As You Wish. . .



One of the most popular films of all time is the 1987 movie, “The Princess Bride.”  Like many films that have become classics, it was not a spectacular success in its original theatrical release.  However, the advent of the VCR and movie rental stores exposed it to a much wider audience, most of whom immediately fell in love with it.  Today, nearly thirty years after its initial release, The Princess Bride is one of the most beloved films ever.

At the heart of it, The Princess Bride is a love story.  In the opening sequences the beautiful Buttercup takes great pleasure in ordering the farm boy, Westley, to do various menial chores for her.  Each time she gives him an order, he softly replies, “As you wish,” and does as she has requested.  After several instances of this exchange, the narrator explains to the audience that Buttercup finally realized that when Westley, said, “As you wish,” he really meant, “I love you.”

Neither the author of the book, nor the director of the film, had any spiritual message in mind as they worked on this beautiful story.  However, there is a very basic spiritual truth to be found in Westley’s simple statement.  It is, in fact, a fundamental truth that marks mankind’s relationship to God from the beginning of time.  It is the truth that loving God means doing what He commands us to do.

God Himself spoke this truth when He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  In Ex. 20:4-6 God said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”  In other words, those who love God obey Him.  Those who don’t obey Him, hate Him.

When Jesus was upon the earth, He repeated this truth in Jn. 14:15.  On the night of His betrayal the Lord told the twelve, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  Later, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said to the Father, “. . . yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  This is it in a nutshell.  If we truly love God and love our Lord Jesus Christ, we will obey their commands.  This is how we say, “I love you,” to them.  Any response other than obedience means we hate them (Ex. 20:5).

This truth seems largely forgotten in the broader religious world today.  Much of modern church-going has become, “As I wish,” rather than, “As you wish.”  For example, some churches are constituted on the basis of what appeals to the largest number of people.  Other churches hold a finger to the wind and alter long-standing doctrines so they will not run afoul of political correctness.  Individual believers shop around to find a church that provides the programs and the worship experience that they most enjoy.  All of these loudly proclaim how much they love Jesus, even while they systematically ignore much of what the Lord commanded.

From the time that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, until the Lord comes again, God has required only one thing of mankind.  He requires us to show our love for Him by obeying what He has commanded.  He has not allowed anyone in any era of history to alter or ignore His word in any way.  Moses told Israel, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you”  (Deut. 4:2).  At the end of Revelation John wrote, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18, 19).  From cover to cover the scriptures require us to do what God commands.

By God’s own assessment, and by the proclamation of the scriptures delivered by means of His Holy Spirit, those who alter or ignore His commands actually hate Him, and His judgment will come upon those who do so.  On the other hand, if we truly love God, and if we truly love our Lord Jesus Christ, there is only one response we can make to what is written in the scriptures.  All we can say is, “As you wish.”

Obedience and Grace

Hand of a god-like creature pointing with finger.

A Facebook firestorm erupted recently when a faithful gospel preacher posted his response to a question that had been posed to him about what he called precision obedience.  His response was a masterful and biblically accurate recitation of God’s demand that His commands must be observed exactly as He gave them.  This preacher cited many examples, especially from the book of Deuteronomy, which clearly establish the principle that God does not allow us to serve Him however we may please.  Of course, many today discount such evidence because we are not under the Law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14).

The question of whether God requires precision obedience seems predicated on the assumption that in the Christian era we are not bound in such a way.  This is a pretty common precept among many professed believers.  They seem to think that if they love the Lord, worship Him with enthusiasm and sincerity, and do good deeds to those in need, the details of what they believe and practice are unimportant.  In one sense this is an expression of their reliance on the grace of God.  So then, if one stresses the necessity of obedience he is accused of ignoring grace, or of believing in salvation by works.  However, obedience and grace are not mutually exclusive.  They not only can co-exist, they must co-exist in the beliefs and practices of God’s people.

There is no question that we are saved by grace, because we do not possess the righteousness within ourselves to pay the debt for our sins. This is why Paul told Titus that the “grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11, 12).  It is also why he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).

We are saved by the grace of God who paid the debt for our sins through the blood shed by His Son on the cross (Col. 1:19, 20).  At the same time, however, God, through the very same Son, requires us to obey His will.  Jesus said that only those who do the will of the Father will enter heaven (Mt. 7:21-23).  He also said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15).  And when the Lord gave the Great Commission, He again emphasized the necessity of obedience.  He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19, 20).

Obedience does not negate grace.  Neither does grace negate obedience.  Both are essential to our salvation.  These precepts come together in the fact that we are incapable of perfectly obeying all that God commands us.  When we try with all sincerity to do all the Lord commands us, His grace covers our inability to perfectly obey Him.  However, it only covers our sins if we are, in fact, seeking to obey His will.  This is why King David, with all his sins, was called a man after God’s own heart, and King Saul was rejected by God.  David tried to do what God commanded with all his heart and sometimes failed.  Saul, on the other hand, altered God’s commands to suit himself and was condemned for being disobedient.  The bottom line in scripture is that one is either obedient or he is disobedient.  There is no “precision” to it.  When we sincerely seek to obey all that God has commanded, without altering it in any way, the grace of God makes our obedience acceptable to Him.



I Want To Go Home



One of the most beloved films of all time is the 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”  Long after its theatrical release this film became a favorite of generations of Americans due to its extensive airing on broadcast television.  The story is an entertaining mix of fantasy, humor, and the traditional values of right and wrong and personal responsibility that used to be the stock in trade of the film industry.  There is just enough danger and suspense to keep the audience’s attention and it concludes with the once typical happily-ever-after ending.

A key element in the film’s story is Dorothy’s consuming desire to go home.  Although Oz is an amazingly beautiful place, conveyed by being filmed in color versus the black and white of the opening and closing sequences, Dorothy just wants to go home.  Her magical adventure, her wonderful new friends, and her victory over the wicked witch are not enough to satisfy her.  She would gladly trade all of Oz’s delights just to be home once again with her family.

It may surprise us to learn that the great apostle Paul, as he neared the end of his ministry, had the same feelings that Dorothy expressed.  He just wanted to go home, but he had something substantially different in mind than Dorothy did.  As he awaited an audience with Caesar in Rome, Paul wrote to the church in Philippi and told them of his dilemma.  In Phil. 1:23-24 he said, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”

Paul’s ancestral home was in Tarsus in Cilicia, but that’s not where he wanted to go.  For Paul, home was being in the presence of the Lord. Even though he was doing some of the most important work a man could possibly do; even though he was highly regarded among the brethren all over the Roman Empire; and even though he continued efforts were so needed by the church, Paul just wanted to go home.  We can imagine Paul, like Dorothy, saying, “There’s no place like home.”

We may wonder how he could have such a desire to go to a place he had never been, and to think of this unknown place as home.  Yet it is not so hard to understand.  In Phil. 1:21 Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  In other words, his relationship with Christ was such that nothing in life could compare to it.  Whatever joy he might have had in life, it was nothing compared to his desire to be with the Lord.  For Paul, home was where the Lord was, even though he had never been to that place before.

We understand this in our own experience because home is where our loved ones are, no matter where that place may be.  We may have fond memories of the old family dwelling place or locale, but once the family is gone from that place it isn’t the same, is it?  As it turns out, it was not the place that was so special, but the fact that our family was there.  This was Paul’s attitude about going to be with the Lord.  He’d never been to that place, but it was home because the Lord was there, and nothing on earth would satisfy this desire.

This should be our attitude as well.  God gave us a beautiful world in which to live, full of all kinds of wonders to amaze us and to enhance our time here, but like the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.  My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.”  We should not be so attached to this place that we lose sight of where our true home is.  As we live our lives our overwhelming desire, and our every action, should be so we can go home to be with the Lord when we die (2 Cor. 5:8).  If we do so, then we will indeed live happily ever after, at home with the Lord.

(Note: Case in point to the theme of this article.  The photo above is the old Dominguez family home in Lake Elsinore, CA.  My father purchased this house after his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1945, and his mother and sisters lived in it for many years.  This was a favorite place for me in my youth, and I spent many happy times there.  This photo was taken a few years ago when I was visiting in CA on vacation.  I loved this place as a child, but it’s no longer home, because my loved ones are no longer there.)

The Altar of Molech



The pagan nations that surrounded Israel worshiped some of the most despicable gods of the ancient world.  One of the most hideous of these was a god called Molech, who was a favorite of the Ammonite people.  A central feature of worship to Molech was offering one’s children as a sacrifice to this god.  In the scriptures this human sacrifice is often referred to as making one’s children “pass through the fire” (2 Chr. 33:6).  It was such a repugnant practice that God specifically named this god, and this heinous practice, among the many things in which Israel was forbidden to engage (Lev. 18:21).

The altar of Molech as typically a large hollow metal structure with the god’s hands outstretched before him.  A fire was built within the base of the image and the entire structure was heated red-hot.  When the image was sufficiently hot, the worshiper would place his or her live child on the glowing hands of the altar.  The child then was consumed by the heat as a sacrifice to this god.

The very idea of such a thing is repulsive to us, but the scriptures tell us that some of the Israelites performed this abominable practice (Jer. 32:35).  The most significant Israelite to do so was evil King Manasseh.  In 2 Chr. 33:6 the scripture says that he made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-Hinnom.  It was this wickedness of Manasseh that appears to have been the last straw in ending God’s patience with Judah.  Within a few years of Manasseh’s death Judah went into captivity in Babylon.

When we reflect on such practices in the name of religion, we are appalled that people could commit such atrocities.  We look back at these ancient peoples and shake our heads at how ignorant and barbaric they were.  We congratulate ourselves that we live in a far more civilized and enlightened world than they.  In all fairness to these ancient peoples, however, it is clearly evident that our world is no less barbaric than theirs.  Nothing illustrates this truth better than recent revelations about what is happening in abortion clinics all over our country.

Living babies, complete with souls given by God (Eccl. 12:7), are literally being torn limb from limb by medical practitioners.  Not only this, but various body parts of these murdered babies are being sold for medical research.  The barbarity of tearing a living being limb from limb is exceeded only by the hypocrisy of those who justify this abominable practice.  While inside the mother’s womb, the child is conveniently called a “fetus”, or “fetal tissue”, as though it is not human.  However, once the abortion process begins, the abortionist does so in such a way that “human” organs (hearts, lungs, livers, brains, etc.) will be preserved to be sold for research.

The abortion industry is the modern equivalent of the ancient god Molech.  The abortion table is his altar, and the unborn children ruthlessly destroyed by hands who took an oath to first do no harm, are the living sacrifices killed on that altar.  It is the height of rebellion to God and to His will that people demand the “right” to terminate unborn human life primarily for their own convenience (statistics confirm that this is the case in most abortions performed today).  In this sense the ancients were more righteous, because they believed sacrificing their children would bring their god’s blessings upon them.  No such motivation exists in the abortion industry.

In Prov. 6:16-19 Solomon said there are seven things which are an abomination to God.  Among them is “hands that shed innocent blood.”  God condemned the sacrifice of children in the ancient world, and He is no less displeased with the practice of abortion today, no matter how euphemistically we may refer to it.  As Christians we must speak up on behalf of the innocent lives that are being sacrificed on the modern altar of Molech.