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.