GOD’S LOVE AND HELL

A book by a well known evangelical casts doubt on some things Jesus said about hell and judgment. The basic question is: If God is love, why does he send people to hell?

But there is a twofold problem with the question. It assumes that we understand human nature and God’s love as they are presented in the Bible.

We do not.

We have childish, unbiblical notions of human nature. We believe that we are better than we are–that sin somehow does not corrupt us. We also have confused ideas about responsibility. We tend to blame God for our choices. We misunderstand his nature, imagining his love as grandfatherly sentiment, his holiness irrelevant, and therefore, his wrath is considered impossible.

When we do think of God’s wrath, we equate it with human rage. But Tim Keller has a good definition of God’s wrath: “It is not an out-of-control temper. Wrath is the settled opposition and hatred of that which is destroying what we love.” Imagine your reaction to cancer in a dear friend. That’s wrath. God hates the things that destroy us, including the things that come from inside us.

We are capable of much evil, much selfishness, much that is perverse and opposed to that which God holds dear. We destroy the bodies he gave us with toxins, neglect, and inadequate care. We destroy the souls he gave us with greed, gossip, lying, self-righteousness, self-pity, and lust. And we destroy others with cutting words, economic oppression, relentless criticism, and betrayal.

We also assume that Jesus was too kind to mention hell. But he said more about hell than anyone else in the New Testament. He warned us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 NIV).

He also taught that hell is self-chosen saying, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:18-19 NIV).

C. S. Lewis said it like this: Unless someone wants God and God alone he would be utterly miserable in heaven. It would be a crime to send him there for heaven is all about God.

Finally, the good news that Jesus came to proclaim is that God wishes to save us from hell. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). That’s God’s love at work, absorbing the wrath that we deserve, and making it possible for us to know him now and join him in eternity.

How do we do that? By receiving him into our lives as Lord, as Jesus also explained, “He who receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:20 ESV). And, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 13:25 NIV).

So the question is not, “Why does God send people to hell?” But rather, “What do I really want? Do I want Jesus Christ and God the Father who sent him? Or do I want my own life, my own way?”

Either way, the choice is ours.

BAGPIPE BLESSINGS

Fog deep and cool shrouded the road and the massive, borrowed 1975 Lincoln Continental that we drove down the mountain. It was the morning of our marriage, a day or two into our honeymoon near Banner Elk, North Carolina. I could barely see past the hood ornament, doing my best to follow the yellow lines a few feet at a time, wondering if I should turn around.

That’s when we heard the music; bagpipes? Yes, unmistakably, bagpipes, the sound rising from the mists, enchanted. We could not see the player until we were almost on top of her, the fog and the switchbacks conspiring to keep the young lass from view until suddenly; there she stood on a small rise, in front of an old stone church barely visible, surrounded by tombstones, blowing a blessing on us. The road curved again and just as suddenly she was gone, the notes of Amazing Grace trailing after our tail lights.

We looked at each other and smiled in awe and wonder at the sweetness, that God would give us such a gift on such a day.

Many days have passed with many mountains sweet and valleys bitter, between that one and this and I see that drive as a metaphor. Life unwinds before us, a mountain road in the morning mists. We get glimpses here and there of the highlands and of cool meadows near rushing streams, feel the blessing of those things, and are drawn by them to take the journey. But mostly, like the lass on the hill, they show up unexpected; bagpipe blessings blowing in the breeze. We cannot see beyond the hood ornament, we do not know what waits around the next bend.

Live long enough and we will meet with bitter disappointments, hurts too deep to bear. If we had known they were coming, we would have turned around, never taken that road. Having retreated, however, we would have missed the bagpipe blessings, the sweet things hiding in the morning mists.

The lessons? Never fear the fog, to live the life God has called you to, to take the journey into the unknown even when you cannot see past the hood ornament. Never linger in the bitter curves, the painful unexpected turns of life. Keep moving, keep trusting, and keep listening, for you do not know what blessings lay hidden in the mists.

We found that little stone church again last week on our vacation. Thirty-two years, many mountains and valleys later, we remain blessed by God, enchanted by grace, and following his road. May he give us thirty-two more.

YOU’RE WORTH IT

News of the missing pilot and the massive search for him headlined global media.

Authorities initially believed that sometime on September 3, 2007, Steve Fossett, the first person to circle the globe in a hot-air balloon, had made an emergency landing in the vast Nevada landscape. Hundreds of search teams were hired to comb the rugged terrain, using planes, helicopters, and the latest search technology. Thousands of web surfers, armed only with personal computers and Google search technology, were recruited to study high-resolution photographs for clues concerning Fossett’s location.[1]

Fossett was perhaps the world’s best adventurer. He was not only the first man to circle the globe in a balloon he was also the first to do it solo in an airplane. Fossett, 63, had previously survived a nearly 30,000-foot plunge in a crippled balloon, a dangerous swim through the frigid English Channel, and hours stranded in shark-infested seas[2].

The guy knew what he’s doing in some of the world’s most dangerous environments and knew how to survive when things went wrong. But the truth is even though he was a wealthy, experienced adventurer, he was lost.

Cynical people said that Fossett was getting all this attention because he was rich and famous. But his friends weren’t looking for him because he was wealthy or experienced. They were looking because he was lost and they loved him. That’s it. That made him worth it.

By the time you reach chapter fifteen in Luke’s story of Jesus you find a bunch of people hanging out with him that were far removed from the Steve Fossetts of their day. They were the low life of the landscape, the zeroes of Palestine, the ‘tax gatherers and sinners’.  If they got lost, NOBODY would go looking for them. Yet Jesus was hanging out with them. Jesus was having them over for lunch. Jesus was meeting them for coffee in the morning. It was a major taboo, monstrously politically incorrect, it just wasn’t done!

But Jesus was doing it and he heard the muttering so he told three stories we’re all familiar with: The parable of the lost sheep; the parable of the lost coin; the parable of the lost or “prodigal” son.  He told them back to back. He told them in order to teach us something no one believed about God then and many of us still have a hard time believing now.

In all three stories people got lost. That’s the point with the sheep, and the coin, and the son. They all represent people like you and me. And like Steve Fossett, it doesn’t matter how good or experienced, or wealthy, or smart they happen to be, people get lost like sheep get lost. It’s just a fact of our fallen human nature.

The stories also tell us that God doesn’t care how we got lost. Jesus didn’t spend any time saying, “That dumb sheep, always looking for greener grass.” The prodigal’s father made no comment on how the son got lost. The older brother did. But the father didn’t bother. He just said, “He was dead and now he’s alive, he was lost and now he’s found”. That’s all that matters to God.

Finally, the stories tell us that God doesn’t care how badly we are lost. Feeding pigs was about as low as a Jewish kid could get, until he started eating their food, which was even lower.

Some of us know we’re lost and think, “I’ve gone as low as a person can go. No way will God be interested in me, no way.”

But that’s not what the stories tell us.

No matter what the world thinks of you or what you think of yourself, God loves you so much that he will turn heaven upside down looking for you when you are lost and celebrating you when you’re found.

———

Sadly, the mangled remains of Fossett’s plane were found thirteen months after he disappeared. The legendary adventurer’s luck had run out.

The good news is that yours hasn’t. If you are lost and you are reading this post, be assured of this: God loves you so much that he has turned heaven upside down looking for you and he will do it again when you are found.

Want to know more about God’s love for you? Click this link and watch the videos: http://alphausa.org/

[1] Brian Lowery, associate editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Associated Press, “Couch Potatoes Aid Search for Missing Aviator Steve Fossett Using Internet,” http://www.cnn.com (9-11-07

[2] Foxnews.com Oct. 8

GOD’S LOVE AND CHOCOLATE CAKE

“I love you,” I blurted out on one of the first dates with the woman who would one day be my wife.  I’ll never forget how she replied.

“I love chocolate cake. What does that mean?” She was skeptical of a guy who would say he loved her with so little understanding of who she really was.

The Bible says “God is love.” Few people would argue with that. But most folks think God’s love is no different in kind or strength than my wife’s love for chocolate cake.

It’s much more powerful than that.

An old song says, “Love is a many splendored thing.” But when it comes to understanding the love of God it is perhaps more accurate to call it a many splintered thing. God’s love has been cut from its frame of reference, hacked to pieces by well-meaning people and heretics alike.

So let’s try to put it back in the frame with a few key concepts.

First, God’s love is sacrificial. The Apostle John, who penned the words, ‘God is love’ spelled it out for us.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8b-9). John also wrote the very familiar, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

That tells us that God’s love is sacrificial, but a sacrifice for what?

In his excellent book, The God Who Loves, John MacArthur points out that God’s wrath is also part of our frame of reference. “We have forgotten that “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). As Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “We do not believe in that kind of God anymore.”[1]

We can decide not to believe hurricane warnings either, but that won’t keep them from coming ashore.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” [2]

Ever been party to the suppression of the truth? Anytime? Ever? I have. All of us have and are deserving of wrath. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23.

The love of God cannot be understood apart from the wrath of God. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact neither one can be fully appreciated without the other. God’s hatred for sin and evil is the back side of the coin of his love. He wouldn’t be loving if he didn’t hate evil, including the evil that is inside each one of us. Only the power of his love could overcome our sin and absorb his just wrath against it.

God’s love is sacrificial because it absorbed the wrath that we deserve.

If you’ve looked for a job lately you know that the benefits are almost as important as the salary. We know we’ll be paid. But will we be covered?

That’s another piece of the frame.

Psalm 103 says that God’s love ‘has us covered’. “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”— Then the Psalmist lists the benefits and the first on the list is: “who forgives all your sins…”

God’s love is not only sacrificial; it is also beneficial in that it makes us guilt free.

Guilt is the great crippler. Guilt stunts God-given potential. Guilt saps courage, binds us to the past, and alienates us from God and one another. A guilty mind can’t think with power. A guilty heart can’t love with abandon. Even if there was such a thing as an insurance policy for sin, a guilty soul could never do enough to cover its own deductible.

But the Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins…” God’s love frees us from guilt.

If you are feeling burdened by guilt remember, God loves you so much that he’s paid the debt, absorbed his own wrath against our evil, and removed our shame. Take your sins to him and ask for forgiveness. He will give it. He’s got you covered.

[1]MacArthur, J., F., Jr. (2003, c1996). The God Who Loves. (10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ro 1:18–19). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN Five Keys to Success

Everyone wants to succeed at love yet few of us are born with the wisdom for it. I’m no different and have benefitted greatly from many writers over the years. Two of those are Patrick Morely and Laura Doyle, whose insights on how to successfully love a man I pass on to you ladies today. As Valentine’s Day arrives and your lover attempts to express his appreciation, here are five things that may help as you seek to express yours.

1. Understand his need for masculine approval. “One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely in WHAT HUSBANDS WISH THEIR WIVES KNEW ABOUT MEN. “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable.” It is a man’s need for his dad to be proud of him. You might wish that your approval of him would be enough, but it won’t be. If your man has any unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation. If he doesn’t have a dad, as is the case for many young men today, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

2. Understand his need to accomplish. A second driving force for every man boils down to “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events,” says Morely. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose. He wants to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. Let your man know that you understand this, and that you pray for him to find it, and will be his greatest cheerleader in it and he will love you for it.

3. Understand his financial pressure and don’t increase it. Americans are doing a little less borrowing than they were before the crash of 2008, but it’s tough. The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and often drives men to load themselves with debt. The best thing you can do for the man you love is understand the pressure he feels to provide you with the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been married long enough to afford it.

4. Understand his need for companionship. Men are notorious loners. It is part of their competitive nature not to let others get too close, lest they take some advantage of that position. Yet they also live in a brutally competitive world. They’re looking for a partner in life that they can trust, someone who looks forward to their homecoming, who will nurse their wounds when they’ve been “sacked” one to many times, and who will encourage them when it’s time to head back into the fray. Let him know he can trust you; that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will love you for it.

5. Understand his need to lead, and let him. Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is “trusting where she used to be controlling.”

The need to control is a need generated by fear, not trust. 1 Pet 3:5-6 says, “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope (or trust) in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham… You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).

Ladies, if you’re in a relationship with an abusive and unfaithful man there are other biblical principles that apply. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by controlling her man I encourage you to let go of your fear, first by trusting God, then by trusting your man enough to let him lead. You will be amazed at the results.

May God bless you and fulfill all of your desires as you seek to love each other according to his design.

KOINONIA IS SHARED LIFE

KOINONIA IS SHARED LIFE

2015

Speed skating is a Dutch sport. It originated in the 14th & 15th centuries when people figured out how to make a blade run on the ice. They began skating on their frozen canals as a form of transportation. Then, like good sports everywhere, they figured out how to race with skates.

The Dutch are true fanatics of speed skating. They all wear orange. They paint their faces. They wear funny orange hats. They even have their own band called “Little Beers” that travel with them to each event. Every ice rink is home field advantage for the Dutch because their fans go to every race in Europe. Nobody tells the Dutch that they have to go to the speed skating races. They go because they love it. They love the sport. They love each other loving the sport. They wouldn’t think of missing it.

The Dutch speed skating fans are a good metaphor for the Christians in Acts 2: 46-47 who “met together every day in the temple courts, breaking bread and eating together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” Nobody had to tell them to meet together every day in the temple and eat together from house to house. They spent time together because they loved Jesus together. They loved each other loving Jesus. They wouldn’t have thought of missing it.

The Greek word used in Acts and throughout the New Testament for the life they were sharing is Koinonia, often translated “fellowship.” Koinonia means “sharing in common.” They shared a common life: a common table, a common purse, a common set of values, and a common love for one another. Most of all they shared Christ and what he had done for them. They were eager to share what he had done for them with others.

The kind of love that builds a body of believers isn’t just a human love. It isn’t “affinity group love”, a love built on commonalities of education, income, race, outlook or profession. It’s supernatural love. It’s an affinity built on the Christ we have in common, the salvation we have in common, and the continuous life-change we are experiencing together in him.

There are some hurdles to building this kind of community. It requires vulnerability, enough transparency to talk about what God is doing in our lives. That takes trust. It also requires belief that we are just as needy before God as the neediest person in the church. That takes humility. Finally, it takes commitment, the determination simply to show up and be part of what is going on. That takes, sacrifice; maybe not as much as painting your face orange and riding trains all over Europe to shiver while others race, but sacrifice nonetheless.

As churches grow in size it becomes more and more important that they build those connections with each other. Some churches do it with small groups on week nights, others through Sunday school programs and various Bible and book study ministries. Whatever your church does I encourage you, as you gather, to build the trust that enables vulnerability, to share with others what Christ has done and is doing in your life. Acts reports that as the early church did this, “the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved.” I believe that as you build koinonia in your church, he will do the same.