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Q and A

Is It Blasphemous to Predict the Date of Jesus’ Return?

Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what ideas congregation members are curious about and gives me an opportunity to teach the Scriptures that are relevant to the concerns of those within our church family.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. Those unanswered live in St. James Church services during the month of January are answered in written form throughout the balance of the year in blog form.

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Question: Why did God not reveal to Jesus when he is coming for the second time? Why does only God know?

Great question! I think you are referring to Matthew 24:36 where Jesus said,

. . . no one knows the day or hour when these things [the second coming of Christ to the earth] will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

When Jesus was on the earth, he was 100% man as well as 100% God. By coming to earth as a man, he temporarily suspended some of his abilities and some of his omniscience as God. Because of that choice, in his human form, he had to grow physically from an infant into a man, learn certain things from his mother, father, and friends as he grew, and develop human skills. This is one of the mysteries—that Jesus agreed to come to the earth, take the form of a man, so he could fully understand what it’s like for all of us who are simply human, and to model for all of us what God is truly like, as well as godly living and godly power. And of course, after overcoming all the temptations that are common to humans, he was perfectly qualified to sacrifice his life for all of us on the cross.

Philippians 2:6-8 describes this when Paul wrote,

Though he [Jesus] was God,

He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave

And was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

He humbled himself in obedience to God

And died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Even after his resurrection, but before his ascension to the right hand of the Father, a similar question came up again and Jesus gave a similar answer.

Acts 1:6-7 says,

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, ‘Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?’

He replied, ‘The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.’

Your question is important because we tend to view Jesus as exclusively divine, forgetting that his humanity was evident while he was here on the earth. Though he obviously operated in the power of the Holy Spirit with the demonstration of spiritual gifts, he had to trust the Holy Spirit and respond to the Father just as we do.

Jesus said in John 5:19,

. . . the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.

Then in John 12:49-50 Jesus said,

I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.

 We Christians pray to the Father in the name of the Son by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we, too, must trust the Holy Spirit to work in us so we can hear the Father’s voice and know what the Father is doing, which is possible because of Jesus’ model and sacrifice. We have access to Father God because of Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit is here on the earth to guide us forward in that relationship.

Jesus is the Son of God, and he knew that it was important that he not know these things. He clearly communicated that these were truths exclusively known by the Father. We are more limited in our understanding than Jesus was while on earth. Yet today, some claim to know more than Christ did.

These two ideas are important for every believer:

First, the hour of Jesus’ return is known to God and to God alone. Therefore, the pretense of predicting the time of the second coming might be blasphemy, for anyone who so speculates about this subject and presents themselves as knowing is seeking to wrest from God knowledge which belongs to God alone. It has not proven beneficial for Bible teachers or those who claim a prophetic gift to speculate or to actually believe they know. If they pretend, they are deceivers. If they believe they know, they are deceived.

Our duties, according to Scripture, are always to be prepared for Jesus’ return, to watch, and to pray. No doubt, not knowing the specifics of the second coming isn’t as dramatic, enticing, or popular as saying that we know the day or the hour, or even the season of Jesus’ second coming. However, Christian leaders claiming to know have proven to be a primary reason for the lack of credibility of the Charismatic movement and a stain on much of the Christian media. Presuming to know more than we do has created great disillusionment in those who believed the deception and then were disappointed by its falsehood. We should not presume to know more while here on earth than Jesus himself did.

Secondly, the Bible does tell us that the return of Christ will come with shattering suddenness on those who are immersed in material things. Noah prepared himself in calm weather for the flood that was to come. And when it came he was ready. But the rest of humanity was lost in its eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage, and was caught completely unaware and therefore swept away. These verses are a warning never to become so immersed in our earthly lives that we forget eternity, and never to let our concern with worldly affairs distract us from remembering that there is a God, and that whenever he returns, he must find us ready.

Beyond these truths we cannot go – for God has kept the details of his second coming to himself.

So, as for me, I draw security from abiding in him and focusing on being ready for his return, not from thinking I know his secrets about the day and hour.

Great question! Thank you.

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Q and A

Is Water Baptism Relevant to Your Eternal Life?

I like to take groups of believers to Israel to see and experience the places where so many biblical events took place. A highlight is always water baptism in the Jordan River. Because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan—in honor of his example and as an expression of our own rejection of worldliness and our desire to live under his lordship—many of us have opted to share in this experience as well.

Before Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist came preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. He said people should be baptized to show they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. This act prepared people’s hearts to receive Jesus, who enabled us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven—a kingdom where God rules supremely, where there is no sickness, disease, betrayal, sadness, or pain.

While living our earthly lives, we suffer in the midst of many negative influences. John the Baptist’s message opened the door for us to repent of our sinful living so that we can experience some of the Kingdom of Heaven even while still here on the Earth.

He preached,

Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (see Matthew 3:2; 4:17).

This message is appealing because all of us experience suffering here on Earth, yet we long for order, peace, and prosperity. In other words, we desire more of Heaven here on Earth.  Most of us want to be good and to promote goodness in the midst of the evil, betrayal, greed, violence, and pain associated with living on Earth. And many of us assume that if our lives demonstrate more good than bad, Heaven will be available to us after death.

But John’s message was that we all have evil within us (which is why human attempts to establish order have often led to tyranny). So, John was saying that we all need to turn from the evil that is within us and seek God’s goodness in order for our own hearts to be transformed. Our human goodness is insufficient, even if we express our goodness by trying to please God. As every student of history knows, human attempts at goodness in the name of God often result in horrific tragedy.

That’s why John the Baptist introduced a new way. He emphasized that we all need to turn away from our own attempts to make life better, and submit to God’s way of transforming us into better people.

Until the time of John the Baptist, the Jewish people thought they could make their lives and the world a better place by obeying the Law, cooperating with the Priesthood, and worshipping in the Temple. But with John the Baptist, God was doing away with this system because it lacked the power to change hearts.

John communicated that we all need to let go of our old ideas about achieving goodness, admit our own weaknesses and failures, and allow God to transform us in a new way. In John’s and Jesus’ time, this meant that the people had to go outside the sacred city of Jerusalem to be immersed in the River Jordan.

John’s authority to minister was from God himself, not from the religious leaders. For this reason, most of the leaders opposed him, but the multitudes flocked to him. They knew what they had been doing was insufficient.

John 1:29-34 says,

The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! . .  . Then John testified, ‘I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Sprit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.

After portraying the significance of this baptism, Jesus

began demonstrating that he was the Son of God through a series of miracles. He also challenged the religious leaders of his day about the authority of John the Baptist. Matthew 21:25-27 says,

Jesus said,

Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?

They [the leading priests and elders] talked it over among themselves, ‘If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, we’ll be mobbed because the people believe John was a prophet.’ So they finally replied, ‘We don’t know.’

One reason the religious leaders of the day were upset was because the crowds were responding to the power of the transformed lifethat emerges when people repent, believe, and begin to hear the Spirit of God in their hearts.

Hebrews 8:10-13 says,

But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:

I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.’

When God speaks of a ‘new’ covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

The power of this is highlighted in Hebrews 9: 9 and 14 where the Bible says,

For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them . . . Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.

This explains why billions of believers from every nation on earth gather to worship. They are not constrained by duty, but are motivated by grateful hearts.

John’s baptism was radical. It opened the door for believers to be forgiven and transformed, which is why John said to those coming to be baptized,

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3: 8-9).

The trees that John was addressing were people’s confidence in their genealogies and their religious rituals. Every culture and generation has ideologies and practices that promise a better life, but most of them betray those who believe in them and fail to produce. Communism, alcohol, and greed promise a better life, but they always betray and disappoint.

But Jesus doesn’t ever disappoint. When we make a public confession of sin and repent, with a determination to

  • participate in Christ’s body in our community,
  • grow in the Word of God, and
  • develop a personal relationship with Christ through prayer,

our lives as we knew them never recover. We change.

By stepping into the waters of baptism, we announce to everyone that the solutions of this world are insufficient to produce the goodness we desire.We admit that we fall short and need God to do something inside our lives to change us. We joyfully confess our sins and declare that we need God’s Spirit within to achieve genuine goodness.

Water baptism is a physical demonstration of this turning point in our lives.

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Q and A

Will Only Those “In Christ” Be Resurrected?

No. Both those “in Christ” and those who have died without being reconciled to God will be physically resurrected. Death is not the end for either the believer or the unbeliever. However, the Bible does encourage/warn all of us toward godliness by revealing some important differences in the resurrection of those who are in Christ and those who are not.

The first thing we all need to understand is that what we do in this life determines the nature of our resurrection. Jesus said in John 5: 28-29,

Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.

Those in Christ as well as unbelievers will rise from the dead, but they will do so during different events. The Bible teaches that the dead in Christ will rise from the dead when Christ returns.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16,

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from Heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

Then John writes in Revelation 20:5–6,

This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.

So the first resurrection will involve Christians rising from the dead at the return of Christ, and the unbelieving dead will not be resurrected until the end of the thousand years (often called the millennium, see Revelation 20 and 21).

We all die when we leave our bodies and step into eternity, which all of us will experience if we die before the second coming of the Lord. Believers, though, will never experience a second death. Unbelievers, however, will experience a second death. Revelation chapters 20 and 21 both vividly describe it.

Revelation 20:11 says,

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:8 also describes the second death,

But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars – their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Since everyone who rejects Christ’s redemptive work on the cross (which is available to all of us) continues to live in disobedience to God, which is sin, they will be thrown into the lake of fire. Believers, however, have received God’s forgiveness and are victorious, which means we have overcome the grip of sin. So when Revelation 21 describes the fate of believers, it says in Revelation 21:3-6,

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’

And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

We human beings never cease to exist. Instead, we all will continue exist past our initial death, so we should understand that the quality of our everlasting life will be decided according to our actions that reflect our relationship with Christ or our actions that reflect no relationship with him. In Daniel 12:2-3 the Bible says,

Many of those who bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.

Eternity continues the trajectory of our lives here on the Earth.If we love God, his people, and his purpose, we continue on that path in eternity. But those who resist God, reject God, and refuse to seek him, will have a very different experience in eternity—they will be separated from God and everything good.

So, in answer to your question, everyone will be resurrected. Those who have been reconciled to God through belief in Christ’s suffering, death, burial, and resurrection will be resurrected to eternal life; while those who do not believe in Christ will be resurrected and enter into eternal damnation.

Jesus came to save all of us. His will is that we all believe that truth, repent of our sins, give our lives to Christ, and live forever with him. However, he will respect our choice not to spend eternity with him should that be our decision.

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Q and A

Is Hell a Literal Place?

Is Hell a Literal Place? If so, What’s it Like?

Most people believe we will all be judged and held accountable for our actions. Some will enter into eternal bliss; others will languish eternally in some sort of hell. They believe either because of their faith or simply as a result of their trust in natural law. In other words, most fundamentally accept and expect ultimate justice.I’ll never forget watching an interview with one of the previous mayors of Las Vegas as he emphasized that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was in the hottest part of Hell. I doubt that the mayor was a very religious man, but he had no doubt about eternal punishment . . . at least for Paddock.

But since you are asking me the question, and I am a Christian, let me give you four biblical references that tell us all a lot about this subject. Two are from the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is a dependable source, and two are from the Book of Revelation, which describes the end of the world and the end of time as we know it, as well as the eternity that will follow. This, too, is a trustworthy source.

  1. Jesus taught that Hell is like a Fiery Furnace.

In Matthew 13:37-43 Jesus said,

The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

Jesus often referred to himself as “the Son of Man.” In this parable, Jesus says he plants good seeds in the world, which represent his people. These seeds become wheat, or good fruit. In contrast though, at the same time, and in the very same field, the devil plants weeds, which represent those who reject God and his ways and have a negative influence on others.

According to Jesus’ teaching, the wheat and the weeds grow together until the end of the world, at which time the angels will remove everything that causes sin and all who do evil.Jesus says the angels willthrow them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.The righteous, however, will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom, which describes believers shining in their inheritance; the joy, innocence, and glory of Heaven.

  1. Jesus taught that Hell is Eternal Fire.

In Matthew 18:2-9 Jesus said,

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Here Jesus warns again about the significance of our influence on others. He says that if we tempt others to sin, we would be better off dying a brutal death. Then he says that those who cause others to sin will suffer great sorrow in the form of eternal fire.

  1. The Book of Revelation teaches that Hell is real and is a Fire of Burning Sulfur with no relief.

In Revelation 14:9-11 John writes,

Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.

Here the Lord corrects the misconceptions that he does not care whom we serve or give our affection to while here on the earth. God is jealous for our attention, affection, and friendship, and is not tolerant of us devoting ourselves to others. Many believe the mark on the forehead or on the handis in reference to physical markings showing subservience to ungodly powers; others that it is a metaphor of ungodly thoughts and actions. Here, once again, ungodly thinking and doing results in eternal torment.

  1. Revelation teaches that at the end of time on Earth as we know it, Eternity will continue with Hell being a Lake of Fire.

In Revelation 20:10-15, 21:8, John writes,

Then the devil, who had deceived them [the nations], was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. . . cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Here in the Book of Revelation the Apostle John describes the final judgement.

These four passages of Scripture reveal the reality of eternal judgment and the terror of disobedience to God.

Jesus died a bloody, violent death for all of us in order to passionately relieve us of the penalty of our sins, and to give us the power to overcome the worldly thoughts and actions that would cause us to be “weeds” instead of God’s “wheat.”

After reading these passages, we know that rejecting God, serving ourselves, and living worldly, ungodly lives are obviously the foolish way to go. God is real. God is alive. God has an opinion. And God wants to bless us instead of punish us.

Paul understood this urgency when he wrote Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others (see 2 Corinthians 5:11). Here Paul is saying that fearful responsibility to the Lord was his motivation to persuade others. That fear is balanced by Paul’s other motivation which is reveled in the same biblical paragraph where he writes, Christ’s love controls us. (see 2 Corinthians 5:14). No doubt, he knew enough about terror and love to be persuaded and to persuade others to believe the Gospel.

Some have strong opinions about God, thinking that their views are the facts. I do not believe that it will serve us well to think we are superior to God or in a position to judge him. God is God, and we are human. As human beings, we have a choice as to whether or not we recognize God as God and respond to him as he is instead of the way we want him to be. We like it when the Lord accepts us like we are, which he does. He also expects us to accept him as he is, which is difficult for many. When we exalt ourselves and think we can create God according to our own liking, we forfeit the benefits of a genuine relationship with him. I recommend that we choose to believe and know God as he is and that we love, honor, and serve Him. The benefits are amazing; and sadly, the alternative is what some think they desire—eternity without the one true God. Or in other words, eternity in Hell.

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Q and A

Why Do People Say Our Ancestors Are From Outer Space?

Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions. Sometimes this pleases people. Other times it doesn’t.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com. Today’s question:

Why do people say that our ancestors are from outer space?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? We’ve all met people who make us wonder if aliens are among us now!

Seriously, though, some secularists believe that because we humans are so different than other living beings here on the earth, there had to be some outside influence on human development in addition to evolution. Biblical believers, however, explain those distinctions with the creation account of Adam and Eve and the 1,500 pages of ancient accounts of God dealing with the human race.

There are biblical accounts in which the authors describe spiritual encounters which sound to some like encounters with aliens and their spacecraft. My favorite one is found in the first chapter of Ezekiel, where Ezekiel describes an encounter with God that sounds a lot like a space-ship as it would be described through the mind of someone living at that time. And what about the Genesis 6 account of the giant Nephilites, offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times, or the strange creatures found in the book of Revelation? When I was an undergraduate student at Oral Roberts University in the 1970s, a book devoted to this subject,The Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken, generated a lot of discussion.

Aliens? Demons? Angels? God himself? Visions? Spaceships? What is the Bible talking about?

Well, here is what I can tell you: the Bible is the book God has given us that includes all the material we need to understand, to some degree, the reality of his existence, the fact that he created the heavens and the earth, and that he created us in his own image.

We are also the species that is able to contemplate a spiritual world. We are spirits who live in bodies, and when we die, we will continue to exist, not within these decaying bodies, but in eternity – a different dimension. We also know that God is Spirit, and that there are also good spirits and bad spirits.

We deduce from Scripture that before human history, one-third of the angels rebelled against God and became evil spirits, or demons. Two-thirds of the angels did not rebel against God and we know them as good servants of God, who minister to us along with God’s Holy Spirit. Evil spirits continue to be rebellious, and they use their influence to distract us from the one true God, or to incite human beings to directly rebel against God. The Bible implies that the purpose of earth is for us to have a place where we can decide if we want to submit to God and believe him, or to rebel against God and believe alternative ideas.God wants us to be free to make that choice, so he allows earth to consist of conflicting influences such as the Devil, angels, demons, our own independent will, various ideas and ideologies, natural law, and of course, God’s Spirit in order to give us opportunities to make choices.

Heaven is a place where God’s perfect will is fully expressed, which is outside of our earthly realm as we know it. Hell is also a place, in the depths of the earth, which is where those who have rejected God or denied his existence go after departing from their bodies. And it is the place where the Devil and his demons will spend eternity. When the Devil led his rebellion against God, he was thrown to the earth. And one day he’ll be thrown into Hell. The whole universe did not fall, the Devil and his demons did. Hell was made for them.

The Bible reveals what we need to know in order to be reconciled to God and to have an eternal relationship with him. It does not cover details of life on earth prior to Adam and Eve, nor does it cover details of the potential of life on other planets.Why? Maybe because it’s none of our business and it might become another distraction. So your question: why do people say that our ancestors are from outer space? Perhaps it is because there might have been communication or influences from outer space—or another realm—that we are not sure of, so people make guesses.

Are they right? We don’t know for sure today, but we might know tomorrow . . . or maybe tonight.

Good question.

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Q and A

What is going to happen to our country in the next four years?

What is going to happen to our country in the next four years?

Good question, especially when we have a new president or experience an unusual event. All of us want predictability and order, but we live in a world plagued by chaos and disorder. Just hearing about the changes going on in the world upsets many, but not much bothers me because I live my life according to a few core principles. So, no matter what is going on around me, I maintain a sense of order that makes it possible for me to stay steady. I’ll explain:

  1. I read my Bible and pray every day.The Bible is the primary way I learn about God, and through prayer my relationship with him comes alive. This dynamic became vivid for me in my teen years as I developed a concern for the suffering church. Knowing how they suffer keeps me from thinking more highly of myself than I ought. I am always conscious of the fact that there are believers in more difficult situations than I have ever faced, and that awareness helps me stay steady and be grateful. Those who have suffered have taught me that time in God’s Word and a dependence upon worship and prayer is more than devotion, it’s my lifeline.
  2. I am committed to the local church.I believe God established the church, so it’s his, not ours. I’ve decided to love the church because of what the church is, not because of what other people do or say. I show up, I give, I serve, and I love God’s people. Regardless of where I live or the conditions of my personal life, I am a local church guy. It is my primary identity.
  3. I prioritize relationships.My relationship with God is primary in my life, followed by my relationship with my wife, then my kids, then relatives and friends, and finally strangers. Thus, I have a responsibility to take care of myself — my mental and emotional health, my physical body, and my spiritual life, so I can care for others. So many forget to care for themselves and end up a mess, and that inevitably creates a mess for others. I am responsible for making myself trustworthy and strong. And I know that my wife and I must maintain our relationship in order to experience so much of the goodness life has to offer. So today Gayle and I take care of ourselves, then we cherish our family and friends, many of whom serve with us in the church. With these relationships in order, together we all have the strength to care for the stranger, which helps make the world a better place.
  4. I Work Hard.Paul instructed the church at Ephesus to work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.It’s an honorable characteristic to work hard, with competence and a good attitude. Being dependable and trustworthy personally and in our work are important traits regardless of any political or economic situation. All of us should have enough self-respect and dignity to take care of ourselves, keep our possessions well maintained, pay our bills, and be generous with others.
  5. I trust God.I do all I can do, then, I trust God. Five hundred years before Christ, Jerusalem fell and a hostile king took some slaves. Daniel was among the young men taken. The first chapter of Daniel explains some of the training Daniel went through that prepared him to make the best of a horrific situation. He had learned manners and had developed both emotional and physical strength. He maintained his health, did what he could to look his best, studied so he was as well versed as possible in every branch of learning, and developed good judgment. He learned the decorum of royal behavior and understood that these preparations were the only way to be able to capitalize on future opportunities. He did all he could, then he trusted God. As a result, we all know about the successes of Daniel’s life and the miracles he experienced.

That is what each of us can do. We have no guarantees for the future, but we can all prepare and trust so we can capitalize on opportunities that may come our way. We don’t need to know the details of the future, but we can prepare and trust in order to be our best.

I suggest that you consider integrating these core principles into your life, or at least develop your own. Then no matter what happens in the next four years, you can experience a strong foundation, stay steady, and grow as opportunities present themselves. In doing so, you’ll be able to maintain a sense of personal order and peace regardless of what happens in the world around you.

Excellent question. Thank you!

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Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com.

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Q and A

Pastors and Friendships

Pastors and Friendships

Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions. Sometimes this pleases people. Other times it doesn’t.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com. Today’s question:

What’s the difference between a pastor and friend and is it really possible to be both?

The answer to this question is different for every pastor and congregation member.

Proverbs18:24 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. This type of friend is sometimes more faithful than our own siblings. This type of friend is connected through shared life and purpose. This is why I believe we will find our greatest friendships among those with whom we share life experiences; and often these people are within our own churches. They can become our most faithful friends.

This view, though, is not typical, especially for churches that hire pastors and have a pattern of switching pastors every few years. The congregation is well aware that the pastor is there for only a designated period of time and that he can be fired for subjective reasons. They also know the pastor might move on to another calling at any time, which can limit the formation of genuine friendships. This system often promotes cordial relationships that lack personal commitment.

Gayle and I are committed to serving our city for the long haul. We served 22 years at New Life Church and now 8 years at St. James Church. Both churches are in the same city. As a result, everywhere we go, we see people we have known for decades. We’ve enjoyed sharing seasons of life, watching their children grow, and now celebrating as their grandchildren come along. I often say, the only way to have a 10-year relationship with someone is to know them for 10 years. There are no shortcuts. Many of the members of St. James Church are long-term friends; and probably half of those who make office appointments with me are people I have known for years who live in the community but don’t attend St. James Church.

The Pastoral Role is Fraught with Unspoken Expectations

Nonetheless, I do understand the pastoral role is fraught with unspoken expectations by others about what a pastor should be like. Several years ago one of my staff pastors at New Life went on vacation with another couple in the church he and his wife considered close friends. After the vacation, the other couple left the church and stopped communicating with that pastor and his family. I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that the other couple had an ideal image in their minds as to how a pastor should act, and when they saw him water skiing or watched a television program with him, their expectations were unmet, and they chose to move on.

This is why many pastors do not socialize with people in their churches and choose to be more private in their personal lives. It’s why Gayle and I have learned not to stay for wedding rehearsal dinners or wedding receptions. Typically, the family hosting the event invites us to stay because we know one another, but they don’t realize the awkward situations that can quickly develop with their other friends and family members involved with the wedding, who have a distinct expectation of the pastor, or a distant or hostile relationship with God or the church as an institution.

We’ve also chosen to respect the choices people make about themselves and their relationships with us. Sometimes people involve their pastor in private and difficult events in their families. Afterwards, they are embarrassed and want a new beginning, or perhaps the sight of the pastor reminds them of the difficult stage in their lives. So, though the pastor feels connected and committed to the relationship, those individuals don’t want to be around that pastor any longer. We respect that they have that freedom.

Gayle and I are in our sixties now, so we’ve settled on this issue. There have been many times when we thought others were good friends who would last a lifetime, only to have them disappear without explanation. Other times we thought people were moderately involved, yet now, 30 years down the road, their faithful friendships are profound and notable. It takes time to identify those who are true and trustworthy. Yet what we have found is that relationships that share a common purpose happen naturally and are the easiest to maintain. Even so, we enjoy people and are willing to partner with them for the cause of Christ to whatever degree they are willing.

Paul dealt with this subject in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. I believe he is being candid when he writes:

Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us . . . Open your heart to us.

Most pastors I know feel this way. I think it would benefit the body of Christ for all believers to take the risk and let friendships flourish.

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Q and A

Genuine Restoration (Part 3)

#7 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

“Begin with the End in Mind” is Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Just about every church in the nation has taught some version of this, if not used the text itself as a leadership guide. But when it comes to restoring another, most Christian restoration teams not only are confused about New Testament guidelines instructing them, but also about the purpose of the process. As a result, many, particularly leaders, who have been subject to restoration in a church find the process nonsensical and are left discouraged, despondent, and some so bitter they seethe.

Galatians 6:1 is the most relevant Scripture in the New Testament addressing the subject of restoring another.

“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also” Gal. 6:1 AMP.

So what is the goal? Restoration. The Greek word in this verse is Katartizo, which means to re-set, restore, as we would a disjoined limb. It means to make perfect, to restore. Thus, the translators are correct when they use the English word, “restore,” in this verse. The New Living Translation and the Amplified are correct when they say, “help that person back onto the right path” or “set him right and restore and reinstate him.”

Carnal-thinking people punish, embarrass, dehumanize, and humiliate those they are commissioned to heal. Because they are untrained in the application of the Gospel in these situations, they make demands and design activities to occupy the fallen without a constructive end in mind. Paul strongly warns against this, and says genuine spirituality is displayed through gentleness and humility as it restores another. Otherwise, the “restorer” will take on an aura of spiritual and moral superiority and rationalize why the fallen cannot  and should not be restored. Typically they say the fallen are unrepentant or unsubmissive. Then, they too often see themselves as more important than they are, which is specifically warned against in Galatians 6:2-3 where Paul concludes his thought regarding restoration: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

Paul’s caution might be here because the self-righteous leader is unable to appreciate the power of the resurrection of the fallen, and will end up thinking of themselves as more important than they should in light of the sins of the fallen. This is one of the sins of the Pharisees.

Jimmy Swaggart endured his scandal in 1988. His denomination constructed a restoration program, which he rejected for reasons to which we may not be privy. Then he was caught yet again in a compromising situation in 1991. Since that time, as far as we know he’s been actively involved in ministry and has been faithful to his wife and to God. It’s interesting to me that so many Christians hate Jimmy Swaggart. When I ask pastors’ groups why they think so poorly of him and don’t trust him, they always say it’s because he didn’t go through his denomination’s restoration program. I then ask what the purpose of that program might have been? They always respond by saying that the purpose of the program was to heal Jimmy Swaggart, help him find the moral strength to overcome his sin problem, and help him return to ministry again. I then point out that the 1991 repeat was predictable and that virtually every therapist teaches that relapse is part of recovery, and that he has been faithful to his wife and ministry for 22 years since that relapse. My follow-up question to the pastors . . .  “Is the purpose of the process the process itself, or the RESULT of the process?”

Then we talk about the real reason we question his integrity. Could it be that our real issue is that he did not cooperate with our program, which would have given us the ability to take credit for his sobriety and ministry? Were we more concerned about managing our image than restoring our brother? Did we elevate his submitting to our control over our helping him to achieve the goal of his repentance and to return to the ministry to which God had called him? Or did we really just want him out of ministry–either because we were envious of his accomplishments or embarrassed by his human failings? After all, ultimately we tend to manage our image and reputation. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are managing a Christ-like image and reputation or a worldly one based on self-righteousness.

The English word “restore” means to “bring back to a former, original, or normal condition. “ It means “to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc.” This is the correct interpretation of the word Paul used, Katartizo. So why would it benefit the church to follow through on his admonition to gently restore a fellow believer (even a leader) who has been trapped by a sin?

It is because it models resurrection, hope, redemption, and life.

The fallen give us opportunity to model Christ’s resurrection among us, and to demonstrate Christ’s heart toward humanity. Christ has restored all of us. When we, who are spiritual, competently model restoration among ourselves, others see the Gospel with clarity. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God should get the credit for restoring leaders. We should not position ourselves to receive glory. Healing, sobriety, holiness, and integrity are the goals. God’s work moving forward is the goal, the purpose, the end. We can begin with that end in mind

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Q and A

Genuine Restoration (Part 2)

#6 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

As I have been preparing part 2 of my response to this question, I asked a friend of mine who honorably serves in our nation’s military in various hotspots around the world to send me his perspective. Many who attempt restoration within the church are woefully ignorant of trauma, its effects, and the importance of an informed response to it if we expect a positive result. When Christian leaders responding to a traumatic event within a church or Christian organization lack understanding about trauma, they tend to misread the words, attitudes, and actions of the traumatized and ignorantly interpret the symptoms of trauma as lack of repentance, avoidance, denial, or insubordination. As a result, they too often unintentionally make things worse because of their misdiagnosis. Sadly, many traumatized Christians end up uncared for because they are misunderstood and mischaracterized and they become unnecessarily angry and bitter, and too often are left alone to die. When a leader falls, not only is the fallen leader in trauma, but those within their influence are as well. Spouses, children, employees, and congregants all need informed care or wounds can linger unnecessarily for years. These comments from one of the world’s top experts on setting right traumatic situations are both insightful and applicable. They will require contemplation on the reader’s part.

Some address this man, “Doctor,” others “Colonel,” and on a bad day, “MEDIC!” I will not reveal his name because of the sensitivity of his current service. Here are his comments. Please read thoughtfully, reflectively, and respectfully.

“As a veteran combat soldier I have seen more than my share of combat wounded. In the last 12 years military medicine has made huge advances on rapid treatment of wounded soldiers.  In fact, one could legitimately make the comparison that if a motorist on a US highway had identical life threatening injuries as a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, the soldier would have a greater chance of survival. How can that be? Simple. The resources are apportioned to rapidly identify, treat, stabilize, and move the traumatized soldier to safety and definitive care.  So allow me to make some parallels between combat wounded and Christians wounded on our spiritual battlefield.

“In the amount of time I have witnessed trauma among combat wounded, the number of Christian soldiers that have been wounded and lost is exponentially higher. The problem is that the early identification of the injured, stabilization of the injury, and movement to a safe place is not trained, resourced, or practiced in the church. By and large, Christendom’s practice with wounded leaders looks like a horse that goes down with a broken leg – shoot them and bury them fast. I wonder, given the great individuals in the Bible that were felled on the battlefield of sin vs. righteousness and then rose again to great glory, if perhaps we are missing a major Christian theme. If we applied the same equine medicine to them as we currently practice, Peter, Thomas, David, and certainly Moses should have been euthanized on the spot. In the same way we as a church respond currently to leaders in trouble, we would have considered these men of faith too greatly damaged to ever be influential again.

“Perhaps, just as God made sure their stories were told in the Bible, he is asking us to look at these situations through his eyes and learn. Specifically, I think he’s modeling for us how to identify the fallen, how to stop the bleeding and then how to get them to a safe place so they can heal and function again. I am going to take huge liberties in drawing parallels between the physically wounded soldier and the Christian warrior that is felled.

“I am going to skip a few steps and go right past the how both warriors get wounded. Pick your poison; immorality, gunfire, gossip, plane crash, mental or physical abuse, IEDs, slander, car bombs, etc. After the wounded are healed, the source of the wound and avoidance of the problem in the future can be addressed. But the first goal is to get the traumatized healed. So for this brief discussion we have a wounded troop. Now YOU are the combat medic called to administer life saving care.  Since you have seen all manner of Hollywood movies you encounter a patient that you know will be fully cooperative and as soon as you apply pressure on a wound it magically heals and within 35 minutes the patient returns to the battle with greater effectiveness than any fully able soldier.

“It never goes that way. These are some of the reactions you can anticipate.

“1. The soldier who has created the persona of invincibility and is now wounded is embarrassed. He not only does not want your help, he will die fighting to keep you from saving his life. Let’s call it the Lt. Dan syndrome . . . “Forest leave me here.”  I will fight to my last breath, pride intact.  If you put that tourniquet on my spurting artery, I will shoot you.

“2. Another reaction is similar to the prior and that is the prideful soldier who will not admit he has even taken a round. In this scenario you know he has been hit. The wound is undeniable.  However, the strength of his pride allows him to cover his wound, swear it doesn’t exist, and to walk without a limp. Eventually, his pride is overcome by reality and he drops dead with every one standing around saying…huh? How did that happen?

“3. A third reaction is the flight response.  It is common for a person that is rapidly traumatized to take off on a dead run. Here we can use a hunting analogy. Let’s call it the “deer in the gun sight” response. A shot properly placed should drop a deer right where it stands. Though mortally wounded, the deer will occasionally run. This is usually followed by a hunter’s expletive because he now has to track the wounded deer. When he finally finds the deer and examines it, the wound is so invasive the hunter legitimately wonders how this animal could have kept going. Adrenalin is an amazing thing. Humans do the same thing.

“4. The most rare response is: “I have been hurt and need help,” or “I have a bullet wound in my abdomen, shrapnel in my leg and my lung is collapsing. Thank you so much for helping me.  I will assist as you apply the tourniquet on my leg, pack my intestines back in, and if you have a needle, to place it right here in my intercostal space so I can breathe again.”

“That’s never happened to me, but I often hear Christian leaders blame the wounded they were responsible to restore for not responding to them like that. The patient may be cooperative but they are more focused on staying alive, not what the treatment is. The treatment is your job as the combat medic . . . and if you fail . . . this patient will die . . . but in Christianity, as happened in WW1, we just send the Chaplain out to pray with them and . . .  shoot him. Problem solved. Moses, David, Peter, Thomas or for that matter every human being who ever needs to be rescued, never achieves their intended potential. Oh, and for the record, wounds take more than 35 minutes.  Depending on the severity, the healing process takes time and patience.

“Perhaps a better approach would be: Get training to administer life saving care and understand you will have to do it at your own personal risk. Next, stop the bleeding of the wounded, get them out of the gunfire, and then find the definitive care that will restore them before someone decides that their usefulness has been lost and figuratively takes the remainder of their lives through spiritual euthanization.

“Euthanasia appears peaceful, effective, easy, neat, and convenient, but it’s still unloving, ungodly and unscriptural. Christian leaders should not be experts in rationalizing their use of euthanasia on others. Instead, we should all become combat medics intent on restoring, rescuing and most of all loving.”

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Q and A

Genuine Restoration (Part 1)

#5 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

Throughout the years, I’ve made it a point not to be an expert on the shortcomings of others. Instead, I tried to focus on the big ideas of the topic at hand.

Throughout my 35 years of pastoral ministry, I have enjoyed the privilege of trying to fulfill the New Testament exhortation to restore fellow believers who have stumbled or who have been trapped by sin. After learning from years of varying degrees of success, and also, after personally being in need of restoration ministry in 2006 & 2007, I am not only qualified to comment on this subject, I believe I am uniquely qualified. Add to my experiences the Roundtables Gayle and I are hosting with Christian leaders around the nation. These always include insightful and impassioned discussion on this subject, and as a result, Gayle and I have become keen on what is biblical and what is not, as well as what works and what does not. These ideas are more than theory; they are essential to authentic New Testament life.

Interestingly, just last week a pastor in Minneapolis pointed out to me that the 1998 edition of my book, The Life-Giving Church, had enough guidance on page 112 and in the bylaws section that, if heeded in my situation in 2006 and 2007, would have been healing to all involved much sooner than the plan that was implemented.

Let’s get started.

Galatians 6:1-3 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” (New Living Translation)

This process is described for the sinner who is repentant. In this case, the process is straightforward and can move along much more quickly than some who prescribe random timelines think, according to biblical instruction.

Different guidelines are involved, however, if the person is unrepentant. In this case, the instruction Paul gives the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 5 to remove the person from the fellowship may need to be applied. In doing so, however, we must keep II Corinthians 2:5-11 in mind, since most Bible scholars believe it is Paul’s follow-up comment about the situation addressed in I Corinthians 5. Of interest is the fact that most Bible scholars believe these two letters to the Corinthian church were written within a year of one another. The implications of the timeline between letters informs our dealing with the worst case scenario, the unrepentant.

Here Paul writes, “I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instruction. When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes” II Corinthians 2:5-11.

This instruction is concluded by Paul writing, “. . . so that Satan will not outsmart us” and underscores that Paul was familiar with Satan’s schemes. What could the Apostle Paul be referring to?

Restoring another requires the ultimate belief in, application of, and demonstration of the Gospel. In fact, only the genuinely spiritual and the authentically godly, according to New Testament standards, have the character qualities necessary to restore someone who has been overcome by some sin.

Why? Because another’s moral inferiority gives our old sin nature every opportunity to reveal arrogance, self-righteousness, harshness, self-promotion, greed, and love of worldly power while masquerading as godly.

When responding to another person’s sin, our own core values and beliefs are exposed. In other words, our response to another person’s sin displays whether or not we are opportunists, manipulators for our own benefit, or humble because of our confidence in Christ’s righteousness in us. Restoring another also unveils if we actually believe in resurrection or not, are persuaded that the New Testament solution to our sin problems is authentic, or if we actually still believe that Old Testament punishment, humiliation, and suffering are the keys to integrity. Our actions in restoring another reveals whether or not we actually believe in the body of Christ, the family of God, and that the church is the building of the Lord. Actions imposed on and pronouncements made about the fallen reveal whether or not those doing the restoring are working for healing, as Christ would. Or are they acting in conjunction with the accuser of the brethren who subtly promotes separation in the body and comforts the brooding wounded into victimization. These typically present themselves as morally superior. Restoring another is one of the most fearful things any of us can do because it always unmasks our motivations as leaders as well as our understanding of the New Testament.

Thus, my recommendation in restoring a repentant brother or sister who has been trapped by sin is: Step #1. Recognize the importance of our task and settle on following the biblical model of genuine restoration.

“And we know that God causes everything to work out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them” (Romans 8:28).