Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Conqueror of Hell



We all know that Satan is a liar; Jesus called him the father of lies and said dishonesty is his native language. But if the devil would tell the truth for once in his miserable life, I like to imagine how he might describe his feelings when he saw Jesus die and come back to life. I think he would say something like this: 


The first time I challenged God I planned it out in my mind,

I would ascend to heaven, I would be like the Most High.

But my mutiny was thwarted, to the earth I was cast down,

Rather than a throne room I now scheme from this old ground.


The second time I challenged God I targeted Adam and Eve.

If I could get them to turn on Him then we’d be thick as thieves.

I got them to eat the fruit and I thought that they’d drop dead,

And even though they were punished, God promised to crush my head.


So 4000 years I spent, leading God’s people to sin,

I’d turn them to idols and they’d repent, then I turn them back again.

Then Jesus came to earth in the form of a little baby,

I had Herod try to wipe Him out but his parents fled to safety.


My next unsuccessful challenge was a wilderness temptation,

If He would sin, just this once, He couldn’t bring salvation.

Then I had an idea: I’d have His people kill Him for me.

He could be killed under Jewish law for the crime of blasphemy.


I got Him sentence and condemned, and then nailed to a cross,

They put His lifeless body in a tomb. God had finally lost!

His soul went down to paradise, where they received Him like a King!

Didn’t they know that I had won? I couldn’t believe what I had seen.


Then on the third day, just as quickly as He came in,

I watched in horror as this murdered man came to life again.

With His resurrection He defeated death and then the grave,

He led the hosts to heaven, proving He is mighty to save.


I thought that God had finally lost, but in truth God finally won,

My fate has now been sealed by the victory of God’s Son.

All who call upon the Lord will go with Him to dwell,

But I have been defeated by the Conqueror of Hell.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Degrees of Punishment



Are there degrees of punishment for people in hell? The question might seem absurd to some; how could there be degrees of punishment? It isn’t like some people will get out early for good behavior. Some define hell as being away from the presence of God, and everyone in hell will be equally separated from God’s presence. Does God set the temperature to different levels for different people?


Humanly speaking, it seems odd that there might be varying degrees of punishment, but at the same time, doesn’t our sense of justice lead us to feel like there should be? Wouldn’t we expect Hitler to somehow have it worse than, say, that agnostic that just wasn’t sure what to believe? Would the atheist whose life’s work was to disprove God have it worse than the one who just didn’t give it much thought? 


I believe the Bible does teach there are degrees of punishment. Hebrews 10:29, for example, mentions the “worse punishment” for those who flagrantly trample under foot the blood of the Son of God. I want to turn your attention to Matthew 11:22 where Jesus says to the inhabitants of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, “But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” He goes on to say that even wicked Sodom would be better off on judgment day. 


Remember Sodom? God assured Abraham that He would not destroy the immoral city if He could find just ten righteous people, and being unable to do so, brought destruction to the city. It was a city where every man, young and old, tried to kick down Lot’s door and rape his visitors. They are described as prideful, inhospitable, and full of perversion. Yet they will be better off on judgment day? 


It becomes clear that the issue is not the types of sin in Sodom, but the lack of belief in Bethsaida. Those who had greater opportunity to be saved will have to live with the eternal regret of refusing to do so. In his eminent textbook Christian Theology, Millard Erickson wrote, “The misery one will experience from having to live with one’s wicked self eternally will be proportionate to his degree of awareness of precisely what he was doing when he chose evil.” This is the classic case of “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Those who personally observed the miracles of Jesus and still did not repent will have to live with that regret forever. 


It stands to reason, then, that those in America that can hear the gospel anywhere because of our freedom, and especially those in the Bible Belt where there is a church on every corner, will be held to a different standard than those in predominantly Muslim or Hindu countries. I don’t want you to have to look yourself in the mirror for all eternity, wishing you could go back and change your choices. I believe people will remember every altar call, every verse of “Just as I Am,” every invitation where they chose not to go forward and give their lives to the Lord. Don’t make that mistake. If you have never been saved, no more putting it off; give your heart to the Lord before you regret it for all eternity.     


Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Value of Values

What are your values? I believe that corporations, churches, and even people should have a set of core values. By this I mean there should be some nonnegotiable qualities on which you will not compromise. The makers of Tylenol demonstrated the importance of their company values in 1982. 


An accident caused some Tylenol pills to be contaminated with cyanide, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths of seven people. It would be hard for a company to bounce back from a mistake that killed innocent people; after all, how would a customer ever feel safe purchasing the popular pain reliving product again? There are other options on the shelf, so some wondered if Tylenol’s time was up. That is when the company’s chairman James Burke did something unprecedented: he recalled thirty-one million bottles of their extra strength pills, and allowed customers to swap them out for a free bottle that had not been contaminated. This move brought about 100 million dollars in losses. This expensive decision ultimately led to Tylenol regaining the trust of the consumers. 


But for Burke this was a no-brainer. The company had a set of values, so not doing the right thing was not an option. He said of the decision that Tylenol has a responsibility to its customers, and “The credo made it very clear at that point exactly what we were all about. It gave me the ammunition I needed to persuade the shareholders and others to spend $100 million on the recall.”   


The beauty of having values is that one does not need to wait for a situation to arise, and then sit around trying to figure out if they are going to do the right thing. When a person has itemized their values in advance, decisions become automatic. For Burke, not swapping out the pills was never on the table because his company had among its values putting the customer first. 


As Christians we strive to live lives of integrity, and if we make these commitments now, we do not need to wrestle with the decision to do so when the going gets tough. If we value honesty now, then tomorrow we will not entertain lying to get out of trouble. We will not entertain stealing to get something we cannot afford. We will not entertain infidelity in the marriage relationship. If a seducer or seductress comes our way, we will not have time to make a list of the pros and cons, but if we have already determined our values in advance, then there is only one choice, and that is keeping our integrity intact.  


Proverbs 19:1 says, “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.” James Burke was willing to become poor, but he was determined to do the right thing. If the company went under and he lost everything, he would still have his integrity, and no one can put a price tag on that. We must all learn to value values, so make a list now of things on which you will never compromise. 


Sunday, November 7, 2021

One Lucky Fan


It seems every week NFL quarterback Tom Brady sets a new record. The forty-four year old has been excelling at his position for more than two decades, and the accolades have really begun to pile up. Most recently, Brady became the first player to ever throw for 600 touchdowns (pre- and postseason not included). When his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate Mike Evans caught the historic pass, he tossed the ball to a fan in the front row. 


The obvious problem is this was a ball Brady would have liked to have. As the old adage goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law, and this lucky fan suddenly had the upper hand in intense in-game negotiations. During the timeout a representative from the Buccaneers went over and approached the fan to see what it would take to get the ball back to Brady. Viewers on TV could see the conversation take place, then a handshake, and finally, the return of the football. The commentators even speculated as to what all he would receive for returning the prized ball. 


When it was all said and done, the lucky fan, named Byron Kennedy, received the following:

Two signed jerseys and a signed ball from Brady; a signed jersey and the game worn cleats from Evans; season tickets for the remainder of this year and all of next year; $1,000 credit at the team merchandise store. Additionally, Brady gifted Kennedy a Bitcoin, a piece of cryptocurrency currently valued over $62,000, and Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski threw in another half a coin, approximately valued at $30,000. Finally, Kennedy requested to play a round of golf with Brady at a later date. 


Byron Kennedy received all of that simply because he was tossed a ball. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Just moments later, Brady threw touchdown pass #601, also to Evans, and that ball was thrown to another fan. That fan was glad to catch a ball, but was not nearly as lucky as Kennedy. 


To me part of what is amazing about this story is that this fan did nothing to deserve anything in his amazing haul of goodies. All of a sudden an entire organization was offering him prizes that he didn’t deserve. 


You probably already know where I am going, but let me go there anyway. We are all like Byron Kennedy, one minute empty handed, and the next everything we can imagine. That is what salvation is like (only much better!). We bring nothing to the table, and as soon as we come to Christ, we are showered in blessings that we did not earn. Paul enumerated some of these blessings when he wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).”


The blessings are endless, especially because they continue throughout eternity. We might look at Byron Kennedy as one lucky fan, but those of us who have been saved are infinitely blessed. 


Sunday, October 31, 2021

Concluding God’s Calling


Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just trying to figure out God’s plan for my life”? As Christians we want to follow the Lord’s leading. It is good to have plans, but we must be willing to submit to God and conform our plans to His. But how are we supposed to know God’s plan for us? The Lord does not send His plans to us via email, nor does He rent billboard space for all to see. 


The Apostle Paul had to discern God’s plan. The famous missionary had devoted his life to preaching the Gospel, especially to the Gentiles, but even that involved finding God’s specific plan. In Acts 16 we read that Paul was forbidden to preach the word in Asia, then Paul decided he would go to Bithynia, but again was stopped in his tracks by the Holy Spirit. In a passage commonly referred to as the Macedonian Call, Luke writes, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:10).” 


The word concluding at the end of that verse means “it all came together for us.” In his wonderful book The Pastor’s Primer, O.S. Hawkins said of this idea, “It is the word picture of a sweater being knitted that doesn’t look like much until it is finished. It is the word picture of a jigsaw puzzle that makes little sense until a piece fits here, and another there, and then it all comes together.”


So it is with the revealing of God’s plan for our lives. Our Heavenly Father might close a door here, open one there, and eventually we see what He is trying to do. He might forbid Paul from going to Asia, then Bithynia, and eventually Paul sees a vision of a man from Macedonia and it all makes sense. There have been times in my life when events didn’t make sense at the time, but in hindsight I have been able to see that God was up to something. 


That is why we must seek the plan of God, because sometimes He redirects us, even if we feel like we are settled. We need to conclude God’s calling—to see it all come together. Maybe He has orchestrated events in your life so that you can start a new ministry. Maybe He is moving you to a new job because there are people there that need to hear the Gospel from you. 


God isn’t sending you emails telling you exactly what He wants you to do, and you won’t get a clue from a billboard tomorrow on your way to work. But you can pick up on the activity of the Almighty like a few seemingly random puzzle pieces, and spend time in prayer asking Him if He is orchestrating something in your life. That inaudible feeling in your soul, or that peace you feel when you think about it may just be God speaking to you.   


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Remembering and Forgetting



The Bible has a lot to say about God forgetting and remembering, and if we do not understand these words properly, we may get the wrong idea about some things. The most notable passage about God remembering is associated with Noah when the floodwaters were subsiding. Genesis 8:1 says, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth…” 


God remembered Noah? Had He forgotten about him before that? We don’t want to give ourselves the impression that Noah slipped God’s mind, and then one day God thought, “What was I supposed to do today? Oh, that’s right! Noah is on that ark, and I’d better do something to help him.” Remembering doesn’t have the absolute literal usage that implies having first forgotten; the idea is better thought of as God honoring His word. We also see God remembering Abraham (Genesis 19:29) and Rachel (Genesis 30:22), among others. Sometimes His remembering results in punishment, like when He remembers Babylon in Revelation 16:19. 


But I want to focus on forgetting more than remembering. God’s remembering does not mean He has forgotten, but are there things He does not remember? Fortunately there are! Looking into the future, Isaiah 65:17 prophesies, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”


What are the “former things” that “shall not be remembered”? The preceding verse says, “the former troubles are forgotten, and are hidden from my eyes.” All the worries and cares that made life hard, everything that is a product of the curse, all sin and its ugly consequences will be remembered no more. The author of Hebrews adds another thought to God forgetting: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (8:12).”


Taken together, Isaiah and Hebrews teach that in the eternal state, God will not remember our sin, and neither will we remember the bad things from life. How is that possible? How can God, who is omniscient, forget that we have sinned? If God forgot our sin, and we remembered it, we could make the case that we know more than God in that regard, and that is foolishness. Alan W. Gomes, in his book 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell, says the idea in these verses is not about a strict forgetting, but about the events themselves no longer having their old effect. The sins that formerly separated us from God will no longer come between us. We will be treated as if we were completely sinless. 


No, God does not forget, but He treats us as if He has. “Forgive and forget,” we often say, but that is impossible. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Gomes continued, “God no longer ‘remembers’ our transgressions in the sense that He forgives them, treating us as if we had never committed them; He no longer ‘brings them to mind’ in order to punish us for them.” 


I’m glad to have a God who remembers, yet treats us like He forgets. 


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Heavenly Minded



Many years ago people used to talk about the importance of keeping our minds on heaven. This evidently led to people becoming so focused on the life that is to come that they neglected the life that now is. The great preacher D.L. Moody began to preach that the church had become “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” Things like personal holiness, loving ones neighbor, and evangelism were out of sight and out of mind. 


When the call came to stop being so heavenly minded, I’m afraid the pendulum has swung too far the other way. I believe the problem with the church now is that we are so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. We are too wrapped up in our political parties, our sports teams, and our social events, and we rarely think about heaven. Because we are so earthly minded, we are not doing anything for the kingdom of heaven—we aren’t inviting people to church, sharing our faith, or reaching out to those in need. When we focus so much on the here and now, we are not mindful of the things that are eternal. 


In Colossians 3:1-2 Paul wrote, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our minds need to be set above rather than here on earth. Our focus should be vertical rather than horizontal. 


The Greek word that is translated as mind (or affection in the King James) means “to exercise the mind or to interest ones self.” We need to develop the habit of fixing our minds above. In his commentary on Colossians Peter Ruckman provided a list of things that are in heaven that we can think about, and thus begin to train our minds to be in heaven. We have loved ones in heaven; God’s throne is in heaven; our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is in heaven; God’s Word is forever settled in heaven; the place Jesus is preparing for us is in heaven; and the New Jerusalem will one day come down from heaven. When we think about these things, it can help us train our minds to leave this world and dwell in a better realm. 


We typically look straight ahead, but when we are depressed or defeated we drop our gaze. Paul invites us to look up, to lift our gaze heavenward. With our feet planted on earth, let our minds drift upwards to heaven. Let our thoughts be found around the throne. Let our minds be seated in heaven’s parlor, not locked in earth’s cellar. Let us turn our eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face; then the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. 


We don’t want to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, but neither do we want to be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. We want to strike that right balance, being heavenly minded so that we are both earthly and heavenly good.