Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What is Hell

“What does the Bible teach about Hell?”

Over the last three years, I have taught on God’s passion and his expectation for us to be a part of His Great Commission. 

We have looked at: The motive of a love for Jesus, the motive of obedience to Jesus’ command, and today we are going to look at the motive of the reality that their is judgment of the unbeliever.

1. What does culture say about Hell? 
    1. Hell is a place to be desired. “Thus of their own volition, souls proceed into Heaven, into Hell.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
    2. Hell is a place without rules. 
    3. Hell is a place managed by Satan-the red, pointy-bearded dude  with a pitchfork. “Hell is the highest reward that the devil can offer you for being a servant of his.” -Billy Sunday
    4. Hell is a party for the sinners. 
    5. Hell is a lot more fun then Heaven.
    6. Hell is a place to express your fleshly desires.
    7. Hell is a holding place before nonexistence. 
    8. Hell is a place for only the most evil of society (ones more evil than us or for ones who have hurt us). 
    9. Hell is a temporary place that you stay until “love wins” and you finally bend your knee to the Lordship of Christ. And then you go to Heaven.
    10. Hell has different levels of torture.
    11. God does not exist in Hell.
    12. Hell is only here on earth. “I have been to hell and back. I have seen the edge. I have seen the dark side of life.” -Natalie Cole, “War is Hell.” -William T. Sherman
    13. Hell is non-existent and made up by religious people seeking to control the masses.
    14. Hell is a place in Michigan.
    15. And for those who go to Junior High concerts, “Hell is full of musical amateurs.” -George Bernard Shaw

For this teaching, I would like to look at probably the clearest passage on the two destinations that all of humanity faces. The passage of the Sheep and Goats, as it is called, is probably one of the strongest teachings on our final destination. It is also one of the most revealing of people’s hearts. I am going to give a lot of references for you to look up too. My hope is that you would have complete understanding of what God says about the eternal state of Hell, so that you may know for sure what it is and isn’t. So let’s dig in. 

Matthew 25:31-46
31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
1) There is a point where Jesus, the Son of Man will His GLORY.
His 1st coming was of a suffering servant.
His 2nd coming will be as a reigning king, judge, and servant.
2) We DON’T know when this is, but we know that there is certainly a WHEN. Not even Jesus knew when this was, but only the Father. 
Some have said this has happened already, some that it is after the Great Tribulation, 
others believe that it is after the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth. I don’t believe that this has happened, due to how big of an event this will be on Earth.
3) We know that this throne is a throne of judgment, at least here, in this amazing scene.

Imagine the scene...
32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 

After the King separates them, He will give both groups of humans a separate command. A word of judgment. There are 2 words given, one different word for each group. 

Will these groups be composed of all humans over time or just those that are alive during the Great Tribulation or those still alive at the end of the Millennial Reign? 
  1. Scholars are divided, typically along eschatological lines. 
  2. But what we are agreed on is that there are two groups of people who will be judged, just as all people for all time have been the judge. The standard of judgment will be the same. 

Group #1, the right side, the sheep
34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 
Word #1 Come (deute hoi)

35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 

37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

A couple of notes on this passage:
1) “my brothers” (mou adelphos)- although the Lord wants us to care for orphans and widows (James 1:27) and the Jewish people (Gen. 12:3), and to all people, a redeemed person cares especially for those in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). 
2) The measuring rod/ line of judgment here is FAITH, expressing itself through love (as Js. 2:14-26, Eph. 2:8-10, Heb. 11:6 clearly teaches). Faith always expresses itself through a love to obey Jesus and care about the things Jesus cares about. Jesus saves. So do we have Jesus? Or even better, does Jesus have us?
3) The measuring rod of judgment here is NOT WORKS, because we cannot merit toward salvation or save ourselves. BUT we need to know that FAITH WORKS. 
If someone says they have faith and don’t care for Jesus’ brothers and sisters by feeding the hungry ones, by caring for the thirsty ones, by showing hospitality, and by clothing and visiting them...that person is lying to themselves. Why? Because anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come. He, at the moment of conversion begins a good work in us. 

Then there is how the goats act, which are people that ignore Jesus...

Group #2, the left side, the goats
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 
Word #2- Depart from me (poreuesthe ap emou)

Depart to where? 
“Eternal Fire”
  1. Eternal-It is a place that is eternal. Both destinations here are ETERNAL, neither are TEMPORARY.
  2. Fire-some believe this to be actual flames, some as a place of judgment because often fire is a symbol of judgment.
  3. Prepared for the devil and his angels. This place is not for humans, but for the Devil and his angels (aka demons). God desires all people to be saved. However, these cursed people will end up in such a place, without receiving the grace of God. 
  4. These people are cursed- is that a judgment or a descriptor of their quality of life? They will receive the same curse that the Devil and his angels receive. Their quality of life reveals the quality of the person. And as a result of their wicked, unredeemed life, they will be condemned to the same fate as the Devil and his angels. What is the curse? The inability to ever be with Jesus again. It is a missed opportunity of having fellowship with God, ever. 
  5. These people are also judged and found wanting. They will receive eternal fire and punishment. Punishment here is not DISCIPLINE but a penal judgment. The wages of sin is death and the wages of rejecting God is eternal punishment. So...

What else does God say about Hell? 
  1. There are a few “otherworld” places mentioned in Scripture-
1) Hell, Lake of Fire, Gehenna are quite possibly one permanent destination.
2) Sheol, Hades, grave, Tartarus are where the dead are, at least until the time of Christ.
3) Paradise, Heaven, Abraham’s Bosom, and with Jesus is the place of the believer.

For our purposes this morning, we will focus on the ETERNAL STATE of those who reject God’s promptings in their lives. For me, I prefer place #3, with the Lord!! :-)

B. Definition: Both Scripture and Jesus describes Hell as a physical, horrifying place of eternal punishment for unredeemed sinners; full of darkness, suffering, fire, unending decay, and separation from the Lord’s favor.

Physical- Matt. 10:28-a place where a soul and body can go
Horrifying- Mark 9:43- unquenchable fire for physical body
Eternal- Matt. 25:41
Punishment- Matt. 25:46
For unredeemed sinners- John 3:16-18, Rom. 3:23, Lk. 8:12

Full of
Darkness- Job 10:21-22,17:13,15:23, Nahum 1:8, Matt. 8:12, 22:13, 25:30, Jude 1:13
Suffering- Matt. 13:41-43, 8:12, 13:50, 22:13, 24:5, 25:30, Lk. 13:28, Rev. 20:10
Fire- Is. 66:24, Mt. 13:42,50, Mt. 5:22, Mt. 18:8,9, Mt. 25:41, Mk. 9:43,48, Rev. 14:10, 19:20, 20:14-15, 21:8
Unending Decay- 2 Ptr. 3:9, Mark 9:48
Separation from the Lord’s favor- 2 Thess. 1:9, Mt. 25:46, Lk. 16:19-31

What is the purpose of Hell? 
1) It is for punishment on the devil and his angels. 
2) We are not designed to go there. But it is also the destination for the lawbreaker to give a correct punishment for their crimes. 
3) It is a place of judgment and separation for those who either don’t want anything to do with God or have ignored God’s continual promptings. It is a place of judgment for sinners, for Satan, and for all rebellious angels.
4) God cannot be a loving God without judgment for sin.
5) Our problem is not how severe Hell seems, but how shallow our view of sin. Hell helps us understand how offensive our sin, be it so small of a sin, is to a holy God.
6) It is a place to keep wicked beings away from the righteous.

What reason does Jesus give? 
42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

They were sentenced to there, due to Adam’s sin. These goats were people who refused to allow God to influence the way they lived. They are selfish, unloving, uncaring, and a hoarding group. They are impervious to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the cries of the suffering good people, and the injustice of others. They are greedy with their resources and care nothing for those who are starving, dehydrated, homeless, naked, suffering with sickness and unjustly in prison. These people are the worst of humanity. Utterly selfish. At best, only helping those who will give them advantage. They were deaf to the mistreatment of others and to God’s savior. Hard-hearted and stiff necked. God sent prophets, His Spirit, Christians, the Bible, the church, missionaries, apostles, teachers, preachers, co-workers, family members, and these people rejected everything. God showed them the news, of all the suffering and injustice, but they didn’t care...and were even annoyed, and changed the channel. And most people are like this. Why? Because they have rejected the savior and have refused to bow to the Lordship of Jesus.

44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 

45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

What do we do with the reality of Hell?
A healthy response to this is...

  1. Realize how evil sin is. Disbelief and self-centeredness is so evil and vile that it warrants eternal separation and suffering, away from the presence of God.
  2. Rest in God’s desire for you to be forgiven and bought to walk a life of blessing to others. There is Escape- John 3:16-18, Hebrews 9:27
  3. Join the Spirit as one who points this reality out to others so they are informed. May you be one who gives folks at least ONE MORE opportunity to come to their senses and embrace God’s way of salvation. 
  4. Understand that God desires ALL people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), and this passion should be the same passion that we use to talk with others. It is a desire FOR not anger AGAINST these precious souls, who are designed to have fellowship with God, and to do His works.
  5. EMPOWER people to make their decision, and inform them what the results of their decision will be. We can’t make them convert, but we can inform them of the good news, that they too can be saved.
  6. Reject false teaching and unbiblical theories about the eternal state. 
  7. Respect what Hell is. May Hell only be mentioned with tearful eyes. War is not Hell, life is not Hell. Those are NOTHING in comparison to Hell. Let’s not cheapen the word.
  8. Allow the reality of Hell be a motivation for you sharing the Good News. If Jesus is right, then why would you want yourself or anyone to wind up there?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Black Sabbath

This Sabbath is the Sabbath between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
Jesus died at 3pm on Friday, the day of preparation. Now it’s Saturday. It is a black Sabbath.
What did his followers feel on that dark day?
Here are my thoughts, as I ruminate on this:

For He is gone.
All those miracles.
All the feeding & filling.
All the love.
All the deep truth.
All those times that God’s Spirit would resonate and jump for joy within me.
The time he raised his friend Lazarus, through his own tears.
The time he told us that he is the Passover Lamb.
The time he took the 3 and transformed, shining as bright as the sun before them.
The weird ways he would heal people.
The times he silenced the arrogant leaders.
When Jesus pulled a coin from a fishes mouth to pay the taxes of both him and Peter.
How he would calmly teach us as we walked down from Jerusalem to Galilee.
How he opened our eyes to the Scriptures! And showed us that the prophecies pointed to him.
The garden and the mountain, where we would find him praying for us and for his people. And for all the nations.

Now Jesus is gone. Dead. Nailed to a Roman cross, by our leaders. Numbered among the criminals. And how badly they beat him. He had to be God to live through that! And no wonder why he died so quickly. And yet, even up there, weak and bloodied, he was still tender, still caring for others, and willing to forgive them.

So now what? It is a day of rest, but my heart grieves within me. Not only because the Jews may seek to kill us too, but because it is torn. I believe that He is the Messiah, but He is dead. Where do we go now? I want to do something, but it is a day of “rest”. I want to see the body of my Lord, but the Romans are guarding it. And it is a day to be still, and know that the Lord is God. What a lousy day to have this happen. I just have to wait....with rest-lessness of mind. What a dark day, o this blackest of Sabbaths. Where hope is squelched. Where joy is damp. Where the one that we thought would save us is no more.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Return of the Demon

By the time that Jesus told this story, he had found consistant and obstinant resistance against most of the religious leadership, possibly even worse than the prophets that the religious leaders were back in the day when they killed off God’s other spokespeople. This story comes right after the stubborn religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign, like he hadn’t performed several in front of them already.
So here is the story, told in modern language. You can find it in Matthew 12:43-45.

One day a demon went out of a person, and it passed through waterless places seeking rest, but it didn’t find any. So it said, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it returned, it found the house empty, swept, and put in order. That excited the demon, so it went and brought with it seven other demons more evil than itself, and they entered and dwelt there, and the last state of that person is worse that he was before. 

And so it was with the evil generation that Jesus lived in.

Here are a couple of thoughts that I have gleaned from this passage:
1. Some believe that demons, evil spirits love water, and the people in Canaan believed that in Jesus’ day. In fact, most still believe this today. They believe that evil dwells in water aka the abyss. Today, Jewish fishermen stay close to shore because of this. Is this true? I know that in this story, Jesus at least consedes or uses this belief in the story. I am not sure if he believed it or not, albeit the pigs in the Gaderenes ran into the abyss.
2. What does a cleaned and ordered house mean? Jesus was speaking against the religious folk who were very legalistic. They thought that by keeping a list of dos and don’ts, they could be in good order and please the Lord. However, although they had all their religious ducks in a row, there was no one dwelling INSIDE, no “strong man” to keep these demons out. Today, being religious or being a “good person”, although no one is good except God, can set you up for brutality. You need someone to dwell INSIDE of you. Someone stronger than you. That person who is stronger is Jesus. Religion without a relationship with Jesus is of no benefit. Moral people can still go to Hell forever. YOU and I need a strong man, the man Jesus. 
3. When someone becomes proud of themself and their religousness, pride sets in, if not something far worse. Have you evern known a legalist to treat people with hate/contempt? Not realizing that they sin too? How healthy is that for society?  We need to realized that we are broken together, and that we all need a strong man to save us. We all need, and can enjoy him dwelling in us, making us actually a temple, in which he dwells. 
4. Yes, do good, live right. But let it begin with a love for Jesus and let His Spirit work with you to transform you to reflect Jesus inside and outside. What a wonderful person Jesus is. If I could pick someone to become like, it would be him. 
5. Am I saying that you should not accept yourself for who YOU are? Yes and no.
A. You should accept that you are made in God’s image, are precious to him, and he longs for a relationship with you.
B. You should also accept that you miss the mark of perfection so often, and that by yourself you will never obtain it. Accept that you are also broken and need saving.

You have to accept the good and the bad. And this bad, needs to bring up you becoming discontent with who you are in the badness. And then wisely realize and admit that you need help.

C. You also need to accept this truth about yourself, that you are seperate from God and will be condemned because a lot of what you do and a lot of who you are is very hurtful and destructive. Oh, you may not be someone who causes great destruction, like an abortion doctor, or a terrorist, but you do cause plenty of pain, or have caused a lot of pain in the past. And, just as those guys need saving, so do YOU and so do I. 
6. If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, you are safe, you are righteous, you have become a child of God, you are forgiven, you are a saint/a holy person, you have a great destiny and future, and you do not need to fear evil. In fact, you can say, “Greater is the one who is in me, than he who is in the world!” Because in Christ, God himself dwells in you. And you are His temple. And in that, you can find rest, and s tey. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

If we are forgiven in Christ, then why is there a Judgment Seat of Christ?

If Our Sins are Forgiven in Christ, Then Why a Judgment Seat?

A friend asked me this question the other day, so I want to dig into this.
I remember back in college age days where I would give an answer quickly, so that I seemed competent. But, as Jesus grows in me a desire to care for people, I take more time with these answers. Wayne Grudem impacted me in how he was so careful to be thoughtful in his answers when I had him as a professor at Trinity Seminary. He would often say, “Let me get back to you.” And then he actually would. So, I have learned to give it thought and prayer, unless the answer is obvious. And even if it is obvious, people are too important not to give them some thought and not to take them to the Lord before answering. So, now you know the background, let’s dig into the study.

Questions I want to answer in this blog:
1. Are our sins (past, present, and future) forgiven in Christ?
2. What is the judgment seat of Christ and what happens there?
3. How now shall we live?

1. Are our sins (past, present, and future) forgiven in Christ? Yes.
All of us have sin and fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom. 3:9-20, 23), and therefore, because we are not perfect and are guilty of sin (James 2:10), we stand condemned before a holy God (John 3:18, Luke 8:12).

So what do we do about this? Do we all spend eternity in conscious separation and suffering apart from God, like the Bible teaches (Rev. 21:8, Matt. 25:46, Psalm 9:17, 2 Thess. 1:9, Matt. 13:42, 50, Mk. 9:43, Jude 1:7)? Or is there another option?

God has taken the initiative in this. There is something we can do. God has provided a remedy.
Let me lay this out in a story of a guy named Joe. Joe, like all of us, is guilty before a perfect, holy, and righteous God. In fact, internally he knows that God cannot look on evil favorably (Habbakuk 1:13), and that he is still in his sin. However, he also knows that around 33AD God took initiative and sent His Son, Jesus/Yahweh the Savior into the world to pay the price for our sins by dying on a cross (Romans 5:8) and that through this death Christ satisfied God’s wrath through paying the price for the worlds sin (1 Peter 3:18). And that through faith in Christ, trusting in Christ, believing in Christ, looking to Christ for salvation, that gift is ratified to Joe (John 3:16-18) and that if he doesn’t trust Christ, he remains in a condemned state because of disbelief, and blowing off this wonderful sacrifice. So what does Joe do? He is faced with a choice, to look to Jesus and be saved or to blow off Jesus and remained guilty, with no sacrifice for sin being credited to His account. Joe wisely chooses Jesus. And because Joe has chosen Jesus, and embraced him, the promise of Psalm 103:12 and John 1:12 applies to him. Praise God! Furthermore, what Joe doesn’t realize yet is that he is also sealed in that state (Ephesians 1:11-14).

2. What is the Judgment Seat of Christ and what happens there?
So, seeing that our sins are forgiven: past, present, and future (by the way, “sin” is an archery term that means to miss the mark/target/bullseye. It is to fly at 30,000 feet when Jesus flies at 40,000 feet for example.), why do we have to stand before this JSC?
A. Verses that talk about JSC:
Luke 19:11-27, Romans 14:10-12, 1 Cor. 3:10-4:5, 2 Cor. 5:1-10, Jn. 2:28, 1 Cor. 3:8, Php. 1:21,23, Heb. 9:27, Mt. 16:27, Rev. 22:12, Rev. 12:3, 1 Thess. 1:3, 2 Thess. 1:11)
B. The JSC is NOT the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20.
C. It is known as the Behma Seat.
D. So let’s dig into these verses:

Luke 19:11-27- This passage talks about a general response from the business man. He rewarded the faithfulness of some and for one, he condemned. So, those in Christ seem to receive a situation of reward, not nit-pick.

Romans 14:10-12- The Judgment seat of God is a place where all of us will give an account to God. So, here Paul encourages us not to pass judgment on people. This verse doesn’t mean that we aren’t to challenge and confront one another. Rather, we are not to condemn one another.

1 Cor. 3:10-4:5- It is a time to see the quality of the persons works, and a time for commendation IF there is anything to commend.

2 Cor. 5:1-10- There is a day where we must all appear before the JOC to receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. There is a “paycheck” for our labor. Then, the context of verse 11 says, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to....God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.”
Let me extrapolate- We are God’s children, forgiven in Christ. Well....God knows if we are and Paul hopes we know if we are. BUT, if we are, we receive the “Crown of Life” and it is a joyful day. But what if we are people who have Christ and are therefore positionally holy (clean) but practically not perfected? First, none of us have reached practical perfection. I believe it will be a time of great joy as we see Jesus! But why then will Paul mention “evil”? I think there is not payout for deeds done in sin (ie pride, self-promotion, etc). Also, to be in heaven, to dwell with Jesus, we have to be perfect. And therefore, if we are allowed into Heaven, then even our evil deeds are not held against us, otherwise we couldn’t enter.

1 Cor. 3:8- There seems to be a reception of wages for the work in evangelism and discipleship.

Heb. 9:27-28- We all will face judgment, however, when Christ comes he will save those who eagerly wait for him. What if someone professes Christ, is even baptized, but does not eagerly wait for Him?
Here are my thoughts: 1) this person is distracted by the weeds of life, and has lost the light of hope, being weighed down, 2) this person does not have a depth of understanding and needs discipleship, or 3) this person is really unconverted, and does not hope in Christ.
I know that for me, personally, I know I am imperfect, and that most likely half of what I do has selfish motives BUT I am so excited about Jesus to return or for me to be with Him, that this excitement overwhelms any fear. And, if I notice a sin, I confess, repent, and adjust my life to live right.

Mt. 16:27- I take that generally as a judgment depending on what they did with Jesus.

Rev. 22:12- Echos Matthew 16:27

3. How now shall we live?
So, for the believer, is the JSC a time for fear? Nope. I think it is a time of joy.
We already know that we are not at the Great White Throne, and that our sins have been removed from us, otherwise, we would stand condemned. We do not stand condemned, and that is great news. In fact, we will receive various rewards depending on if our works in the Lord were pure.

I was a manager. Annually I would do an employee review. However, I loved my employees and unless there was a dramatic problem (which I would have talked to them about many times), they were secure in their employment. In fact, I felt that an annual review was actually a review, in part, of my leadership of my employees. When an employee sat in front of me, I would praise them for the good work they had done, and I would also challenge them to develop in any area they were deficient.

In part, the JSC is similar. We are His children, our sin has been paid for, Christ’s precious blood applied to our account. We will receive praise and reward for work, we will not receive reward for sin. And my example falls short, because I am not as good of a person and as loving a person and not nearly as healthy as the Lord. He is good, and holy, and loving, and healthy. So how much more can we trust him and look forward to seeing Him and becoming more like Him for all eternity!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Stubborn Habits: Maya & the Tree

We have a dog named Maya. She can't resist barking and biting our tree.
Here is her story.

One thing Maya loves to do is bark up the tree & bite the bark. We don't like her biting the bark. We don't like her barking a lot either.
So, we've put fences around the tree, we've attempted to train her, we've given her correction. Currently, we have both a fence and a bark collar. However, these measures occasionally (3x a day) still doesn't stop her. She can't resist the tree.
The only thing that seems to work is to go outside and yell at her when she heads toward that tree.
I have thought about getting rid of her so she doesn't kill the tree, because we like that tree. But we love Maya, so we wouldn't do that over a tree.

This got me thinking about myself, and other people who are striving to obey Jesus.
1. We know that we are loved, and that we are in the family because of Jesus work (Ephesians 2:8-10, John 3:16-18).  Kind of like Maya, our rescued dog. It wasn't because of Maya's behavior that we adopted her. Out of gracious mercy and generosity we adopted her into our family. She doesn't earn her keep, rather, she has our keep. She is a part of our "pack" not because of anything she has done, but because of loving grace. So, she doesn't have to do certain things to remain in the pack (and this is where the illustration falls short) unless she hurts or attacks one of the people in our "pack". She is safe, she is loved.
2. Do you have any trees, that the Lord has told you not to "bite the bark" on? Are there any stubborn habits that you keep going back to, but know the Lord doesn't want you to? I have those.
3. I have put up fences (Proverbs 7:24-27), have read the commands and desires of my Father, have been corrected by others, and I have even used "bark collars" to help me create a good boundary away from the trees. Now I will say that I have less trees than I use to. As I grew up in Christ, I lost interest in some of these, because my desire to enjoy close fellowship with Jesus became greater. But I still have a few trees. Some I know about, and others the Lord probably has not pointed out yet. I am like the homeowner and Maya in this story.
4. When I am mindful of the Lord's voice, I stay away from the trees. But it takes focus and it takes perspective. My default is to bite the trees, but there is also a part of me that doesn't want to bite them.
5. So what did Jesus teach about things that cause you to bite trees? He taught us to radically amputate. So we either move to a yard with no trees, put up an impeccable barrier around the tree, or cut down the tree (Matthew 5:27-30). To be honest, part of me still likes to bite the trees (I call it the flesh) and part of me never wants to bite a tree again (I call that the spirit) (ie Romans 7).

What will you do to quit biting the trees the Lord told you not to?

6. Maya apparently cannot learn this behavior on her own. She needs us, the tree needs us, to help her. So, we cannot desire or successfully stay away from things without the help of our Master. I am glad he is engaged and helps. 
Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Psychology of the Disciples

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us' and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." 
-1 John 1:1-4, ESV

Question: "How can you believe all of this Jesus stuff? How do we even know Jesus existed?" 
This is a question that I have been asked. There are many angles to take to answer but I want to look at the TESTIMONY of the disciples today and think about their situation for a moment. 

1. Say Jesus & John were in colaboration to make this whole thing up. 
Say John the Baptist and Jesus got together one day, while they were young, and thought, "I know, Jesus why don't you say that you are the Messiah, and I will say that I am the forerunner or Elijah that they have talked about. People will believe in us and we will be famous!
Then they start out. John moves to the desert, decides to wear camel hair, eat honey & locusts, and baptize people. He did become pretty famous, but what a hard life that would have been.
Then Jesus starts going around preaching and telling people to follow him. Unfortunately he was from Nazareth, a disrespected community. How long do you think people would have followed him? Also, he knew early on that he would end up dying on a cross. Would you, knowing that you would die in obscurity on a cross continue with some scheme like this, unless there was some huge advantage?

2. His disciples- so these guys who had a descent career in fishing, collecting taxes, fighting against Rome, etc. decide to follow some guy who is bold and charismatic. Ok, a lot of people follow bold and charismatic leaders. But, to what end? They knew they would suffer, but they firmly believed that there was great eternal reward. Now think about this...why would they believe that this was true? Did Jesus back up his claims?
3. Would anyone continue to suffer for what they knew was a lie?
People will die for what they BELIEVE to be true perhaps, but very few will die for what they KNOW to be a lie, although some may do so. 

4. What was the advantage?
So what was the advantage of being a follower of Jesus in that day?  Did they get rich? No. Did they become admired? No. Did they receive honor? No. Did they die happy? Yes. 
These followers of Jesus were told that He did not come to overthrow the Romans, they saw that some people, particularly the powerful rejected him. They went about homeless and walked a lot. They were kicked out of places, they watched their leader be beaten, tortured, and die in obscurity on a cross, they left their livelihoods, they were kicked out of fellowship because of Christ, they were abused, maligned, ridiculed, tortured, had to flee for their lives, some were stoned, crucified, light on fire, and had to flee for their life. What was their advantage? Why did they continue to follow? 
So think about it. Why would they go through all of this if they knew that Jesus was false. 

5. The New Testament
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, 1 John, James, Revelation, Hebrews, Acts, etc...
These words were all written before 96AD, while those who had seen, heard, touched, and new Jesus were still around. Those who followed Jesus, those who hung around him, all support these testimonies and books. The miracles that were recorded to show that He was the Christ, were all confirmed by his followers, all men who value truthfulness, and keep from lies. Those in the early church, the several hundred that admired Jesus, all support these words. In fact, there are things in these books, that if not true, would have not been added because it doesn't make things seem glorious. For example Epic stories share epic events. The New Testament also shows the failures of these men. 

6. The Apostle Paul
Paul was a Jewish religious leader, and very intelligent. He had wealth, power, position, respect, and was a lead persecuter of the Christians. Something sudden happened in his life that radically changed him. He claims that he had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ. And he died for that belief. He left everything for that belief! Why? What did he hope to gain that he didn't already have? Was there something lacking in his life that he needed?  Admitting Christ would essentially mean leaving everything, giving everything up in order to live a persecuted life. No one does that unless they are sure of what they have seen!

7. Who were these guys? 
Were they ignorant apes who didn't know much and were therefore easily manipulated? Well, looking at their writing style, I would say they were smart men, especially Luke, a doctor, and Paul a religious leader. 

8. Here is the bottom line-
During my years in college, one night I was enjoying a Mountain Dew and hanging out on Culby 2, in our dorm. A man, whom I never met, came up to me and said, "I am Jesus, follow me." 
What do you think my response was? 
I pulled my cup from my lip, gently looked at him, with stern eyes, and said, "Prove it." 
He couldn't, and that is why I didn't follow him. 

9. What about other cult leaders that people follow, though they are dead?
Joseph Smith & Brigham Young are two of my favorites, because although they are dead, their belief system remains. Most contemporaries to JS believed that he was a story teller and a crack pot, long before he came up with these secret tablets. Also, both of these men JS & BY, have made end time prophecies that have not come true, as well as other prophecies that have not come true. In my opinion, someone who makes false prophecies is a.......false prophet. And because they have, I will not rightly follow them. That being said, when Mormons actually learn this, many leave. 
Jesus, on the other hand, has been attacked for two thousand years, yet remains impeccable. There are no skeletons or contradictions in his closet. 
Muhammad, this will probably get me killed, but if I can help someone see through the dross of life, and come to Jesus, it is worth it. Anyhow, I have studied the Quran and the history of Muhammad. In the Quran you see a progressive change of thought in which one thought contradicts another. For example, early on you see that the Jews & Christians are both considered friends and "people of the book". Later you see Jews are anathema but Christians are still considered friends and "people of the book". Then later, both are considered enemies. Also, the history of Muhammad & his life leave him looking dubious. That is why I reject Islam. Plus, they teach people to follow Jesus in the Quran, but then go against what he teaches. This is inconsistent, therefore it doesn't work, and is clearly man made. Plus, it doesn't ever put itself on the line with specific prophecy, like the Bible does. 

So these are some thoughts. Something that frustrates me is when someone says that the Bible and Jesus' disciples are just made up. Also, when someone says that the Bible was changed and manipulated at some later church council. To me, this shows ignorance, and proves that this person has not looked into these things, but is parroting something someone else parroted. In my judgment, either these people are too lazy to look into it, or feel too ashamed to admit that they are really not as good as they thought they were, or don't want to admit that Jesus is the Christ because that would mean they may have to change some things, OR they are just mad at God, so by denying His existence, they can get some type of revenge, which actually just ends up hurting themselves.

So, either these men and women have given a good report and are following the Savior of the world, OR they are, at best, completely insane & to be pitied more than most men. 

If they are wrong, they die believing a lie. If they are right, which I firmly believe that they would have to be, then they have forgiveness of sin, eternal life with Jesus, and purpose for living that transcends their selfish moods.

Rather, what if they weren't making it up? What if this is an accurate account? What if they took great effort to accurately record what they have seen, heard, tasted, touched, and handled? What if Jesus did all the things they have written and contemporaries agreed to? Could that be possible? I believe it can, and is the only possibility. I believe that no one would have laid so much on the line, unless it is what they actually experienced....unless the whole lot of them were insane, which is highly unlikely.

So, am I basing my life, my career, and my future on the testimony of the apostles and NT authors? Yes. Because I believe that these accounts have stood the test of time, and the hard test of their contemporaries, who valued truthfulness in everything.

What about you?
Choose a valid option in regards to their testimony/the words of the New Testament. Choose one:
1. They were made up because...
2. They are accurate records, but I don't want to change my life.
3. They are accurate records, and I want Jesus.

4. (Not valid) These stories were changed over time, over years of translation.
Option 4 is not valid, which I have already addressed, as have many textual scholars. If you missed it, I can get it to you. But, know that only the first 3 are even considered options.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How to Handle the guy holding the "need money" sign

After thinking and praying about it, here are my thoughts on the person who keeps asking us for money-

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

39 But I say to you,

Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, [a] let him have your cloak as well.

41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Notes on verse:

38 – Jesus is referring to the lex talionis, the law of retribution. See Exodus 21:22-25, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”  This is part of the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law was the “Law of the Land” for Israel. It is similar to the USA Constitution and Bill of Rights, and even state laws. The Mosaic Law is a legal code. This is not a right or suggestion that personal revenge is an option. In Jesus’ day, people may have been saying, “Get justice from the courts swiftly, if you have been harmed. Don’t let people get away with taking advantage of you!”

39- Jesus is bringing a deeper teaching, an explanation on the Torah. He is commentating, yet more than commentating, for he is the author of the Torah.

“Do not”- this is not a suggestion here, it is an imperative a command.

“Resist”-anti-histamine. To stand, bid, and uphold against.

“turn to him the other”- from my studies and listening to godly men on this, this has to do with actually turning around and walking away. In that culture, people are right-handed (or at least learn to be). So in order for them to slap you on the other cheek again, your back would have to be turned to them. “Turn around and walk away” “flee”. “allow yourself to be humiliated”.  To quote a famous, though troubled public figure, Gandhi, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Although this is a contestation of God’s word, and a clear misunderstanding of it, the desire for personal revenge is being rightly challenged here.

40- This is where it gets tough, and challenges human emotion/ the flesh. If someone wants x from you in a court of law, don’t only give him what he asks, give him more. I did this once with a neighbor, and I won a continuing friendship. We didn’t go to court, it was a “your kids broke my….I want $40.” We gave them $100. I am not saying it will always work well, but it is great fun to take Jesus up on his teaching and watch what happens. Our hopes is that pragmatically, it would “heap coals” on their head, for this injustice. Instead, it built a friendship with some good people.

41- We use the phrase, “Go the extra mile!” today. When I worked at McDonald’s we had a, “Go the extra smile” campaign. I thought it was a blast! In this context, according to commentators, Jesus is referring to Roman Soldiers who would force you to walk with them. This is also a grate against our flesh! I wonder what it would take to do this out of joy.  The Life Application Bible Commentary on Matthew says, “In an unequal power situation, you have no choice about the first mile. The soldier has the sword, so you carry his gear. And it’s a mile and an hour you can never get back. You’re the loser. What’s to be done? The second mile is your choice. It’s your way of saying, “God is in control here. He gives me energy, and a mere mile does not exhaust me. That sword is nothing; God is everything. Do you want to know where the real power lies? Try to keep up with me and I’ll tell you.”

42- THIS one is the toughest for me. My immediate rebuttal is, “But Jesus, what about the person on the corner who may use it to buy Meth or booze?” and “Do we have to give to everyone who asks, without question?” So what do I do? Well, I have struggled with this verse since 1994, living in the inner-city. I struggle with it every time I stop at an intersection and someone is holding a sign asking for help. I struggle with it when a passerby asks me for money for whatever. Does my giving enable them? Do I contribute to the problem? I asked Shane Claiborne, the author of “Irresistible Revolution”, what he thought about this. He thought it was a very good, hard question, and referred me to Mike Yankoski, author of, “Under the Overpass”. I have not asked him yet.

“Give”- this is an imperative! It is a command, not an option for the follower of Jesus.

“turn around”- do not turn away from that person. I have done this, and I have experienced grief for doing so, knowing that it was the Lord I had grieved.

“borrow”- to lend money, to loan them a resource. Here is the caveat to “give to whoever”. It is a borrowing not a giving. (although if they can’t or won’t repay, we should let that slide. But that is a different discussion.) I would say, do not just give, but have expectation. Expectation that they will return the money (without interest), or expectation that they will work for it, or expectation that they will allow us to give them counsel. Doing this is a greater help.

The question is are the phrases “Give to the one who asks” and “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” the same person or are these two DIFFERENT situations? I don’t think they have to be.

The Life Application Bible Commentary on Matthew adds, “Jesus’ followers should have a generous spirit. Because they loosely hold on to their personal rights and possessions, they can freely give when the need arises and won’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow.”

So what if someone, who is not from the church, asks for money? I think we attach strings to it! Here are some of my thoughts:

Option 1.  We loan it to them, expecting an interest free repayment, getting their information such as address & phone number. This can be done warmly. (I would hope for repayment, but if they don’t repay, we absorb it).

Option 2. We loan it to them, with the stipulation of meeting with them for financial counsel.

Option 3. We have them, depending on the case, do work around the church to pay it off.

Option 4. Go grocery shopping for them, or go WITH them to get a gift/gas card. This allows us to build a relationship with them and share the gospel.

Option 5. Ask them if this is what they really need, or is there something “broken” that we can help them fix. This is an opportunity for the gospel to be shared!