Sunday, July 31, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 7: “Hell, Where Their Worm Does Not Die…”

Last week a cleaning lady came by our house. We usually get the same lady each month, but this time the company sent a different woman. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to have a reason for the hope we have in Jesus, and that day I was provided with many opportunities to share.

From almost the moment she walked in, the lady (we’ll call her Shelby from now on) was asking me philosophical, psychological and spiritual questions. Shelby didn’t really get much work done that first 45 minutes, but it was fine with me; we covered a lot of ground. It seemed clear that she subscribed to the New Age movement, because she appeared to subscribe to various beliefs from an assortment of religions.

Two prominent New Age beliefs Shelby ascribed to included: 1) Discovering one’s inherent divinity and 2) Reincarnation. Both of those teachings are attempts to deal with sin, death, judgment and salvation through one’s own strength and merit. Also, both of those teachings seek to completely dismiss Jesus’ clear teaching about hell.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:43-48

The main problem in this world is not disunity. It is not a lack of understanding. It is not that the two main candidates running for office are narcissistic, sociopathic, idolatrous, pathological liars who will literally say or do anything to gain more power (even though that's true).

The main problem in this world is that humanity is at war with God. We are in rebellion against the King of kings, and that insurrection is called sin. Sin leads to bondage and death. And for those who reject the forgiveness, redemption and regeneration offered by Jesus Christ, the ultimate just judgment of hell’s eternal fire awaits.

Many preachers today do not want to preach about hell, and they do this at their own peril. 

Not only do they endanger their souls, but is it possible that these American pastors carry a large portion of the blame for the breakdown of our society? Is it possible that their reluctance to regularly paint an accurate picture of both heaven and hell has led millions of Americans to not fear suffering the consequences of their actions? If so, it would probably be good practice for all pastors to read Malachi 2 once every month. 

Unlike modern pastors, the early Christians were neither ashamed of Jesus nor His words about hell.

For all, the righteous and the unrighteous alike, shall be brought before God the Word. … He comes as Judge whom we call Christ. … Those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment. And the fire which is unquenchable and without end awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die, and which does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice of interceding friends will profit them. – Hippolytus 225CE, Volume 5, p. 397 [CD-ROM]

God’s judgment comes to the righteous and the unrighteous. Everything we’ve ever thought, said or done will be held up against the standard of Christ. And though non-Christians are capable of doing good things, that’s not good enough. Therefore, even though Cornelius the Roman Centurion was called a righteous and just man in Acts 10, he still needed to repent of his sins and receive forgiveness and newness of life through Jesus Christ.

Over the 36 years I've been alive, my eyes and hands have willfully engaged in sin more times than I can imagine. I’ve valued countless things above God and hurt countless others for the sake of those idols. My eyes deserve to be plucked out and my hands cut off. Worse still, I deserve to spend eternity where their worm doesn't die and the fire is never quenched.

Though the Gospels don’t show Jesus demanding His disciples to cut off their hands or pluck out their eyes when they sin, His words in Mark 9 demonstrate how serious He is about sin. In one sense, Jesus wasn’t using hyperbole. It actually would be better for us to enter life maimed or with one eye than to have an amazing body, not take Jesus seriously, and end up in the unquenchable fire of hell.

There are no second chances after we die. Reincarnation doesn’t exist anymore than purgatory does. Fortunately, there is rebirth and regeneration through the Holy Spirit offered to everyone who will receive Jesus.

Jesus is more gracious, merciful, and patient than you can comprehend. He gave His entire life for you. When you repent of your sins and give your life to Him, He gives His life back into you through the Holy Spirit. As you walk with Him each day, He begins to transform you into a new person and make you more like Him.

That is really good news! The gospel is not just about keeping us out of hell, it’s also about bringing God’s kingdom into our lives. It’s about transformation into God’s image by God’s power. And that means God is writing a tremendous testimony in you, filled with story after story of how your hope in Christ triumphs over the hellish situations you face.

So may you make the most of every opportunity this week to give the reason for the hope you have in Jesus!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 6: “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life...”

Unity is vital in homes, churches and nations. Jesus said it well in Luke 11:17, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.”

However, is it possible for unity to be dangerous? Of course it is, if people are unified around a lie. Unfortunately, there are many examples in the Bible where people are united around a false promise or a false hope, where people are bound together in a false unity that leads to disastrous consequences.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve united around the Serpent’s lie that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they could rid themselves of the need for God. Genesis 11 paints an equally troubling scene where all of humanity rallied together to rise into heaven to defeat God at the Tower of Babel. A little over a year after the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand, Numbers 13-14 shows they had an opportunity to enter the Promised Land. However, with virtually one voice they chose to keep wandering in the wilderness rather than to confront the giants across the Jordan.

Moving to the New Testament, Mark 15 depicts the day our Lord and Savior heard the united shouts of those He came to save imploring Pilate to, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The Apostle Paul never forgot the day he witnessed roughly 25,000 demonically-inspired people shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” in unison for two hours straight due to his work for the kingdom of God (Acts 19). Finally, Revelation 13 reveals that one day almost the entire earth will be deceived into following the Antichrist, and therefore, worshiping Satan.

A. W. Pink wrote this about the false good news Satan offers to the world:

The gospel of Satan … does not promote strife and war—but aims at peace and unity. It seeks not to set the mother against her daughter nor the father against his son—but fosters the fraternal spirit whereby the human race is regarded as one great "brotherhood." … It propagates the principles of self-sacrifice, charity and benevolence, and teaches us to live for the good of others, and to be kind to all. It appeals strongly to the carnal mind and is popular with the masses, because it ignores the solemn facts that by nature man is a fallen creature, alienated from the life of God, and dead in trespasses and sins, and that his only hope lies in being born again.

Don’t sacrifice truth for the sake of unity; doing so can come at the expense of people’s souls.

In January of this year, Pope Francis released a video prayer request, asking everyone to engage in more dialogue with people of other religions because, “We are all children of God.” The video depicts a Buddhist, Jew, Catholic priest and Muslim all declaring that they believe in their particular faith leader, and they believe in love. 1 John 4 says that God is love, so does that mean all these followers of various religions are children of God believing in the same God?

An article has also demonstrated the Pope discussing atheists in a similar light. He said, "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class!”

While it’s true that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross offers redemption to everyone, not everyone has had their sins forgiven, and thus been delivered out of the domain of darkness and into God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14)And, as John 1 declares, only those who choose to receive Jesus as their Lord and God receive the right to become children of God.

No matter how other Catholic writers or priests want to spin Pope Francis’ words, he is very much insinuating that John 14:6 should not be taken at face value. What does John 14:6 say? Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’”

Though the early Christians genuinely sought to demonstrate God’s love to all people, they refused to soften Jesus’ words to make Christianity more acceptable to the masses. 

No one can know the Father, unless through the Word of God, that is, unless by the Son revealing [Him]. … Therefore the Son reveals the knowledge of the Father through His own manifestation. … He said to His disciples: “No man knows the Son but the Father, nor the Father but the Son, and those to whomsoever the Son shall reveal Him;” thus setting Himself forth and the Father as He [really] is, that we may not receive any other Father, except Him who is revealed by the Son. …

And for this purpose did the Father reveal the Son, that through His instrumentality He might be manifested to all, and might receive those righteous ones who believe in Him into incorruption and everlasting enjoyment; … but He shall righteously shut out into the darkness which they have chosen for themselves, those who do not believe, and who do consequently avoid His light. … Wherefore did the Lord say to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” – Irenaeus 180CE Volume 1, p. 781, 783-784  [CD-ROM]

Like Jesus, Irenaeus had no problem causing holy division. He basically said that if you have not received God’s Son, you are not part of God’s family. If you choose to not believe in God’s Son, you choose to reject eternal life and bring judgment on yourself. There is only one way to God the Father, and it is through the Lord Jesus Christ His Son.

Even though there was no Pope ruling over the vast number of Christians throughout the world in the first three centuries, it is remarkable how unified the early Christians were in their core doctrines and values. They were unified around the person, life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and were fiercely loyal to Him, no matter the cost.

The early Christians believed that since Jesus said He is the only way to the Father, taking Him seriously mattered enormously. Therefore, evangelism and discipleship were matters of great urgency.

So may we be unified in fulfilling the great commission of our true High Priest. And may we sincerely seek to encourage all people to become baptized disciples of Jesus who lovingly obey His commands by grace through faith. May we be unified in keeping the simple words of Christ.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 5: “Do You Want to Be Well?”

One of my favorite Gospel stories is found in John 5. Jesus was walking through Jerusalem and came by the pool of Bethesda. Many blind and crippled people would stay near the pool because they believed an angel would occasionally stir the waters and the first person in would be instantly healed of whatever ailed them.

Though multitudes were gathered there for a touch from God, Jesus centered in on a man who had basically been an invalid for 38 years. The Bible also says that Jesus knew he had been that way for a long time. Looking at the man, Jesus asked him what many would consider an awkward question. “Do you want to get well (Vs 6)?”

Why would Jesus ask that question to a man who obviously needs a miracle?

Perhaps at the man’s core, he was afraid of the responsibility that would come with being healed. Perhaps he enjoyed the attention and sympathy he received due to his illness. Perhaps he was still bitter over the traumatic circumstances that caused his condition, and felt that persisting in the pain of his past was more pleasurable than walking in uncertainty of liberty.

Whatever the case, the man gave a remarkable reply. Instead of simply saying, “Yes, of course I want to be healed,” he began to blame everyone around him for his troubles.

When simple questions regularly receive run-around replies, a victim mindset is usually framing one’s reality.

Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and author of the popular book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he describes how the Nazis took the Jewish people’s clothes, pictures, belongings, and separated them from their families. However, he also wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

How we frame each situation we encounter (the attitude/worldview we choose in any given situation) is a critical aspect of living as a faithful servant of King Jesus.

For instance, Hebrews 2 says one of the greatest fears every human possesses is the fear of death. Politicians and media constantly play on that fear to manipulate us into believing that the right type of governing body of this world will save us from various forms of death. They masterfully use the fear of death to convert worshippers of God into worshippers of the State. 

You can see the evidence in the way the American Church vacillates between two extremes. On one hand we spew absolute filth about either the Left or Right while making general threats to anyone who might physically or emotionally hurt us or a loved one. And on the other hand, we’ve watered down the Gospel so radically for the sake of “unity” that the most popular social media posts by Christians are pictures of our pets, and the most common rebuke heard inside the walls of the Church is, “Don’t judge me!”

We’re so afraid of both physical and emotional death. But I wonder, how would our lives change if we framed our circumstances in light of the resurrection? How would our reactions to persecutions, insults and trouble change if we framed them in light of the simple words of Christ in the Beatitudes?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12

How do you think the early Christians, who were not held in high regard throughout the Roman Empire, framed those words of Jesus? Let’s see:

Blessed are they who suffer the same things as the prophets, according to what was said by the Savior, “For in the same manner did their fathers treat the prophets.” Now if any one who attends carefully to these things be hated and attacked because of his living with rigorous seriousness and his rebuke of sinners, as a man who is persecuted and criticized for the sake of righteousness, he will …  rejoice and be exceeding glad, being assured that because of these things, he has great reward in heaven from Him who likened him to the prophets on the ground of his having suffered the same things. – Origen 225CE, Volume 9, p. 664-665 [CD-ROM]

The early Christians didn’t brush off the Beatitudes simply because they lived in perilous times. They framed suffering for Christ as an opportunity, not an obstacle. They viewed the command to love our enemies not as hyperbole, but rather as an effective means of spreading the Gospel. As Tertullian famously wrote, “The blood of martyrs is seed.”

I think it’s important to note that John wrote that the man in our story had been lame for 38 years. In chapter 9, John writes about a man that was blind from birth. What that tells us is that the man from John 5 must have gone through a traumatic situation 38 years ago that radically changed his life.

Being the parent of two adopted children from Child Protective Services, I have seen first hand how a trauma suffered years ago can still shape one’s worldview.

No one is exempt from trauma. We all suffer loss. We all will experience radical disappointments, heartaches and wounds that leave deep scars. It is imperative, then, that we are honest with ourselves and others about how those traumas affect the way we see the world. And more importantly, how those traumas affect the way we frame the simple words of Christ.

In John 5, despite the man’s reluctance to affirm his need, Jesus told him to get up, pick up his mat and walk! And he did! The power of the kingdom of God turned a trauma into a testimony.

Jesus can do a great reversal in your life too. Perhaps it will begin with your perspective. First, the question is: Do you want to get well?