Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hell, A Very Serious Subject

Don't be scared by the title or the length of this article. Jesus spoke often about hell so we must think about it and absorb its horendous truth.

"How Willingly Do People Go to Hell?
Does Anyone Standing by the Lake of Fire Jump In?
October 29, 2009By John Piper
Read this article on our website.
C.S. Lewis is one of the top 5 dead people who have shaped the way I see and respond to the world. But he is not a reliable guide on a number of important theological matters. Hell is one of them. His stress is relentlessly that people are not “sent” to hell but become their own hell. His emphasis is that we should think of “a bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is.” (For all the relevant quotes, see Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 288-295.)
This inclines him to say, “All that are in hell choose it.” And this leads some who follow Lewis in this emphasis to say things like, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”
I come from the words of Jesus to this way of talking and find myself in a different world of discourse and sentiment. I think it is misleading to say that hell is giving people what they most want. I’m not saying you can’t find a meaning for that statement that’s true, perhaps in Romans 1:24-28. I’m saying that it’s not a meaning that most people would give to it in light of what hell really is. I’m saying that the way Lewis deals with hell and the way Jesus deals with it are very different. And we would do well to follow Jesus.
The misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. They will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12). Between their sobs, they will not speak the words, “I want this.” They will not be able to say amid the flames of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), “I want this.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). No one wants this.
When there are only two choices, and you choose against one, it does not mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Unbelieving people know neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent. Apart from regenerating grace, all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
The person who rejects God does not know the real horrors of hell. This may be because he does not believe hell exists, or it may be because he convinces himself that it would be tolerably preferable to heaven.
But whatever he believes or does not believe, when he chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.
So when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination.
When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.”
What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.
Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).
The reason the Bible speaks of people being “thrown” into hell is that no one will willingly go there, once they see what it really is. No one standing on the shore of the lake of fire jumps in. They do not choose it, and they will not want it. They have chosen sin. They have wanted sin. They do not want the punishment. When they come to the shore of this fiery lake, they must be thrown in.
When someone says that no one is in hell who doesn’t want to be there, they give the false impression that hell is within the limits of what humans can tolerate. It inevitably gives the impression that hell is less horrible than Jesus says it is.
We should ask: How did Jesus expect his audience to think and feel about the way he spoke of hell? The words he chose were not chosen to soften the horror by being accommodating to cultural sensibilities. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51).
These words are chosen to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever “want” if they knew what they were choosing. Therefore, if someone is going to emphasize that people freely “choose” hell, or that no one is there who doesn’t “want” to be there, surely he should make every effort to clarify that, when they get there, they will not want this.
Surely the pattern of Jesus—who used blazing words to blast the hell-bent blindness out of everyone— should be followed. Surely, we will grope for words that show no one, no one, no one will want to be in hell when they experience what it really is. Surely everyone who desires to save people from hell will not mainly stress that it is “wantable” or “chooseable,” but that it is horrible beyond description—weeping, gnashing teeth, darkness, worm-eaten, fiery, furnace-like, dismembering, eternal, punishment, “an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).
I thank God, as a hell-deserving sinner, for Jesus Christ my Savior, who became a curse for me and suffered hellish pain that he might deliver me from the wrath to come. While there is time, he will do that for anyone who turns from sin and treasures him and his work above all.
Trembling before such realities, and trusting Jesus"

Pastor John Piper

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why do we suffer?

One reason we suffer is so that God's power might be displayed in our lives (2Cor 4:7). What does that tell us about the value and worth of God's power being displayed?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

JohnPiper: One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"[The] all embracing slogan of the reformed faith (Calvinism) is this: the work of grace in the sinner is a mirror for the glory of God" Geerhardus Vos. Its all about the glory of God - our hope and our joy!
The sure and only foundation on which we can stand: God is good AND God is absolutely sovereign (Eph 1).

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Connected Are You?

It is amazing how "connected" everyone is these days and yet how disconnected from God. Perhaps there is a direct correlation between the two...Ps 46:10

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mere Men

It is good to be reminded that we are "but mere men" (Ps 9:20). Humility and a contrite dependency are key heart attitudes that are required to receive salvation from the Lord...or to receive His help as we walk with Him after salvation. This is what is meant by passages like Ps 51:17, Isa 57:15, Mat 6:14-15. Also we see this is part of the fruit of the Spirit Gal 5:22-26. On the other hand if we do not have these heart attitudes we cannot assume we are actually saved and thus indwelt by the Spirit - Rom 8:9-10, Gal 5:19-21.

What should we do if we examine ourselves and find that humility and a contrite dependency on God is not in our hearts? First know that if you realize your need it is a result of God's grace and that is good news! Then pray to God and ask for the change of heart that comes about only by the working of His Spirit (Jn 16:8 & 6:43-44) through humble trust in Christ.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Intelligent Design

Within days of my daughter starting college this fall semester she came home relaying this comment from her biology teacher (I'm paraphrasing), "Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific whereas evolution is scientific". I explained to my daughter that the teacher's comment reveals a very common error based on ignorance regarding the meaning of "scientific"...odd coming from a college science teacher!

Many people confuse the meaning of the term "scientific" with the classic phrase "scientific method". One term (scientific) is used as a general almost "pop" term defining something as more or less adhering to the principles and "spirit" of objective, evidence based, investigation. The "scientific method" however, refers to a specific methodology that includes testing a hypothesis by experimentation. Now herein lies the "dirty little secret". Evolutionary "science" does not adhere to the scientific method any more than does Intelligent Design "science". In fact, I believe a strong case can be made that Intelligent Design theory follows (or can follow) the scientific method more so than Evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory does NOT develop hypotheses that are then tested experimentally in a lab setting or otherwise. But Evolutionary theory is "scientific" in the sense that I defined above. It does seek to provide an objective theory to explain data that is observed in (presumably) a controlled and structured manner. So it does qualify as something that more or less adheres to the principles and "spirit" of objective, evidence based, investigation. It has developed a theory (Darwinian evolution) to explain data gathered by observation. It does not and cannot TEST its theory in the lab. Actually it cannot even PREDICT (which is critical to any good theory) outcomes because it claims the processes responsible for evolution are so incremental and slow that we cannot observe them!

Intelligent Design theory is similar to Evolutionary theory in that it too seeks to explain data gathered by observation. Obviously it has develop opposing hypotheses to Evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory claims the evidence shows that each animal species developed from an earlier species (ancestor) through a slow, random, incremental process of change "governed" by the "law" of natural selection. Intelligent Design on the other hand, claims that animal life and the entire universe (so it covers not just origin of species but origin of the cosmos) displays clear evidence of having been designed by an intelligent designer/creator. As for testing its theory Intelligent Design has the edge. The fundamental Intelligent Design hypotheses (roughly stated) that all matter is organized in such a way that its cause is best explained by an intelligent creator rather than by random chance + long epochs of time, can be somewhat tested in the lab. For instance experiments can be setup to demonstrate the relative ineffectiveness of random processes to produce order, structure, and design. Experiments can also clearly reveal the kinds of patterns and order that result from intelligent design processes - because we CAN duplicate the kind of intelligent design processes (to a point) that is claimed by the theory but we CANNOT duplicate the kind of evolutionary processes claimed by that theory.

All of this is to simply say that Intelligent Design theory is very scientific and probably even more scientific than evolutionary theory. So don't shrink back from the debate. Know that the Christian worldview is THE MOST POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE WORLDVIEW in existence to explain the way the world really is (1Cor 1:25).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

God's Common Grace and the President

God lavishes grace upon the entire world - believers and unbelievers alike - and we call this "common grace". We know that God establishes all authority to include all governmental authority even if we disagree with that authority politically (Romans 13:1-7). That is part of God's common grace to all people to help ensure peace and an orderly environment. Certainly some of those governmental authorities rebel against God and abuse their authority and when that happens we should speak God's truth to them and hold them accountable to His word. But we should also acknowledge when they speak and govern in a way that reflects God's common grace and glory. To that end the President's speech to public school students today deserves recognition as an example of God's common grace.

His speech is excellent as far as it goes. It would be best to exhort students to Christ...but short of that, in the parameters of God's common grace and function of the governing authorities, it is excellent advice from the President of the United States. I pray that all students and parents take it to heart. We can debate the appropriateness of the President making a speech to public school students (whether it is President George H.W. Busch or Barack Obama) but from a Christian world view perspective the content of the speech is good and commendable.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Being His Witnesses

This morning we received a good reminder that one evidence of having God's Spirit in us is that we WILL be His witnesses. But it is also good to remember that being His witness is more than evangelism. It certainly IS evangelism but it is also more than evangelism. It includes how we think, talk, and act in our everyday lives. Jesus says to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify God (Mat 5:16). Jesus also tells us that in the way we love one another will be a witness to Him (Jn 13:35). We are also told that we are to be His witnesses through our suffering and persecution (Mat 24:9, Lk 21:12-17, Rom 8:36).

Perhaps Romans 12:1 says it best. We are to present our very bodies (our whole selves) as a living and holy sacrifice because that is our spiritual act of worship to God. It is by the way we live that we proclaim our worship and display the object of our worship. If we try to evangelize (as a specific activity) without presenting ourselves a living and holy sacrifice to God, the people with whom we are sharing the gospel will see the message as hypocritical. Or at best they will see it as inconsistent and therefore lacking power and validity. So by all means we should and must evangelize, but we must also remember to be His witnesses means so much more. It means we must give ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice and thereby live a lifestyle of worship displaying to the world that which we love most - our object of worship - our great and glorious God!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Oh not to receive the grace of God in vain

What does Paul mean in 2Cor 6:1? Some things I think we can conclude: One, he is talking to the church, albeit the Corinthian church. He is talking to professing Christians so it must be that people who profess to be Christians can be in danger of receiving the grace of God in vain. Secondly, receiving the grace of God IN VAIN actually negates the grace of God. In other words, if someone receives God's grace in vain that means they did so in an empty, meaningless, powerless way so really that person did not truly receive the grace of God. That's why I say Paul was addressing PROFESSING Christians. He certainly was addressing the entire Corinthian church (2Cor 1:1) so, the third thing to note, is that it must be true a church can have a mixture of people who have truly received the grace of God (in power) and those who have "received" it in vain. Fourthly, one evidence of having received the grace of God in vain is that you don't separate yourself from the world (2Cor 6:14-7:1). That was how some of the Corinthians were demonstrating it so Paul warned them and pleaded with them in 6:1 to not be ones who receives the grace of God in vain. Some were apparently claiming the name of Christian but also maintaining their relationships, ties, activities and behaviors they had as non-Christians. They looked and acted just like pagans/unbelievers.

What a challenge to all who name the name of Christ! "Come out from among them" the Lord says. Paul challenged the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they be in the faith (2Cor 13:5). We must do the same. If we wish to follow Christ and fellowship with Him we cannot follow and fellowship with "the world" or with sin. Oh Lord, change my heart and keep it tender and repentant so that I will not be one who received Your grace in vain!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Watch very closely

Be aware and watch this closely..."The top-selling Bible in North America will undergo its first revision in 25 years, modernizing the language in some sections and promising to reopen a contentious debate about changing gender terms in the sacred text. The New International Version, the Bible of choice for conservative evangelicals, will be revised to reflect changes in English usage and advances in Biblical scholarship, it was announced Tuesday. The revision is scheduled to be completed late next year and published in 2011" (Associated Press 9-3-2009).

It is not the rule that people take the Apostle Paul's stance to determine not to handle the word of God deceitfully (2Cor 4:2), it is the exception. Just because the NIV today is a solid translation (not with out fault but good) does not mean it will remain that way after this revision. Judge it carefully and compare it to other trusted translations (NKJV, NASB, ESV).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


"We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So how are we transformed? According to scripture, "with unveiled face" (meaning we see things as they really are) "beholding the glory of the Lord". So by gazing upon, beholding, and savoring God's glory we are changed. Then we learn, "for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit". So this is a sovereign act of God the Holy Spirit working this transformation in us by way of our gazing upon His glory, after having already opened our minds to see the truth. It is all from God working in us but through the means of our loving, focusing on, gazing upon, and savoring Christ! That's how we become more holy...sounds a lot more appealing than following a bunch of rules and religious rituals! But once we're on the path of change from one degree of glory to the next, we love the rules and the rituals...oh the wisdom and majesty of our God!

Eternal Things

We should follow Paul's inspired example. He kept his focus on things eternal by "looking" at things unseen rather than constantly looking at things seen (2Cor 4:18). How wrapped up are we in "things seen"? Many of the things seen are good things too - but when they occupy us to the point of preoccupation they become bad things because they rob God of our time and affections for who can worship someone (or something) without time and affection?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Why do we suffer?

One reason we suffer is so that God's power might be displayed in our lives (2Cor 4:7). What does that tell us about the value and worth of God's power being displayed?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Prayer for Victor Lee

Father, I come before you on behalf of my brother Victor Lee. Lord you know his need, his pain, his fear and I know you are his hope. As he faces this cancer and surgery tomorrow I pray your supernatural power be upon him to sustain his hope, his joy, his physical strength and most of all his faith...and upon his family, oh Lord especially his family. Lord be their mighty fortress and strong tower, a very present help in this time of great need. I ask that you heal him, miraculously and profoundly heal him and make your name known greatly throughout our region by what you do in and through Victor. But Father, the greatest thing I can ask for Victor (and his family) is that through this trial he will come to know you in a deeper and more authentic way than he has known you ever before. Lord let him experience the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ that he may know the power of His resurrection in a profoundly real way that his joy may be deep and abundant and You may be more clearly seen as the source of all joy! Lord, through this fiery ordeal give Victor a mature, seasoned, sober and unshakable confidence in You. May he run to you, cling to you, gaze upon you yearning to experience more of you because in the flesh he (as are we all) is wasting away but in the inner man is being renewed day by day into the image of his Creator! Oh Lord show the world the victory of Christ in Victor so that Victor's name will be a fitting reminder of the overwhelming victory we have in You! Amen

The Fragrance of Christ

The Lord probed me deeply during this morning's devotion time. Pauls speaks in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 of being a fragrance of Christ to God and the fragrance of Christ everywhere he goes - a fragrance of death to those who are perishing but the fragrance of life to those who are chosen for eternal life and are being saved. Wow, the fragrance of Christ to God! Paul says specifically, "and through us [He] diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place for we are to God the fragrance of Christ..." (vs 14-15). Later in vs 16 he exclaims, "and who is sufficient for these things"! The answer of course is nobody is sufficient! Only Christ through His transforming power and grace in our lives can make us a fragrant aroma unto God. And by that fragrance we bring honor and glory to Him as we go about in every place living and speaking in a Christ honoring way. That's what I want to be...a fragrant aroma of Christ to God! Oh Lord, please work in me in such a way that I become and remain a fragrance of Christ to you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy Birthday John Calvin

A little late I admit since John Calvin's 500th birthday was July 10 of this year 2009. But, it is still profitable for Christians especially to reflect again on Calvin's contribution to recovering the Gospel for the Church and refocusing the Church on the glory of God.

Calvin's main focus was the centrality of the glory and majesty of God. We all will do well to maintain or take up that same focus for it is the singular focus of scripture itself and I do believe God Himself! Here is a good Calvin quote to response to a Catholic Cardinal in the early days of his reforming work, Calvin rebuked the Cardinal's focus on eternal life and salvation (not bad topics right...?) as being man-centered in nature and not properly exalting of Christ's glory:

"Your zeal for heavenly life is a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify (hallow, glorify) the name of God". Later in the same letter of response Calvin explains to the Cardinal that what he and we all should do is, "set before man, as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God".

Calvin gave his life to exalting the majesty and glory of God. A wonderful result from a few minutes of remembering John Calvin would be a posthumous challenge by the great reformer to rethink our "prime motive for existence". Are we living to glorify God? Will we die to glorify Him?

A Heavenly Perspective

What is "a heavenly perspective"? Is it living life with your head in the clouds? Is it living life with your mind so preoccupied with the afterlife that you don't engage in this world? Most people probably think of the old saying, "he's so heavenly minded that he's no earthly good". Well maybe that is how some people are...but that's not the biblical teaching about having a heavenly perspective!

According to scripture we are to have a heavenly perspective and that is described in various ways throughout the Bible. We are told to "look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always" (1Chronicles 16:11), to sing to Him, glory in Him, seek Him, look to Him, remember Him (Ps 105). We are told to "set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" (Col 3:2). I could go on but the point is clear. The Bible COMMANDS that we have a heavenly perspective. So does that mean that we are to disengage our minds from this world and forget about earthly things? I believe the answer is no...but my opinion means little. What does scripture teach?

The 1st Chronicles passage above helps us see the proper relationship between having a heavenly perspective and an earthly engagement when we realize that it is set in the context of David establishing His rule over the nation of Israel. David was bringing the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem and associating himself with Yahweh as his (David's) rule over the consolidated kingdom was taking shape. In no way did David or anyone else take the exhortation to look to the Lord and to seek His face to mean do not engage in their earthly duties and tasks. In fact, a large part of the context of that passage is an exhortation to thank God for what He was doing and had done IN THE EARTH for the glory of His name.

The Psalms passage referenced above is similar. We are told to give thanks and call on Him, sing to Him, sing praise to Him, glory in His name, seek Him and rejoice in Him, seek His face, remember His wonders. Wow! With all that focus on God maybe there is no time for earthly tasks! On the contrary. The entire context of that Psalm is "His wonderful acts" (vs 2) and "the wonders He has done" (vs5) the earthly lives of His people! It is from encountering the living God in the midst of our very earthly lives that we are brought to a place of joyful worship. We rejoice and worship Him and focus on Him because of His greatness and glory as revealed in our earthly context. Then, when others around us see these things and our response of praise and joy, they will see God for the infinitely valuable treasure that He is. By that we "make known among the nations what He has done" (vs 1) which is another very "earthly" task.

In Colossians 3 we see maybe the ultimate biblical explanation of this issue. Paul tells his readers to set their hearts AND minds not on things below on the earth but on heaven where Christ is - i.e. focus on Christ and His glory (vs 1-2). He even goes so far to say, "put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (vs 5). But later in the passage we see how he defines that focus and what putting to death things of our earthly nature means. He says to, "put off your old self with its practices and...put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator" (vs 9-11). Then in vs 12-13 he describes a LIFE STYLE that is very "earthly focused" but in the image of its creator Christ. In other words, living with a heavenly perspective is living our earthly life in a way that reflects positively on Christ and exalts His name as people observe our way of life. Paul goes on to get very specific about our earthly relationships between husband and wife, child and parent, slave and master and how they will be affected by living with our hearts and minds set on Christ.

To conclude then, having a heavenly perspective is NOT disengaging from the world but rather engaging the world with a wholehearted focus on and love toward the One who created the world. This single minded focus and wholehearted love toward Christ will then guide, shape, define, and transform all your earthly relationships in such a way that others will see His beauty and glory, and the nations will hear of His wonders!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bored with God?

It is a heart issue. Fight it by doing Deut 6:1-9

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why Heaven?

When listening or reading certain treatments of the topic of heaven one could get the impression that heaven's joy is its streets of gold, pearly gates, beautiful angelic music, and reunion with friends and family. But this would be a subtle and tragic mistake. The Bible does paint an awe inspiring picture of heaven but leaves no doubt that the joy of Heaven is God Himself! The throne of God and the Lamb (Jesus) is the centerpiece and focal point of heaven (Rev 22:1-4). The point of heaven is that God will be there in the midst of His people, He is the gift, the reward, the treasure that we are to enjoy for eternity (Rev 21)! All the other benefits of heaven find their significance in that God Himself is in the midst of His people (Rev 22).

So this has tremendous implications for what it means to be a Christian and "heaven bound". The essential element to being a Christian is having been transformed from not loving and treasuring God to loving and treasuring God above all else! This is done through a sovereign work of God's grace to change our hearts from hard and rebellious to soft and submissive toward God (Ezekiel 11:19-20). Christians are ones who have been changed from hating His word and ways to loving His word and ways. Unless our hearts are in concert with the Apostle Paul's in longing for Christ's presence we have no reason to assume we will occupy the heaven in which Christ is the main attraction (2 Timothy 4:8).

Do you claim to be a Christian? Then test your claim by asking yourself this question, "why do I want to go to heaven"? If the answer isn't, "because Jesus is there!" you have reason to be very worried. Fall on your knees and cry out to God. Ask for a new heart of tender affection for Christ. Ask for a love for God and His kingdom, His ways and word. Ask Him to bring you to that you can be with the lover of your soul, Jesus Christ!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bored with God

It is no wonder that our children grow to be bored with church. In fact most adults are bored with God in general. This past Sunday morning as I held my grandson during the praise part of worship this sad reality struck me and I pondered it throughout the day.

The reason I think this sad state exists is because we don't practice Deuteronomy 6:1-9 when we take our children to the amusement park! Let me explain what I mean. When we gather together as the Church we do so to worship our great and glorious God through Jesus Christ our Lord by the power of His Spirit. There SHOULD be nothing more glorious and joyful and powerful than that. But all too often too many people (and certainly children are in this group) are bored. Why? Is it because we need to have more contemporary and livelier music? Do we need to have children-centric services that include fun activities for kids and bring the messages down to their level? Do we need to include multi-media into our services to make them more entertaining? While all of these things are not necessarily bad ideas they do not address the real problem. The real problem is that we are not in love with God!

We start early teaching our children to be in love with the gifts that God gives and sadly do not make a point to teach them to be in love with God Himself. We teach them to love and enjoy the gifts but not to love and enjoy the Giver! But if we study and believe scripture we will not let this happen. The scriptures teach us that, "The heavens declare His glory..." (Ps 19) and that all good gifts come from Him (Matthew 7:11) and He has prepared for us an unimaginably glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). God owns all that is and created this world for us to enjoy (Ps 50:8-15, Acts 17:24-31). So what is greater, the gift or the One who made the gift and gives the gift in love? Clearly the giver is greater than the gift!

By nature humans (beginning from childhood) do not see this. From eyes of profound self-centeredness they do not appropriately love and appreciate the giver. Just watch children at Christmas! The gift becomes the object of our love and devotion and especially in God's case we refuse to give Him due credit for His goodness (Romans 1:18-21). When we take our children to the amusement park, or the rodeo, or give them a bicycle, they naturally fall in love with the gift. We're "lucky" if they give US due credit for the gift. But most importantly they should give credit and thanks to the ONE who is ultimately responsible for the gift and that's God. It is the parent's job to teach them this crucial truth and behavior. By following Deuteronomy 6:1-9 we can do our part to connect the dots for our children. When we go to that amusement park, or that birthday party, or grandma and grandpa's for Christmas we must point out to them that God is the gracious and loving giver of all good things. We must explain it, point it out, answer questions and clarify for them the ultimate truth behind the apparent truth. The apparent truth is that Mom and Dad are responsible (or worse Santa!) and to a point Mom and Dad are responsible...but only at a surface level. The deeper truth crucial for them to see and necessary for them to know in order to develop a love and thankfulness toward God, is that God is the ultimate giver! And He deserves the credit so that His beauty and goodness are exalted!

Then, when they gather with the church to express love and adoration to God, they will get it! "Ah, yes...I am praising, thanking and adoring the One who gives me all these good and perfect gifts (James 1:17); I really like and enjoy those gifts but I LOVE the Giver and want to know Him more; I will worship Him for His goodness and gracious love to His people"!

This is how we conquer boredom with God.

Monday, June 22, 2009


A question that has haunted mankind since nearly the dawn of time is, "why do we suffer"? Implied in that question is the more precise question, "is suffering senseless and random or does it have a purpose or reason"? The typical answers fall into three basic categories: 1) Suffering is random and senseless because nature is random and senseless. This answer implies there is no God or God cannot or will not be involved to change events. 2) Suffering is not random and senseless because nature is not that way. Nature is not random and senseless because God is the designer and is involved, thus He has a purpose in all things. Christianity falls into this category as do perhaps Islam and Judaism although not as clearly as Christianity. 3) Suffering is an illusion. It does not really exist. What we perceive as suffering is really rooted in our misunderstanding and ignorance. New age religion/philosophy, which is an offshoot from Eastern religions such as Buddhism, falls into this category.

The implications for these three perspectives are profound and greatly influence how we live. If one adheres to some form of category one (atheism is one expression of it) the necessary result is hopelessness. Such a one sees suffering as random, senseless and ruthless robbing one's life and joy. Such suffering cannot be controlled and the most we can hope for is to courageously face it as humans thereby demonstrating our character...but in the end we all suffer and die and there is nothing more. Children die, and it is not just or unjust only tragic and sad and hopeless. People get incurable cancer in the prime of life and it simply robs and destroys and there is nothing more but to suffer and die. Dying with dignity serves only to retain some elusive sense of self-pride but in the end it means nothing.

If one adheres to some form of category three (new age, Wicca, Christian Science would all be expressions of it) the necessary result is confusion and denial. People with this perspective see history and experience life in one way (suffering is real and prevalent) but deny that it is real by choosing to believe suffering is a wrong expression of Mind (our individual minds are simply expression of Mind). Of course one must ask, "why isn't a wrong expression of Mind actual suffering"? So the inherent logic of such a perspective must be questioned. This perspective has little power to enable people to deal with life and suffering. Its "power" is in its denial of reality as we know it. It provides "hope" by providing a basis for denying the reality of suffering but in the end there is no lasting hope because all adherents to this perspective clearly suffer and death holds the most likely prospect of repeating the cycle again and again! Presumably the only way out of the cycle of repetitive suffering is to deny suffering so effectively that the individual ceases to suffer in this life which indicates a state in which true harmony with Mind has been achieved and the cycle will end at death. But the state of full harmony with Mind enjoyed at death for the successful adherent results in a loss of individuality. So even with the final end of suffering and achievement of harmony the individual is lost so he/she who suffered (perhaps hundreds of lifetimes of suffering) will not be able to experience the joy of that harmony!

If one adheres to some form of category two (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) the result is some degree of real hope. This category claims that suffering is not totally random and senseless because there is God. The fact that God exists and has some degree of control over life and history, are aspects that these three faiths share. Depending to which of the various traditions within these three faiths one adheres, God is seen as being more or less in control which directly affects the perspective on suffering. But the most important impact on the issue of suffering is the soteriology (doctrine of salvation) of each of the three faiths. Again, there are distinctives within each of the three faiths depending on various streams of tradition. However I propose that the Christian faith has the strongest and most effective answer to the question of suffering and provides the most powerful hope. That answer comes most clearly from the Christian doctrine of salvation that I will discuss in more detail below.

As do all three faiths in category two above, Christianity believes that God exists, that He created all things, and that He sustains all things according to His sovereign purposes. Some traditions within Christianity view God's sovereign control over history as more or less absolute. Although the explanations of how it all works together vary, it is fair to say that most expressions of orthodox Christian faith view God as in control over history AND mankind as responsible and accountable creatures. So the issue of God's freedom over against man's freedom and how the two interrelate is a major issue in the discussion of suffering. It is expressed something like this, "If God is good and all powerful why is there still suffering? Couldn't God have made the world in such a way that suffering never existed? No, because mankind must be free in order to truly love God and mankind has misused that freedom to rebel against God and do wicked things and therefore cause suffering. But, does that rebellion cause natural disasters and random cancers too? Why doesn't God at least stop those? Why couldn't God make man truly free and totally innocent so he wouldn't think of sinning to start with"? This sample "dialogue" represents many of the questions/issues that arise. Here are some answers...

1. Christianity answers the question of suffering with God's sovereignty and omnipotence (all powerful). God is in control and the events and circumstances that cause suffering are not random and senseless. In fact, the Bible declares that all events are ordered and directed by God for His purposes (Proverbs 19:21, Isaiah 46:10, Ephesians 1:11). How does this help us with suffering? What is more frightening; to think that chaos reigns and you WILL be a victim of it with no recourse and no lasting value to be gained from it, or to think that there is a purpose to all things even the bad things? Unless God is evil, the answer is clearly that the latter situation is better. So God's character is an essential issue to the discussion...

2. Christianity answers the question of suffering with God's character. God is certainly sovereign and all powerful but is He good? He absolutely is! The Bible is resoundingly clear on this (Psalms 73:1, Mark 10:18, John 3:16). So, if God is sovereign and all powerful AND He is good then we know that whatever He does is just and good. But that implies that suffering is good - if God is directing all things (sovereign) and He could stop suffering (all powerful) and He is good. That is the dilemma that must be answered.

3. Christianity answers the question of suffering with God's holiness. God's holiness is the truth that He is unique, special, valuable, set apart as the absolute treasure of the universe. God Himself is the MOST valuable reality. As creator He made all of creation to reflect His worth. Mankind was created to do so in a special way being created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Therefore, since humans were created in God's image there is a natural "fit" and inclination toward communion with God. Mankind cannot be satisfied or truly and lastingly joyful unless in communion with God as originally intended. Proper communion with God includes acknowledging Him to be the ultimate value and treasure thereby placing everything else in some lesser status (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 6:4). Said another way, the proper response to God is to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Matthew 22:36-38). So if God is the ultimate prize/treasure/value and all our love and desire should be toward Him, suffering can become a benefit to us if it serves to elevate God to that highest place of value and reduce other non-God things to their appropriate lower place of value in our lives.

But humans do not naturally want to honor God as the supreme value because of sin. Sin separates humans from God because it causes humans to elevate self and other created things into the place of God. So sin must be dealt with. Christianity teaches that sin CANNOT be dealt with by anything a person can do because trying to achieve acceptance by God through personal works and achievements is inherently self-righteous. This elevates self above God by saying essentially that God owes the person acceptance due to the worth of their righteous acts. The Bible claims just the opposite by saying that our righteous acts are as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). So what can be done? How is communion with God established? How can sin be dealt with? Without this acceptance by God there can be no confidence that suffering will be a benefit to us because we are not in communion with God. Rather, the Bible says that God is against us and not for us if sin is not dealt with and we are not in communion with Him (Romans 1:18, 6:23, Colossians 1:21, Hebrews 10:26-27). So taking care of sin and establishing communion with God is absolutely necessary to deal with the issue of suffering in a hope-full way. So...

4. Christianity answers the question of suffering with God's salvation. God takes care of the sin problem that we cannot take care of. This brings us back into communion with Him and changes our relationship with God from one of enmity to one of friendship (Romans 5:9-11, 2Corinthians 5:18-20 Ephesians 1:1-10). When God restores communion with us we can be assured that God is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31). And He promises to work ALL things together for our good (Romans 8:28). All things include even suffering things. God takes care of the sin problem not by simply excusing it because this would make Him unjust (Romans 3:21-28). Instead, He Himself absorbs the punishment or consequences for our sin through Jesus Christ's death on the cross. He suffers with us and takes the pain of sin which is the ultimate cause of suffering into Himself on the cross (Isaiah 53, 2Corinthians 5:21). This is absolutely astonishing! God suffers with us and takes our rebellion (sin) into Himself to eliminate it so He can show mercy and lavish us with His communion and grace (Ephesians 1:1-8). Because of Jesus Christ we also know that God's character is absolutely holy and blameless and He never goes back on a promise because in Christ all His promises have been completed and answered "yes" (2Corinthians 1:19-20). If suffering is used by God to help us know Him more, and enhance our communion with Him, and cause us to properly honor Him as the supreme treasure then it is to our benefit. This means that God restores our relationship with Him, restores communion with Him, and turns all events in our lives into aides toward ensuring our ultimate and eternal good - wow! Now true hope in spite of circumstances emerges because of this salvation truth.

5. Christianity answers the question of suffering with God's eternal glory. This is actually a continuation of number 4 above. God's eternal glory is the end goal of all things including our salvation AND it is the end goal of our joy - to share and enjoy God's eternal glory (Revelation 21:1-8). This has a profound impact on suffering. The Christian can say, "I consider this current suffering as a light and momentary affliction compared with the eternal joy and glory to come" (Romans 8:18)! It provides an eternal perspective by which suffering can be properly evaluated. Against the backdrop of eternal (forever) joy and glory with Christ in the new heaven and new earth even a full lifetime of constant suffering greatly diminishes in significance. It doesn't become insignificant, but it loses much of its significance as that which defines human existence.

So in the end, Christianity provides the worldview that establishes a framework for living with suffering. But a worldview, a framework of understanding, a philosophy crumbles under the pressure of real life if it is not rooted in truth. Christianity is based on the hard facts of God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. God did this for His glory first and our good second. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death and rose from the grave victorious over sin and death. By God's gracious decision Christ becomes the substitute for all who believe in Him - embrace Him with trust and love - so that all who are in Christ (identified with Christ through faith) are accepted by God as righteous. What hope, what joy, what courage this brings to the Christian!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Walking by Faith

What does the Bible teach about faith? Many Christians would be quick to point out, and rightly so, the Bible teaches salvation (being accepted by God) is by faith in Jesus Christ alone. In other words, ONLY by trusting in the perfect life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ can anyone be saved. The faith or trust is in another, not yourself. The faith is in some work that someone else performed on your behalf to satisfy God's justice and absorb His wrath because of your sin. There is absolutely nothing that any person can do to earn salvation or obligate God to save them. All that must be done is to believe God's promise to grant you salvation because of Christ if you simply collapse, rest, trust in Him. AND faith isn't something that a person can "muster up" it is a gracious gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Inherently then Christian or biblical faith is anti-self, anti-works, anti-earning. Even though faith is something that a person can exercise its very nature is self-diminishing so that it never takes credit for doing anything. That is Christian/biblical faith and that's the ONLY way into the kingdom of God - faith in Jesus Christ.

But what about after salvation? What keeps you saved, what keeps you walking in sweet fellowship with God and living an obedient, courageous life? Many people answer, "disciplined living", or "obedience", or "will power" or various other efforts. But the Bible teaches that we are saved by faith AND we walk/live by faith (Romans 1:17, 2Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 2:20-21, Hebrews 10:38-39). So how does that work? What is it about faith that enables it to provide power for faithful Christian living?

The goal of the Christian life is to become more and more like Christ so that our lives, our very existence exalts Christ and brings glory to God. That's the whole point! How does faith enable that? Hebrews 11 is probably the best place to go for that answer. In Hebrews 11 we find example after example of people who are presented as heroes of faith. What did they do? They chose to believe God, trusting His promises even when they could not see how those promises could be fulfilled. They took God's word for it regarding issue after issue. If God said to Noah, "Noah, it's going to rain and flood the earth so build a boat to weather the storm" Noah believed God and therefore obeyed (Genesis 6:13ff). That's what faith does. I'm sure Noah's brain went into action with things like, "But God it has never rained so why should I think it's ever going to rain"? Or, "But God, the people will laugh at me and think I'm nuts". Or, "God, it's too big for me, I'm afraid I can't finish such a daunting task". Whatever the excuse Noah ultimately responded in faith, simply taking God at His word. Abraham did the same regarding Isaac. God made Abraham wait until he was too old to naturally have a child with Sarah so that God could display His power and glory through a miraculous birth. Then after waiting all that time for Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice him - kill him as a sacrifice on an altar. Wow, can you imagine Abraham's excuses for not doing that one! Yes, but he believed God so much that he figured God would raise him from the dead if need he obeyed (Genesis 22:2-19).

In both cases above (and Hebrews 11 recounts many more) there were MANY other voices and promises screaming at Abraham and Noah to doubt God. If Noah and Abraham had NOT believed God they would have listened to those other promises and voices and obeyed them instead. But they chose to believe God and walk accordingly. By believing God over and above the other voices (voices from false gods) and promises (that claim to satisfy but cannot so they are false promises from false gods) the people of God make choices that are obedient to and therefore glorifying to Christ. They are also ultimately satisfying and rewarding to us because only God can give us true and full joy. What glorifies Him satisfies us because to the Christian the ultimate joy and satisfaction is God Himself!

So how does a Christian walk in victory over fear? Believe God that He will provide true security and that nothing can overcome Him (Romans 8:28ff). How does a Christian walk in victory over sin? Believe God that He will provide a superior joy (Matthew 25:21-30). How does a Christian walk in obedience? Believe God that a life lived in obedience to Christ's teaching is simply the very best possible option (at all levels) for living (Matthew 7:24-29). When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they doubted God and believed the serpent and acted accordingly. True biblical faith produces works that please and glorify God. Anything other than true biblical faith produces works that seek to glorify and satisfy you rather than God and that will always incur God's wrath and achieve your misery. Trust God's promises and His character. Faith believes that God is powerful and sovereign so that He can accomplish His promises AND that He is good toward His people and WILL accomplish His promises (Romans 8:28ff). What an awesome God we serve!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Unexpected Gifts

When the world and life is recognized as purposeful because God created all things for a purpose, namely for His glory, it transforms ones perspective. Trouble, pain, sadness, unexpected difficulties, disappointment, setbacks of all kinds are seen to be what they really are. While no less painful or difficult to endure, they are tools in the hands of the One who runs the universe and directs history. And what is He up to? Well he tells us exactly what He is up to. "...God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28 New American Standard version).

What is the "good" that God promises to work in the text of Romans 8:28? First, it must be noted that this promise only applies to followers of Jesus Christ. Lovers and Followers of Christ (true Christians) are the ones who love God and are called by God to be in His presence (John 14:6). Secondly, the promise states that God causes ALL THINGS to work together for the Christian. Think of that; calamity, tragedy, setbacks, sickness, death, life...everything! So what is the good that God is working for the Christian through ALL of life's circumstances? It is much but here is a glimpse...

1. He enables the Christian to keep the faith and endure all the way to death - this is critical because only those who endure to the end will be saved (1Corinthians 15:2, 1Peter 1:5, Revelation 2:7).

2. He shapes the Christian's character to become more like Christ (James 1:2-4, 1Peter 1:6-7)

3. He enables the Christian to be a blessing to others (2Corinthians 1:3-4, 4:7-17)

4. He enables the Christian to be a praise to His glory (Ephesians 1:3-14)

5. He makes us fitted for heaven to experience more glory and joy than we otherwise could without trouble and suffering here on earth (Romans 8:14-24, 2Corinthians 4:17)

So how can we lose heart! Instead see things with eyes that see, ears that hear and minds that understand the truth of who God is and what He is doing. This is the secret to truly victorious and joyful living. To the Christian, all the bad things of life...are unexpected gifts!

Unbeliever, would you desire to have this kind of abundant, victorious, courageous and meaningful life? Suffering and pain will still be your lot...but with Jesus Christ it means something, it has purpose, it is filled with hope because He redeemed all suffering through His own suffering on the cross. He took the wrath of God for those who would love and embrace Him. He secured an inheritance for all His people that makes the suffering in this life seem like a joke in comparison...this is good and sweet. Come to God through Jesus for there is no other way.