Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Importance of Having Fun

A therapist once told me that destructive behaviors develop in a person’s life in response to pain. That might be true in some cases, but I think many people get in trouble because they simply want more fun, more adventure. We all have taken risks seeking some type of thrill.

  • Alcoholics start by taking a drink for fun.
  • Drug addicts start by taking a drug for fun.
  • Porn addicts start by watching pornography for fun.

However, since fun is a basic human need, we all need to be more thoughtful and intentional about how we have fun so it benefits us, and doesn’t hurt us.

I think Jesus laughed a lot, but we don’t hear much about his humor because overly serious people lead most of our seminaries and Bible schools. The Scriptures are delightful, but some may fear they will appear lacking in spiritual depth if they highlight the funny situations Jesus often created.

Many of Jesus’ confrontations were, in fact, him jabbing his detractors in a clever way that probably left the boys, who were his disciples, snickering. We read those confrontations as sober prose, but I think the actual events might have been Jesus mocking the powerful – with a twinkle in his eye and a playful grin as he glanced at the disciples. In addition, many of his parables that have been analyzed to death by those in suits sporting furrowed brows, pursed lips, and wrinkled foreheads, reveal his sense of humor in confronting the troubled leaders of his day.

He liked troubling them.

I think that’s awesome!

Think about his actions after his resurrection. One was when his disciples were hiding in a locked room fearful of the Romans, and then Jesus suddenly terrifies them by appearing out of thin air — only to say  peace be unto you. Yeah right! He knew what he was doing, and it reveals to me that he was having fun with his followers. My guess is he laughed while they were composing themselves.

Just as our lives must be liberated from excessive gravity, so must our reading of the Gospels and our worship experiences. Jesus came to give us abundant life that is loving, joyful, and satisfying. His faithfulness makes me smile. His provision keeps me in wonder at his majesty. It’s hard to be a Christian and be sad about it. Christ is excessively pleasing. And, as he cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, he gives us a strong core, as well as an ability to see humor and laugh.

Aristotle defined human beings as creatures who are risible, ones who provoke laughter. We laugh, not just because we can be silly, but because we can find enjoyment and healing when we have some fun.

I love being a pastor because, for me, it’s loads of fun. Certainly I don’t want to minimize the serious calling and duties associated with competent pastoral ministry. But because I know I’m called, I look for opportunities to strengthen people’s relationships with God and with each other. One way I try to do this is by setting the stage for people to have fun with one another. Hurt, disappointed, and discouraged people can change perspectives and become delightful in a good church. As they connect with other individuals who are healthy and life-giving, they learn, and they grow toward more enjoyable lives.

I am a fan of Dr. William Glasser, the psychologist who developed Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. He connects fun with learning. He said,

We are the only land-based creatures who play all our lives. And because we learn all our lives, the day we stop playing is the day we stop learning. People who fall in love are learning a lot about each other and they find themselves laughing almost continually. One of the first times infants laugh is when someone plays peek-a-boo with them. I believe they laugh because that game teaches them something very useful. They learn, I am I and you are you.

This is one of the reasons I love the way God grouped us: families, communities, churches, nations, etc. God is a trinity, three persons in such close relationship with one another that they are, in fact, one. We are the same way. Families share the same last name, members of a church identify under the name of that church, and citizens identify with their city, state, and nation. God created us to be like him in that our greatest effectiveness in life occurs when we are in healthy, constructive relationships with others. When those relationships are healthy, we are happy. When they are broken, we don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable.

I believe this is exactly why God created all of us in intergenerational groups, families, where we must continually learn wisdom to keep the relationships. When we all learn, we are able to laugh, have fun, and experience peace and joy, and sorrow if necessary,  together. If the relationships are not wisely developed, they fracture; people get uncomfortable and use alcohol or some other drug to artificially create the appearance of fun.

We all know that often doesn’t end well.

Fun and sound relationships go hand-in-hand. I am a 62 year-old pastor with a church that is growing primarily with people in their 20s and 30s. Years ago I bought a couple of ATVs so I could have fun with my children. Now I have five ATVs so Gayle and I can have fun with couples from the church, or I can go with a group of guys from the church. Why? To have fun. Why? Because I understand our basic human need to have fun, and I know that fun connects us. We have fun in the mountains, and that improves our Sunday morning worship services.

Gayle likes to hike with groups of women from the church. When they hike, they talk. When they talk, they learn. And the women that hike with her are happier because as they connect with each other, their enjoyment in life becomes more attainable, and their own relationships are improved. Fun and learning make everyone happier.

Earlier this year Gayle and I went to Israel with some people from our church. Among those who went, there is more vibrant discussion before and after church on Sundays. Why? Because we shared fun, memorable experiences together. We learned, we had fun, and now we are more connected, and thus, happier. Now it’s easier to laugh and have fun together.

We should avoid believing that fun is superficial and shallow and that it does not create intimacy because it does not involve more intense levels of shared feelings. The opposite is actually true. Fun provides common ground to build upon when the need comes for deeper sharing.

Sadly, fun is underrated in both the therapeutic and church communities. Most therapists I know could use more laughter in their lives, and I’m convinced most pastors could too. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of trauma, pain, and disappointments in life. And certainly, therapists and pastors work to help others heal and recover from these negative experiences. But as successful frontline soldiers and missionaries who are almost daily faced with human tragedy report, one of the secrets to their success is a good sense of humor, which includes having fun. Maybe more people could recover from serious situations by finding ways to laugh more.

We human beings have a core need for fun and enjoyment. That’s why entertainment is a welcome relief for all of us. When we can have fun, laugh, and enjoy ourselves and other people, we enjoy life more.

No doubt, life will present pain, suffering, and disappointment to all of us. In order for us to stay healthy in the midst of the hurtful realities of life, we need people around us who have laughed with us, laughed at us, and get a kick out of our foibles.

It’s the Christmas season. Relax, and have some fun.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

Thanksgiving

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi in Philippians 3:1 as he was preparing to explain the value of our relationship with Christ. I particularly like his exhortation because he says we can rejoice in the Lord in the midst of whatever happens! 

In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote,

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day regardless of their faith. But Christians can be especially thankful because we are assured that because we are in Christ, all things do, in fact, work together for our good.

We often hear about the blessings that are available to us in Christ. But on this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to remind you that there are natural benefits available to everyone who is thankful.

Secular articles I’ve recently read have pointed to the fact that being thankful can:

  • make us more patient and better able to make sensible decisions
  • improve the number and quality of our relationships
  • enhance our feelings of empathy toward others
  • reduce our aggression
  • improve our ability to sleep
  • improve our confidence and self-esteem
  • boost our immune systems
  • lower our stress levels
  • lower the intensity of emotional and physical pain
  • increasing our happiness
  • improve our circulatory systems
  • help our autonomic nervous system function well

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. So all of us, regardless of our faith, can receive great benefits by embracing the core purpose of this Thanksgiving Day — being thankful.

I am grateful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Change Is Inevitable; Improvement Optional

Paul instructed Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity – the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

The book of Genesis describes how God created order from chaos, which is exactly what godly people do so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives, marked by godliness and dignity. Others, though, are never satisfied with existing order. They want change. And their goal is simply change for the sake of change, sometimes at any cost. I, too, believe that we should embrace change, but only as a means to create something better. Positive change produces greater peace and order and requires thoughtful people to shape it.

Sometimes human dissatisfaction grows out of injustice, bigotry, lack of opportunity, or repression. In these cases, challenging existing norms is justified, even necessary. Other times dissatisfaction is rooted within ourselves and, because we tend to blame others for our dissatisfaction, we challenge others or the existing norms in a way that creates chaos that actually makes our lives worse.

To illustrate, the American Revolution was rooted in change and led to our constitutional republic which allows for a continual, orderly evolution of government for the good of all. As a result, we’ve experienced over 200 years of orderly transitions of power that have adjusted to changing social norms. The lives of American citizens have steadily improved, and we are better off now than ever before. These changes have provided greater opportunities for improvement for all of us.

The opposite takes place when extremists’ revolutions lead to mass genocide, extreme poverty, starvation, abuse, the denial of civil liberties, and the establishment of dictatorships under the guise of promoting the common good. These types of revolutions use the language of empowering powerless people, but instead create chaos that allows the deceptive and power hungry to gain dictatorial power.

Since change is inevitable, we are all better off if necessary changes are directed by thoughtful people.

Gayle and I have recently watched the first two seasons of the Amazon Prime TV series The Man in the High Tower. So far, it has depicted the situation that might have developed if America hadn’t used the bomb to end World War II, thus allowing Germany time to develop the bomb, destroy Washington, and win the war. In the series, Nazi Germany and Japan divide the United States with the east ruled by a Nazi dictator and the west ruled by a Japanese Emperor.

While watching this series, we read the acclaimed Robert K. Massie biography of Nicholas and Alexandra, the history of the last Czar of Russia and his family who were ultimately assassinated. At that time, many Russians were promoting the idea of changing the government to a republic, while others were demanding more extreme changes. The chaos that ensued during these shifting times created an opportunity for Lenin to form a communist dictatorship that led to more poverty, genocide, and abuse than any single governmental system in the history of the world.

We engaged in reading this historical biography and watching the TV series while we also were experiencing the 2018 mid-term election season. Because of what we were watching and reading, I was keenly aware of how quickly nations can come and go. So I became somewhat concerned for the state of our nation as violent discord and an unusual lack of civility gripped our public discourse.

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I asked some of my friends where they thought the chaos was coming from. Most simply blamed one or the other of the political parties. But several of them pointed me to Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals,which I have now read.

Alinsky argues that people must take risks to force change, assuming that change will produce improvement the majority of the time. He claims that he is not a promoter of any particular ideology, but that he wants to encourage radicals to force change for the sake of change. He also encourages radical intervention for any powerless group that wants to take power. But since he wrote his book in 1971, he did not have the benefit of the lessons we’ve learned during the last fifty years from disastrous revolutionary movements that took place in the last century—the failure of Stalinist ideals, the mass genocides, poverty, and abuses that have been attributed to totalitarian regimes.  Yet strikingly, even though his book lacks the wisdom we’ve gained in recent history, the ideas it promotes are being embraced by some in our current political discourse and they are negatively impacting the civility we have earned and enjoyed. As I read it, I was starkly reminded that change happens, but when those who lack wisdom and thoughtfulness direct it, the outcome is disasterous.

In contrast, we can benefit from the wisdom we’ve gained over time. For example, we’re all aging, but we’ve learned we will enjoy higher quality aging if we eat good food, exercise, learn, and engage in social interactions. Children will become adults, but we’ve learned their odds of becoming healthy adults is increased if their parents stay married, they enjoy learning, they are socially involved, and they regularly attend a good life-giving church.

Change is inevitable, so we all must wisely direct change to improve our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our churches. And THIS is exactly why the Bible is so important.

No other book in the history of the world has led to so much opportunity, prosperity, freedom, mutual respect, wholesome family life, and healthy community as the Bible. The Book That Made Your World, How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, by Vishal Mangalwadi,  and the book How Christianity Changed the World,by Alvin J. Schmidt are excellent reads that explain why Western Civilization, built on Judeo-Christian principles looks so different than other civilizations.

The opening Scripture in this blog exhorts us to pray for those in authority. When we pray, read our Bibles, and fellowship with other believers, we have to contemplate time-proven ideas. The purpose of reading books, thinking about trends in history that help or hurt, or discussing ideas in a way that helps everyone gain understanding, is so that we can all improve. Sometimes that might lead to a revolution. Other times it simply inspires us to live wisely.

Many “progressive” ideas do not create progress at all. They are instead a return to failed 20th century theories that proved to be counterproductive. So, since change is inevitable, let’s thoughtfully direct it based on the wisdom we’ve gained, rather than repeat the failed leftist ideas of the past. Instead, let’s learn from the past and thoughtfully direct change so that it will create opportunities for improvement for everyone.

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Categories
Responsible Citizens

Elections and Wisdom in Our Great Country

I like being a middle-aged man. I don’t get as excited about current events as I used to. For example, though some elections go my way and others don’t, I have learned that as long as they are free and fair, the right person ends up in the right place most of the time. And when we elect the wrong person, our constitutional system of checks and balances works just fine. So I’ve participated in every election since I was 18 years old. I vote, but I don’t scream at others in the street.

The same is true with my faith. I know the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the Son of God, and that Earth is not Heaven, so events on Earth don’t get me all bothered. Here on the Earth, there are lots of influences that do not reflect God’s best plan for people. But in Heaven, God’s perfect goodness dominates all. Here on Earth, I’ve seen nations come and go. Some have lost their freedom; others have gained it. Some spiral into chaos; others find order and good government. I have a strong political philosophy that protects people’s freedoms and allows them to acquire the goods and services that they need. But I’m not the only one possessing conviction, so sometimes others prevail.

Personally, I’ve had very good days, and very bad days, but in the midst of both, I stay pretty steady. I’m not saying I don’t get mildly emotional sometimes, but I have never been mad at God. I’m secure in God’s forgiveness and love, so I can rest.

Job said to his counselors (whose advice sounded good and would be popular today, but in God’s estimation missed the mark),

Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his.

We witnessed contrasting opinions and motivations play out in the highly politicized Kavanaugh hearings. For those of you who don’t remember, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to the Supreme Court during the passionate 2018 mid-term election season. From the outset Democrat senators opposed his nomination and Republicans favored it. After the private and public hearings, FBI investigations, validation by the American Bar Association, and the predictable bantering of special interest groups, the judiciary committee was ready to vote pretty much along party lines.

Then, everything exploded when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school drinking party. At the time our nation was already sensitized to sexual abuse by the powerful against vulnerable victims and, no doubt, Americans did not want a sexual abuser on our highest court. I’ll spare you the drama that went on as a result of this accusation, and the bandwagon effect that created other similar accusations. Rather let’s fast forward to today.

Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, and the cameras, hype, and spin associated with Judge Kavanaugh have moved on to newer stories. Those accusers who jumped on the bandwagon have all been discredited, and Dr. Ford has become a millionaire. And it’s been reported that she will write a book, which will probably lead to a book tour.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a massive 414-page report revealing their findings. Among them, the report summarizes a statement from a man who believes he may have been involved in an encounter with Dr. Ford around the time of the sexual misconduct incident she attributes to Kavanaugh.

Interestingly, Dr. Ford testified that the assault was hampered because she was wearing a bathing suit under her clothes, and that Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, playfully jumped on top of them and they fell off the bed, stopping the assault.

The man mentioned in the 414-page report, whose name was redacted in the publicly released document, claimed exactly that scenario. The man told the investigators that when he was a 19-year old college student, he had visited Washington over spring break and kissed a girl he believes was Dr. Ford. “He said that the kiss happened in the bedroom of a house which was about a 15-to 20-minute walk from the Van Ness Metro, that Dr. Ford was wearing a swimsuit under her clothing, and that the kissing ended when a friend jumped on them as a joke,” the report said.

Senate Investigators interviewed this man before Dr. Ford testified before the committee, which was before these details were publicly known.

According to the report, this man and Judge Kavanaugh looked very much alike at that time.

The man also reported to investigators that the encounter was consensual.

The point of this blog is not to validate Judge Kavanaugh or the Senate Report. These reports might be mitigated in the future. But the point of this blog is to simply say that we Christians need not be emotionally moved by every trending story. Instead we need to be powerful in prayer, active in responsible participation in our democratic system of government, and, regardless of what happens, trust the Lord.

With that in mind, it might be wise to:

  • Read your Bible every day for perspective,
  • Pray every day, which will give you peace,
  • And attend church at least once a week, which will center your life.

Proverbs 3:7 says,

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

Let’s do that.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

How Much Are You Worth?

I am currently reading Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, because it seems to be an increasingly dominant influence in American politics. Rules for Radicals promotes a “win at any cost” message, which causes many Christians like me to take great exception to it. However, one of the goals of the book is to empower powerless people, which I can appreciate. I don’t like his methodology, however. Alinsky coaches powerless people to increase their effectiveness at being heard by disrupting the status quo. In other words, he encourages them to do or say whatever is necessary to get their way, or to gain power (sound familiar?). This is how they increase their worth to their causes.

Systems for giving voice and defending the worth of average people are nothing new. Since the Magna Carta, representative governments have increased the political value of average people. I am writing this blog during an election season in which political parties, candidates, and entities behind ballot initiatives and proposed constitutional amendments are striving to get people’s votes. Every time we advocate, vote, and participate in our political process we increase our worth. Representative political systems increase the value of people.

Free Market Capitalism has also increased the value of people. Apple, Facebook, Coke, Ford, and Target are just a few of the thousands of companies that compete to provide us with the goods and services that we want and need. And when they do, they prosper. Serving the needs and wants of people is the key to success in our system, which empowers all of us as consumers. Every time we buy anything, we send a market signal. That increases our value.

It appears, however, that we are entering into an era where others are increasingly attempting to determine our value, as well as how and maybe even if we will be allowed to live. (That has always been the case in nations where governments project greater constraints and control over their people.)

I’ll give you an example that, in my mind, is indicative of the trends we’re seeing. MIT media lab just analyzed 40 million responses to an experiment they launched in 2014 to help determine the algorithms that will direct our self-driving vehicles if they are involved in an accident. Obviously, damage occurs and lives are changed when vehicle accidents occur. Because vehicles are becoming more autonomous, for the first time we need to formally pre-determine where a vehicle should be directed in the midst of an accident and, as a result, who is more likely to be injured or killed.

The results from 40 million responses suggested people preferred to save humans rather than animals, spare as many lives as possible, and tended to save young over elderly people.

The surveys also revealed smaller trends of saving females over males, those of higher economic status over poorer people, and saving pedestrians rather than passengers.

These split-second decisions about the lives of others have always been a part of our driving purview. But now we’re formalizing the value of others in our algorithms. The point of this blog is that we all have different values in the minds of others and we need to realistically assess our own value and consider what we can do to improve our value in the minds of others.

God values each of us, and that gives us intrinsic value. But other people view us differently. I do not believe it is realistic for us to assume anyone else will respect our intrinsic worth. Instead, we may need to accept the responsibility of creating our value in the minds of others with the decisions we make.

Saul Alinsky recommends that you do and say whatever it takes to get your way. He casts doubt on virtue, nobility, and altruistic motivations. He thinks love for others and kindness are myths that are culturally required by the Judeo-Christian heritage in western civilization.

I would differ. I believe in the transformed life that Christ offers that changes our hearts and implants sacrificial service, love for others, and an authentic desire to see others better off. Alinsky firmly believes in the power of selfish ambition and seems to believe honorable motivations are smoke screens. It’s obvious why he is so popular among secular political activists.

But he obviously misses the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform lives from selfish ambition, deception, and manipulation to integrity, responsibility to serve others, and honor. How valuable are we? Our ultimate value is based on our desire to serve Christ by competently serving others. Taking the responsibility for ourselves and serving others ultimately determines our worth, our value, our power, our influence, and our position.

So what should we do to increase our value? Start by reading the Bible, God’s Word, and seek wisdom and perspective in its pages. In addition, learn to pray and to think. Meditation on the Word and praying to your heavenly Father on a regular basis will open your heart and mind to his ideas. In addition, make a commitment to regularly meet with a local gathering of Christian believers. This will give you depth in relationships that will inform political and social ideas and roles.

As you do these things, your life’s foundation will become increasingly firm and your relationships will improve. This foundation will allow your priorities to be better defined, your aptitude to improve, your abilities to increase, and your skills to strengthen. As you become more competent, you will become a pillar of strength and trustworthy. And in this, you will be worth so much more.

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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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Finding Truth

Everyone lies.

I’ve watched many seemingly honorable couples slip into deception, false accusations, and exaggerations while going through divorce.

In addition, my wife and I watch the news every evening when we are home. Often, after hearing or seeing firsthand the items being reported on, we observe news reporters distorting, exaggerating, and sometimes totally misrepresenting what actually happened.

We just experienced the confirmation hearing for Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. At the end of the process, three women came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college. Though the hearings were already partisan, it was interesting that the belief or disbelief of the accusers or the accused were partisan as well, sometimes based on political persuasion of gender rather than facts. I used to think that was partisanism and sexism. I also thought these persuasions were unacceptable in a progressive society, especially when it comes to establishing truth.

I guess not.

Though every civilized society has struggled to construct systems for determining truth or lies, guilt or innocence, America has heralded her ability to utilize due process under the law to protect the innocent and the guilty from mobs. However, our nation seems to be spiraling into an abyss of giving equal credibility to people’s construed “truths” that fit their belief systems regardless of the verifiable facts. Actually, we’re so confused, some would rather support opinions that fit their persuasions, rather than provable, factual evidence.

That’s one reason why we all need to know that everyone lies.

Romans 3: 10-18 points out why all human beings need Christ. It says,

“No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
14     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “They rush to commit murder.
16     Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”
18     “They have no fear of God at all.”

This accurately reflects the human condition and it matches what I have observed in life. When I went through a scandal in 2006, I publicly lied. Interestingly, everyone else involved did too. Throughout that process, those disciplining me also publicly lied, the press lied, and my accuser lied. We all lied. We were all guilty of that seemingly innocuous offense that created devastation.

Thus, the complex system we’ve designed in our legal system to determine truth and dispense justice ought to be promoted and preserved for the good of all of us. It’s probably one the best we human beings have come up with thus far—though it still must be improved.

As a society, we rejected the practice that mob rule and lynching was fair, reasonable, or right, and demanded that rational and reasonable due process be used to determine truth and dispense justice. But that advance has recently been rejected by our advocacy press corps, shared ignorance on social media, and the politicization of truth.

Now we can easily incite mobs, motivate the angry to bully and threaten, and celebrate the extermination of others. If a popular narrative weighs heavier than the facts and allows us to destroy the individual civil liberties of others for our own gain, we have negated the presuppositions in western civilization that used to protect us all.

In the last century, many of our best political leaders strove to reject racism, sexism, and bigotry. But now the tide is turning and an increasing number of our leaders are embracing these ideas. We regularly hear what white men can or cannot do, and what women ought to do, believe, and promote. An increasing number of our political leaders defend violence, intimidation, and bullying. And many of our institutions of higher learning create ideologues who are incapable of working with and serving those with whom they disagree, but are instead fashioning them into experts who conquer, intimidate, and silence those they don’t like. Are we going to allow this? I hope not.

We human beings are sinful, no doubt. And just about every human being is on a personal search for significance, which often involves conquering or destroying our enemies. But Christ can help all of us rise above that darkness and see a vision of life and light that is unnatural to our dark human condition, and can make all of our lives better. I am the living proof of that.

I’m not a racist, so I’m not going to vote or treat people better or worse according to the color of their skin. Nor am I a sexist, so I’m not going to vote or respond to others based on their gender or sexual preferences. And I’ve rejected bigotry, so I think there is a role for mutual respect, manners, and civility toward others, even those with whom I disagree. I used to find comfort knowing that the majority of our national leaders thought this way too, but I no longer have that assurance.

It now falls to me to be much more responsible in thinking past the spin, sexism, racism, and bigotry that is being promoted by many, and maintain a determination to believe that facts matter, people are human—and therefore fallible, and that we as a society should continue to struggle to help others be better off than they were in the past.We all need to protect due process, the rule of law, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. I still believe that truth exists, and that since everyone lies, our systems to differentiate between fact and fiction need to be defended and protected so that our rapid-fire communications systems don’t lynch too many. Whether guilty or innocent, everyone deserves due process. We have a constitutional republic instead of a democracy for a reason. It’s to protect all of us from the mob.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

A Brief Exhortation on Faith

We are created in the image and likeness of God. As a result, we are capable of being rational and relational, of communicating with words—not just actions, and of bringing order to chaos. However, because of our inherent power as human beings created in his likeness, we Christians sometimes confuse our ability to influence our futures using our thoughts, words, and actions with faith. In other words, some confuse faith with the power of positive thinking and emphasize our human power to change things. Often Christians equate these ideas, which have some validity, with faith. But faith is different. Biblical faith is significantly more.

Faith is much more powerful than our human abilities. But the confusion between faith and our God given human power to influence the future has caused some Christians to believe that their own imaginations are the visions God has for them. Then when those imaginations don’t materialize, they are disillusioned.

Faith is believing in and acting on God’s plan before it materializes and recognizing God’s involvement throughout history and in our lives. It’s the ability to believe God—to trust his character and to take his Word as true and reliable. It’s being persuaded that God is who the Bible says he is. This is our response to the work of the Holy Spirit who enables us to hear God’s Word. It requires thoughtful consideration—it is neither blind nor naive. This persuasion results in an unshakable confidence—a knowing—that God’s Word is true. Faith is ultimately God’s revelation inside us that enables us to manifest his kingdom and his will here on the Earth

  1. Faith is a persuasion that God is both truthful and trustworthy.

Faith comes from the Greek word pistis (pis-tis) which means firm persuasion; strong and welcome belief; conviction of the truth of anything.

In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul said,

. . . I am not ashamed of it [suffering in prison], for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.

When Paul says, I trust, and I am sure that he is able, he is expressing faith. In other words, he is fully persuaded. He is sure. He’s past hoping.

  1. Faith is substance and reality.

Faith is not imagination, nor is it just wishing things we want into being.

Proverbs 12:11 says,

Ahard worker has plenty of food,
    but a person who chases fantasies has no sense
.

And Proverbs 28:19 says,

A hard worker has plenty of food,
    but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty.

Both of these proverbs emphasize the importance of competent work in contrast to chasing fantasies. Faith is not a fantasy—it gives us direction and confidence in our work. Faith is hearing or seeing what God is doing and believing it. It is the conviction of facts by the inner working of the Holy Spirit, who persuadesus to believe what actually exists. If God gives us faith for something, we can be sure that in the mind of God, it really exists, and as we work in cooperation with God, it happens.

Hebrews 11:1 says,

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

When we have authentic faith, things happen—things that are substantive and real.

  1. Faith is a gift from God.

We cannot work ourselves up into believing. It is not the result of mental gymnastics. The Holy spirit must place the ability to believe God within our hearts as we read the Word and seek God.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 

  1. Faith is the response to hearing.

God communicates his thoughts through his Word. When he enables us to hear what he is saying to us by the Spirit, this creates within us the response of believing, of being persuaded that what he is saying is indeed true and directed to us.

Paul wrote in Romans 10:17,

So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

So what should we do? Expose ourselves to God’s Word, learn to hear God’s voice, grow in our persuasion that God’s Word is true, and have the confidence in God to let our faith be tested by the realities of life. In other words, faithis living our lives with the confidence that God’s Word is true.

Categories
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.