Friday, December 17, 2021

The Lonely Santa's Accidental Promise


In July Frank stopped trimming his beard. By the time the giant tree went up at the mall, the proud white puff covered his chin and spread appropriately over the top of his velvety red coat. Despite his amazing morph into the jolly old elf, he worried kids from the neighborhood would know it was him. He couldn’t hide the rattle in his voice. Or the involuntary blink of his left eye. On day one of his part-time Santa job, a mom yanked her daughter off his lap and called him a creep.

“What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. “Stop winking at my little girl.”
The twenty-something photographer laughed. A couple of moms near the front of the line grabbed their tots and retreated from the Christmas village to the safety of the food court. Frank opened his eyes wide, but the blinking continued. So he shut the left eye for the rest of his shift. Three hours and he didn’t open that eye. His cheek made up for the need to blink by twitching every few seconds. But this seemed less disturbing to young moms. Or maybe they didn’t notice at all.
On day two a member of the neighborhood gang showed up. The short kid from across the street. He must have been about five. A Santa cap hung at an angle on his head. Frank had shooed the little petunia crusher from his yard more than once. Now here he was climbing onto Santa’s lap expecting to be forgiven for the Spring of Deflowering.
“What do you want for Christmas, little boy?”
“I want one of those tractors that really goes,” the kid said. “You know, with the big tires.”
Great. “What do you plan to do with a tractor?”
“You talk funny. Like that man with the pretty flowers in his yard.”
“Flowers, huh? I bet he works really hard to get those flowers to grow so pretty.”
“Nah, he just sticks them in the ground and waters them. But if I had a tractor I could help him.”
Old St. Nick’s left eye blinked. “Well, maybe you should just keep your tractor in your own yard.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide and a smile lit his face. “Thanks, Santa!”
“For what?”
“I’ll keep it in my own yard if that’s what you want. Thanks for getting me one.”
The kid jumped down and ran to his mother. Frank had seen her only a few times. Never saw a man across the street. Not once. The young woman smiled. Until the kid started bouncing.                                                                                          

“Santa said I’m getting a tractor just like I wanted!”

Mom caught Santa’s stare, drew her brows tight, and shook her head.

Frank’s left eye blinked, and the young woman opened her eyes wide and hurried away, dragging the boy by the hand.
Santa spent the rest of his shift trying hard not to mislead children. Especially the ones who might figure it was him in the red suit. But no other familiar little runts climbed up on his knee that day.
Or for the rest of the week, for that matter. Except for the curly-haired princess who lived at the end of the block. She was too little to cause any problems. But give her a couple of years. Seemed her parents recognized Frank because the man gave him a knowing smile and the woman waved. They looked like nice folks.
After a couple of weeks of repetitious replies and worn knees, Frank got a paycheck. A little bonus to his fixed income. Money to get him through the winter. When his shift ended, he went to the company office at the end of the food court and changed his clothes. The next Santa on duty nodded a cheerful greeting as he strolled out to the Christmas village. And Frank headed home.
The kids hadn’t been too bad. In fact, he liked the conversation. It’d been a long time since he'd talked so much to so many people. And life, for now, didn’t seem so lonely. But the accidental promise he’d implied to the little boy across the street weighed on him. He’d watched out his window when the boy’s mother counted the change in her purse before climbing into her old car. No decorations had gone up on her house.
On the drive home, he passed the big toy store. One of the few remaining stores like it, Frank had heard. Online shopping was the way to go. But not for Frank, or a few others, it seemed, because the parking lot was packed. Frank hadn’t been in a toy store since he was a boy. And back then, a toy store didn’t fill eight thousand square feet. Must be a very different kind of place now. He turned at the light and found a space near the road. Before he reached the entrance, a kid pulled on his coat.
“Hey, aren’t you Santa? What are you doing at the toy store? Don’t you have some elves making stuff for you?”
“Uh, no, I’m not Santa.” His left eye blinked.
The little girl smiled. And winked back at him.
He hurried into the store, gave up on finding what he was looking for, and asked a uniformed, gum-smacking teen for help.
“In the back against the wall past the bikes and before the motorized cars,” the boy told him.
Frank headed left, passing trains and dolls and a lot of other stuff he didn’t recognize as being like any toy he’d ever known as a child. And there on the back wall he found them. The battery operated, fully detailed, big-wheeled tractors capable of flattening every plant in his yard. He checked the price. Two week’s pay in the pocket of a part-time Santa would cover it. With enough left over for wrapping paper and a bow. Frank smiled. And for the first time in many years, he whistled a Christmas tune.

Merry Christmas


Friday, October 15, 2021

Sharing Fay Lamb's New Blog

The inaugural post of Fay Lamb's new blog went online yesterday, and it's all about Our Town Atheist! Fay edited Our Town Atheist, as well as Wake the Dead. I appreciate her so much. I'm looking forward to learning about other books and writers in the coming weeks on Fay 's brand new blog, The Scoop on New Christian Ficiton.  I hope you will follow her on this new venture! Check it out--here's the link:

Our Town Atheist- The Scoop's Inaugural Post

Remember, today is release day for Our Town Atheist in paperback! Buy links can be found in Fay's post.

Friday, September 24, 2021

How I First Met My Make Believe Atheist Friend

Notification came this week that my novel, Our Town Atheist, will finally release in paperback. The e-book hit the market nearly a year ago, and more than a few
people have asked me when the old-school, flip-the-pages edition would be available. Here's the answer: October 15th!  You can pre-order on Amazon:

By the way, Our Town Atheist recently won an award from NEST, National Excellence in Storytelling!

Excited at the prospect of actually holding this book in my hands, I was reminded of what led to the story. A couple of posts about atheism brought more comments than any other posts I had written, up to that point. Some were not so kind, but others were simply curious about my position. That's when Adam Bender wandered into my writer's head and made himself comfortable. He was a friendly sort, no agenda, no need to criticize believers. He just wanted to blend in, to live an uncomplicated life. Of course, he's the lead character in a novel, so that was out of the question.

Adam Bender, perhaps, softened my view of the atheist. Not that I was hardened in my perception, but that initial blog post might have, to an atheist, come off as being written by someone who didn’t have any atheist friends. Well, I’ve had a few, but none too closely. Until Adam. I know what you're thinking. Yes, I made him up. But to me, he still counts.

Does the story end with Adam coming on over to the other team? I think so, but, perhaps out of respect for the atheist community, Adam never really told me for sure. You, the reader, may come to your own conclusion.

Here’s the post that started it all. If you’re an atheist, don’t take offense. I’m not here to dismiss your opinion or trample on your rights. If you’re a believer, pay attention to what some atheists think about the authenticity of your faith. And make sure they’re not right.

The Faith of the New Atheist

Spreading a post-modern, judicious brand of unbelief.

I wonder if even 10% of the people who proclaim their belief in God actually do believe in God.  Daniel Dennett1

As one of the leaders of the New Atheism, Mr. Dennett wonders about belief. He questions whether those of us who claim belief in God really possess it. Perhaps we only believe in believing in God, because believing in God is a good thing. Believers, whether genuine or not, might scoff. They’ll likely become defensive or act offended. Personally, I’m glad Mr. Dennett brought it up. Religious people should ask themselves whether they believe, or only believe in believing. Christians need to have an answer as to exactly what they believe. And they ought to know why they believe it. Otherwise, the fair and reasonable wonderment of Daniel Dennett will cut a hole in their flimsy belief in believing.

Mr. Dennett stands with a few other authors and thinkers who have earned the title of leader among the New Atheists. They include Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and probably the most recognized in the pop-cultural movement, Richard Dawkins. Harris expresses worry about people “pretending to know things they clearly can’t know.” In my Christian experience, I’m somewhat concerned about that too. I don’t want to pretend to know what I should know definitively. That is, the truth of Scripture and the message of the Gospel. The late Christopher Hitchens believed “being an atheist is something you are, not something you do.” I hold to that faithful philosophy as well. Being a Christian is not something I do. It’s a much deeper reality than that. Dawkins states that “evolution led him to atheism.” I too was led (by the truth of the Word of God), and it took faith to follow. The New Atheist speaks with the same tenet of belief I hear from Christians.

The unbelievers are evangelical and their language proves it. They write books, and their books are not sloppy or lazy. These people are educated, practiced, and convinced. The movement spreads its message not only in bookstores and online, but on billboards. While religion may be banned in schools, there is no rule against atheistic ideals. At the college level, the ethics of atheism spread further and anchor deeper in the worldview of each generation.

The faithful atheist becomes a proselytizer. Rivaling Christianity in the number of organizations, the New Atheism offers endless websites, blogs, magazines, newsletters, social groups and clubs. The only organizational distinctions between the atheists and Christians are prayer groups and charities. Of course, some charitable organizations are supported by the New Atheists. At the top of the list is Planned Parenthood. Go figure. Also listed among charities likely to include atheist donors are helpful institutions like Doctors without Borders and The American Red Cross. Christians might support these, even join the cause, out of concern for humankind. But a line is drawn between the atheist donor and the Christian giver.
The atheist might say Christians crosses the line with a hidden agenda to use charity as a means for evangelism. But perhaps the same line, with an altered purpose, is crossed by the atheists. They’re aggressive in their quest to spread the message of New Atheism around the world.

What is the message? There is no hope, no promise, no eternal life. No God. So…if there is nothing, why the fervent hunt for converts? I think it goes back to what Dawkins said—that he was led by evolution. I’m not arguing evolution with him or anybody else—it’s pointless and useless. But I question if that’s actually what led him. Jumping the chasm to atheism isn’t a direct leap of the intellect. A brilliant, deity-denying atheist can follow Satan’s call as swiftly and unwittingly as a fool.  The end result is the same as it is for the one who believes that believing in God equates being redeemed by God. The faith of the New Atheist binds him to the unseen, completely disregarded, adamantly denied power of darkness. It’s the opposite of heeding God’s call, but it does take faith. And it does promise eternity. The kind not even a fool would want.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Far-Reaching Gospel

 Gospel blog #8

Nearly four hundred years ago, a movement within the Christian community engineered the future of the church by stressing field preaching, aiming to draw in young people, the writing of innovative hymns, taking those hymns outside the church, and meeting together in small groups. The fields have become streets, and street preachers are not typically well received. But the overall plan suggests a modern approach.

Of course, nobody wants to hear how European pietism of the 1600s shaped modern evangelism. Not right now. Too many oddities have swept over Christianity in the new world and this is not the time to delve into church history. What we need now is the safe comfort of an American Bible-belt sanctuary filled to the last pew with clean-cut, straight-laced, but not too politically correct believers. We want the familiar, the good old-time religion. We don’t want the wrong crowd, the radical music, the broad political agenda, or the apprehension of too much evangelism in a hostile environment. We just want a place to call our own where the outsiders won’t bother us. Maybe that’s a good definition of church for some, but it doesn’t carry the Gospel into the broken world.

While the movement of those long-ago believers progressed, their culture endured political and religious wars. In the thinking of most of the population, the evil of slavery was socially acceptable. Witchcraft and paganism were common. This was no Bible belt. If the average family had access to scripture, it wasn’t in the form of several faux-leather copies piled unread in the den. This was a harsh existence for most. The voice of the Gospel, however, rose above the obstacles as it always must.

Living the Christian life has never been easy. Looking back, it may seem a more pleasant and peaceful saneness blessed a generation or two at various points in history. But peace not found in Christ is an illusion. Sometimes, it’s a very good illusion that demands to be kept. Then a generation comes to its senses by revelation or oppression, and the Gospel moves. It reaches into a stained society to free those wrenched in unbelief. It calls to the ones deemed unclean. It meets the threat of perversion. It counters the claim of irrelevance. It is a far reach the Gospel sustains into the uncomfortable places we thought we could avoid.

It is the joy of the church to tell the old story anew in times of trouble. It is not the privilege of the church to remain forever content in its surroundings. Our security is not of this world, nor our hope in this world. Our guarantee is not to remain citizens of a Christian nation. Nor should we think our national leaders are anything but appointed by God for some purpose. If their objective proves detrimental for us, then God will be sufficient. And by His will the message of the Gospel will become a louder cry.  

A very old hymn that was once new:

Christ, the Life of All the Living

Christ, the life of all the living;
Christ, the death of death our foe;
Christ, for us yourself once giving
to the darkest depths of woe:
through your suffering, death, and merit,
life eternal we inherit;
thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.

 You have suffered great affliction
and have borne it patiently,
even death by crucifixion:
our atonement full and free.
Lord, you chose to be tormented,
that our doom should be prevented;
thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.

Lord, for all that bought our pardon,
for the sorrows deep and sore,
for the anguish in the garden,
we will thank you evermore.
For the victory of your dying -
sinful nature mortifying -
thousand, thousand thanks are due,
dearest Jesus, unto you.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Selfless Gospel

 And my selfish pursuit of survival.

Gospel blog #7

Here’s what I needed: To be rescued from among the fallen, reconciled with God, restored to a condition worthy of eternity in Heaven, and redeemed from unavoidable death.

So I turned to Christ to rescue, reconcile, restore, and redeem me. I needed it. I wanted to possess it. And in my quest for self-preservation, I obtained it. I’m a selfish being.

Here’s what Christ needs: Nothing from me or anyone else.

But he offered to rescue me. He became my reconciliation with God. He gave me His righteousness, and therefore passage to eternity in Heaven. He redeemed me from the death I couldn’t escape.

Here’s what it cost me: Nothing.

Here’s what it cost Him: A trade of glory for flesh and gravity. The cross. The strong grip of death apart from the loving presence of the Father.

Here’s what I gained: Knowledge of God. Fellowship with others like me and inclusion in Christ’s church. Awareness of life as it’s meant to be. The ability to follow God. The experience of His glory. Overwhelming identification with His grace.

Here’ what Christ gained: The approval of His Father. The church. The right to redeem the entire earth over which He will soon rule unchallenged. The crown of the One True King. Glorification.

Did he do what he did to accomplish this goal? No. It was all His before He spoke the world into being. He is—His Gospel is—completely selfless. Here are a few other things He gained: Hatred. Mocking. Widespread, blatant disrespect. Apathetic, half-hearted consideration. Adamant refusal.

Even my own selfish need for His selfless gift wasn’t really selfish at all. If He hadn’t pointed out my need, I never would have known. In a way, my selfishness is rooted in His selflessness. If He didn’t show up, I wouldn’t have looked for Him. As it is, I gave up clinging to what I thought I knew about life to obtain…life. And life is in Christ.

Another one of those paradoxical truths? God’s glory gained by selflessness. My redemption realized out of a selfish need to live and not die. The rhythm of salvation. The poetry of grace. God came down to live a simple human life in an ancient land and then He died on a cross. And then He conquered death. And then I accepted His astonishing remedy to cure what I didn’t know was wrong with me until He told me. For His glory, for my life, I’ll take it. What else can I do? There is no other way.

And this is the testimony, that God gives us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I John 5:11-12

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Intolerant Gospel

 Gospel blog #6

Tolerance, subjective thinking, and Pharisees

Much is expected of us, even demanded, regarding the virtue of tolerance. At its essence, it is an honorable mindset—accepting of others and kind in speech and action. In its expression, it has evoked a cultural shift into something less generous. The finger of the enlightened often points at Christians as being the source of all intolerance. They’re staunch, backward throw-backs thumping their Bibles and thumbing their noses. Well, there are some of them out there. They give the rest of us a bad name.

But there are as many personalities among Christians as there are among Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims and Jews. And even atheists. Personally, I’m a tolerant sort, preferring the life of a disciple as opposed to a Pharisee. By that I mean I choose to never stop learning and growing as a believer. I don’t consider any person beyond redemption.  And I refuse to hang my believer’s hat on anything other than the Gospel.

Is there a ring of intolerance in that last statement? Am I denying there may be some other way besides the one I follow? Isn’t the Gospel itself a picture of intolerance?  

In light of contemporary reasoning, the Gospel of Christ is considered to carry a message contrary to a more acceptable philosophy of subjectivity. Though we Christians may claim separation from worldly attitudes, trends edge into our thinking. Soon we’re convinced it’s no longer enough to be kind. We must now be in complete agreement with everybody. But that throws doubt at our convictions. We start to believe what’s true for us may not be true for all. Perhaps there are no absolutes. The best we can do is hold to an ineffective belief system and practice being less offensive.

But it isn’t simply a thought adjustment aimed at Christians. The ideology infects our entire society and leads us all down the same crooked road. Now tolerance is the rule and anyone who breaks the rule is an outlaw. Our very thoughts make us criminals, and what was intended to free us becomes our prison. We fall under the oppression of subjective thinking. And we call it tolerance.

Should we blame the liberal media? Probably. But what about the modern-day Pharisee? Like the leaders in Jesus’ day who didn’t appreciate His commonality with the less sanctified, we’ve all encountered Christians set on attaching something other than grace to redemption. They insist you fit the profile. And while I might make their cut, I find myself intolerant of their insistent badgering and eye-rolling. I’d rather be with Jesus and the tax collectors.

Which brings me to the intolerance of the Gospel. It’s only there if you look at it backwards. The Gospel is not about cleaning up so you can follow Christ. That might be what the Pharisees want you to believe. But it’s actually about following Christ and hiding behind Him so God won’t look at how filthy you are. Is there only one way to get to that safe place? Yes, and that’s the absolute truth. To tell anybody otherwise would be unkind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”
John 14:6

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Lavish Gospel

 Simply put, it's more than you can imagine.

Gospel blog #5

Last time I wrote about The Minimalist Gospel. Not that there is any such thing. I only used the classification to describe a customized pseudo-Gospel, one filling a need in a person’s life. But not breathing life into a person’s need.

I suggested a minimalist Gospel doesn’t require pain or sacrifice. That it adopts a repentance falling short of the command. I insinuated people are zombies. That we all need the same amount of fixing. It’s hard to accept that we’re completely lost. Utterly hopeless. That even our goodness required the death of the spotless Lamb of God.

This is where we meet the lavish Gospel. While a minimalist approach resists pain and sacrifice, the lavish Gospel begins with it. Not ours, but His. This is the starting point and it’s not easy for a minimalist to see. It’s unpleasant. It takes God and makes Him one of us. Someone whose skin is torn from his bones. Someone who appears hopeless. How can He help us? Doesn’t the very word gospel refer to good news? Violence and death are the opposite of what we expect to find when we’re hoping for good news. But the death of Christ was our death. The substitution. Our sin and rebellion against God was met by His pain and death to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion against God. That’s the good news.

Disregarding the complete truth about the death of Christ leads the minimalist to curb their repentance. This is not to suggest the work of Christ is dependent on our rigorous understanding of what it means to repent. We can’t and don’t understand much when we answer God’s call. If you met God with the idea you should give up some bad behavior, you didn’t do anything wrong.

But repentance should move us far beyond giving up our assorted sins to total abandonment of our rebellion. Though we most certainly will get a new attitude about sin, repentance doesn’t mean we stop sinning completely. Repentance means we stop running from God. A minimalist Gospel keeps us tripping toward the goal. A lavish Gospel lets us rest at the finish line.

I wrote that a minimalist Gospel doesn’t demand you give up everything. You don’t have to let go of your old way of getting by. You can keep on trying to please God. Your plan for getting into His good graces just might work. This is the mistake of the minimalist. His way is the only way that’s fail-proof. Trust in the finished work of Christ—His death and resurrection—and you’ve got it. God is pleased with you. Sin has no hold on you. Death will not end you. Good news. Real repentance. Lavish Gospel.

I also implied a minimalist Gospel doesn’t gain you anything. It might get you some guilt relief, but it’ll be temporary. You may find yourself believing God has blessed your minimalist approach if your life is going right. But there’s a deal breaker in your future. God will make a move you don’t like or understand. And you will no longer trust Him. A minimalist Gospel won’t endure. It takes a lavish Gospel to hold you together when your world comes undone.

But is lavish a good way to describe the Gospel? It’s simple, really. And straightforward. You don’t need to be a theologian. If you like to keep things plain and unpretentious, say hello to Jesus. In that respect, I think He might be a minimalist. If you want to be lavished with unfathomable freedom and never-ending love from the God of the universe, then say hello to Jesus. He’s got something planned that you can’t imagine.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Minimalist Gospel

Gospel blog post #4

It doesn't mean giving up everything.

She came to church to get things in order. She has cleaned up her life. Stopped dating men she met at bars. Got her kids enrolled in the church’s summer camp. Cleaned out her closets. Tossed a few outfits she should never have bought. And some books and movies. She quit smoking. Made up with her sister. The only thing left to improve is her commitment to God. No more clutter and distractions. Just good clean living. So here she is, telling God what she has to offer. And what she’s willing to give up. Don’t come at her with a bucket of holy water. Don’t put her on the prayer list. This new plan of hers is all about keeping it simple. She’s even thinking about becoming a minimalist, though she’s not quite sure what that means. But she’s not here to get in over her head. She only wants to get her spiritual side in line with the rest of her shiny new life. She figures if anything should fall under the category of minimalism, it’s this thing they call the Gospel.

A lot of people approach God that way. The minimalist Gospel is restrained, unassuming, and unobtrusive. It assumes you’re pretty close to being okay. If it does reveal a problem, it assures you it can be corrected with little pain or sacrifice. No prying into your daily life with demands of new behavior. Sin is not the issue. Feeling loved is what counts. Repentance is simply an understanding with God that He will accept you. He didn’t before, but now He does. So, did you repent? Or did God?

A soul reaching for a minimalist Gospel will not extend repentance as far as it must go in order to be redeemed. The belief is that we don’t need to address the depths from which we must be rescued. We want a little soap and water. We want the snot wiped off our noses. We know we need something only God can give, and so we grab a little Gospel and apply it sparingly. And keep on walking. But we’re zombies. Our skin is rotting. Our bones are dried up. We’re dressed in rags that don’t cover our skeletal remains.

A dangerous assumption is that not all sinners need a liberal dose of the Gospel. Some people need a complete overhaul, while others only need a tweak. This attitude leads to self-righteousness, which is really no righteousness at all. It settles in legalism. It pets the ego with sympathy and approval. The result is an unredeemed soul living under the guise of being a good person. And to that—the hope of being good—the soul desperately clings.

The minimalist Gospel demands little from the one who accepts it. There must be a belief in God, recognition of Christ, and a level of commitment to right living. For some, this means going to church. For others, it means giving up some bad habits. It doesn’t mean giving up on everything you consider worthy about yourself. Or casting aside everything you think will set you in right standing before God. Or everything that makes you who you are. It doesn’t mean giving up everything.

And it doesn’t mean gaining anything.

What is the opposite of minimalist? Outlandish, ornate, excessive. Lavish. Next blog post…that’s right…will be about the lavish Gospel.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Command of the Gospel

 Gospel blog post #3

What choice do I have?

A verse well-known and repeated often by Christians is Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Taking this to heart, we might conclude it’s all about the gift. And accepting the gift is all about choice. We can take it or leave it.

While an element of truth exists in the “take or leave it” approach, the gift is not a choice. It’s given to the redeemed, who do not consider the offer or ponder refusal. The choice was already made—it was God’s choice to give the redeemed eternal life. The choice of the redeemed is to follow Christ. And yet, even that is really no choice at all.

 Scripture does not offer a choice. Jesus did not give permission to determine our own method of salvation. A back-up plan doesn’t exist. Yet the clear command gets turned into
                                                                 something resembling a choice.

 What does the Bible tell us about making a choice? Another verse remembered—and revised—by Christians goes something like this: Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

 Here’s the whole passage from Joshua 24:

14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua gave the tribes of Israel a message from God. And then he told them what to do. If they didn’t want to, Joshua said, then they could choose something different. Something that hadn’t worked in the past. Something that would lead to death. The command was to serve God. The alternative was death.

So it is with the Gospel. The gift of Romans 6:23 is not the Gospel. It is the after-effect of the Gospel. The Gospel is not an offer to be accepted or refused depending on who you are or where you came from. It’s not a choice that will help you get to know God or define your role as a Christian. It is a command to live.
Acts 17:30:
"Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent."

The “times of ignorance” when people chose to stick with their foreign gods are done. Now, at the time of the proclamation of God’s command, all people are called to turn from their old ways and serve the risen King. It’s not a chance to make it up to God for being bad. Not a way to get yourself straightened out. It’s a command to repent or die. Turn from your idols and false gods to the one true God. Or else.
It sounds like a choice, right? It feels like a choice. I can put away what I thought would fix me, cleanse me, and save me. Or I can keep on trying what I’m doing and die trying. But if I’m convinced that’s how my efforts will end, is there really any choice but obey the command? God isn’t asking me to choose. I’m covered by furious waves and He’s telling me to cling to Him or drown. And so I…choose…to cling and not to drown.

It’s one of those sweet mysteries that settle into the hearts of the redeemed. He commands. He offers freely. I choose. I have no choice. In fact, I am unable to choose. Perhaps that’s why He made it a command. An offer implies acceptance, and so gives us the impression that we’ve made a choice. But a command requires unfailing power from the One who declares it, and demands nothing from my drowning soul except to live.