ARE WE UNCOMFORTABLE SPEAKING ABOUT HELL?

It has been my practice to read at least one sermon from a great preacher of the past each week. I find my soul stirred by the many personalities and styles God uses in proclaiming the unchanging word of God. I just finished reading Charles Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “Heaven and Hell.” His text was Matt. 8:11-12 “And I say to you, that many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
I was gripped with the candid directness of  Spurgeon’s  words and his unshakable conviction that the word of God must stand without adaptation. I like the way he approached his audience. He said simply “Weigh right and wrong this night; see whether what I say be the truth of God. If it be not, reject it utterly, and cast it away; but if it is, at your peril disregard it; for, as you shall answer before God, the great Judge of heaven and earth, it will go ill with you if the words of his servant and of his Scripture be despised.”
There was no political correctness in his wording but there was no lack of grace in his tone either. I loved the way he revealed the tension in his soul as he preached this very heavy subject. This is how he put it: “My text has two parts. The first is very agreeable to my mind and gives me pleasure; the second is terrible in the extreme; but, since they are both the truth, they must be preached.” The insight of his confession reflects what should be the thought of every preacher as he stands before his audience with the open word of God in his hand.
The first part of the sermon is extremely comforting. He jolted me when he observed that there will be more people in heaven than in hell. Before you throw the “narrow and wide gate” text at Spurgeon I encourage you to read how he came to this conclusion. You may not agree with him, but he does have a point. Then he moves to the last part of the text. You can sense his heaviness of heart as he preaches about the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don’t think I can ever speak on hell again without Spurgeon’s words ringing in my ears. Listen: “But, in hell, there is no hope. They have not even the hope of dying. They are forever-forever-forever lost! On every chain in hell, there is written ‘forever.’ In the fires, there blaze out the words ‘forever.’ Up above their heads, they read ‘forever.’ Their eyes are galled, and their hearts are pained with the thought that it is forever. Oh! If I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be–it is ‘forever’ they are ‘cast into utter darkness.”
So why are we so reluctant to speak so clearly of hell? Do I really believe my neighbors in their nice houses will end up there? Am I that callous and preoccupied with life that I cannot bring myself to think long on the subject? Do I fear if I spoke or preached so candidly that such  messages would be unappreciated, unwelcomed? Are the words of Scripture to be taken at face value? Are the stakes that high? Think it thru

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WHY DO SOME PEOPLE STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE?

 Remember the disciple Thomas? He was dug in. I will not believe. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I WILL NEVER BELIEVE!” (John 20:24-25). This guy rubbed elbows with Jesus, had conversations with him, traveled with him, listened to him, ate with him, and saw all the miraculous stuff Jesus did, yet after Jesus died, he categorically refused to believe that anything like the resurrection could really occur. Why the unbelief? Oh, I know the heart is deceitful and desperately incurable, our friend Jeremiah tells us (Jer. 17:9). That explains part of the unbelief struggle. Don’t trust your heart. It is wicked. God alone really knows the heart! But I think there is more that goes on in the unbelief struggle.

Think about this. When you are not sure about someone, then you are reluctant to believe what they say, promise, state, or do. You will recall that Philip asked Jesus to show he and the other disciples the Father and he/they would be at rest…satisfied (John 14:8-11). Jesus answers with an astounding question: ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? In other words, he is saying ‘you still cannot wrap your head around who I am? You cannot see God in me?’ Then He says forthrightly: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is is me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” The struggle to believe is wrapped in the package of being sure of Jesus. If you cannot get Jesus right you have no basis to believe. We must keep that in mind as we share the Gospel with our fellow men. Jesus must always be the starting point on the path of faith. Of course that means going to the record with confidence…ie the Bible… so that we can know about who Jesus is and what He has done.

Perhaps there is another reason for the struggle to believe. Is good news reliable and believable in our skeptical and jaded world of constant turmoil, trouble and wickedness? Every day we are bombarded with bombings, shootings, devastating storms, riots, hunger, cheaters, liars, murderers, etc. and on the list goes. So when we bring up the matter of there being “good news” you can see the disbelief on the faces of those to whom we speak. True good news is rare, seldom seen or experienced, so no wonder there is a struggle to believe in such a “fairy tale.” Yet the transforming power of the Gospel in real life is testimony that there is good news and it is real. Our own stories of redemption from our sins through Christ needs to be shared not as a pipe dream but as an experienced reality. Jesus did save us from our sins. The Gospel does work. We must be ready to show the results of the Gospel in our own lives as we face the daily challenges of life in this fallen world. Paul was right. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation” (II Cor. 5:17).
Just because there is a struggle to believe does not mean that many will not come to faith in Christ. That is why Paul went on to say: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (II Cor. 5:20).

Finally, let’s not forget our enemy who sows constant seeds of doubt when it comes to believing the word and promises of God. He has had a lot of experience in this practice (starting in Genesis 3 with our first parents). That is why the man in the Gospels cried out to Jesus with great honesty about the battle raging in his soul (no doubt sowed by the enemy of souls): “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The struggle for belief is not a rare or unusual thing in our world. But victory is possible.  Paul says that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Face unbelief with the Bible and its claims about Christ. Unbelief cannot stand before an honest reception of God’s Word.

The end of the story for Thomas is recorded in John 20:26-29. Thomas was invited in the presence of the risen Christ to indeed put his fingers into the wounds. But strangely he did not. Unbelief vanished when he got Jesus right. He just said: “My Lord and my God!” The struggle to believe is over. Christ is Lord! Think it thru

SO WHAT’S NEW ABOUT THE NEW YEAR?

There is something exciting about getting something new. Maybe for Christmas you got that new book or tool or kitchen gadget or clothing item. You have already tried it out. Hopefully it did not tear, break or get soiled…but it will because new stuff gets old. That is just the way of life.

So what’s new about the new year?  Resolutions? How many really last? Fresh start with a new calendar? The days roll by and the check list grows, and it begins to feel like old hat, right?

Let’s think about this question about what’s new in the new year.

ANSWER: NOTHING.  Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”  Well, that is a depressing note.  It sounds like we are doomed to go over the same ground…again this year as last year. Does history repeat itself?  Is there no hope of change? Is that what Solomon means? That there is nothing new under the sun does not mean that man does not invent, that he does not genuinely reflect his Creator by building and making wonderful new things. But think about this. Man does what he’s done since the dawn of time. He invents, works, builds, barters, eats, drinks, walks, sleeps, and dies. What leverage do these activities give mankind? One generation comes and another goes. Do we remember the greatest rage in entertainment in the early 1800’s in America? Can we recall the greatest athlete in the 1600’s? Does your young grandson even know the meaning of the phrase “like a broken record?” Can he even recall what a dial-tone is? Eventually everything is forgotten. That cycle keeps repeating. Solomon’s whole point in Ecclesiastes is this: Without God life is purposeless, vain, empty, doomed to many points of failure. The endless cycle.

ANSWER: SOME THINGS. Paul teaches us in II Cor. 5:17 that when a person is born again he becomes a new creature in Christ. Old things are passing away and all things are becoming new.  Paul also reminds us that God’s goal is to change us and bring us more into the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29). This transforming work is constantly going on in us and as we read God’s word and speak to God in prayer, the changes the Holy Spirit makes in our thinking and behavior make us look more like Jesus than the day before…and the year before! That is new stuff for us.

ANSWER: EVERYTHING.  I love Jeremiah’s take on what God is doing in the days to come in all of our lives as believers. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. THEY ARE NEW EVERY MORNING; great is your faithfulness.”  Imagine that. Every morning when I wake up and face the day something new from God is going to come down in the form of a mercy. Think of what was going on here. Jerusalem had fallen. A dark hour in history for Israel. Jeremiah the prophet is in pain and full of grief. Then he recalls the steadfast love of the Lord. It never goes away. In fact God’s mercies come to us new every morning, no matter what happened yesterday. That is what keeps us going. Today may be a mess, but tomorrow promises new mercies. It happens every day.

So what’s new about the new year? Nothing…Some Things…Everything. Never forget the words of Jesus in Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I make all things new.”  That is our hope.There is a new future. God is in the business of making us new. Are we living by faith banking on God’s new mercies? Are we resisting or complying to God’s new thing(s)?  Think it thru

WAS CHRISTMAS REALLY A “SILENT NIGHT?”

I really like the Christmas hymn Silent Night.  But I have to wonder…was that night a silent night with  all being calm? Was the infant so tender and mild suggesting a comfortable setting for the babe?

From all I read Jesus was born into a chaotic, lawless and troubled world.The leaders of Israel were leading the people further and further from God. Their nation was in subjection to the Roman Empire and many in Israel were fuming and fighting under that condition. One king had it in mind to kill this child-king if he could get his hands on him. And when he could not, what did he do? He had all the children in and around Bethlehem under 2 years old killed. Silent Night? Holy Night?All is calm?  I really don’t think so. Jeremiah predicted that there would be a lot of crying and sorrow among Israel at that time.  The only thing holy about that night  was the Son of God Himself.

Out on the hillside the Shepherds had their hands full too with a frightening display of angel lights and sounds. It was not so silent a night as far as they were concerned.

Was it a calm night for the new Christmas parents? Joseph and Mary were not in a comfortable hostel but far from home, having to make a hard trip to comply with census laws.  They ended up  in a cave stable where she gave birth to Jesus.  This baby was laid in  a feeding trough for animals. Calm, quiet surroundings you think? With animals, really?

I know…we like our Christmases contemplative and quiet so we can think.  That image of a peaceful and peace-filled celebration appeals to us. But in reality Christ’s birth was never meant to be treated in Silent Mode.  The coming of Christ is something to shout about, talk about, sing about, and testify to.  We ought to be making a lot of noise as a church at Christmas. This is our time. This is our Savior. Mohamed has nothing to do with this. The angel Moroni can’t share in this. Buddha has to bow low to this one. Hinduism has no Savior. Man’s religion has to take a back seat to this Lord of Glory come to earth! They must all stand silent before this King Savior – Jesus the Christ. Those are the real “silent night” people. Jesus says we are people of the day (I Thess. 5:5). We are to carry news of him everywhere and shout it from the mountaintops.

No, my friend. Let’s have no silent nights around Christmas. Christ really did come. Now that is something to talk about! Who will you tell over the next few days?  Silent night?? No way!! Think it thru

 

 

 

SHOULD I JUST TELL YOU I AM THANKFUL?

Strange question you might think.  Of course we should tell each other we are thankful. But how do you say you are thankful to someone—especially to God? You might answer: You just say it!

I don’t want to be like the man who on his wedding day said to his bride: “Now honey, listen carefully, I am only going to say this once and not repeat it. “I love you.”  I guarantee that marriage is headed south because all of us need reminded of our spouse’s love regularly.

Neither do I want to keep company with the 9 lepers who never came back to thank Jesus for healing them. Only one of the 10 returned and said thank you (see Luke 17:11-19), and get this –HE WAS A SAMARITAN!  A Samaritan thanking a Jew for anything was indeed rare.  He not only said thanks, but he DID SOMETHING. He came back and bowed at Jesus’ feet. He set aside the excitement of getting home to family, of showing off his new condition to come back to where his healing occurred, back to his first encounter with Jesus!

Just a point of clarification: I must remember that God does not need my thanks to survive or thrive. But I need to give Him my thanks. If He is the source of all my blessings (James says He is 1:17), then it stands to reason we begin our thanksgiving journey with Him.

Once again the question is worth raising: How do I say thanks? Well, we can say thank you with our words. Yes, words are very important. Regularly expressed thanks to God dominates the book of Psalms and is sprinkled throughout all the pages of Scripture. Words communicate what is in our hearts. God gave us speech to use for His glory!

But there is another dimension to giving thanks that we sometimes overlook. Listen to Paul in I Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

It seems then the way we give thanks best is shown in what we do.  Let’s get practical. It is thanksgiving day…the family has gathered…rehearsed all they are thankful for…consumed the turkey and giblets (hey, those are the highlight of the meal for me…yum…yum), the cranberry sauce, potatoes, pumpkin pie…etc. and then everybody scatters to their “fellowship circles.”  So, who cleans up? The cook? The mom? Aunt Sally? It seems to me that all the grateful folks should help clean up.  The best way to give thanks is to jump in and DO thanksgiving. Our thanks pokes out in our shoe-leather. You can say thank you to someone by taking the time to listen to them, help meet a need they have, or speak a word of encouragement backed up by some appropriate action.

If it reflects a grateful heart, then what we do is the best expression of thanks. The Lord tells us that our work will be blessed when we not only hear the word of God, but when we do it (James 1:22-25). So as we reflect on “thanksgiving” let’s practice our thanks not only in words, but in deeds too.  Think it thru

Why do we struggle with certain kinds of change?

Some changes we welcome. The change from the old worn out car to the new one. Now that is a change most of us delight in. AC is back…the old car had lost it. Navigation, blue tooth capability is now on board…man what luxury. The old car did not even have a USB socket, let alone the other accessories.
How about the new house with the furnace that does not need constant fixing, and plumbing that actually works all the time. Oh, yes very welcome.
And then there is the long search for a good paying job and you find it. It means a change in work environment, location, etc, but how welcome is that?
Yet when it comes to the changes the spirit of God is orchestrating in our lives, how we find ourselves balking and resisting and dragging our feet! Why is that? Well, after thinking about this in my own life, I think I have identified a couple of reasons, that my “change-meter” malfunctions.

I struggle with change because it takes me into new territory. It appears that is what happened to Peter when Jesus wanted to change his thinking about the Gentiles & the Gospel. Remember the big sheet with all those food sources that the Lord dropped down in front of Peter in his vision of Acts 10? God said, Peter, rise and eat! Wow! This was not just a diet change, but a whole different way of viewing Gentiles and Jews when it came to the Gospel. Peter’s change meter pegged. He was being moved into new territory. Notice what he said: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean”(v. 14). I have never gone there, and don’t really want to go there! Three times the Lord brought Peter to the brink of change (v. 16). Of course when Peter submitted to the change (and it was a process you will recall with the men coming, the house of Cornelius listening to the message, the coming of the Spirit, then Peter in chap. 11 eating with that Gentile family), what great blessing resulted. Change accepted…and today we Gentiles are “in” because of one man accepting the change brought by God’s spirit. The changes God brings to us always seem to have bigger gains than the losses we experience by the change. I must keep that in mind.  I like something C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Here is one other thought on this change thing. I struggle with change because I allow my present state to trump the priority of Christ in my life. I cannot help but recall Paul’s moment of change on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Here is a guy who was comfortable in his Pharisee life. He was serving God (he thought sincerely) and had the powers that be behind him in his ministry venture of taking Christians into custody. Life change and ministry change hit him between the eyes on that day when the light shone down from heaven and Jesus confronted him with those haunting words “why are you kicking against the ox-goads?” Paul was brought to the brink of life change and ministry change when he accepted the fact that Christ holds the priority in life. Three days blind, months and even years of re-direction spelled out just how extensive the change was for Paul. Everything Paul valued and had committed to up to that point changed. What was the results of the change? Well, for starters, most of the New Testament flowed out of his Spirit-empowered pen!

So….Change is always good when God brings it and I accept it. I want to view the changes God allows and brings as really good redirections in my life. Leonard Ravenhill once wrote these insightful words: “THE QUESTION ISN’T WERE YOU CHALLENGED. THE QUESTION IS WERE YOU CHANGED?” Think it thru.

 

 

WHAT IS RESURRECTION LIFE?

Everyone dies. Conception brings life into this earthly existence. Because we are born sinners, our end is already fixed- the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet for the believer, death is the “birth” that takes us into the heavenly existence. Life after death is a reality. The Bible says so. Jesus promised that because He lives (after his death),  we will too who know Him. Which brings up the question: what exactly is the resurrection life mean  for the one who knows Christ?

1- It is the hope that we will literally be in heaven with Christ after we die. (John 14; II Cor. 4-5). Paul said it is a better thing to be with Christ than to “truck on” here. That tells us the resurrection life of the future far surpasses the earthly life of the present (Phil. 1:23).
2- It is the promise of a perfect body with no sickness, sin, or sorrowful experiences to plague its existence. Paul speaks of the transformed bodies we will have after our resurrection (I Cor. 15:35-44). These bodies will never be subject to decay or degeneration (I Cor. 15:53-57). In some way, we will be like Jesus (I John 3:2). Literally, we will never face death (physical) again (John 11:25-26).
3- It is the taste of the future life now by being in Christ. Paul said though he was crucified with Christ, he lives. And the life he lives down here is a new life, a different life, a life that will never really end (Gal. 2:20).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ opened a door of hope for those who believe that can never be closed! Hey, whatever way the path turns we win! Think it thru