of God’s Grand Plan for Creation,” I show the grand sweep of God’s purposes in Colossians 1:15–20. Speaking of “the Son he [the Father] loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (13, 14), Paul says,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Another passage that shows the whole sweep of God’s plan for all creation is Hebrews 1:1–4: FULL POST

Posted 2/3/12 at 12:07 PM | Diane Castro

What Are the Fruits?

Three years ago, I wrote the draft of an essay called “What Are the Fruits of the Two Views: Eternal Damnation and Ultimate Restoration?” I was planning to do more research into church history to examine the consequences of these two belief systems at a societal/national level, but I have decided to save that topic for a later essay and just post my original thoughts. Here is the text word-for-word as I wrote it in January, 2009.

One way (though not the only way and not a foolproof way) to determine whether a doctrine is of God is to examine its fruits. A doctrine that is of God should produce godly fruit. If a teaching itself (not just the sinful, imperfect implementation of it) produces rotten fruit, its scriptural validity should be questioned. (Consider, for example, the fruits of the belief that the Bible supports slavery.)

So what are the fruits of the different views of life after death and heaven and hell? While I cannot prove a definite cause-and-effect relationship, I believe that there is evidence to suggest that a belief in eternal damnation tends to produce unholy fruit. It is true that fearing that one’s friends and relatives are headed for hell can create a greater sense of urgency in sharing the gospel. Yet even that urgency can turn ugly if it is driven by fear and makes people feel pressured. People often react negatively to the implication (or assertion) that they are going to hell, so that rather than being drawn to the Lord and attracted to His people, they are driven away. FULL POST

Posted 1/28/12 at 11:09 PM | Diane Castro

"Let Justice Roll On Like a River"

Reading George Sarris’s post about justice reminded me of an essay I wrote in 2010. Our human justice system can give us insight into God’s justice, because our sense of justice is derived from the conscience and reason He has given us. He has planted in us a sense of right and wrong, and although it is imperfect, we should pay attention to what it tells us.

Recently I have been giving thought to the whole concept of justice. What constitutes true justice? How is human justice similar to and different from divine justice? Will there ever be complete justice?

The dictionary defines justice as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness; the administering of deserved punishment or reward.” That which is just is “guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness; in keeping with truth or fact; rightful, equitable; given or awarded rightly; deserved, as a sentence, punishment, or reward.”

What does justice look like in our human legal system? Let’s take the case of robbery: a thief breaks into a home and steals a diamond ring. Justice would involve capturing the thief, trying and punishing him, returning the ring to its rightful owner, and perhaps rewarding someone who helped recover the ring. What about someone who embezzles an elderly couple’s life savings? Again, justice means making it right: punishing the perpetrator and forcing him to restore what he has taken unlawfully. FULL POST

Posted 1/24/12 at 5:29 PM | Diane Castro

Sorrow and Hope

Those who have opposed my teaching about ultimate reconciliation will be pleased to know that your efforts have resulted in my being asked to step down as a leader in Bible study. After more than a quarter of a century with this group, it is heartbreaking to be told to stop doing the work I love. Year after year, despite many challenges and trials in my own life, God confirmed that He wanted me to continue in leadership, and I assumed that I would be with the study until I died. I thought if we ever moved to another state, or even back to my husband’s home country of Peru, I would seek out a sister study and get involved there. Having always been committed to the study and supportive of its philosophy, I never thought I would find myself in this position.

And yet, God often uses difficult situations to shake us out of our assumptions and lead us in new directions. We might not voluntarily choose a certain path; He may need to rattle our complacency and open our eyes to the path He chooses for us. Our responsibility is to remain faithful, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and choose joy instead of bitterness.

One thing I am looking forward to is the greater opportunity to share the truly Good News of Jesus’ complete victory over sin and death on the cross. Out of respect for the study, I refrained from bringing up the topic, but now that I am not a representative of the study, I have freedom to share what I hold dear and to openly proclaim “the reconciliation that God has purposed for His creation and [help] people experience restoration and reconciliation with Him, with one another, and within themselves,” as I state on my blog. FULL POST

Posted 1/20/12 at 2:40 PM | Diane Castro

The Minister's Wooing

Many years ago, I read Uncle Tom's Cabin and was so moved that I read another novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister's Wooing. The novel is set in Puritan New England. Mrs. Marvyn's son Jim, who was not a professing believer, has been lost at sea, and Mrs. Marvyn is wracked with grief and despair to the point where she abandons her faith. Her young friend Mary is at a loss to help her, and for all their lofty ideas, the theologians have nothing to offer the grief-stricken mother. But in comes Candace, her old black maid, who "talks gospel" to her. Unlike the theologians, Candace gets it! I wept when I first read her words, and they have often ministered to me since; I photocopied the chapter with Candace's words and pull it out when I need to be reminded who Jesus really is and how much God loves us. If you can wade through the dense theological discourse at the beginning of the chapter, the words of Candace will be all the sweeter.

The Minister's Wooing
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
1859 (Public Domain)

Chapter XXIII: Views of Divine Government

WE have said before, what we now repeat, that it is impossible to write a story of New England life and manners for superficial thought or shallow feeling. They who would fully understand the springs which move the characters with whom we now associate must go down with us to the very depths. FULL POST

Posted 1/18/12 at 7:49 AM | Diane Castro

A Challenge for the Church

The Church of Jesus Christ has a huge problem on its hands: a large and growing number of Christians worldwide believe that God is ultimately going to save everyone. This belief represents a serious threat to the orthodoxy that has held sway for centuries. If the belief in universal salvation is false, then the Church is in danger of being corrupted by a dangerous heresy. On the other hand, if the belief is true, then the Church has been horrifically misrepresenting God for centuries by saying that He created billions of people only to have them end up forever banished from Him and subjected to endless conscious torment.

So either way—whether ultimate restoration is false or true—the Church faces an enormous challenge. Personally I believe that the whole matter of heaven and hell and who goes where and why and for how long is one of the top five critical issues confronting the Church, if not the most crucial. What could be more important than the eternal destiny of mankind? What part of the Christian message is more essential than presenting the truth about one’s relationship to God and how it affects what happens beyond this life? Those who accept the Bible as the Word of God believe that it is the only reliable source of information about the afterlife, so it is exceedingly important that we get it right and that we accurately present God’s truth to a lost world. FULL POST

Posted 1/14/12 at 10:54 AM | Diane Castro

"I Have Called You by Name"

A little boy was looking at a plaque in his church that listed the names of men from the congregation who had been in the military and had given their lives in service to their country. He asked, "Pastor, who are those people?" The old pastor replied solemnly, "Son, those are boys who died in the service." The little boy looked up wide-eyed and asked, "Pastor, did those boys die in the 8:00 service or the 10:00 service?"

All of us want our names to be known and remembered, because it means that our lives have value, that we matter to somebody. We honor people by putting their names not only on plaques but on tombstones and trophies and statues and diplomas and in halls of fame. In a few weeks, some legendary football players will be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s a huge honor, and it must be terribly exciting to have your name immortalized that way.

But as thrilling as it is to be in a hall of fame and to have your name known all over the world, it can’t begin to compare to being known by the living God. He knows each of us by name. And He came down to earth as a human being, in human skin, so that we could know Him personally. Look what He did for Mary Magdalene. When Jesus died, His followers were devastated and they ran away in fear and discouragement. Not really knowing what to do, Mary went to the tomb and stood there crying (actually, the word means she was wailing with grief). John tells what happened next in chapter 20 of his gospel. This passage contains what I think is one of the single most exciting words in the whole Bible. FULL POST

Posted 1/11/12 at 1:03 AM | Diane Castro

Homecomings, Part 2

In Part 1 I shared some stories about homecomings—tragic stories in which some did not make it home, and joyous stories in which everybody was reunited or rescued.

Some will say that these stories are only anecdotes, not theology, and you can’t draw such analogies to God’s plan for humanity. "The Bible doesn’t teach that all people will be rescued," they say, "it’s just wishful thinking." We wish for assurance that all those we love will be in heaven. And some find joy in the thought of even terrible sinners being redeemed. We have heard testimonies of murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and abusers who have been pardoned and transformed, and each one is a testament to God’s grace and a source of joy to us and to the angels. We want to hear more of those stories, and we assume that if it is good for one sinner to be saved, it must be better for two to be saved, or ten, or a million, or a billion. We imagine heaven filled with redeemed sinners all praising God.

But of course it’s not true that all people will be saved. Many have refuted such a notion with statements like the following: “You’re trying to impose your own desires on God’s Word, which makes it clear that some people will be forever separated from God, as the majority of godly and learned Christians over the ages have understood.” “Believing that God will save everybody in the end is tantamount to saying that ‘all paths lead to heaven,’ an accommodation to the liberalism and ‘tolerance’ of our age.” “The ‘Universalist Jesus’ fits in very well with the tolerant, pluralistic spirit of postmodern culture.” “You think you are ‘enlightened,’ so you reject the idea of eternal damnation simply because it doesn’t make sense to you or because it offends your enlightened moral intuitions.” “Telling yourself that a loving God can’t possibly torment or reject anyone for all eternity may help to ease the psychic pain of parents whose children are unbelievers, but certainly the idea that He will redeem everyone cannot be supported from Scripture.” FULL POST

Posted 1/5/12 at 11:44 PM | Diane Castro

Homecomings, Part 1

As the last of our children leaves to go back to college after the Christmas holidays, I find myself thinking about homecomings. The holidays are a time for homecomings—joyous reunions of family and friends from far and near. Here are some vignettes about homecomings. How does your heart respond to them?

As Christmas approached, I was looking forward to having my husband home from the hospital after major surgery and to the arrival of the kids and grandkids. Only our next-to-youngest son would be missing; he is teaching English in Spain for the school year and would not be able to come home because of the distance, time, and expense. But just as we were about to sit down for dinner on Christmas Eve, in came Andy from Spain! The kids had orchestrated the surprise, chipped in for his ticket, and arranged for a friend to pick him up at the airport so we wouldn’t get suspicious. Then on Christmas Day, we had our whole family together, gathered from north, south, west, and east—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Florida, Indiana, California, and Spain.

Would it really have mattered if only one person out of 16 had been missing? Yes! Of course I was thrilled that so many could come, but there would have been an empty spot if Andy had not been here. The joy would have been tempered by the sadness of knowing that someone was left out. My friend was lamenting that not all her children could be home for Christmas; she even wants her daughter to marry a Jewish boy so she doesn’t have to share her daughter with the in-laws at Christmastime! FULL POST

load more