Friday, May 29, 2015

God's Got This

Good morning,

When I was a young girl I went to Bible camp on several occasions.  One summer, we made in the crafts time a painted, ceramic plaque.  I can still remember making it.  Mine was white, with green lettering and gold highlights.  I thought it was extremely beautiful.  For years, it sat in the circa-1960 "pink bathroom" of my parents' house so that, every time I went in there, I saw it.

On the plaque was the Bible verse we come to this morning:  1 Peter 5:7.  We didn't seem to have a plethora of Bible versions in those days.  This verse was in the KJV;

Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.

As a youth, I took this as a biblical command (rightly so) and found it pretty easy to keep it.  I didn't worry about much of anything.  My mother used to tell me that she was "nervous".  I had no idea what that meant.
All that changed the moment I became a mother.

How well I remember riding home from the hospital with a bouncing (9 lb. 13 oz. !!!) baby boy in the backseat. Anxiety began to paralyze me to the point that, had my mother not been waiting at my home to spend a couple of weeks with me, I would have jumped out of the moving car.  The sin of anxiety had already begun to gain a foothold.

Yesterday, my youngest graduated from high school.  What a wonderful occasion!  My heart was full, but not too full for a good measure of anxiety to creep in. The Bible says, "Perfect love casteth out fear."  What a mysterious verse that is to me, because it seems like the more I love something/someone the more fearful I am over it/them. It's now a constant battle.

The NIV (New International Version) translates "cares" as "anxiety".
It's interesting that this verse does not command us to merely shrug off our anxieties or to lay them down.  It says to throw them off like a menopausal woman begins to throw off her upper layers of clothing while in the throes of a hot flash.  (If you've ever been one or lived with one, you'll understand!)

The key to being successful at throwing off anxiety is to focus on the promise that is in this verse: "He cares for you."  Or, as The Message version put it:  "He is careful with you."

So often we don't trust in the goodness of God.  If we truly believe that He is going to take care of us, we won't worry.  Let's be clear:  God "taking care of us" does not mean that everything will go just as we want it to go.  (Shocker!  Yesterday, not everything went as I wanted it to.)  Nor does it mean that nothing "unfortunate" will ever befall us.  What it does mean is:  God's got this.

One of my dear friends (who was also "nervous" yesterday - - - our sons are best friends and were graduating together) told me that when her son marries, she is going to move into his attic.  What a mental image that is!  She keeps me laughing.  Yet, we mamas are prone to get all up in God's business, aren't we?

Do you recognize it, Believer, when God gives you a precious, spiritual embrace?  After yesterday's graduation ceremony, our party of 10 was gathered outside the huge church where the ceremony was held.  It was a mad crush of people, all trying to get pictures, etc.  I mean - - - picture "pandemonium" here.  As we were milling around, trying to get organized, an elderly gentleman in a bright green sports coat - - - a man whom we did not even know - - - stopped as he passed in front of my son.  He looked at Will and began to say things like, "Young man, you are destined for great things.  I can tell.  I am 83 years old and have seen a lot.  You will go far in life."  I don't remember his exact words; but, that was the gist of it.  He was prophesying over my son!  I introduced myself as Will's mother and thanked the gentleman for his kindness, that his words meant more to me than he could ever know.  And, then, he repeated them - - for additional emphasis, I guess.  What a sweet hug from Father God, who is Sovereign over all!

Let's keep praying over those situations we don't understand, of which we tend to be fearful, those we can't control (that's all of them, by the way!).  Cover your anxieties with prayer and then....throw your besetting fears as far away from you as you can.  Focus on how He loves you.  In The Message version of this verse, that is called "living well".

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

God's got this!

Lord Jesus, You are Lord of my life.  I am not.  It's not all up to me, nor is it for my glory.  Your promises, such as this precious one from Psalm 103 are given to remind me of how very GOOD You are!  Help me to believe this and to walk in confidence, remembering that it is all up to You, and all for Your glory.  In Your name, amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

To the Elders

Good morning,

This morning's passage is given to instruct church leaders, whom the apostle refers to as "elders". Most of the time, the term "elder" is applied to the "senior pastor" (in our lingo) of the congregation. However, it can be generalized to apply to any older, adult leader in the local church, as well.  With that in mind, let's look at the specifics of this passage and mine out the traits needed for successful church leaders.

Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
In the same way, you younger men, be subject to the elders. And all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because
God resists the proud

but gives grace to the humble.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time
1 Peter 5:1-6 (HCSB)

Shepherd the Flock
In this, elders follow the example of Christ, who is referred to as the Good Shepherd or the Chief Shepherd.  How should they do this?
1.  With humility - - - elders are not to view their roles as occasions for pride, which is the chief sin of the Church.  Peter realizes this too, because he mentions humility repeatedly in this passage.
2.  Without a lust for power - - - Peter mentions money in this context, which is analogous to power. Many church positions are unpaid, but those in them seek to accrue power to themselves as payment. A dead giveaway to this type of leader is the one who says, "My legacy ... "  or (God forbid) "I ran that sorry preacher off!"  Watch out for that type of church "leader".  They are in it primarily for their own self-aggrandizement.
Some of the worst "Christians" I've ever seen are in positions of leadership in our churches! They use their position to disregard church by-laws and constitutions, to not follow proper procedures and to "get their own way".
We are not given positions of leadership within a congregation to create a "legacy" for ourselves.  All glory from our service goes to the Lord, not to us.  Leaders, do you desire that "unfading crown of glory" from the Lord?  Then, don't seek to receive it in this life.

Be an Example
When you are offered a position of leadership in the church fellowship, fall on your face before God and examine yourself.  If your heart is not right, then that is an opportunity for Satan to get in and to not only tarnish your ministry but, more importantly, to harm others spiritually.  Some people are fond of telling other believers how to live the life, yet they don't live it themselves.
(This is how this blog got started actually.  I was co-leading the college group in my home, and we were discussing daily Bible reading.  I became so convicted because I was advocating that discipline for the young people, but was not doing it myself.  I resolved, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to change that in my life.  And, this blog, which is the outworking of my daily Bible devotional time, was born.)
In his admonitions to, his training of young Timothy, Paul talked about how he as a church leader should be an example.  These were the traits he mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:12 - - -

" an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness and purity."

  • It is no accident that the tongue is mentioned first here.  Leaders in the church are to put the quietus on murmuring and backbiting and pot-stirring in the church, not be the instigators or the cause of it.
  • The leader's behavior must be characterized by love, faithfulness and purity.  The Message version puts it like this:  
Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.  Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching.  And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed - - keep that dusted off and in use.

Leaders: don't be lazy!  We ought to see our elders praying, doing visitation, tithing, teaching, worshipping with the congregation, serving in church ministries, participating in many ministries of the church - - - and their spouses as well.  If we don't, then something is wrong.  And, any elder who cannot be loyal to his local church and its leadership, supporting it/them by being an example in these ways should resign.

Being called by God to a position of leadership in the local church is a fearsome responsibility. When we put on the robe of leadership, it has a bulls-eye on its back.  Satan immediately elevates us as a prime target, marked for destruction.  Each of us in leadership roles, each of us elders, should be constantly on our faces before God, asking His Spirit to examine us.  God forbid that we should, by our position of influence, do anything to fracture the Body, to sow seeds of dissension, to dishonor Him. 

Lord Jesus, you know I am preaching to myself in all my posts, and this one is no exception.  Please guide me by Your Spirit and don't let me say or do anything that would bring shame or disgrace to Your name.  In my local church, First Baptist Canton, may all of us, regardless of position, clothe ourselves in the humility that comes from a close walk with our Savior - - - viewing others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), and serving one another in love (Galatians 5:13).  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sufferin' for JESUS!

Good morning,

I'm smiling as I begin this blog post, thinking about a character I'm playing in an August production. While reading today's passage, 1 Peter 4:12-19, I realized the warning there pertains to the fictitious Viola James, whom I portray.

"Vi" is a meddler (and, even worse, a control-freak).  She butts in where she should not, and then when she gets blowback from her unwise actions bemoans her fate of "sufferin' for Jesus".  Do you know anyone like that?

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
This passage gives us some very important information for our resplendent walk:

1.  We WILL experience suffering in this world, simply because we bear the name of Christ and seek to follow Him ("to do good", vs. 19).  We should not be surprised at this.  There is a false teaching in Western World Christendom at present.  It goes like this:  "If you are truly holy, God will spare you misfortune."  What a lie from Satan!  We can see from this passage alone that this is unscriptural.

2.  When the judgment of God falls, it will fall first on the household of faith (the Church), to purify us (vs. 17).  Just as revival always begins within the walls of the church building and spreads out to the unsaved world, so does God's judgment.

3.  As in Vi's example, we must be very careful to distinguish between true sufferings according to God's will (vs. 19) and the logical consequences of our own ungodly behavior (vs. 15).   I love how Peter starts off with "the biggies", the "Oh, I would NEVER do that!" sins - - - murder, theft, etc. Then, he says (paraphrase) "even something seemingly as harmless as meddling"....  At that point, our eyes get big, we put our index finger on our lower lips and go, "ooooohhhh....."  God can redeem any of our past sins, but He will usually NOT exempt us from the consequences of them.

4.  If we pray "thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:9-13), then we must recognize that His perfect will include times of "fiery trial" for His own, dear children.  We mustn't assume that we are suffering because God is "asleep at the wheel."  Our suffering is part of the purification, sanctification process referenced in Ephesians 5:25-27, which we looked at a few days ago in talking about God's model for family authority.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Does this mean that Christians must go through suffering in order to be right with God, to work their way into Heaven?  No.  We become positionally right with God, utterly forgiven, saved and secure, the moment we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.  However, it is His desire that His Holy Spirit placed within our souls at that very moment continues to work in us, to change us into a people more and more like our Savior, in our Christian walk.  Somehow, allowing us to "participate in the sufferings of Christ" is part of that sanctification, that purification, that transformation.  Our response to suffering should be to keep on living for Christ, even when we want to "bail".

5.  God is faithful to us, even in the midst of our sufferings.  He is our "faithful Creator" , who will gather us up in His loving arms as a mother holds the crying child who has hurt himself.  We will rejoice once again, if not on this earth in this life, then most certainly in the next (vs. 13).  We will see His glory revealed and will be overjoyed in that day!

Dear Father, I am grateful that You have not left me as You found me.  When You saved me, Your Holy Spirit began a good work in me, which will not be perfected until I stand before You as part of Your glorious, spotless Bride.  During times of suffering, strengthen me by Your Spirit.  Hold on to me, when I am unable to hold on to You.  I thank You for Your faithfulness during the painful times. I praise You for Your great love.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Self-Destructing Church

Good morning,

This morning, I don't want to leave the previous passage in 1 Peter 4 without more closely examining verses 8 and 9.  Here they are:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

The theme of Christians loving each other deeply resounds throughout the New Testament.  It is second only to loving God with all our hearts, souls and minds, which is "the first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38).

Here, in verse 8, Peter is reminding the Body to love each other fervently because doing so will "cover many sins".  Now, whatever does that mean?  Does it mean that we should excuse each other's sins, ignore them, allow them?  That doesn't sound right, and it isn't.  Instead, we should hold each other accountable for our attitudes and actions.  Look at what Jesus said along this line in Luke 17:3 - - -
So watch yourselves!  If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

This parallel verse makes it plain that "loving each other deeply" does not mean that we are to overlook each other's sins.  The loving must at times be what Dr. James Dobson called, "tough love". Tough love begins by praying diligently for those we love, confessing our own sins and then following the Spirit's leading in our interactions with our fellow believers.

Sometimes, rebuking is necessary so that repentance and the other steps leading to restored fellowship can occur.  At other times, the most loving thing we can do it to confess our own sins to fellow believers we have wronged.  That's what I meant about confessing our own sins, first to God and then to those we have wronged, whether intentionally or not. Sometimes we are the problem, not our brothers and sisters!  In those cases, the most loving thing we can do is to make things right by getting our hearts and relationships right.  Oh, how we want to skip this step (and sadly, often do.)

Don't be fooled into believing "Well, it's just a little thing that I did wrong."  That is a devilish deception.  Churches have been destroyed over "the little things" remaining unconfessed, unforgiven.

To follow as the Spirit leads, does not mean going off "half-cocked".  Do you know the origin of that expression?  It refers to a rifle or shotgun that had to be "cocked" in order to fire properly.  If the gun was only "half-cocked", it would backfire and severely injure or kill the one firing it.  Dangerous! Prayer, confession, repentance, rebuke, forgiveness, restoration - - - all of these steps are interdependent and are necessary on the pathway to peace.

As this world continues to slide further and further into depravity, as persecutions increase, we Christians must resist the temptation to "turn" on one another, which is the carnal, fleshly, "natural" response.  Paul, in Galatians 5:15 cautions this behavior will lead to "devouring one another".  The early Church had already discovered that one of Satan's most powerful tools is to stir up problems within the Body of Christ. He is still very successful with this tool today.  (Just ask any minister or minister's wife!) Unresolved, these types of "issues" will fracture local churches, drive ministers from the ministry, drive the lost from salvation.  It's a BIG problem.

What is the answer?  Love, manifested as confession, rebuke, repentance and most importantly, forgiveness.
A lack of forgiveness leads to bitterness, a stubborn root in one's spirit that, as Ike Reighard used to say, is "a poison you drink yourself".

In the final stages of this process, it is forgiveness that covers a multitude of sins. When we in the Body forgive one another and restore one another to fellowship, demonstrating the same kind of love God showed to us, we can then go on to fulfill the commission given in verse 9 and in those verses following.  True forgiveness will "put the quietus on" (suppress, eliminate) the highly divisive elements of gossiping and grumbling.

Lord Jesus, the forgiveness You purchased for me is 100% complete.  In a similar manner, I am called upon as Your representative to love, without keeping score.  It is only through the miraculous power of Your Holy Spirit that this is possible.  Empower Your people, Lord, in these troubling days, to show we are Christians by the love we have for one another.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The End is Near?

Good morning,

I am away from home today, and am therefore off of the "usual" schedule, whatever that is!
Today's text is 1 Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

From the time Jesus left earth in physical form until today (and probably even before that) the older generations have believed that "the end is near".  Not the end of their earthly lives, per se, although that too....but, rather, the "end of the world".  Each successive generation has believed that the younger generations are more debauched, and that the world is "going to Hell in a handbasket", as the saying goes.  At least in my lifetime, such has been the case.  (LOL, you see what I mean?!)

So, I'm trying to fight against that in considering this passage.  Surely, Christ's return and the events described in Daniel, Joel and Revelation (to name a few) are much closer than they have ever been.  I think, though, that to focus on exactly when Christ will return is to miss the point.  What Peter is trying to say here is the same thing that Jesus said in the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) - - - be watchful and be ready.

With Jesus' return imminent, how are we to live in the meantime?  Are we to be like the girl sitting on her suitcase at the train station, watching for the train to come around the bend?  No, not at all.   That, basically, is what the unwise virgins did in the parable.  Instead, ...

  • We are to remain alert, so that our prayers can be well-focused and targeted to the events that surround us.
  • We are to respond by loving others deeply, using the unique gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to each one.
  • We are to be hospitable whenever we have opportunity, even if we believe our gifts to be small.
  • We are to realize that when we speak, the world believes that we speak for God. So, the message we project is of utmost importance.  The world will judge God by our words and actions.
  • We are to lean on the strength that God provides to us through the Holy Spirit, not seeking to serve the Lord through our own power.  (The latter is a recipe for disaster!)
  • We are to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is to receive the glory, no matter what.  We are to seek His glory in all things, not our own.  
Some of you out there believe that you are old and finished and "washed up" with nothing left to give.  You have "checked out" of the serving business.  "Let the young 'uns do it!", you grumble. That's your current motto.  For shame!  Billy Graham wrote a book when he was 92, and the theme of it was essentially this:  "as long as I am still here, God is not finished using me yet"!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of serving with some dear church friends in a ministry our church has with one of the local schools.  It was not a fancy thing.  We asked some of our members if they would please bake a homemade treat to share with the school staff.  The sisters responded and we were able to provide a lot of delicious sweets for our Partners in Education, to thank them for their sacrificial work with young people this year.  It was such a joy to do that!  Most of the people who participated in that outreach, which richly blessed others and allowed us to share news about VBS as well as our church's other ministries - - - most of those who made this outreach happen yesterday earned the badge of "senior citizen" LONG ago!

No matter your age, do not be deceived by the Devil's lie - - - that you are "done".  Even if you can barely read this post or must have someone read it for you, as long as you can string two thoughts together you can participate in a mighty one-person prayer ministry.  I'll tell you that if the Devil thinks to end my ministry by physically incapacitating me, as long as I have my brain functioning, I'll be praying.  We tend to greatly underestimate the power of our obedient response to God's prompting.  We have little idea the far-reaching impact of our good deeds - - those deeds done out of a love for our Lord.  The impact is not our concern. That's God's concern.  Our responsibility is to say "yes Lord!" when the Spirit prompts us to use our gifts for His glory.

Precious Lord, today and every day, may we pray fervently, love deeply and serve sacrificially, for the furtherance of Your Kingdom and for Your honor and glory.   It is in Your name I pray, Lord Jesus, amen.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Gospel of the Second Chance?

Good morning,

As if the posts of the last two days were not minefields (and yesterday's was like a "progressive dinner"!), today we march onward into 1 Peter 4, where we find one of the most confusing of verses.

In this chapter Peter continues to expound upon the theme of persecution in this life, equating denying the desires of our flesh, our bodies, with suffering.  Anyone who has ever encountered a delicious dessert when simultaneously trying to manage his/her body weight can certainly relate. Such temptations are not difficult to understand, nor is there any question that we, as believers, should live lives of holiness in order to reflect the glory of our Savior, no matter the area of sin that threatens to trip us up.  This daily "taking up the cross" is our love offering to Him, in response to His amazing grace.

Of course, in juxtaposition with the type of suffering Peter was referencing, stomping down the fleshly desire for sugar-laden food seems trivial.  He was attempting to encourage new believers (and all were relatively new in those days) to walk resplendent, even if it would cost them their very lives.

The perplexity arises when we get to 1 Peter 4:6-7.  Honestly, I have never heard a sermon on these verses and, when I encountered them, found them to be astounding.  No surprise - - - one site I visited commented that he was aware of over 60 interpretations of this verse.  Whew!

Here is the larger passage from the NIV:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
The end of all things is near.
Let's think about the life of a first century Christian, those to whom this letter was directly written (although it is given to us for our benefit).
1.   These believers faced constant abuse, of varying degrees, because of their faith.  In addition, they believed that the return of Jesus would happen in their lifetimes; they were looking for Him to return at any moment (as we should be also).  See verse 7a.
2.   They were very concerned to know the fate of their fellow believers who had died, either by martyrdom or via "natural causes".  Their concern about this is seen elsewhere in Scripture among other groups of early believers.  For example, this was the context for Paul's dissertation in
1 Thessalonians 4, specifically verses 13-18.
"But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep..."  (vs. 13)  And, he concludes in verse 18:  "Therefore, comfort one another with these words".

In verse 5, Peter affirms that those non-believers who are persecuting the faithful believers will be judged by God.  Those non-believers are spiritually dead.  In verse 6, he reassures the faithful that their "now (physically) dead" brothers and sisters who were judged by men in their bodies (martyred), will live according to God in their spirits.  The gospel "was preached" to them.  Peter is not saying that preaching occurs to people after they are dead.  Preaching is only effective among the living.  In other words, the currently living believers are not to worry that their dead brethren are without the promise of eternal life.

The obvious misinterpretation of this passage is to use it as a single indicator that after physical death the souls/spirits of people will be given a second chance to turn to God through Jesus Christ.  The problem with this interpretation is that it goes against many other scripture verses that state the reverse.

Some scripture verses are more clear than others.  When a verse is puzzling, we must look to other related verses in order to discern by the Holy Spirit the interpretation of them together as a whole teaching on that subject.  What do the majority of the texts say on this subject?  What do the more clear texts say?  Much erroneous teaching has been put forward when students of the Scriptures fail to do this.

Some faiths build entire major (false) doctrines around this one verse, 1 Peter 4:6,  leading to practices like saying prayers for the dead, lighting candles for the dead, baptism for the dead, praying for those in Purgatory and so forth.  Those who believe these also try to connect Jesus' proclamations to the chained angelic beings (1 Peter 3:19-20) with 1 Peter 4:6.  Did Jesus make proclamation to those angels in Tartarus?  Yes.  Did He preach the gospel to dead, unrighteous humans in Sheol, to give them a second chance?  No.

There is no such "gospel of the second chance" supported in Scripture.  In fact, just the opposite is found.
It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. 
Hebrews 9:27

Indeed, the "right time" is now.  Today is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2

The best evidence, though, against "second chance salvation" is found in the story we touched on yesterday, the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.  In that story, told by Jesus Himself, the rich man was BEGGING for a second chance.  However, it was quite plainly denied him.  No hope for salvation was extended.

Furthermore, did you see any repentance in this man, the rich man?  Was he expressing sorrow for his sins, expressing a desire to turn to God?  No.  If a person's heart is set against God in this life, it will remain so in the next.  There is no miraculous change of heart, no desire for Jesus Christ after death.  The desire expressed by the rich man was two-fold:  for relief from his torment, and for his family to avoid his fate.

Each person must make his or her own decision to accept or reject Christ Jesus and His offer of salvation.  We are unable to "will" salvation to another, nor to "pray them out of Hell".  Although these are traditions of some churches, they are scriptural distortions.  This is why we speak in my church of the "personal decision for Jesus Christ" - - - no one can do it for you.  Think about it:  do you see anyone in either the Old or New Testaments doing these false practices?
An additional proof for the truth of one-to-one, personal salvation is found in Ezekiel 18:20 - -

20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

God is tremendously patient with us in this physical life, offering us opportunity after opportunity to accept His salvation through Jesus Christ.  But, when our souls/spirits depart our physical bodies and we step into eternity, there is no going back.  Once a person dies physically, there are no more chances. All that remains for the unbeliever is judgment.  That is what compels us believers to preach the gospel "to every creature" in this life.  The stakes are so high - - - they are eternal!

Father, these verses are sobering.  How I wish I could have enough faith for someone else!  What a comfort it would be if the Truth were like that little song, "If I get to Heaven before you do, I'll bore a little hole and pull you through!" But, that is not how you ordained it, Lord.  Grace is given one-on-one.  I pray that this Truth will burden us to the point of nearly crushing us today, so that we will be unable to resist Your Holy Spirit's urging us to either accept the gospel and decide for Jesus Christ or, for those who have done so, to share the gospel through the power of the One who is able to do "exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20)...while there is time.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jesus' Trip to Hades, pt. 2

Good morning,

A friend commented the other day that he misses the reciting of the Apostles' Creed in church services.  I attended a Presbyterian church for several years;  we used to speak the Apostles' Creed in every Sunday morning service.  Reciting one of the creeds was a staple of Christian church services for centuries.  There's the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed...well, there are several of them.  Here's the Apostles' Creed, not so called because an apostle wrote it, but because it contains the major teachings the apostles espoused.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.
*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

Did you see the phrase about six lines down?  "He {Jesus}descended to hell."  That portion of the creed was included because of 1 Peter 3:18-20, which we examined yesterday.

So, in yesterday's post, we learned that Jesus proclaimed the truth (because He can proclaim nothing less) to fallen angels imprisoned in the realm of the dead.  Does the Bible tell us anything else Jesus did while there?
  • Based on His words to one of the thieves on the cross beside His (Luke 23:43), Jesus went to another section of the realm of the dead, upon His death: that section called Paradise.  And, He took there the dead soul of that very same thief who put his trust in Jesus Christ for his salvation. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus did the same for all other dead souls who believed on Him during His earthly ministry.  There is no reason to believe He would take only that one new believer. (See Philippians 1:21-23 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8.)
  • But what about the Old Testament saints?  Some theologians believe that Christ led them from Sheol to Paradise as well. (See Hebrews 11:40, 12:23 and Psalm 68:18 and 88:3-6).  
I think that an explanation of the various names for "the realm of the dead" is in order.  That will have to wait until tomorrow, or at least later today.  Hubster has some outpatient surgery this morning.

Okay, praise the Lord!  Hubster's surgery went well.  He is "sleeping it off", lol.

There's a good bit of confusion about the names for Heaven and Hell.  Some of that is language-based.  The Old Testament is written in Hebrew and the New in Greek.  But, there are also other reasons.  For instance, some Christian faiths assign names to certain areas of "heaven" and "hell".

The Old Testament "sheol" is translated as "hades" in the New.  Both words mean "where the spirits of the dead reside".  Within that very general designation, we find at least two "compartments" - - one for the spirits of the righteous and the other for the spirits of the unrighteous.  In the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31, there is a great chasm between these two compartments, and Jesus makes it very clear in the story that inhabitants of one cannot cross over to the other.

Within Sheol/Hades, we find named "Paradise" (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:3; Revelation 2:7), Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:19-31) and "the 3rd Heaven".

  • According to John MacArthur*, the Persian word from which the Greek "paradeiso" is translated means "walled garden".   "The greatest honor a Persian king could bestow on one of his subjects was to grant him the right to walk with the king in the royal garden in intimate companionship."
  • The term "Abraham's Bosom" is found only once in the Bible, and that is in Luke 16:22, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  
  • The word "heaven" in the Bible is used in three ways:  to designate the atmosphere of Earth (the first heaven - - Deuteronomy 11:11; Isaiah 55:10), to designate outer space or the firmament (the second heaven - - Genesis 15:5; Psalm 8:3), and to designate the dwelling place of God the Father (the third heaven - - 1 Kings 8:30; Psalm 33:13-14; Matthew 6:9).  Paul describes being snatched away (Greek - "harpazo") into this third heaven in a vision he had (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
  • The 3rd Heaven is where the righteous dead (those having trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation) go immediately upon their physical deaths.  We read in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the moment our spirits are absent from the body, they are present with the Lord.  And, where is Jesus, our Lord, now?  He is seated at the right hand of the Father, in the 3rd Heaven.  (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; 1 Peter 3:22)  On a day that only the Father knows (Mark 13:32), He will give Jesus the signal, and then King Jesus will return to earth, to gather up His own.

Also within Sheol/Hades we find names for the abode of the unrighteous dead, names such as Gehenna, Hinnom, the Lake of Fire, Hell, Tartarus, for example.

"Hinnom" is the name of Valley on the west side of the Mount of Olives, near the SW corner of the Old City walls.  It is topographically the lowest point in Jerusalem, interestingly enough.  The Valley of Hinnom earned the moniker "Valley of Slaughter", because we read in Jeremiah 7:31-33 that in the throes of idolatry the people of Judah offered their sons and daughters as burnt offerings to demons, who demanded the fiery deaths of little children.  "Ge hinnom" means "Valley of Hinnom" and is translated into Greek as "Gehenna".  The English translation of Gehenna is "Hell".

The word "Tartarus" appears only once in Scripture, and that is in 2 Peter 2:4.  It is rendered "chains of darkness", "gloomy pits of darkness", "chains of deepest darkness", "black hole", etc.  It seems to indicate a particularly restrictive and awful pit of Hell; and, it is where those "imprisoned spirits", those fallen angels, are kept chained up by God Himself.

For if God didn't spare the angels who sinned but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment;

However, not the name, but the same phrase appears also in Jude 1:6-7, as quoted in yesterday's blog post:

6And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Finally, we find the phrase "Lake of Fire", as the final destination of the unrighteous, both human and angelic (Matthew 25:41).  The name appears also in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15.  According to Luke 16:24, it is a place of unrelenting agony, excruciating, fiery pain.  Revelation 21:8 makes it clear that, although the Lake of Fire was created for Satan and his fallen angels, humans who do not accept Jesus Christ's atonement for their sins will find themselves thrown into the Lake of Fire along with those evil spirit beings.  This transfer from Sheol to Hell for these will occur after the last judgment has been pronounced (those end-times judgments being a whole 'nuther blog topic!)

In summary, (this original post was about what happened between the death of Jesus and His resurrection), there is much we can't presume to know.  I've made my best attempt to share what little the Scriptures provide by way of information.  And, please know that there is not universal agreement about the interpretation of these things.  If God had wanted us to know every last detail of this matter, He would have told us.  The Bible is full of mysteries; and, this is one.  We are wise to remember
Deuteronomy 29:29 - - -
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God."

Father, even though the exact works of my Savior are unknown during the three days His body lay in the tomb, we trust You and thank You for the beauty of Your holy Word.  What You have clearly revealed to us, without doubt, is His glorious resurrection, which "sealed the deal".  We rejoice in the glorious news - - that because He is "the firstfruits of them that slept", we who trust in Him will, too, live with Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever.  Hallelujah!  In Jesus' name, amen!


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jesus' Trip to Hades

Good morning,

Today's text is a passage filled with tantalizing tidbits and high controversy.  And, I'll be honest, it may be "beyond me".  But, I'm going to study it and do the best I can.  If you disagree, feel free to say so in the comments section of the blog, although I will not engage or argue with you.

On the surface this passage is a thumb-nail sketch of Jesus Christ's incarnation and work among men. But, within that, we see some references to the days of Noah and other peculiar stuff.  Let's take a look.

17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Yesterday's post focused on the Christian's appropriate response to opposition.  Peter then goes on to, once again, put forward the Savior as the example for us believers by describing His suffering.  But, after briefly touching on that topic, he sort of goes off on a tangent.

Verse 18:  Jesus Christ's sacrifice was done once, yet is sufficient for all sin, for all time.  He was and is the Righteous One, the only fully human person who has ever lived a sinless life; yet, to bring us (reconcile us) to God, He suffered a horrendous physical death.  Now, Jesus actually died.  He did not "swoon" on the cross, as the Muslims like to claim.  (That is a whole 'nuther blog post...)  He died.  Then, at the moment of His physical death, He went to "the realm of dead spirits", shall we say.

I'm not going to go into an exposition of the different names for "the realm of the dead" here.  Again, that's another topic for another time.  ("We don't have all day", as my mother likes to remind me about my blog posts.) What we can learn from this passage is that, during the time Jesus' body was in the tomb, His living Spirit journeyed to the realm of the dead.

Verse 19-20:  Now, what did He do, once He was there?  He preached to "the imprisoned spirits".
Some theologians interpret this to mean that He preached to the spirits of dead humans.  We'll get to that interpretation in tomorrow's post.  However, if you look strictly at this verse and the next, they say He preached to spirits who were disobedient in the days of Noah.

To what does this refer?  What happened in the days of Noah?  According to Jesus, in Matthew 24:37-40, there was extreme hedonism and debauchery on the earth in those days, the worst EVER. According to Genesis 6, inconceivably, (if you'll pardon the pun), fallen angels, servants of Satan, had sexual intercourse with human women who then produced offspring that were half human/half-angel - - - "demi-gods", if you will.  This was the "disobedience", the leaving of "their first estate" (Jude 1:6-7) which caused these angels to be imprisoned by God in a section of Hell, especially reserved for them.  (The Message version calls this section a "black hole", interestingly...)

6And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Many theologians believe that this angelic disobedience was a deliberate attempt by Satan to corrupt the Messianic bloodline so that the Messiah could not be born from a purely human line.  If that could not take place, then the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 could not take place and mankind could not, then, be redeemed/restored to fellowship with God.  While Satan's plan came close to succeeding, God the Almighty Father put an end to it by destroying all but 8 human lives via the world-wide Flood.  Noah's genetic line was chosen because he was a righteous man who walked blameless before God and the people of his day (Gen. 6:9).  And, we read later (in Luke 3:36) that Jesus' bloodline continued through Noah.

So, why would Jesus preach to these imprisoned, fallen angels?  What did He proclaim to them?  We don't know.  But, we do read in Revelation 1:17-18 that Jesus, when He appeared and spoke to John on the Isle of Patmos, said this:

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Perhaps Jesus proclaimed this truth to the fallen.  Perhaps He took from Satan "the keys of death and Hades" at that time.  We don't know.  But, I do know this.  Something cataclysmic and transactional took place because of Jesus' work on our behalf.  When Jesus died, He descended to Hades; and then, later, He went to present Himself before the Father's throne (see Revelation 5). Somehow, mysteriously, supernaturally, His finished work has accomplished our salvation.

And now?  Verse 22 (1 Peter 3) tells us that He is now seated at the Father's right hand and that all angelic beings are "under His feet", "in submission to Him".  Hallelujah!

Tomorrow, I will pull in some related verses to expand upon this passage.  But, as mother would say, "This is enough for now."

Dear Lord, You know that this is difficult teaching.  Please forgive me if I have mishandled Your word in any way.  You have Your reasons for not making it more plain to us, and I honor You for Your wisdom.  There are just things about which we do not need to "know it all".  Maybe we will understand it better when we are fully in Your presence.  In the meantime, I thank You that my Savior's "once for all", finished work is sufficient to atone for my many sins, that He holds the keys of death and Hades, and that all angelic beings are in submission to Him.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sword-wielders or Mud-slingers?

Good morning,

The way that Christians deal with those who do not share their faith or worldview is often to sling back the mud that is slung onto them.  This morning, I was reading a post from Erick Erickson.  It detailed the lies the Democratic party has trotted out in the past couple of days concerning the Republican party.  When we read 1 Peter 3:8-17, we see how Christians should respond to slander.

Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble.Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing. 10 For the one who wants to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit.
And he must turn away from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the Lord's face is against those who do evil.
13 For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good? 14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil. 

(I love how Peter starts this passage with "Finally"....and then goes on for 2 more chapters after this one!  Like some preachers I've heard, lol!)  Today's passage is a summary of the previous instructions I've been "exegeting" (informal verb form of "exegesis") from 1 Peter 2.  Hence, the "finally" at the beginning of the passage.

Now, the list of adjectives that follow are to describe the believer who is engaging a culture hostile to the Lord.  The first one is "harmonious" or, in some translations, "like-minded".  This obviously does not enjoin the believer to adopt the false beliefs of the world.  This is referring to how believers interact with one another.  A quarreling, schism-ed, fractured Church is a poor testimony to the world.  We must be careful to always adhere to the teachings of the Word of God, as opposed to the false philosophies of the world.  If we do that, we can be "like-minded".  But, on matters of preference, such as what instruments to be allowed in the worship service, those types of quarrels are just silly.  That kind of behavior causes the world to think that we are ridiculous.

The other adjectives (humble, compassionate, affectionate, sympathetic) can (and should) characterize interactions with both believers and non-believers.

The other day I read a Facebook post/link from a prominent theologian and humanitarian, a man I greatly admire.  In the post, he used a derogatory name for another prominent figure.  It went right over my head, really, until I read a comment on the post.  Essentially, the comment was that we do not further the cause of Christ by treating others in an un-Christlike way.  The commenter was exactly right.

In verses 14-17 of today's passage, we are told that we are not to be intimidated when opposed and slandered.  Although our first instinct is often to "sling mud right back", and while that can be both entertaining and satisfying, it is not godly.  For instance, applying this passage to a political race - - - the candidate who wins is often the one who inspires the people, not the one who slings mud (false accusations delivered haughtily) at his or her opponents.  Similarly, as Christians, we are to resist that temptation in our responses.

Rather, our truthful responses should be delivered with sympathy, affection, humility, courtesy and respect.  Although the least effective weapon, mud-slinging is also the one most close at hand.
That should not be the case!

Today, too many of us are spiritually ignorant, which is often why we respond to attacks by slinging mud.   When we are confronted with a false worldview or philosophy, we are not able to refute it because we have not studied.  What a disgrace it is when Satan's followers are able to make us look like ignoramuses or, worse, to lead our (biological and/or spiritual) children into deception, because we have not prepared either ourselves or them!

How can we combat error with truth, if we are not prepared?  In verse 15 Peter warns us to arm ourselves with the truth (the Word of God) and always be ready to share it in a Christ-like manner.  We find this echoed by Paul, in Ephesians 6:16-17 - - -

16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

We also find this admonition given from Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 - - - 

Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.  

Wielding the Word of God is much more effective than mud-slinging.  Is it possible to wield the sword with humility, compassion, sympathy, courtesy and respect?  Of course it is!  The key is humility.   Look at 1 Peter 3:15 more closely.

15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.

Do you see it?  Before making a ill-considered response, we are to pray and re-establish Jesus as Lord in our hearts, get our puffed-up, arrogant selves off the throne of our hearts, and prepare to answer in humility.  Come on now!  Can I get an "amen"?  There is a huge difference in riding off into battle with the confidence that comes from the Holy Spirit, or riding off in arrogant, sinful pride.

Finally (haha!) don't expect God to approve you when you ride forth as a mud-slinger.  Peter notes that if we suffer for "doing good", we are blessed!  God hears the prayers of the righteous! But, God's face is against those who practice evil.  That includes mud-slinging, my Friends!

Lord Jesus, this passage so convicts me.  My tongue is often my worst enemy when it could be used by God as a mighty weapon.  I ask you to forgive me for the times I have slung mud, under the guise of "contending for the truth".  Clothe me in holy beauty, humility, compassion and remind me that even my "opponents" are souls for whom You died, who desperately need You to save them.  In Jesus' name, amen.