[original article published in Fort Bend Herald, Sunday, February 24, 2013]
An age old question has found new life in recent debate concerning the seeming incongruity of an all-loving, all-powerful God being willing to bring the harshest of judgments upon his creation. To be exact, the debate is generally kick started by some rendition of the question, “What kind of God would send people to an eternal judgment in Hell?” The question is of course baited and the outcome presumed self-evident. Supposedly one should nominate only a malevolent God as capable of such judgment. Surely a loving God couldn’t be responsible for such harsh condemnation.
The answer tends to fall in one of several templated responses. One group, believing the sentiment of the question, would say that in fact God does not send people to Hell at all. Either Hell is an humanly-imposed product of the misinterpretation of Jesus’ (and the Old Testament Prophets, Apostles, church fathers, etc) words or in fact it is in some way a temporary sentence by which man can be properly refined, finding ultimate escape into eternal life. Some believe in a form of annihilationism; that unbelievers will simply die without hope for Heaven, yet without judgment in Hell or any other punitive resort. Some contend that God doesn’t ‘send’ anyone to Hell, but that men choose to go to Hell, as if they put their name in the wrong column of a sign-in sheet. And some still hold to the classic Christian position that – in fact – we do serve the ‘kind of God’ who would sentence people to Hell and carry out such sentence first hand.
The question is only valid, of course, if in fact the scriptures claim that Hell is real and that God sends people there. In the short space allotted, it can be quickly noted from the words of Christ himself that such is true. Jesus’ account of his return and judgment speaks of the fate of the sinful in these terms: “(The King) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:40-41) Jesus affirms this position also in Matthew 10 and 23, along with numerous other references, yet from this text alone three things can be clearly seen: First, that Jesus proclaims a literal judgment of fire, second, that this judgment is eternal and third, that the King himself issues the sentence. Other New Testament authors concur in clear language, such as Paul’s note in 2 Thes. 1:8-9, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction….” Thus, according to the scriptures, the question is valid: Just what kind of God would sentence people to Hell?
The question is actually answered clearly in the earlier portion of the 2 Thes. text above. Verses 6-7 note, “God considers it just to repay with affliction… those who do not do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Romans 3 concurs, noting that until Christ took the full weight of the guilt of sin for the believer upon himself that in God’s forbearance “he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (v25-26)
Rarely does one question a judge who sentences a child molester to a life sentence in prison. We consider the penalty of such sin justly carried out by the utter segregation of the offender for the duration of his life. What kind of judge issues such a sentence? A just one – who upholds the law and considers the crime truly reprehensible. No further examination need be sought out for God’s upholding of his sentence for sin. He is just. He hates sin. He will satisfy its sentence.
Thanks be to God that He is in fact also a loving and forgiving God. In Christ he has taken out his full retribution on sin for those who trust Christ alone as their sacrifice of atonement. But he remains yet just. Every man’s sins will be punished: either through Christ or the sinner himself.
Relationships once developed slowly via personal encounter. Every chance meeting and handshake provided another casual conversation that gradually vetted the acceptable parameters of agreement on issues important to the two parties of a budding friendship. To the degree that two people found familiarity and commonality a friendship developed. Contrarily, when dissonance in virtue and ideology was uncovered a certain calculated distance was programmed into the relationship and the two parties silently negotiated an acceptable barrier for future encounters. At the end of such process, legitimate friendship was the result of natural commonality between two people. “Friends” were those who were generally in agreement with one another in areas considered important or desirable.
How profoundly certain things have changed in the social networking generation we now enjoy. Becoming “friends” is in theory as simple as clicking a button on a Facebook profile screen of someone who perhaps has been never actually seen with the human eye of the friender. Unlike the former process of methodically screening potential relationships through calculated conversation, now a person’s life story, political and social ideologies and a full array of revealing conversation with others is instantly displayed, organized and ingested in a single sitting. Gone completely is the discipline once required to garnish such privileged information.
In this setting our lives are on display to a much wider audience than many seem to realize. Things once said between friends with a wink of the eye are now heralded well beyond the privy of those who may have understood the sentiment of an inside anecdote. The concept of an ‘inner circle’ simply does not exist in online form. That which is posted on a social network is literally enshrined forever for public scrutiny.
The warning of James 1:19 must be seriously calulated more today than ever before: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
It seems that every week I see some exceptionally awkward situation being aired in full living color on someone’s Facebook wall. Personal disagreements are publicly posted in shameless attempt to illicit sympathy over issues which, if only left alone, would resolve themselvesg. Yet, “quick to anger” translates to “quick to tweet” in our current social paradigm. The frustration of the moment coupled with instant internet access persuades people to speak before they think and lash out before they listen. The friendships of yesterday provided a built-in buffer from such rash behavior. We went home, had a warm evening in the safety of family, slept on it and only then was the outside world encountered once again.
I was once told after a particularly frustrating conversation to write a letter to the person who had offended me stating everything I truly wanted to say. Then, I was instructed to fold it up and read it again in twenty four hours and send it only if I still felt the same way. Surprisingly to me, after twenty four hours I no longer wanted to say most of what I had written. I threw the letter away in the end, and no damage was done to an important friendship. What I practiced that day was the art of being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
I would propose that any social networking post involving personal grievance be left alone entirely. Yet, if you simply must write something, rather than posting it to the entire world why not email it to yourself, have dinner, hug your kids, sleep on it and then read it again tomorrow. If it really needs to be said it will still need to be said tomorrow. Let us practice being quick to listen and “slow to tweet” that our own sin of anger be not what is actually on display when we next click the ‘submit’ button and reveal our condition to all.
(Editorial Note: This article was written prior to Sunday’s shooting in Wisconsin. Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald, July 29, 2012. Minor edits have been inserted for this venue and date)
While the escalation of mass homicide in recent years is truly disturbing, perhaps equally ominous is our nation’s continued denial concerning the origination of such evil. Reminiscent of Fort Hood, Columbine and Virginia Tech, the recent shootings in Aurora have once again stirred the country to evaluation regarding the cause of such seemingly disconnected and horrific acts. Within hours of the incident commentators were politicizing the situation with appeals for better mental health care, gun control or public education. One analyst confidently prophesied that, “our country has failed James Holmes” (the shooter) in some unexplained manner.
While a number of theoretical culprits may have been contributing factors to Holmes’ rampage, what is troubling about such responses is that they are built upon two false assumptions. Foremost is the notion that such raw degeneracy is impossible in rational man except for some external influence. Related and secondary is the presumption that proper human initiative can cure such deviation. Mankind is deemed too equitable for such a heinous deed, thus something else must be ultimately liable. Thus, Adam blames Eve while she points at a snake. Responsibility is imagined outside of the offender’s control.
The scriptures are far less diplomatic of human propensity; asserting that all men possess a congenital sin disorder for which they are held responsible. No one has to teach a two year old how to hit a friend in defiance. Every toddler instinctively knows to lie about the half-eaten cookie. Sin is innate from birth; albeit in ways that seem innocuous when displayed from the least defiled among us. While even minor sin condemns us as guilty before a righteous judge, sin has a tendency to grow and mature into something far less cute than an unruly toddler’s tantrum. Romans 1 teaches that men who reject and suppress God’s truths are given over by God to a continued descent into unquenchable depravity. Verse 28 notes, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Verse 30 affirms a further deterioration in that they become “haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil…faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
To those who affirm the trustworthiness of scripture, actions such as those taken by James Holmes are not enigmatic. While surely he is troubled and debased beyond the normative societal rule, his issue remains the same as is common to all. He is guilty of living out the fruition of an uncontrolled sin nature; the epitome of which is self-servitude to the exclusion of God’s supreme rule of law. Our most obvious examples of the destruction of sin are played out in the lives of those likened to Holmes.
More appropriate than a clamor to lawmakers in light of this sort of wickedness is a resolute commitment to the restoration of sinners through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The law of both God and man quite staunchly condemned the behavior of last Friday’s murderous rage before it ever happened. At issue is not the lack of a clear legal standard, but a rebellious soul that considered himself exclusive to it.
Christ was crucified for such sin. He paid sin’s eternal penalty for those who trust Him alone as their reparation before God. Those who reject His provision will continue their slide toward obstinacy to unknown depths of depravity. Those who trust in Christ’s provision receive capacity to overcome sin in their lives, along with its eternal consequences.
Pray, therefore, for the propagation of the gospel in our increasingly wicked world. Therein lies hope for depravity.
The American system of public discourse and representative government is not hard to grasp. We are “the melting pot” where people from every race, creed and background are welcomed to bring their best to the table. Governing that table are representatives duly elected to uphold the will of the collective population from within the framework of an overshadowing constitutional standard. From within that standard these representatives are charged with the task of establishing the law of the people, by the people and for the people.
In such a system several things are inherently necessary. Among them is that the people have a voice and the freedom do express it fully. Without such a voice, representatives govern without direction and pursue their personalized visions for the country. Ability to express our collective voices has been assured in the First Amendment and in just about every state by written mandate. After all, every seat of local, state and federal governments in our nation is democratically elected and representative in nature. People simply must be allowed to express their political opinions for such a system to work.
At issue in the nation today is the variance between the mandate and the actions of our elected officials. Case in point is the rash of recent government sponsored blockades of free speech as it relates to the hot-button “redefinition of marriage” mayhem. In the past few weeks this has taken a very personal and utterly un-American turn as one of the nation’s largest family owned businesses is being targeted for extinction by government representatives-turned-operatives over the family’s constitutionally protected exercise of expressing their political opinions openly.
Dan Cathy, President and CEO of Chick-fil-A, apparently crossed an invisible line in the spirit of the First Amendment last week when he simply stated, “guilty as charged” to the assertion that he upholds a biblical definition of marriage (as being uniquely between man and woman). He followed with comments on the Ken Coleman Show with his suggestion that the nation could face God’s judgment over the redefinition of marriage. This, according to a growing list governing officials, is tantamount to gay bashing.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed that “Chick-fil-A values…disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.” He vowed to support the blocking of new Chick-fil-A construction announced by Proco Joe Moreno, in Chicago’s 1st Ward. Moreno claims that Cathy is “bigoted” and “homophobic” because he is against gay marriage. In addition to Chicago (the last place on earth that should be dis-allowing a successful business opportunity) Boston Mayor Thomas Menino informed the Boston Herald that he no longer wants Chick-fil-A in Boston. In Mountain View, California a gay couple as at least temporarily blocked the opening of another Chick-fil-A by launching a “zoning” challenge, noting that “because it was a bunch of bigots, it gave us an extra nudge” to attempt to prevent them from building a restaurant there.
The irony of each of these scenarios should be crystal clear to anyone; whether gay, straight, atheistic or a believer. Simply put, this is a full living color illustration of the new art of bullying via charges of ‘bigotry.’ Call someone a bigot and you will immediately find support for your cause.
Forget the fact the homosexual community is the first to scream “First Amendment” when they break decency laws on the streets of New York City; sodomizing one another in the streets for what is depicted as a “parade.” Forget the fact that every group that has the ability to decry “bigot” does so with the same constitutionally granted freedom that those they cry against are using in stating their own objections. Let’s focus on a much simpler fact: gay marriage is a moral and POLITICAL issue being argued in every federal, state and local election bid. Cathy did not say he hated homosexuals. He did not say they were not allowed to eat in his establishments. Quite the contrary, he noted the continued openness of his venues to serve people of all types, explicitly including “sexual orientation.” The issue against Cathy is not homophobia or gay bashing. Nothing of the sort has taken place. He said what nearly every republican presidential nominee this past year has said; that he is opposed to the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex genders.
Since when has power been granted to government heads to punish their people for not “thinking” according to a pre-set template? By what right does a mayor or a district alderman (for crying out loud) refuse successful businessmen from building their enterprise based on their being on the side of other government officials who argue the same principles? Have these people not watched a single presidential debate this year? Do they not read newspapers? Are they so out of touch as to not know that this is an ongoing national debate? This is America; a land built on the principle of public and open debate on the issues before the people.
Cathy is an American citizen. His family employs 61,000 Americans in the worst economy of most of our lifetimes. He has constitutionally-protected rights to express his opinion on any political issue of his choosing. Any politician who attempts to destroy his business because of his views on a very public and torn political argument is proving himself to be a bigger bigot than he claims Cathy is.
Merriam-Webster defines bigotry as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices…” How more intolerant can one be than to determine “if you do not agree with our side of an ongoing national debate we will deny you a right to do business in our city?” These men should be impeached for using their offices as playpens for their personal agendas. They are clearly outside of their governing roles in a representative system when they harass their opponents over the fundamental practice of their rights. They are doing precisely what they accuse others of doing by fighting (supposed) bigotry with bigotry.
Yes, you read the title correctly. To many, Yom Kippur is merely a foreign word that appears on our Outlook calendar each year. It seems that most believers do not even know what it is, where it came from or most certainly what it represents. Yom Kippur is a good reminder of just how much rich heritage of the faith gets lost for modern Gentile believers. Because we do not serve the Mosaic requirements for Holy Days each year, we miss the richness of the Old Testament Feasts; each of which point to and are fulfilled by our Messiah, Jesus, in some way.
Yom Kippur, or The Day of Atonement in English, falls each Hebrew calendar year on the 10th of Tishrei. The 10th of Tishrei this year, on our Western calendar, is tomorrow, October 8, 2011. The celebration of Yom Kippur, for Jews, begins at sundown tonight. Continue reading
On my 16th birthday I received, by request, a new Thompson Chain Reference NIV Bible. As a 16 year old, I had no insights- nor did I consider the need of them- concerning the integrity of the NIV translation. I simply knew that my new NIV Bible was easier to understand than the KJV I had used up to that point.
As it turns out, by God’s grace, the NIV I was ingesting was actually a pretty good translation overall. It is a good “middling” of two interpretational extremes. As a ministry student, which I became just a few years thereafter, one’s translation is never one’s only translation; it is simply the translation one preaches and teaches from. It is the translation one commits to memory. I spent over twenty five years doing just that with my (1984) NIV. Continue reading
A new variety of church-growth movement is squarely upon us. It decisively attempts to illegitimize any attempt at “doctrinal wall-building” for fear of excluding those frankly, who are unwilling to believe. This sentiment has found itself at home in an increasing number of churches in recent years; being a boon to church growth (numerically) by removing those pesky doctrinal encumbrances which often cause people to seek membership elsewhere.
“Our very survival is at stake,” we are told. The church, it is suggested, is to be about “tearing down walls” rather than building them; having entered into a “new” church-age whereby we focus attention copiously on harmony with others rather than differences. Commonalities draw us together. Differences divide us. The church is to be a place of unity, fellowship and cohesion. Anything that combats such a state of unanimity is quickly expelled as discordant, contentious and sinful. (Sadly, about the only “sin” that can be agreed upon in our modern user-friendly church culture is that of being disruptive to the alliance of “group sentiment.”) Such division, of course, is seen as a direct path to the most horrific sin of all: exclusivism. Continue reading
(This is a continuation of The Gospel Truth video blog series. This post assumes the prerequisite watching of earlier videos in the series. Click the link above to watch the entire series up to this week’s installment.)
Ingrained into the psyche of our culture is an almost unquenchable merit-based gospel. It seems that everything from good ol’ boy music to water cooler banter have determined that if one is “good enough,” then surely a nod and a kind word can be expected from the Lord at the judgment. When people on the streets are asked if they expect to enter Heaven when they die, invariably the majority of responses deal with one’s work ethic, kindness to neighbors and general “goodness” which is expected to be taken into account as that decision is reached.
Truth be told, all are guaranteed to get what we have earned when we face the Lord. Scripture declares that with great specificity. It declares also however, that our earnings will amount to death and that our best works are as filthy rags. Indeed, the entire law – without Christ’s fulfilling and gracious act of atonement – points to a singular conclusion for all: there are none who are righteous. None who can uphold God’s standard. None who even desire what is good. We couldn’t compile the conglomerate “goodness” of all history and afford to send even one of us into God’s presence.
Our predicament is utterly hopeless…
but for grace.
One of the hardest things about being a premillennialist is being inevitably associated with other premillennialists. Among the many qualified, biblically sound and sane Biblicists out there also exist a panicky, superstitious and downright dishonest fringe (ok… it may be a pretty wide “fringe”) which will stop at nothing to “prove” their postulates; even if it means that the truth must be entirely misrepresented in the process. Continue reading
You’d think I would be desensitized by now. But, truth be told, I get more irritated each time it happens. Before their morning coffee has opened passages to their hypothalamus, someone forwards me an utterly asinine email from their Aunt Myrtle which aptly demonstrates the theological aspirations of Joe Q. Christian. I’m sure it seemed relevant at the time.
The sentiment of Aunt Myrtle’s pining will be less than challenging to anyone who knows any actual scripture (beyond what is printed on their clothing or bumper stickers.) It will normally be the stuff that Touched By An Angel episodes are made of; such as the heart-warming story of the child who gave a homeless man his happy-fries outside of the local McDonalds. Continue reading