Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Are We Afraid of Hell?

Hermione Granger says, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (movie version), “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

I think there might be some truth to this. When was the last timehell you heard the word “hell” in a sermon in church? It is far more the exception rather than the rule that the word “hell” is even uttered in a Christian sermon these days.

Granted, it is mentioned in any church that publically recites the Apostles’ Creed: “He [Jesus] descended into hell.”

Even rarer would be a sermon about hell itself.

Why are we afraid of the topic of hell?

Just recently, a book has been published that argues that hell doesn’t really exist. Apparently this book argues that hell doesn’t exist because no human is actually going to hell because in the end “love wins.” I haven’t read the book, only reviews of the book, so I won’t comment any further on what this book says or does not say.

I will ask my question again, though. Why are we afraid of the topic of hell? It is a Biblical topic, after all.

“Hell” is mentioned 14 times in the English Standard Version of the Bible and “Hades,” often a synonym of “hell,” is mentioned 9 times.

We shouldn’t be afraid of talking about hell. What we should be afraid of is people going there.

The Bible teaches that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be condemned to an eternity in hell – completely apart from God.

But the good news is that Jesus Christ won us from death and hell by suffering the punishment of unbelief (which is sin) on our behalf on the cross.

Hell is real. It is a real, geographical (so to speak) place. People will go there. This is not God’s intention, however. Hell was originally designed to be the place that Satan, and the evil angels that follow him, would be kept for eternity. But since Satan deceived Adam and Eve and brought sin and death to the human race, some humans will also go there with Satan.

But this doesn’t have to be. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to all the world and by it (the Gospel), we are saved!

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Can We Do?

Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Japanhelp

“One of these things is not like the other,” the old song from Sesame Street goes.

But actually, that may not be the entire truth in the case of Mr. Gibson, Mr. Sheen and the nation of Japan.

They have two things in common. One, they are very much in trouble. And two, they can be saved.

Mel Gibson was in court this past week. He was facing a misdemeanor charge of battery. He was sentence to undergo a year’s worth of counseling and sixteen hours of community service.

Charlie Sheen’s life has been well-documented lately. It would seem he’s also going to be in court soon. He’s being a lawsuit against the CBS television network after being fired from his TV show.

And Japan has faced the fifth largest earthquake in the last 100 years. This earthquake resulted in a tsunami that wiped out many of the seaside communities on the eastern shore of the main island.

Until Japan’s news hit the headlines, Charlie Sheen was pretty much on the top of every news outlets’ list of stories. Mel Gibson was, for the most part, flying under everyone’s radar.

But I’ve been thinking about all three today. And I was thinking about what I could do for all three today. And that led me to thinking about what the Church could do for all three today. In fact, what the Church could do for them, the Church can – and should – do for all people. For we are all in need of help.

By “the Church” I mean the flesh-and-blood Church. I mean the men, women and children who are disciples of Jesus Christ and are the spiritual stones that make up the Church.

melgibsonMel Gibson has made his public confession of faith in Jesus Christ at the time he was making and releasing his film “The Passion of the Christ.” But after that, he took a turn for the worse down a wild path. The Church needs to reach out to him and help him find his way back to the peace that passes all understanding – Jesus Christ. I’m not saying I think he gave up his faith. But Mel Gibson has had some problems and challenges and faces more consequences in the future.

Let’s not turn our back on him. He is a Christian. Jesus loves him. Jesus died and rose to save Mel Gibson from his sins (just has He has for all of us).

charlie sheenThen there’s Charlie Sheen. I’ve never heard him make a public confession of faith in Christ. What I have heard him say this past week makes me believe that he does not believe in Jesus as his savior. But the Church can’t give up on him, either. It is clear, to me at least, that Charlie Sheen is a lost soul desperately trying to find peace and love. As a Christian, I have the answer for him. Like many others, I’m tempted sometimes to just write him off as a lost cause. So many have written him off. And so many are watching him and waiting for him to finally destroy himself. But God has spoken. He says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV). God wants Charlie Sheen to know the peace and love that only can be found in Him. And it is our duty to share the Gospel with Charlie Sheen – before it’s too late.

japanMany prayers have been lifted up for the people of Japan. And that is a good thing. But we can do more than just pray for them.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16 ESV)

Now is the time to bring the Gospel to the people of Japan like never before. Good people are there now who have laid the groundwork for the rest of the Church. Pastors, teachers, and missionaries are on the scene right now. Let us support them. Let us join them in bringing the peace that passes all understanding to people whose lives have been literally washed away.

The Church is here for such a time as this. To reach out to these and all others like them. We have a tremendous and powerful message for the Mel Gibsons, Charlie Sheens, and Japans of the world. Now is not the time to sit back and watch from the sidelines or the comfort of our living rooms. We have to get in the game, using the power of the Gospel to reach the world.

Gag Order Lifted


When I was 22, my parents divorced. They told me about it the day after my college graduation party. It was also the day before I was to leave for a summer working as a student minister in Grand Teton National Park.

I didn’t see it coming, although I probably should have. I lasted two weeks out in Wyoming.

But it was several years before I came to grips with my parent’s divorce. I was hurt, confused, and mostly angry with my father.

That is, until I came across this Scripture passage.

3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" 4He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 7They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" 8He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9ESV)

This seems pretty straight forward to me. There’s really only one reason for divorce – sexual immorality. But that isn’t all Jesus said at this time in His earthly ministry. Look what He says immediately after this teaching.

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." 15And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15 ESV)

It was about 1991 or so when I read this and something clicked in my mind and heart.

Divorce is not God’s plan for a husband and wife. But then again, neither was sin and death. Yet they are all the reality we have to live with (if “living” is the right word).

The Good News is that God deals with our reality. He dealt with sin and death – and yes, divorce – by sending Jesus Christ to be our savior from sin and death – and yes, also divorce.

Divorce still happens. Yes, it isn’t what God intends. But Jesus tells us to “let the little children” come to Him for healing and love. A marriage could be saved. A soul certainly will be saved.

Divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. It took me years to come to understand that. When a husband and wife divorce God doesn’t hate that husband and wife. He still loves them and wants what’s best for them. Jesus “calls and draws” them closer to him during this very painful time.

And if the disciples in Matthew 19 represent the “one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church” (and I believe they do), then the Church needs to let even these children – divorcees – come to Jesus for love and healing.

My thanks to Anne Jackson who reminded me today that this is a neglected topic in the Church.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Prayer for the Pacific Nations

prayerPsalm 77:1-2, 7-15

1I cry aloud to God,
   aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
   in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
   my soul refuses to be comforted.

7"Will the Lord spurn forever,
   and never again be favorable?
8Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
   Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?"

10Then I said, "I will appeal to this,
   to the years of the right hand of the Most High."

11I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
   yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12I will ponder all your work,
   and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14You are the God who works wonders;
   you have made known your might among the peoples.
15You with your arm redeemed your people,
   the children of Jacob and Joseph.

Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts, and Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom You have permitted this disastrous earthquake and tsunami to befall us. Keep the people of Japan and the other Pacific nations affected by this disaster from despair and do not let our faith fail us, but sustain and comfort us. Direct all the efforts to attend the injured, console the bereaved, and protect the helpless. Deliver any who are still in danger, and bring hope and healing that we may find relief and restoration; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No One Gets Out Alive

Tomorrow I’ll be reminding people – and be reminded myself – that “to dust you are ashand to dust you shall return.”

This reminder will be in the form a little cross of ash on the forehead. The palm branches and leaves that ended the Church Season of Lent last year have been burned to ash and are now used to begin this year’s Church Season of Lent.

This dust – and all dust – reminds us that we are mortal. We will die someday. Well, probably. I mean, Jesus could come back before we die – and then there will be no more death for those who believe in Him as savior.

But the reality that I live today is that I will not get out of this life alive. And that’s ok, because for me, death is not the end. Jesus’ death was the end of my death. When my body ceases to live – when my heart stops beating and my brain stops waving – my eyes will close to this world and open to see Jesus. I will see – and live in - the new heaven and new earth. I will be with all those who fell asleep in Jesus.

In the mean time, I have been given a promise of life from Jesus Christ. He warned that “the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.” But Jesus also promised us, “But I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV)

The ashes remind me that this life is not all there is. There is more to have, more to come.

The whole Season of Lent is a microcosm of life for the disciple of Jesus. We begin with a reminder of our mortality (and a great reminder to teenagers and young adults that we are only immortal for a limited time).

Then we quickly move on to a reminder that in this world we will face temptation. Many temptations, in fact, but they all come down to the same thing. We will be tempted by the devil (yes, he really exists. Jesus faced him down in the wilderness – recorded in Matthew 4). We will be tempted by the devil to question who we are and whose we are.

When the devil tempted Jesus he started two of the three temptations with the same words, “If you are the Son of God.” Right away, the devil was trying to cause doubt to rise in Jesus’ mind that He (Jesus) was who God said He was. A little over a month before this temptation, Jesus was baptized and heard the words from His Heavenly Father, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus hadn’t had anything to eat since then. He was tired, hungry, exhausted to the point of collapse (as I’m sure I would be if I hadn’t eaten for 40 days).

That’s when the devil strikes. When we are riding emotional highs and also at the point of exhaustion, the devil will tempt us so that we try to convince ourselves that we are not really a child of God, we are not saved, we are not worthy of God’s love, and on and on.

But Jesus didn’t give in to this temptation of the devil. The weapon Jesus used to fight swordoff this temptation He gives to us.

“It is written….”

The Word of God. The Sword of the Spirit. This is the ultimate – and only – weapon we have to fight the temptation of the devil.

Pick up your sword, and get ready to fight … and win!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sun Shine

Will winter ever end?

Friday night I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the roof. It was a welcomed sound of spring. But when I woke up, shuffling down to make my Saturday morning coffee, I caught a glimpse of the backyard – once again covered with snow. Sometime during the night, the rain changed over to snow.

Just when I was beginning to get in the mood for spring, winter made an appearance to remind me that it isn’t quite time yet. Baseball is coming. Spring training games have begun for the MLB. And my oldest son begins his first season of high school baseball next week.

But then there was that snow on Saturday. It was, in a word, “frustrating.”

The sun came out today, though. After a great morning of leading a Bible study and then worshiping, I was lounging in front on the TV this afternoon watching a baseball game and the sun started shining through the window.

My beagle immediately found a spot to take a nap in the sunshine.Sox at home - December 2008 019 He’s got the right idea.

When the sun shines, I feel better. When the Son (of God) shines on my heart I feel better, too.

Today at church the theme was the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed His divine glory to Peter, James, and John. It blew Peter away!

He showed them this in order for them to get through the next month or so – which would end with the death of Jesus on a cross. Not really an end, though. Three days later Jesus would rise from the dead.

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, He told them to not tell anyone what they had seen until after He rose from the dead. I think that Peter’s immediate reaction was a very good reason for this admonition. He was practically babbling because of what he saw.

But after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter and the rest of the disciples-turned-apostles would turn the whole world upside down telling the Gospel story.

Jesus shined on that mountain briefly. But He would shine through the apostles’ lives for the rest of their lives and others – including you and me – would come to faith because of the Holy Spirit working through their message.

The sun was shining through my front window today and it warmed me up.

When Jesus is shining in my heart, He is also shining through my heart into other people’s lives, and maybe the Holy Spirit will use me to bring the warmth of salvation to them as well.