DISAGREEING WITHOUT DEGRADING

What I’d like to talk about today will most likely come as no surprise to most of you. Nonetheless, it’s something that needs to be addressed (again). There is an increasing number of people, particularly online, who have resorted to a type of mob mentality as their normal way of functioning when it comes to disagreements, discussions, and debates. Things have changed from using it as an occasional tactic to becoming their normal way of doing things. Many groups and individuals (one group in particular that comes to mind) identify all of those who disagree with them, often times even if it’s on just a single issue, as bigots, racists, homophobics, mysoginists, heretics, Antinomians, false believers, liars, or a host of other similar and ugly labels. People doing this is really nothing new, it’s just that it continues to get worse. What they are attempting to do is intimidate by fear, it’s nothing more than a fear tactic. Or one might call it bullying. They are power and control hungry and see only one way to tackle issues, and that way is their way.

 

Unfortunately, racism, hate, exclusivism, etc., are alive and well in the world (one can’t get around or ignore these issues in our day and age), but when these nasty labels are tossed about so casually and used so frequently, they are reduced to nothing more than stale and boring cliche’s. They lose their impact. The punch that formerly came with such a description is dissipated and the force that use to accompany them is removed. So, attempting to fear monger another, or degrade another, out of their view has only resulted in making it more difficult to fight the real thing when it rears its ugly head. Another result, an ironic one at that, is that those who apply this tactic of labeling others who disagree, even over minor issues, with such nasty inaccurate titles and descriptions, do nothing more than show their own hypocrisy. Why? Because they are doing the exact same thing they are accusing others of doing.

 

I suggest not stooping to their level. Don’t use such methods when arguing and debating different issues and/or topics. I’m sure we have all been guilty of it to some level or degree, but it’s very unattractive, it’s inappropriate, impolite, ineffective, and quite possibly one of the more significant causes for the seemingly irreconcilable schisms we have in our current society and in the Church. Power, or actually it’s more accurate to say self “perceived” power, is not so important that one has to stoop to such low and un-Christlike practices. Just be obedient to God and His Word and let the rest happen as it will.

 

If the urge that pulls you to take part in such discussions, especially when they are online, is too strong for you to avoid or resist, then as brothers and sisters in Christ I implore you to contemplate the following pieces of advice (and I include myself in remembering this things as well):

 

  1. Don’t use knee jerk responses. Don’t be so eager to argue or respond that you reply in haste. Take a moment to pause and think before you speak, or type.
  2. Get right to the point. Be clear and direct. There’s no need for self aggrandizing. Stay on topic. Be clear and concise.
  3. Practice active “listening.” Let people know you understand their point or concern. Show respect in how you articulate their position back to them.
  4. This flows from number three, but be respectful. Respect their opinion without compromising your own. Even go so far as to point out valid points or ideas that they may bring up.
  5. Keep anger at bay. Angry, bitter words accomplish nothing. Even sarcasm (an admitted fault of my own) is rarely of benefit.
  6. Practice sympathy and empathy. Don’t revel or rejoice in the misfortune of another.
  7. If another needs to be admonished, do so gently and with respect. Guess what? There are many times in your life that you need to be admonished as well, whether you wish to accept that truth or not.
  8. Steer clear of attacks on motive, personal character, personal attributes, etc. Don’t distract from the discussion by relishing in arguing for the sake of arguing, resorting to ad hominem attacks, using divisive or harsh language, etc.
  9. Don’t use “news” as a source if you don’t know it to be true. Forwarding stories, memes, reports, speculations, etc., before facts have been confirmed amounts to nothing more than gossip and hearsay. Fact check. Research. This is especially important with the speed at which social media now travels. Withhold stating things as fact until you have information, reliable information, available on both sides of an issue.
  10. I see this one all of the time and it serves literally no purpose. Don’t simply make unsubstantiated assertions with no explanation. Examples: “false,” “wrong,” “incorrect,” “think again,” “mic drop,” etc. If you feel the need to identify something as false, then explain why. The purpose should be a dialog, correct? One word, simplistic denials of one’s comment or position is not helpful.

 

I hope this has been beneficial and informative. If not, at least a good reminder of basic manners and etiquette for conversation, discussion, disagreement, and even debate. And please know I’m not talking “to” you with this information as though I’m without fault. I am as much talking to, or at least reminding, myself of these things as well. I will be the first to admit I have pushed “send” or “enter” many times when I shouldn’t have. It’s easy to get wrapped up in conversation, especially if it’s a “hot button” topic for you or you’re conversing with a source who is well known for using the immature, ineffective tactics described above. I often find myself wanting take one particular “leader” of a couple of particular “ministries” out behind the woodshed and teach him a lesson the 9ld fashion way, so I get it. It’s easy to get a bit nonchalant when one is in front of an electronic screen, forgetting there are actual people on the other end of an entry, comment, reply, or post.*

 

 

*Inspired by, and adapted from, “Demonizing Our Opponents” by John Hendryx.

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FOR THE HELL OF IT

Introduction:
There is some confusion going around regarding the issue of hell. While it is true we cannot fully comprehend all that hell entails, partially due to the Bible often referring to it in hyperbolic language with lots of imagery, there is still plenty we can learn about hell from the infallible pages of Scripture.

There are several reasons for the misinformation floating around about hell, one of which I just described – the hyperbolic and figurative language used to paint a picture of hell. Another reason for some confusion is that blatant false teaching has made inroads into the Church by way of false teachers. This would include the heresies of Universalism and Annhilationism. Two very different concepts, but both are false and incredibly destructive to the Biblical position on hell. Still another reason is unbiblical ideas have been carried over from the minds of men through tradition. This is especially true of Roman Catholicism and their invention of purgatory and limbo. One last reason I’d like to bring up is not quite so sinister. Some mistakes in the past regarding translation have unfortunately caused confusion. More on this in a moment.

So, some questions and topics need to be addressed. Thins like, “Is hell real?” “What about hades?” “Do limbo and purgatory exist?” These are important questions as they are key topics in the field of Eschatology. If you have grown up in a Christian home it may seem odd that the first question needs to be addressed at all. Sadly, it does. The issue needs to be revisited even though councils have settled the topic in the past. Misinformation and false teaching require us to circle back and bring light on the topic once again. So, let’s clear up some things regarding the negative side of the afterlife.

Is Hell Real?
Do you believe Jesus is truthful? Do you think the topics he spoke about would be of the utmost importance? Well, interestingly enough, hell is the third most talked about topic that Jesus spoke and taught about. Seems like that should be enough for people to believe hell is real doesn’t it? In the Sermon on the Mount alone he referred to hell at least a half dozen times. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus teaches on the eternal nature of hell. That word eternal is important to remember especially when looking at Annhilationism and Universalism.

In fact, let me explain. A very brief, but accurate definition of Annhilationism is “the belief that apart from salvation the final punishment of mankind is their total destruction instead of everlasting torment. The human soul is not immortal unless it is given eternal life.” As is evident, the main problem here is that to believe this view one must ignore the word “eternal” found all throughout Scripture when describing the punishment or torment one faces in hell.

Universalism can be simply and briefly defined as “the belief that all people will eventually be saved.” Once again, the big problem here is to adhere to this position one must ignore Scripture’s repeated description of hell, and the punishment inflicted there, as eternal. It just doesn’t work.

A second reason to believe in hell is God’s justice. The Bible speaks of God’s justice repeatedly. For horrific, murderous, vicious, evil sins to go unpunished would mean there was no justice. But, God is a God of justice.

A final reason, at least for our purposes, to believe in hell is simple common sense. Common sense shouts to us that there must be a hell. Think about the quintessential example for a moment, Adolf Hitler. If hell did not exist, all the evils Hitler committed would never be paid for. After slaughtering around six million Jews, Hitler then simply died with no eternal consequences to face. Sounds absurd doesn’t it. There are countless other mass murderers you could put in the place of Hitler with this example and the ridiculousness of it can still be vividly seen. Both Abraham (Genesis 18:25) and David (Psalm 73) knew God would one day right all wrongs for eternity.

The most important argument common sense makes for hell is that if there were not an eternal hell, then there is no need for a Savior to save us from it. It’s preposterous to think that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, our Creator, would suffer the sins of all mankind if there was no hell to save us from. If there is no hell, then there is no need for salvation. As good as it may feel to us as human beings to explain away hell by saying all are simply destroyed, or all will come to salvation, it is wrong. It is an unbiblical and dangerous belief.

Hades & Hell:
I think it important at this point to simply note straight forward that hell and hades are not the same thing. Christians have not always been aware of the distinction made between the two in God’s Word. To quote Richard Bauckham on the issue, “The Greek word Hades…is sometimes, but misleadingly, translated ‘hell’ in English versions of the New Testament.”* Hades is what can be called a “transitional” hell and it is depicted by Jesus in Luke 16. What we commonly identify as hell, more accurately “eternal” hell, is described by John in Revelation 20. As horrific as it is, hades is only a intermediate experience and differs from hell is several ways.

First, as was just stated above, Scripture shows us that hades is temporary and hell is eternal. In Luke 16:27-28 the rich man pleads with Abraham to “send Lazarus to my my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (NIV). What this shows is that the rich man is clearly in a place of temporary torture but a place existing before the final judgment (hades).

In addition, while pain and punishment are experienced in hades, it is done so to the spirit and not the body. Resurrected bodies are not given until the Second Coming of Christ, at that point bodies are reunited with their souls. Jesus tells us in John 5:28-29, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (NIV). Due to passages like this, and others (see Daniel 12:2), we can conclude with confidence that those who are now experiencing temporary punishment while in a disembodied state in hades will one day be resurrected with their body and suffer ultimately for their unbelief in an eternal state.

One more point to make this clear, we see a prominent distinction between hades and hell in the fact that when Christ returns the dead are going to be judged for what they have done. And then, hades is thrown into hell (gehenna). This makes it pretty clear hades is a temporary state of hell where sinners go at death, and then it is even thrown into the eternal hell. The final place of punishment for those opposed to God. Revelation 20:13-14 helps clarify this for us, “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up their dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death” (NIV).

In summary, hades is a place of temporary punishment while in a disembodied state of being, and hell is torture and separation from the love and grace of God after the body has been resurrected and it lasts for eternity. Not making the proper distinction between hades and hell has rendered confusion for many in the process of Biblical interpretation. Some final words from Timothy Phillips as found in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “Hades has only a limited existence; Gehenna or hell is the final place of judgment for the wicked. Many English versions foster confusion by translating both terms as hell.”**

Limbo:
When referring to limbo we are not talking about a dance or that state when you’re waiting for a decision to be made or some action to be taken. Limbo is a man made, hand me down, unbiblical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. To them, limbo is considered to be the boundary, or outer edge, of hell. They adhere to the “limbo of the patriarchs, prebaptized infants and the limbo of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”***

The limbo of the patriarchs – this is supposedly where those like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who died before Christ’s mission and work on the cross go. Catholics see it as a temporary place for the souls of those who have died in relationship with God and await a time when the crucified Christ preached to spirits in some area of the dead. This action supposedly freed the patriarchs (and those such as the thief on the cross) from the very edge of hell and brought them into heaven.

The limbo of prebaptized infants – this is for those who die too young to be held accountable for their sins, and have not yet been absolved of original sin through the act of baptism. They are said not to be in God’s supernatural presence, but to be in a perpetual state of ultimate, natural happiness.

The limbo of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI – these individuals attested to limbo as a viable theological position and possibility hopefully and prayerfully considering that infants were indeed allowed into the presence of God, or heaven, although not yet baptized.

To sum up, what do we see? We see beliefs nowhere found in Scripture and we see beliefs that bend and progress. In fact, today Catholics are free to believe their pre-baptized infants are with God in heaven. Changing doctrine is not biblical doctrine.

Purgatory:
Roman Catholicism believes in a place where some go for purification. There are some sins that must first be “purged” or purified before entry is allowed into heaven. Once again, an unbiblical, man made doctrine merely passed on by nothing more than tradition.

To start, this doctrine of post-death punishment to make penance for committed acts of sin degrades the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. The root of the belief says Christ’s atonement was not enough, more has to be done. However, Scripture states otherwise. Hebrews 10:14 makes it clear that through Christ’s single sacrifice all who are called have eternally been made perfect and holy. So we can, in thankfulness and gratitude to God, know without a doubt that all the punishment we deserve was poured out on Christ completely satisfying God’s justice as it relates to His chosen ones (Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2). Jesus even said as much from the cross. He cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). To put another way, “The debt has been paid in full!” So, there is no more debt to paid in our physical life or life eternal.

The bible is clear that all our sins, every act of defiance, are sins against a completely righteous, absolutely holy, eternal God (Psalm 51:4). And because of this, they bring with them an eternal debt. Not a debt that we can pay in some purging action, or in any way for that matter. The debt had to be, and was, paid once and for all by the only perfect and unblemished sacrifice, Jesus Christ (John 1:29; Romans 6:23).

Lastly, although purgatory was officially defined by the Council of Florence (1439) and officially defended by the Council of Trent in the late sixteenth century, nowhere in all of Scripture do we find it officially depicted in any manner at all. Even The New Catholic Encyclopedia is forced to admit, “the doctrine of Purgatory is not explicitly stated in the Bible.”**** So, Roman Catholicism is then forced to point to the traditions of man, to the traditions of the Fathers, instead of to the revealed Word of our Heavenly Father.

God has graciously provided us with salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Afterthought:
Christian brothers and sisters, especially those new to the faith, unless you are reading them, or listening to them, to research their errors, I plead with you to stay away from the likes of Rob Bell and Dr. Gregory Boyd. These two are modern day examples of false teaching making inroads into Christianity. Their words may tickle your ears, they may even say what your itching ears want to hear, but what they teach is false. Please exercise caution and discernment.

*As quoted in Hanegraaff, Hank. Afterlife, (Brentwood, TN: Worthy, 2013), p.110.
**Phillips, Timothy R. “Hades,” Evangelical Dictionary…, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), p.322.
***Hanegraaff, Afterlife…, p.113.
****The New Catholic Encyclopedia 1979, 11:1034.

CHRISTIAN PARENTS WITH CHILDREN WHO DON’T BELIEVE

Introduction:
Our small group meets on Sunday mornings before worship service. This particular Sunday one of the group members began to speak about her pain as a parent with an unsaved adult child. As she spoke tears rolled down her cheeks. This prompted another parent to speak out and give her encouragement. When this second parent began to speak words of support and empathy, she too began to get teary eyed leaving me to believe she too is a mother of an unsaved adult child.

I don’t have any children myself, but in that moment I could feel their pain. Few things are more heart wrenching to a Christian parent than a child who abandons or strays from the faith. It’s natural for the parent to ask, “Why?,” “What went wrong?,” and the never ending series of questions that follow from the “What if?” starter. But more on this in a moment.

To add to this already crushing pain, sometimes people in the body of Christ become judgmental and critical of the parents. Because of a twisting or misinterpretation of a couple obscure Scripture passages, at times parents of unsaved or rebellious children are asked to step down from ministry or leadership positions further burdening them unfairly with shame, guilt, and humiliation.

The fact is, the parent can do all of the “right” things and still have one, or more, of their children rebel or never embrace the faith. Only God knows what exactly is going on in the mind and heart of those who deny Him or have strayed from Him.

Hosea 11
If you will hang on with me for a moment I believe I can bring some hope and encouragement to all of you parents out there, especially parents with adult children.

After the small group incident mentioned above, I had an inner prompting to revisit the book of Hosea. As I scanned through I settled in on chapter 11. This chapter gives a beautiful example of God’s incredible love for Israel, who is described as a “rebellious” and “wayward” child. The chapter starts with a beautiful picture of God’s gentle care for Israel, but His love for them keeps getting rejected as they are determined on turning away from Him to false gods.

While it is true that the primary application of the chapter is that the God who loved rebellious and wayward Israel is the same God who loves those who rebel and sin today, I believe it is also has a secondary application of giving insight and even hope for Christian parents today who have children that are not believers. I came up with three thoughts* regarding the issue:

One: God Understands
The first thing to know and remember is that we serve a God who understands the heart wrenching pain that comes from loving rebellious, wayward children. Hosea informs us that the more God called Israel back, the more they went the other way. Even though God taught them and led them calmly and lovingly, without harshness, Israel was dead set on turning their backs to Him.

There is hope in the fact that we do not have a distant and aloof God, but a God who fully and completely emphasizes with the feelings of parents with unbelieving children. He knows what it is like to have a child turn down all advice and instruction, reject patient and loving guidance, and choose to live harmful and often destructive lives. Because He understands, comfort can be found in Him.

Two: Hope Is Not Found In You
Surely there are many things parents can do to “raise up their children in the Lord.” There are positive steps that can be taken to both help get their children “back on track” and to guide them to a faith controlled life. However, no parent can change the heart of their child, that is God’s territory. Only God can change a heart. Salvation belongs to the Lord (see Jonah 2:8-9).

Here is where we get back to the “What if’s” briefly mentioned earlier. Christian parents of adult children who are not saved ask themselves questions such as: “What if we would’ve had more family time, …I would’ve kept better track of his friends, …been less strict, …been more strict, …made her go to church every Sunday, …then maybe my child would be walking with the Lord.” Well, the “what if’s” could go on forever. But the fact is, the only thing this does is unfairly burden the parents with a feeling of guilt for past “mistakes,” and leave them pressured with a sense of obligation that it’s their job to “fix” their children.

Hosea keeps us grounded in reality by reminding us that the salvation of the wayward and unrepentant is a work of God, not man. As a parent you’ll still worry, but worry with a sense of hope. The salvation of your loved one rests on God, not you. Now, most of us know this to be true, but we often find ourselves living in such a way where we end up hoping in our abilities. Instead, we need to live out what we know in our minds. Rest in the fact that God is the one who saves, and He does all things according to His will and His perfect timing.

Three: Love & Show Love
It is vitally important to never stop loving, and showing love, to your unbelieving or wayward child. We see an incredible picture in Hosea 11:8 of a God who, despite the constant nastiness of Israel’s rebellion, is still moved to loving and gentle compassion for them.

I am sure many of you have heard of Pastor John Piper. Well, John Piper has a son by the name of Abraham Piper and at one time Abraham was rebellious and abandoned the faith (fortunately he
eventually returned). It did get to a point though where John Piper had to submit his adult son to the discipline of the Church. All of this resulted in Abraham writing an article giving advice to parents dealing with wayward children.

He writes, “If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s —or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home…

“What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she’s breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows— especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she’s doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn’t need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.”

Conclusion
I mentioned right at the start that I don’t even have children, but I am telling you right now that this excites me! What is encouraging is that the way you respond to your child’s waywardness will show if you are really trusting in Jesus Christ. And isn’t that really the whole point?

It all boils down to the fact that what you really want your children to remember, or discover for the first time, is the beauty and truth of our risen savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. The problem facing rebellious or wayward children is not drugs, sex, alcohol, liberalism, etc., or any other specific action(s), it is “that they fail to see and believe Jesus is truly all that He said His is and will do all that He has promised to do.”**

*Adapted from “Hope for Parents Dealing with Wayward Children,” by Scott Williams, northpointcorona.org.
**Quote from Ibid.

PROBLEMS ARE NOT PUNISHMENT

“Wait until your father gets home!” How many of you grew up hearing those words? As children we would act out during the day and our mother’s would keep a list of our “bad” behavior and as soon as dad came home she would fill him in on the day’s activities. Dad would then come to us and carry out whatever punishment he saw fit for our misdeeds. This, and scenarios like it, do something very negative. In the developing mind of a child, as they seek to understand how God works, this prototype becomes the means by which we first interpret how God acts toward us. Our first impressions are that God is a strict disciplinarian, that He is “out to get us” every time a mistake is made. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. What happens is, we think that any time something goes wrong in life, or any time something bad happens to us, that God is punishing us.

A woman who has found out she is pregnant hopes and prays for a healthy child but ends up with one who is severely mentally and physically handicapped is in a kind of pain that is beyond our understanding. We cannot come close to comprehending the kind of devastation this brings. The child will never outgrow these defects, they are with the child for life. If that isn’t pain enough, the mother’s suffering is compounded by Christians (whether they be strangers, acquaintances, friends, and even family) who tell her she must have some hidden sin in her life that caused God to inflict the deformities as a source of punishment. Or a comment is made that the mother is being “paid back” for how she lived her life during some given time period prior to the child. The mother’s grief is only magnified and intensified by these kinds of insensitive comments.

This kind of thought process, that is God is punishing us for particular sins with certain problems in our life is baloney. This kind of thinking is in healthy churches to some degree, unfortunately, but it is rampant among the Prosperity Gospel, Health & Wealth, and Word Faith movements. Please do me a favor? Just steer clear of these three mentioned movements. They are false gospels which bring only sadness and pain in the long run. Another faulty concept that is connected to this is the idea that the lack of healing for the child, the failure of the problem being taken out of our way, or the continuation of pain in our life is the direct result of our lack of faith. The person facing the ordeal doesn’t have enough faith, so they say, for the situation to be resolved. With this, as is clear, the person is further blamed for trials beyond their control. It amounts to nothing more than blaming the victim.

It kind of baffles me that so many people believe God is too busy to help them out with things, but in times of trouble He has plenty of time to bring about our destruction through punishing us. We don’t see Him when we need support, but we are quick to blame Him when we feel pain.

Please listen to this carefully, most problems are not results of God punishing us for sin; the majority are simply the results of reality. We live life on an earth that is not perfect. It has been tainted with original sin, all of it has. You can try and change that all you want, but you won’t be successful. Followers of Christ or not, we are going to suffer pain, trials, tribulations, failure, and tragedies as long as we live in this difficult world.

Let’s take a quick look at one Scripture passage. Let’s go to the book of John, chapter 9, verses 1 through 7:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (NIV, emphasis added).

So, we see here the disciples asking who it was that sinned, the man or his parents, that brought about this punishment. But what did Jesus say? “None of them did, not him nor his parents.” He basically shunned the whole “sins-of-the-fathers” idea because it did not apply. This belief was polluting faith thousands of years ago. But Christ told them the man’s blindness was not a result of any particular sin, it was not any sort of punishment for something he had done (or not done).

Now, it is true that problems can result from bad decisions we make, negative circumstance that surround us, and as said earlier, the simple fact we live in a fallen and imperfect world. God does not choose to remove the imperfections (yet), and until the time comes when He does (His return), we have to deal with those problems no matter how painful they may be. It should also be said that some problems we face can be the working out of the natural results of some kinds of sins, but that is a far cry from thinking that everything bad that happens to us is a punishment from God. To add further difficulty on ourselves by believing that sin is crouched down behind every problem we face only pushes us away from true, authentic faith in God.

Let me finish with a short quote from a book by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton entitled, Toxic Faith, “Rather than focus on a fictional past sin, it is better to focus on how God can use the problem to build our faith and the faith of others” (p.50).

REACHING OUTSIDE OF YOUR CIRCLE

Mark 7

Everywhere that Jesus went, crowds formed all around him and swarmed in on him from every angle in order to hear what he had to say. News about Jesus kept spreading throughout the land and it started to worry the religious leaders. Many times Jesus openly spoke out against their traditions and man made additional rules. He was winning the hearts of the people, and for the religious leaders of those people, this was not good news.

One day Jesus wanted to escape from the crowds for a bit, as well as their anxious and angry leaders, so he took his disciples and left Capernaum and went to the area of Phoenicia. This area was in Gentile territory (non-Jews). In fact, Jews never associated with Gentiles, so this seemed a safe place as nobody would expect them to be there. It would be a good place to take a quick break and focus on some important teaching for his disciples. To remain secluded and hidden they entered a house. But guess what? They couldn’t keep their presence quiet for too long. Before they knew it someone was outside knocking on the door.

It was a woman, she was distraught, and she pleaded with Jesus, “Oh Lord, my daughter has an evil spirit. Could you please cast the demon out of her?”

I’m sure Jesus took a good look at this woman. She was a Gentile. The message Jesus was preaching was to the Jew first, but at the same time Jesus knew the Jews would reject the message. Besides that, he knew that in actuality his message was for all people, regardless of their race or social standing. Jesus looked at her and gave a very calm and gentle test to demonstrate where her faith lied.

Let the children eat what they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” he said.

In most cases the word “dog” was used as a very mean and disrespectful term for a Gentile, but Jesus, in his compassion, uses the word differently. His reference was to young puppies that would have been kept at home as endeared pets. The woman got what Jesus was saying. She didn’t want to distract him from what might be more important things like teaching his disciples. She understood herself, according to custom, as not worthy of his time and attention like the Jews – after all she was a Gentile.

However, she continues, “Yes, Lord, but even so, the dogs under the table get to eat the children’s crumbs.”

It was normal back then for people to eat with their hands, they didn’t use silverware. When their hands would become dirty they simply wiped them off on a chunk of bread rather than a napkin. Once the meal was over the left over bread that was used for cleaning off their hands was given to the house dogs to eat. This is what the woman was referring to. She was just asking for a small portion, or even a leftover scrap if you will, of his grace. She wasn’t asking for a place at the table as an honored guest, no, she was humble.

The result of her humble and faith saturated response was Jesus answering her plea. He could have, and rightly so, turned her away but that’s not what he did. He made himself available to her, available to meet her pressing need. “For a reply like this,” Jesus said, “you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”

The woman returned home and found her daughter resting peacefully and the demon forever expelled.

Now, this woman was outside of their circle in more ways than one. Do you have a particular circle, group, type, or even clique you like to remain in? Do you dislike reaching out of your comfort zone? If someone who is outside of your group knocks on your “door” for help would you answer them or try and ignore them? We see here, our example for life, Jesus Christ, not only answering the door but also meeting the need. Let us follow the example of our Lord and Savior.

JUST BELIEVE

Matthew 11

I am willing to bet that all of us have hoped for something and then became upset when things didn’t seen to be turning out the way we had imagined.

At this point we find John the Baptist locked up in a cell. It would have been rather small, dark and damp cell. John had boldly spoken out to Herod Antipas, governor of Galilee, and told him he was wrong and needed to repent of a wicked thing. Antipas was angered at this and wanted to get rid of John. By this time the Jews had considered John a true prophet so Antipas couldn’t just kill. Killing John would cause an uprising among the people. So Herod Antipas had John taken away and locked up in this cold, dark prison. Antipas had planned to let some time go by and once things had calmed quietly kill John.

A year later – a long, slow year later – John had become more than a prisoner of Herod in a physical cell, he had become prisoner to his own thoughts. The only connection John had to what was going on in the outside world came by way of a few visitors here and there. The visitors were those who had followed him, now they were following Jesus. They would come to John reporting on what was taking place and to give him encouragement. John paid close attention, but I think the more he heard the more he began to get confused and that confusion even grew into doubt.

John believed Jesus was indeed the “One to come.” In fact, he had based his entire life on proclaiming that very thing. He had seen the sky split open, the Holy Spirit descend in some form that reminded him of a dove, and He had heard God’s voice from above announcing to everyone that Jesus was His Son. But, John started to think, wasn’t the Messiah suppose to come and set up a new kingdom? Wasn’t He suppose to come and judge people and put an end to all that is evil?

In the dark loneliness of that cell, John the Baptist started to question (and after a year of that treatment I dare say we all would have). From everything he had heard Jesus was not conquering enemies. The Roman Empire was just as evil as ever and Jesus had done nothing to stop it. Things weren’t happening as John had pictured. Is it possible he could have been wrong about Jesus?

Wanting an answer, John sent some of his followers to ask Jesus a question that was eating away at him: “Are you the ‘One who is to come,’ or should we look for someone else?”

When Jesus heard this question from John, He didn’t get upset, He didn’t get angry, He just gave them a simple but blunt answer to encourage and comfort John the Baptist. “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

Everything Jesus told them to tell John were prophecies of what the ‘One who is to come’ would do. And, these were all things Jesus was doing. Then Jesus calmly added, “Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of Me; who doesn’t lose heart when things aren’t going as expected.”

Jesus was, of course, fully aware of what He had come to do and He knew God’s perfect timetable for doing it. You see, John was expecting everything to happen all at the same time, but that was not God’s plan. John was told to examine Jesus’ life and actions and see how Jesus was indeed fulfilling prophecies.

John was to see the evidence and remain patient, trust God and not doubt. Even though things weren’t going as John expected, they were going exactly as God expected. God is always in control and always sees the big picture. These were encouraging words brought back to John the Baptist. Reminding him of who is in control and that John’s work had not been done in vain. Words John needed, as Herod shortly thereafter beheaded John the Baptist.

So, when times get rough for us and we don’t understand what it is God is doing or why He is doing it a certain way, let’s just believe. Remember who He is and don’t let doubt creep in, choose to trust and believe in Him and His promises.

LYING TO GOD

Acts 5

Halloween. As I write this it is just around the corner. Don’t worry, this is not going to be a treatment or discussion on the merits, or lack thereof, of Christians participating in this holiday. That record has been played over and over again and neither side is going to give. I, for one, enjoy the holiday. I might be a little bias though, as Halloween is my birthday. An interesting side note is that it was also my grandmother’s birthday and it is also the day she passed away.

Halloween was always so much fun when I was growing up. Then, and now, it is one day a year where we can put on a mask or costume and pretend to be something we are not. We can be something on the outside that we weren’t on the inside. Well, let me say that Halloween, unless your profession is acting, is the only day that should be allowed. This is especially true if one claims to be a Christian.

Unfortunately, the visible church if full of people who act one way on Sunday when they are among believers and another way the rest of the week when they let their guard down and become who they truly are inside. We’ve all heard the stories, or experienced them in our own church, of a leader who said all the right things, dressed the right way, made sure their family portrayed a certain image, only to have this person’s private life uncovered. They acted one way at church in front of people for reputation’s sake, but behind closed doors they were doing things such as abusing their wives and/or children, having an affair, drinking themselves to oblivion, spending hours online looking at pornography, or living life according to whatever harmful sin it is that had a grip on them.

Today I want to look at one such situation found in the book of Acts. In particular, chapter five of the book of Acts. Wonderful things were taking place among the believers. Even though they knew what would happen if they continued to spread the gospel, they dug in their heels and kept talking about Jesus. God was with them in a special way, in fact, there was such a spirit of unity and love among them they freely shared what they had with those in need. Regardless of how new one was to the faith, they were embraced as brothers and sisters. Barnabas was one such example. Barnabas was originally called Joseph but his name was changed to Barnabas because it means “Son of Encouragement,” and Barnabas was known for encouraging others.

On one occasion Barnabas had sold some land that he owned and brought the money in for the group. “This is to help meet the needs of others,” he said as he laid the money at the feet of the apostles. No one had asked him to do this; he did it out of his love and devotion to the Lord and because he was willing to help and encourage other believers.

Well, a married couple among this group saw what Barnabas had done and witnessed the praise and thanks he received. They wanted a taste of that attention, they wanted some praise, they wanted a pat on the back, so they went and sold the land they possessed. (This is called doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and as is usually the case, it doesn’t end well).

I’m sure some of you have already guessed, or remembered, the names of these two individuals: Ananias and his wife Saphhira. Ananias started with, “Hey, why should we sacrifice all of the money we earned? Why not keep some for ourselves and just say we brought it all?”

Excellent idea!” Saphhira agreed. “How could anyone find out?” So they planned out what they would say, and came up with an amount that they would hold back for themselves.

The next day, Ananias woke up early and took a little extra time primping because he wanted to look his best for when he impressed the others. I can almost hear his thoughts, “Wait until they see what I’m going to do. I can’t wait to see their faces when I show them this money I’m bringing to share.” I’m sure he felt proud and maybe a little smug about what he and Sapphira had planned.

Just like Barnabas had done, Ananias came and laid his money down at the feet of the apostles as he declared, “The Lord spoke to me and told me to sell my field and bring in all the money to help fellow believers who are in need.” I’m sure he waited for some clapping and praise, but he didn’t quite get the response he expected.

Peter responded, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart? What made you do this? You have lied, even saying the Holy Spirit told you to do something that He never did say. You also lied in that you kept some of the money for yourself while claiming you gave it all. You have not lied to men but to God Himself.”

Those words must have hit him like a ton of bricks, they must have pierced him straight through his heart. Not only that, immediately after Peter spoke those words God struck Ananias dead. Can you imagine the reaction of the group at that moment? I would guess they became completely silent and were struck with the fear of God. God demanded that they be pure in heart and would not accept anything less. Dishonesty wasn’t going to fly. Ananias was then taken away and buried.

Some three hours later Sapphira comes strutting in. Maybe she was expecting some kind of party to be thrown in her honor for what she and her husband had done. Not yet knowing what had happened to Ananias, I’m sure the reaction she received wasn’t quite what she was expecting either.

Peter asked, “So, is this the price you and Ananias got for selling your land?” Without even so much as a pause out came the lie, “Yes, that is the price.”

Peter replied, “Have you agreed to lie too? You are testing God’s Holy Spirit to see how much you can get away with before He judges you. Look! The same men who buried your husband have returned and now they will carry your body off as well.” And with that, Saphhira fell at Peter’s feet and the men carried her body out and buried her next to her husband.

Lying to others is bad enough, but lying to God? Come on! Lying to God is a serious trespass, I mean He knows our hearts and our thoughts anyway. When you feel like there might be a barrier in your communication with Him, talk to Him about it, get through it. He knows you inside and out.

Live authentic lives. Love the Lord and serve Him, love Him with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Be pure with Him as He knows the truth anyway.

Ananias and Sapphira pretended to be something on the outside that they weren’t on the inside, that is lying to God. Those we discussed in the first few paragraphs, the ones living one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week, they too are lying to God. I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me lying to God is not something you want to be found guilty of.