Do Nice People Go To Hell?


gas_craterIn the Facebook atheist/Christian group I’ve mentioned, one person asked, “Who here is going to hell?” The question was glib and the answers ranged from a Christian’s bemoaning the message in a picture of someone holding a sign that said “Going to hell and PROUD,” to a couple people who either echoed the sentiment or said they weren’t going because there was no such place. One person who embraced the idea that he’d be going to hell said, “The company will be amazing.”

In light of those comments and some of the questions that arose in another post here this week, I decided to revisit an article that originally appeared here in March 2011.
– – – –
What a question: Do nice people go to hell? There are a couple things we have to define, the first being “hell.”

In the New Testament, Jesus used the word we translate as “hell,” more than anyone else, which kind of shoots the ideas that some professing Christians have—that Jesus is loving and the Father, as the Old Testament reveals Him, is wrathful.

Even a casual reading of the gospels shows that Jesus made a clear statement about the judgment of those who reject Him. But how does He characterize this judgment? Sometimes as a place of darkness. Other times as a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In one parable, Jesus says the evil servant will be assigned a place with the hypocrites. In Luke’s account of Jesus sending away those who claimed to know Him (“I never knew you”), He said they would be put out of the kingdom of God. And, yes, sometimes He made reference to a furnace or a place where there will be fire and brimstone.

Interesting that we camp on the image of fire, when all these other descriptions are also in Scripture. One pastor I recently heard believes we have formed our opinion of hell more from classic literature than from Scripture. For example, he pointed out that hell is the place created for Satan and his demons—spiritual beings. Consequently physical fire, it would seem, would have no effect on them.

What we know for sure about hell is that it is the just judgment God will assign to the wicked. “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:39).

So that brings up the question: Can nice people be “wicked”?

We know that there is none righteous, no not one. If we aren’t righteous—and what makes us “unrighteous” is that our own righteousness is nothing but contaminated tatters—then we are all, at our best, sinners.

Can sinners be nice people? Actually, yes. Before we were sinners we were made in God’s image. We have that about us still, though His glory is marred by our love of and commitment to ourselves. We are still a nice bunch … as long as I can be nice and receive credit for it. Or as long as I can be nice without going out of my way too much. Or as long as I can be nice and receive the same in return.

In short, we might look nice, but we come back to what Scripture says about our very best—it’s not pretty. And it most certainly is not efficacious for that which we need most—an answer to our sin condition.

Published in: on January 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Thanksgiving Psalms


David017I may have mentioned in the past that there are some psalms I have a hard time with. Not so the praise and thanks psalms, especially those in chapters between, say, 90 and 104. Those psalms magnify God by recounting His character, seen in His dealings with His people.

My favorite might be Psalm 103. Might, I say, because I also really like some of the others, particularly 91. But 103, one David wrote, contains some memorable lines, and it throws the spotlight on God in such a beautiful way:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
3 Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
4 Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
5 Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
6 The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
17 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
20 Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Published in: on January 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Thing Atheists Hate The Most


Abraham005Of course I can’t verify that I actually know what atheists hate the most. Some might hate warm beer more than they hate anything else. Some might hate the Dallas Cowboys more than they hate anything else. Some might hate spending Christmas at their in-laws more than they hate anything else. So this generalization I’m making comes with a caveat—I’m speaking specifically about theology and what the atheists I’ve encountered hate about Christianity and specifically about God.

Put simply, they hate that God’s ways are not our ways. In one discussion, an atheist kept insisting that an omniscient God would have to act this way or that way. Which is it, he kept asking. He, of course, isn’t omniscient, so I couldn’t figure out how he knew that an omniscient God, who’s ways and thoughts aren’t like ours, had only those two choices.

In a more recent discussion, the point is one that Christians have struggled with, and disagreed about for centuries: is God sovereign or does humankind have free will? As I read Scripture, I have to conclude God is both sovereign and has given humans who He made in His image, free will.

There are lots of verses in the Bible that people use to support the idea that God is sovereign. There are also lots of verses in the Bible that people use to support the idea that humans have free will. The natural conclusion seems to be, then, that both are true. It’s not a matter of either-or, but of both-and.

To reinforce this idea, there are a few verses that mesh the two. One is Philippians 3:12. I need to give the context though so that the meaning is clear. Here’s what Paul said about knowing Christ:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (vv 8-11)

So Paul doesn’t count anything in his past as worthwhile. By far the greatest thing in his life is knowing Christ Jesus, which isn’t a result of any of his own good deeds, but is because of faith. The result is that Paul knew Jesus, suffering and all, anticipating the resurrection from the dead. Then the key verse:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (v 12, emphasis mine)

Christ laid hold of Paul and Paul laid hold of faith in Christ.

On the flip side, 1 Peter 2 contains a verse that shows the same synchronistic relationship between God’s sovereign plan and humankind’s rebellion against Him. Again a little context:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture:
“BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone,
AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone” (vv 4-7)

The stage is set. Believers are part of a spiritual house, with Jesus as the Cornerstone. But the next verse discloses the truth about those who do not believe. Peter gives another quote from the Old Testament, then draws the conclusion:

and,
“A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (v 8, emphasis mine)

Some, Scripture says, find Jesus to be a “rock of offense.” But how did they arrive at that position? By being disobedient to the word, a doom to which they were appointed.

This is enough to cause headaches. In general, we don’t like the idea that people are appointed to doom. We don’t like the idea that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Of course Scripture also says Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

How can both be true?

We want things to be clear, easy, tied up in a neat bow, we want answers that makes sense to us.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Here’s the thing. There really is a clear, easy, tied up in a neat bow truth which we can rely on: God is trustworthy. That’s the truth.

So when God told Abram to leave his home, even though Abram didn’t know where he was going, he trusted Him. When God promised to give Him more descendants than the stars, even though Abram was childless, he believed Him. When God told him all the nations would be blessed through him, though Abraham never lived to see the fulfillment, He counted that promise to be a done deal.

Yet, with respect to the promise of God, [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21]

Gideon003That’s the response of faith to the transcendent God whose ways are higher than ours.

Not that there’s no room for questions—something atheists accuse Christians of is never asking questions. Of course we ask questions—as Gideon did when he was tapped to go up against the Midianites. As did Mary when the angel told her she’d give birth to the Messiah. As did David and other psalmists who cried, How long, oh Lord; or, Why do the wicked prosper; or, Have you forgotten your people?

Questions are not anathema to God. What He wants is a broken and contrite heart, though. Questions from a broken and contrite heart are very different from questions coming from a heart of pride that harbors a desire to be like god.

Satan – Is He Real?


Dragonfight_03I continue to come up against views about God that contradict how He has revealed Himself. Where do those come from? After all, if I tell you about myself, you have no particular reason to think I’m distorting the truth. If I tell you I live in Southern California, I doubt if those visiting this blog automatically think, HA! a likely story! I suspect most people believe what I say about myself unless I give them reason to believe otherwise.

So too with God … I would think. But a study of history shows this is not the case. From the earliest moments, there in Eden, when given a choice to believe God or not, Eve opted for not. Why?

Quite simply, a second source introduced a contradictory view, and Eve had to choose what to believe. One statement was true, the other false. One statement came from God, the other from a beautiful creature that told her what she wanted to hear.

Well, that last part is my interpretation. It seems to me that a good deal of temptation feeds on what a person would like to be true, with disregard to what actually is true.

So in Eve’s case, the beautiful creature before her asked for verification that God had restricted Adam and Eve from eating of the fruit in the garden. Eve answered that they could eat from all the trees except for one, and that God said they would die if they ate from that tree.

The beautiful creature’s response? “You surely shall not die.” Essentially he promised her she could eat her cake and suffer no consequences.

I suppose in part you’d have to say I’m taking God’s word for the fact that this beautiful creature, elsewhere described as an angel of light and the tempter and a roaring lion and the great dragon and the serpent of old, really exists. The thing is, the truth of his existence explains a lot. Sure, the presence of sin in the fabric of humankind’s nature also accounts for evil in the world, but the unanswered part of the equation is, How did the creation God made good become tainted by evil?

I don’t know how atheists account for evil, or for good, for that matter. I mean, apart from believing in a moral right and wrong, behavior just is. No one judges an eagle for swooping down and gobbling up a field mouse. But clearly we humans believe in wrong.

A team wins an NBA championship and “fans” take to the street, loot stores, start fires, throw things at passing buses. Most of us shake our heads and say, That is so wrong. CEOs run their institutions into bankruptcy but take for themselves million-dollar bonuses, and most of us say, That is so wrong. A state governor tries to sell an important appointment to the highest bidder, and most of us say, That is so wrong.

So evil is here, in this world and in the human heart. Its presence confirms a source. The Bible points to Satan as the source. Oh, yes, the Bible also identifies Satan as a liar and the father of lies. So the lie he told about Adam and Eve not dying … well, it was consistent with his nature. And the fact that one out of one humans die is a stat that can’t be twisted or misinterpreted to put Satan in a better light. He said we wouldn’t die. God said we would. Guess who lied!

In short, God’s word says Satan exists, and human history confirms it.

This article includes some minor changes to one published here under the same title in June 2009.

Published in: on January 26, 2016 at 6:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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Things Aren’t Always The Way They Seem (Or How The Broncos Beat The Patriots)


Peyton_Manning_Throwing_TD509I’m a big Denver Broncos football fan (and a sports nut in general, as you may know). I was born in Denver but have lived most of my life in Southern California. Even when we had football teams here, as we are apparently positioned to have again, I was still a Broncos fan.

It goes back to my college days, I guess, when my parents lived in Denver and I would spend the summer there. Summers, as you may know, mean football training camp and the beginning of the preseason. The Broncos were the first major league team in any sport in Denver, so the city has a huge love affair with the team. Consequently, any football news, and certainly training camp qualifies, was front and center in Denver during those summer months I was there. It was infectious.

At any rate, the Broncos just won the American Football Conference championship, sending them to the Super Bowl in two weeks to play against the National Football Conference champion Carolina Panthers.

For weeks now, the experts who make predictions about games have been picking against the Broncos. They had their stats to back up their decision. One that was repeated over and over was that Peyton Manning, the Broncos quarterback, had only thrown nine touchdown passes and seventeen interceptions.

It was a true stat. But what no one said was that Peyton was hurt for the first two months of the season, until he finally missed six weeks while he got treatment. Turns out he had been dealing for months with plantar fasciitis, a condition that causes pain in the heel and bottom of the foot. Because he continued to play on it, he eventually experienced a tear. The treatment was to have his foot immobilized for two weeks—along with who knows what in his rehab phase.

When Peyton came back in the middle of the final week of the season, the experts nevertheless reported that only Peyton’s knowledge and experience were valuable to the team, that what he contributed physically was a liability. Even when the Broncos beat Pittsburgh in the Division Playoffs, Peyton was criticized more than he was praised. He was a game manager now, the experts said, and that label was meant as disrespect.

After all, the once great quarterback who set records—more touchdowns in one year than anyone in history, and the like—was now dependent on a running game. How the mighty have fallen!

In truth, the experts said, Peyton couldn’t run the new coach’s offense because it required him to make throws he could no longer make. He couldn’t run the bootleg and he couldn’t throw long and he couldn’t throw to the sidelines.

So you see, the Broncos simply could not generate enough offense to win a game against a player such as Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Until, of course, Peyton threw a touchdown of twenty-one yards and another one to the back corner of the end zone, and until he ran twelve yards for a first down.

Peyton_Manning_2014Was he the “old Peyton”? The one who set all those records two years ago? No. From what I understand, plantar fasciitis takes considerably longer to heal, so I have no doubt that he’s still not one hundred percent healthy. Just a whole lot better than he had been.

But here’s the point. When everyone was looking at Peyton’s seventeen interceptions—and those coming in ten games instead of the full complement of sixteen, they made a determination about what kind of performance they’d see from him during Championship Sunday. They didn’t realize the stats lied because they were about the performance of an injured Peyton Manning, not a healthier player who engineered the win against New England.

The same was true about the Patriots and Tom Brady. Their stats were the opposite of Peyton’s. Tom was on a mission and was playing his best ball of his career. Except those stats came mostly against teams that didn’t make the playoffs, against defenses that weren’t ferocious.

Tom Brady is a good quarterback . . . maybe even a great quarterback . . . but people were making judgments about how he would perform on Sunday based on what he’d done against lesser defenses.

So here’s the bottom line. Appearances aren’t everything. And sometimes stats can lie. If I told you I won ten out of ten one-on-one basketball games against my neighbor’s son, you might think, Wow, she can still play. But what if you found out my neighbor’s son was six? Uh, the stats can lie.

Things really aren’t as they seem, at least not always. It’s an important point I think, because we tend to be a society preoccupied with appearance and eager to jump on bandwagons. Oh, we say, the experts have all these stats that point to the Patriots steamrolling the Broncos, so that’s surely what will happen.

But it didn’t.

Maybe there’s a lesson for life in there. Maybe we should all be willing to look a little deeper than that first stat line.

Published in: on January 25, 2016 at 6:37 pm  Comments (8)  
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Topping The List? Pride


Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Seven deadly sins. That’s what the Church declared in the Middle Ages, trimmed and altered from their original number developed by Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus. But from the beginning, pride was on the list and placed in the position of most egregious. I can’t disagree. And yet, there’s a fundamental problem that listing out seven deadly sins and their corresponding Heavenly Virtues and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy misses.

The real sin is rejecting Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, given to us by the Father, because of His love, that we might have everlasting life:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

The passage goes on to describe the one who does not believe as loving darkness because his deeds are evil. So we’re back to sins—pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust, to name seven of them.

Of course, the Ten Commandments puts idolatry at the head of the list: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). And Paul, writing in Colossians says greed amounts to idolatry (3:5). So why would pride get tagged as chief among sins?

A year ago in an article on this blog, I made the case for Pride as The Fall—the sin which Satan embraced and the one to which both Deceived Eve and Willful Adam succumbed.

As I see it, pride is the act of putting self as a god before the Lord God, and I can’t imagine anything much worse. Pride was the sin of Nebuchadnezzar, crafting a statue of himself and ordering his people to bow before it. Pride was the sin of King Saul, declaring to Samuel that he had indeed obeyed the command of the Lord—all but the part about killing all the animals. After all, Saul had a better plan. He’d use those animals as sacrifices to the Lord. His way was better, infinitely better, because he’d kill the animals, save ones from his own flock and herd, and worship God, all in one. Great idea! Better than God’s. Better than doing what God had told him to do.

Pride, I believe, was the sin of Balaam, the prophet insistent on circumventing God’s blessing of Israel when hired by Barak to curse them. He may have been motivated by greed, but at some level he believed he could do what he wanted, not what God wanted him to do.

And isn’t that true of King David, too? And Samson. Lust may have motivated them, but at some point they believed they were not subject to God’s law, that they could make their own way, that they didn’t have to do what God said.

Moses’s sister Miriam succumbed to pride at one point, wishing to have her brother’s job or power or influence. And I tend to believe Joseph, Godly man that he was, needed to learn the lesson of humility in the Egyptian dungeon before God would elevate him to the position of power over the nation and over his own family.

Of course the great contrast is the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, obeying the Father, and going to the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

For the Christian, I suspect pride is still the weevil that would spoil the vine and destroy the fruit God wants us to produce. At least I know that to be true for me.

I find it interesting that Paul commands us believers to take on the humble attitude he described Christ having—regarding others as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

In Colossians 3 he lists humility as one of the traits those “chosen of God, holy and beloved” are to put on—as if it is a piece of clothing we are to don in order to be ready to carry out our mission of loving one another and serving each other and forgiving whoever has a complaint against anyone.

Thanks be to God that He provides the wherewith all to obey Him. It is not up to us to generate humility. Rather our source is Christ. How cool is that—His act of humility is not only our example but the very means by which we can learn to walk humbly before our God.

This article first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Christian And Politics, Version 2016


A democracy can be a perplexing animal, at least for a Christian. On one hand, we, The People, are in charge, so when something goes wrong, the buck ought to stop with us, at least to some degree.

Practically speaking, of course, The People aren’t in charge; the politicians are. But that being the case, isn’t our government just like a kingdom or a Pharaoh-dom or a Caesar-dom, subject to the same principles Scripture lays out for believers in an autocratic system? Principles like these: Be subject to your rulers. Pay your taxes. Honor those due honor. Don’t resist authority or you’re in opposition to God’s ordinance. Fear authority only if you’re doing wrong.

The overriding truth is this: “There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1b).

So God establishes our President, by means of we, The People. We are responsible and therefore should do our best to bring the best into the office — into all the governmental offices, in fact, since we have a three-branch form of government. What good is it to have a strong, godly President if we don’t have a legislative branch that will work with him? And what use is it to have a Congress that passes good laws if we have a court system that overturns them?

But ultimately, God is working through this system of ours and will sovereignly oversee the process so that the “right” leader is in place. This is a hard truth. Hitler was “right”? Chairman Mao? Stalin? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “right”?

I’m sure the Christians who received Paul’s letter to the Romans were asking the same question. Excuse me, Paul, have you heard the latest about the Caesar and his household? Do you know what he’s planning for us followers of Jesus? And you are telling us, God has put this guy in place and we are to subject ourselves to him?

Actually, Paul said there was more than simply subjecting ourselves. He said, Bless those who persecute you; never pay back evil for evil; do not take revenge; overcome evil with good; so far as it is possible for you, be at peace with those in authority over you (since they are part of the “all men” Paul names).

Peter expands this same principle and its corollaries in his first letter to believers “who reside as aliens” scattering throughout various regions of the Middle East.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17 – emphases mine)

Nowhere do I see that our treatment of the authorities over us is conditional — we are to honor them, only if we agree or only if they are abiding by God’s law. Rather, Peter’s instructions were to those who had no friends in high places. These Christians were looked at as kooks, at best, and as enemies at worst. Paul was giving direction to believers who faced increasing persecution of a hostile and immoral government.

Bless, don’t curse. Make peace if they’ll let you, give them honor, obey, be subject to them. Why? Because God put them in place. By treating these authorities properly, you’re obeying God and cutting the legs out from under the criticisms leveled at you.

What timely words for the Christian today. How should we do politics? “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:7) I take that verse to include fulfilling our responsibility to vote, but that might just be me. One thing I do know, speaking about our President with disrespect is sinful, and by doing so, Christians are giving those opposed to Christ ammunition for their attacks against us.

In short, then, we should do politics the same way we should do all of life: by obeying the dictates of Scripture.

We also would be wise to do so with a healthy dose of thanksgiving for the privilege of living in a country where we can voice our opinion and not fear being thrown in jail because of it. We can moan and groan about the direction our country is going, but we ought to be thankful it hasn’t gone there yet; we ought to pray God brings revival instead.

Actually this post is identical to the one I wrote in 2012, but since I still believe it is true, I just changed the title to make it current. ;-)

Published in: on January 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (10)  
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Hope In God, Not Government


The_Shepherds011When I was in school, our history teachers taught that citizenship required responsibility. We are responsible to pay our taxes, keep the law, and vote. Personally, I could hardly wait. I looked at voting as a solemn job but also as a sort of rite of passage into adulthood.

When the time finally arrived, some tarnish had stained the once shiny responsibility. The US government was doing things that were not so heroic and it didn’t seem as if it made a difference which party was in the White House or in control of Congress. They all seemed the same to me.

Since then our country and our political parties have been pushed further apart. We’ve been relegated to red and blue states, the liberal Democrats or the right-wing Republicans. No longer does it seem the President presides over the country. Rather he or she is concerned with satisfying the party base.

In many respects this situation is a result of a significant number of citizens not voting. Those would be the people who thought, like me years ago, that it doesn’t matter who wins the office—things will be much like they’ve always been.

Well, no. If this last year has shown us nothing, it has shown us that much change that cuts against the wishes of the majority can be foisted on the public by the government.

In an effort to respond, many people have determined they must get the right person in the White House. Then all will be well.

I still believe voting is a responsibility of every citizen. And I believe who is in the White House matters. But I do not believe America will ever have a government functioning according to God’s law. I’d be happy to see it function according to the Constitution, but that seems to be a fading hope as well.

No surprise, really. The United States is not a theocracy. We have a collection of people running government, no matter who wins. And one thing is true about us all—we sin.

Don’t misunderstand. I’d rather have a God-fearing statesman who wants to serve the nation and its people than a power-hungry blowhard, any day. But the truth is, getting the right person in office is not going to initiate revival in our land.

Only one thing can change the direction we’re headed, and it isn’t government.

Government can pass all the gun laws it wants, but that won’t change the hearts of the people who wish to kill. Government can de-fund Planned Parenthood, but that won’t stop people from engaging in illicit sex and terminating pregnancies that may result.

Government can pass sweeping immigration reform, but it can’t engender love for neighbors.

Government can establish welfare programs and pass laws against hate crimes and bigotry, but it can’t stop the greed and selfishness and biases residing in the human heart.

It’s time we learn: we need to put our hope in God, not in government. Sure, we should vote, and we should even pray that’s God’s mercy will be on us so that the next President will lead us wisely. But we should then go about the business of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Years ago I memorized the verses in Luke 2 that tell the Christmas story, so this year I decided to relearn them. I noticed something really interesting. After the angels had given the shepherds the good news that a Savior had been born, they decided to go see this baby. They didn’t seem to be doing so as skeptics, however.

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” (v. 15)

Key is the idea that they wanted to see “this thing that has happened.” They weren’t wondering if it indeed had happened. They believed it before they went.

When they got to Bethlehem and found the baby, just as the angel had said, they didn’t stay silent. They started broadcasting the news:

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. (vv 17-18)

The shepherds received the news and believed, the others heard the news and wondered.

Maybe our sharing the gospel will only ever make people wonder, but that’s a start.

On the other hand, our staying silent can perpetuate the idea that there’s a government solution just around the bend, that there will be someone who can fix immigration, the economy, racial prejudice, terrorism, health care, the Iranian drive for nuclear power, problems with North Korea, abortion, and on and on.

The fact is, the next President might be able to make a difference and point us in the right direction in some of those areas, but we don’t know what the future holds. Our hope cannot reside in the “right” President or in the government doing more or less. Christians above all people should keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith. He alone is faithful in all circumstances.

Here’s what my nephew said in an article in The Federalist related to this topic:

America, as G.K. Chesterton quipped, is a nation with the soul of a church. Like a church, we are founded on beliefs and have a sense of purpose and mission to our collective existence. Like the church, America tries to welcome people from anywhere of any background so long as they sign up to our creed. . .

It also introduces a temptation to American politicians. Because we have the soul of a church, politicians can easily confuse church with state. The mission of the church and the mission of the United States are different (although they can sometimes be complementary, as when the United States champions religious liberty abroad).

The two missions seem to be drifting apart as American culture becomes increasingly non-Christian. But regardless, we need to remember, as Moore says, “the end goal of the gospel is not a Christian America. The end goal of the gospel is redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and language in a New Jerusalem.” (emphasis mine)

It’s not just the politicians who sometimes confuse church and state. Voters sometimes do too by putting our hope in the government instead of in God.

Published in: on January 19, 2016 at 7:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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Condemnation And Conviction Are Two Different Things


prayer_meetingIn the exchange I had a week ago with a couple atheists on a different site, one person who described himself as a former pastor who no longer believes God exists, said he has never been more at peace. I answered that I can understand completely why that would be true: only Christians have the unsettling discomfort of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a burden for the lost.

Guilt! the atheists cried. That’s what is so terrible about Christianity, and Christians. That religion is all about making you feel guilty for everything. (And how dare you say he has no compassion—but that’s a subject for another day).

It seemed so odd to me at first, because I don’t live with guilt. I live under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which means I am warned from doing things that wouldn’t glorify God, I’m reproved for things I’ve done or said or thought that don’t please Him, and therefore am led to the throne of grace where I can pour out my sorrow and be reminded that Jesus Christ paid my debt, that I am a new creature, and that Jesus has set me free from sin and guilt and the law.

So guilt? Not on my worst days do I live under the weight of guilt. I don’t doubt that some Christians who were raised with a legalistic framework or with a works mentality, might have old habits to break from. But even as they struggle to find the freedom in God’s grace, they can assert with their head, if not their heart, that they are only in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and what He did at the cross.

As God so often seems to do, He validated those thoughts with Scripture. I’m reading in the Psalms and got to 34:22

The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

I’d used the words “conviction of the Holy Spirit,” and I realized as I thought about the above verse, there’s a gulf between conviction and condemnation.

In fact, I just recently wrote about faith as the conviction of things not seen. In that post I tied conviction with the idea of being convinced, in the same way that a jurist only convicts someone of a crime if he is convinced by the evidence that the accusation is true.

Conviction, then, is a matter of agreeing with, based on evidence. When the Holy Spirit convicts a Christian of sin, we simply stop trying to justify ourselves or alibi out of our sin. We no longer pretend that what we have done, said, or thought is perfectly fine and acceptable to God. Instead, we agree with Him that we have fallen short, that we have disobeyed, that we have displeased Him, that we need to grow in the area He’s revealed to us.

Condemnation is an entirely different thing. That’s an accusation, a declaration, that we are guilty of something. But we’re not. We can’t be because Jesus took all our guilt on Himself. Because He “bore our sins in His body on the cross” I am declared righteous.

It’s a more complete transformation than a blood transfusion or a heart transplant. Those are only partial fixes and they are only physical and temporary. This new life God gives is permanent and complete. Romans 8:1-2 spells it out:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Revelation 12 identifies Satan as the one who is the accuser of believers. He stands before God hurling invective at Christians, but none of it sticks. What Satan doesn’t apparently understand is the extent of Christ’s work on our behalf. Romans 4:7-8 clarifies it:

“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN,
AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED.

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.”

Ironically, the kind of peace this former-pastor atheist claims is the kind that comes when you get to do whatever you want without anyone telling you to stop or change or shape up or do better. But that’s only temporary and it’s oriented toward the self—if I’m at peace, it’s all good.

There is, however, a greater peace, one that is deeper and eternal:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1)

This is the peace that a person can count on even when their world turns upside down. I have a friend, a man I taught with years ago and who I’ve reconnected with on Facebook, who is an example of a Christian with this kind of peace. From a recent FB post:

This past week doctors discovered a fast growing tumor in my pancreas about the size of a silver dollar, several spots on my liver and surround the portal vessel providing blood to the liver, pancreas and spleen. I start chemotherapy today and pray for one to two years of serving Jesus.

Please pray for [his wife] Suzy as my greatest caregiver. I know Our Lord is the great healer and will use my body for His miracles and His glory. These next months are planned to reach more people for Christ and encourage this generation and the next generation of Christian leadership.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to minister . . . I have been allowed to serve in the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His eternal kingdom. I look forward to seeing Jesus and worshiping Him in heaven, and I look forward to these next months with you, my family and my precious wife.

There’s peace that passes understanding, the peace that reconciliation with God gives, the peace that comes from one not under condemnation—though he still might from time to time feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. :-)

Published in: on January 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (60)  
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The Existence of God Wasn’t Always A Question


Bible-openSome years back I had an amazing revelation when I was reading Psalm 115 related to the existence of God—not whether He exists but how to digest the arguments against His existence by those who do not recognize Him. In Psalm 115, the writer includes a section about idols:

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat. (vv 4-7)

The thing is, this is written in juxtaposition to “But our God is in the heavens.” In other words, by implication, the psalmist is saying, God is all that these idols are not.

My thought was, how did the psalmist know? Did he see a vision of God? Or accept that God had spoken through the Torah? Did he believe the stories passed down from father to son about God in the midst of Israel’s camp for forty straight years—or was he one of those older children who witnessed God’s presence? Was he, perhaps, a high priest who had seen the tablets written by the finger of God? Or had he heard a prophet and witnessed the fulfillment of his words?

Interestingly, this statement that God is in the heavens seems to be unquestioned, not the introduction of a topic to debate.

Years later, Jeremiah said something very similar, but the fact that he was a prophet would indicate to me that he had first hand knowledge of the fact that God lives.

First, reciting what God said, he describes the inanimate idols of the nations, ending with:

“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.” (Jeremiah 10:5)

The next verse, and this would appear to be Jeremiah’s conclusion, says “There is none like You, O LORD;/You are great, and great is Your name in might.”

All this to say, it doesn’t appear that the Israelites had any question about God’s existence. Their problem was His identity.

Moses’s question was this: When the people ask me for Your name, what should I tell them?

I used to have trouble with the answer: I AM WHO I AM. What did that even mean?

Now I realize it is most profound. God is and always has been. He is before anything else was and He will continue to be, without end. He is the creator and sustainer of the world. All things find their being in Him and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him is life and breath. And He has no end.

So my revelation? Questioning the existence of God seems to be a very modern thing. The psalmist and Jeremiah had no problem identifying false gods as nothing, but they knew quite well that God lives.

This article, minus some minor editorial changes, first appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in December 2007.

Published in: on January 14, 2016 at 6:53 pm  Comments (13)  
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