Category Archives: Topical

Post that focuses on one specific topic like marriage, the Holy Spirit, etc. These may or may not be focused on one Bible verse.

Wayne Grudem explains why hell is not eternal separation from God

The idea of God’s omnipresence has sometimes troubled people who wonder how God can be present, for example, in hell. In fact, isn’t hell the opposite of God’s presence, or the absence of God? This difficulty can be resolved by realizing that God is present in different ways in different places, or that God acts differently in different places in his creation. Sometimes God is present to punish. A terrifying passage in Amos vividly portrays this presence of God in judgment:

Not one of them shall flee away;
not one of them shall escape.
Though they dig into Sheol,
from there shall my hand take them;
though they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
from there I will search them out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity before their enemies,
there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.

(Amos 9:1-4)

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 175.

Some big announcements

God has been doing some amazing things in our family lately and I wanted to share them with you.
First, and most exciting, Connie is pregnant. We thought it would be fun to announce it today on Facebook to create a little stir. But rest assured, faithful reader, that Connie is indeed pregnant! In fact, she’s already started showing a little bit; it’s incredibly cute! The photo we used to announce it is too fun not to share here:

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Please pray for Connie & baby’s health. She’s due early November, so it would be fun if baby and I shared birthday dates.

Another big announcement is that I’m going to stop attending seminary for a season. I originally began seminary pursuing a Masters of Divinity and have recently realized that it’s probably not the degree I need for the specific ministry role to which God is directing me. Rather than being the preacher on the stage, I feel like God is pushing me to be the man behind the scenes making sure that all the volunteers have what they need, that the electric bill has been paid, etc.
With that in mind, I recently began the application process for an MBA program at George Fox University. Truth be told, I would study theology whether I got a seminary degree in it or not, but I would probably not study corporate finance or organizational development unless I forced myself to do so. This is why I think the MBA program will equip me with a skill-set that I wouldn’t get elsewhere but will serve the Church well. Please pray for that process and ask God to grant me wisdom as I move forward.

Finally, this week I start a new job installing hardwood floors! As I transition from full- to part-time school with another child on the way, God has provided a job that will pay the exact dollar amount necessary for us to meet our needs. This is an answer to our family’s recurring prayer that God give us neither poverty not riches (Pr. 30:7-9). Another bonus is that Connie will be able to stay home with our children indefinitely, which is very important to us. Also, this job will help me accomplish one of my long-term goals: learn a trade!

Connie & I are excited about all these changes and look forward to watching God at work during this new season of life. God is good and has recently reminded me that He will provide for His children.

4 Quick Thoughts on Marriage

One of the things I absolutely love about my seminary is that they truly value the marriages of their students. As a result they have a couple’s banquet every year where the married students are served dinner by the professors, child care is provided, and a miniature sermon about marriage is presented. This year one of my professors, Carl Laney, gave four reasons why marriage should be held in honor and I thought they were so great I’d share them here.

  1. God ordained it. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).” Marriage is the first institution created by God. Any other time God has made a covenant with man it has been regarded as something sacred and holy. In the same way, marriage should be viewed as a sacred institution that was created by God.
  2. Jesus blessed it. Jesus blessed marriage by turning water to wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-12). He did this because marriage is something that deserves to be celebrated. Furthermore, Jesus said that there is a supernatural element to marriage. God joins the husband and wife, and we ought not separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9)
  3. Children illustrate it. From the beginning, the biblical view of children is that they are a blessing. When a child is born, they have DNA from both the mother and the father. This is an illustration of the bond that occurs at marriage. Children are a vivid reminder of that unity that God creates when he weds a man and a woman.
  4. Death alone ends it. Marriage is intended as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of God and their family. The Bible says that wives are bound to their husbands as long as he is alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). It also says that men are to love their lives to the point of dying for her (Ephesians 5:25-30). This lifelong devotion is meant to serve as a picture of Christ’s devotion to the Church.

There you have it! May your marriage be blessed and may it be a blessing.

Are You Sure You Want God to Completely Eradicate Evil?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006), 31.

One of the reasons I’m a Christian is because it is the best, most coherent explanation of life on this world. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best. When I look at modern atheistic beliefs I notice some contradictions that make it, as a worldview, illogical and in this post I’d like to look at one: the problem of evil. On one hand, atheists will point to evil in the world around us as proof that God does not exist (or if He does, then He is clearly ‘malevolent’ for allowing such evil). On the other hand, they’ll point to instances in the Old Testament, such as the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah, where God actively opposed evil and say that God is not a loving god, but clearly a bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. This means that atheists believe that God is bad for not stopping evil yet God is bad when He does stop evil. Or, to break it down a little differently:

  • Evil exists unstopped, therefore God is bad.
  • God stops evil, therefore God is bad.

Or, to phrase it yet another way:

  • “God is evil for allowing sin.”
  • “God is evil for stopping sin.”

This is clearly a contradiction. You cannot bemoan both the fact that God has not rid the world of evil and the fact that God killed evil people at any time in human history. This is a logical inconsistency.

So which is it? Would you rather God restrains His power to stop evil, or God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil?

Now, before you answer that anyone would obviously want God to stop evil, give it some thought. The way I phrased that—God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil—means that ridding the world of evil would not be pretty.

Evil is much like a cancer; it contaminates and perverts everything it touches. Our entire world is fallen, corrupted, and tarnished: every person, family, community, city, state, country, culture, and continent. No one and nothing has escaped the cosmic consequences of The Fall. Like sand in the desert, evil is everywhere and, try as we might and no matter how much we want to hide it, we cannot cleanse evil from this world. Only God could rid the desert of sand. Only God has the power to rid the planet of evil.

So, the obvious question becomes: what would it take for God to stop evil? Well, to continue the cancer analogy, how do we get rid of cancer? We cut it out and destroy it. How could God get rid of evil? Could He flick a switch and rid the world of evil? Not likely. You see, evil is so rampant in our world that the only way for God to forever rid the world of evil is by cleansing it with the utter destruction of every man, woman, and child on the surface of the planet. Consider how God stopped evil during the Flood (Gen. 7:21-23) or in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25). Are you sure you want God to stop evil? Then perhaps you are evil.

Perhaps some will still ask “then whence cometh evil?” The problem is, in light of the reality that God does oppose evil and that He will stop evil, this is an ironically self-condemning question. Anyone who asks “then whence cometh evil” needs to look in the mirror and realize that evil isn’t ‘out there.’ Instead, evil comes from within (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19-20; Mark 7:21-23). We are the source of evil, not God. God tolerates our rebellion for now out of love and patience for us because He has a plan.

Instead of instantly purging the world of evil, God is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself through Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). God is on a rescue mission to save those who are His enemies by calling them to repentance and salvation. It is a gradual cleansing process that takes time and requires that evil be allowed to exist for now. So, could God stop evil? Yes, but there wouldn’t be anyone around to see what was left.

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:3-5, emphasis added

 

Understanding the Mind of God

If you really think about it, it’s absurd to think we can even come close to understanding the mind of God. For example, could an ant understand humanity? Of course not! If humans and ants, who are both finite, can have that much of a gap, how much greater is the gap between finite humans and an infinite God? That’s why we worship God, instead of giving Him advice or doing Him favors.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

Jesus Knows Exactly How You Feel

The words “I know exactly how you feel” can either be the best or worst thing to say to someone suffering. If you do know exactly how a hurting friend feels, then they will probably be comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone in this experience, no matter how painful it is. However, if you don’t know exactly how they feel, then… well.. you’re just a great big jerk. There are certain events in life that you just can’t sympathize with unless you’ve been there.

For example, when Connie was pregnant with Kara, half of me expected her to miscarry in order that we would be able to sympathize with other couples who have experienced that tragedy. It’s not that I wanted Connie to miscarry; but I knew that if it happened, God would use it as an opportunity for us to minister to couples who have experienced it. We would know exactly how they felt. To some degree, I still fear that God may one day take our daughter or even my entire family from me so that I will be able to sympathize with people who have endured similar loss. I certainly don’t want anything like that to happen, but I do realize that it is not outside the realm of possibility. But unless something like that were to happen, there are certain people with whom I will never be able to truly sympathize.

Many people have a similar understanding of God. It’s easy for us to think of God as far away and unable to understand what it’s like to be human. This is especially true when we are suffering. Consider, for example, the following passages:

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me. (Job 23:3-5)

God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me. (Job 30:19-20)

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (Habakkuk 1:2)

 

I could find many more, but you get the idea: When we suffer, it’s easy to think of God as distant.

But that’s not where the story ends. If, as Job described it, we have all been cast into the mire (Job 30:19), then Jesus has entered into the mire with us. Jesus has not left us alone. Think about what Hebrews 4:15-16 says; this should blow your mind:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Or what about this one:

Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36, emphasis mine; see also Mark 6:34)

When we suffer, we can draw near to Jesus because He knows exactly how we feel. He has compassion for us, because He has seen firsthand how off-course and wayward we are. In fact, Romans 8:34 says that Christ intercedes for us; he pleads on our behalf because He has suffered too! So when you suffer—not “if,” but “when”—consider it an opportunity to grow closer to Christ because He knows exactly how you feel.

Becoming a Yes Man

Recently, I made a decision: I want to be viewed as a yes man. By “yes man,” I don’t mean a person of unquestioning, mindless obedience or a sycophant. Instead, I mean a man who says yes when his neighbors ask for help. Or, when God reveals a need to me, I say yes to Him and offer to help. I want my neighbors—yes, my physical neighbors who live less than 40 yards away from me—to know that I am willing to serve them. I want the 88 year old widow to know that I want to help her rake her leaves. I want the 70 year old, technically-challenged retiree to know that it’s not a problem for me to help her set up her new laptop and printer. I want the older, single man to know that, in a weird way, I enjoy climbing on top of the roofs to blow the leaves off of everyone’s roofs in my little neighborhood. I want the young family, with the dad that works 16 hour shifts, to know that I don’t mind stacking wood with him in the rain. Why? Because if Christ lived as a servant (Mk. 10:45), then I want to live as a servant. Not only that, but it’s an incredibly practical way to obey the second half of the Great Commandment. Consider these two passages:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, emphasis mine)

Now, these are different occasions, but they both talk about our top two priorities when it comes to loving: God first, neighbors second. The second account, Luke 10:25-29, introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take a second and re-read the last verse of that Luke passage, noting especially the portion I italicized.

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, emphasis mine)

Here’s my question: how did he plan on justifying himself? It says that the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor” because he was desiring to justify himself. What does that mean?

Well, I think the passage gives us 4 clues:

  1. He was a lawyer (i.e. he was highly respected in his community).
  2. He wanted to test Jesus (i.e. make Jesus look bad).
  3. He wanted to justify himself (i.e. make himself look good).
  4. Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s my guess: when it came to loving his neighbors, this lawyer probably thought he was doing a great job. The only way he could justify himself is if he thought Jesus was about to give him kudos for being a shining example of loving his neighbor. After all, would it make sense to ask this question if the neighbor wasn’t loving his physical neighbors? But Jesus shatters his definition of ‘neighbor.’

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who falls is passed up by a priest and a Levite but helped by a foreigner. While not certain, it’s possible the priest was the local priest for this man; perhaps the Levite knew the man as well. Jesus finishes the story by forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell (in Luke 10:36-37). Why do you think Jesus did this? Why do you think Jesus forced the lawyer to admit that the foreigner was the neighbor, and not the priest or Levite who were actually his physical neighbors?

I think it’s because the lawyer already loved his physical neighbors and was becoming prideful about it. However, in America, we’ve got it reversed: we might sponsor a child in Africa—and know her name—but not know the names of our own neighbors who live less than 40 yards away. Sponsoring a child is a great thing; not knowing your neighbors’ names is a bad thing.

The lawyer thought he would justify himself because loving your physical neighbors was a no-brainer in Jesus’ culture. Of course you’re supposed to love the people that live right next to you. Jesus expanded his perceptions. Our problem is that we need to start taking the second half of the Great Commandment more literally. We need to love our neighbors.

So here are my two challenges for you:

  1. Be interruptible. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take 5-15 minutes, say yes on the spot and help them. The odds are good that you have 15 minutes to spare (if you don’t, then don’t beat yourself up). But, in light of the fact that the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, I think we can all make time to help our neighbors for less than 1/8 of our TV time.
  2. Be intentional. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take a large chunk of time, like an hour or two, challenge yourself to sacrifice that time to serve them. In fact, make it your goal to serve them within a week of them asking. Once again, knowing that the Average American watches 34 hours of television per week, I think we can all find a couple hours of our week to spend helping our neighbors.

So, why this push to love our physical neighbors? Because I think American Christians are completely ignoring the second half of the Great Commandment (which makes me wonder if we are also ignoring the first half of the Great Commandment). Can you honestly tell God that you followed the Command to love your neighbors if you don’t even know your neighbors’ names? Do we think God is pleased if we listen to dozens of sermons and can discuss in depth all our favorite Christian preachers and authors, yet don’t know the names or needs of the people God has placed in our immediate physical vicinity? I think it’s time to turn off the TV, spend less time reading about Christian living, and start spending some time living like Christians. Let’s start taking intentional steps to know, serve, and love our neighbors.

“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Putting on the Disguise

“They’ll need to see your face so they can see there’s no evil in it… To see the gentleness an decency in you… And know that they have nothing to fear. The mask– The mask is what you’ll have to wear the rest of the time.”

– Martha Kent, giving Clark his cape in Superman Earth One Volume 1.

Among superheroes, Superman has historically been a bit unique. Most superheroes—Spiderman, Batman, the Power Rangers—conceal who they really are when they are ‘on duty.’ Spiderman is just an alter ego to hide Peter Parker; Batman is just a symbol that serves to conceal Bruce Wayne; the Power Rangers are really high school kids. Superman, on the other hand, really is Superman. He puts on glasses, acts clumsy, and walks with poor posture to conceal his true identity. Clark Kent is the disguise; Superman is the reality. In recent years, it seems like a lot of superheroes have revealed their identity, but since his inception, Superman has been unique in this regard.

This reminds me of Someone…

…though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:6-7)

Jesus came as Clark Kent. Jesus was born in the likeness of weak men. He came not as a King, but as a servant. Is it any wonder we rejected Him? Is it any wonder we just didn’t seem to understand who He was? When Jesus came into this world, He modeled humility. But Jesus is coming back.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:11-16).

When Jesus took the form of a lowly servant and washed the feet of His disciples, He was showing us how we are supposed to act; he was modeling our real identity. But He wasn’t showing us the full scope of His identity. Jesus was born as Clark Kent, but He shall return as Superman.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

Francis Schaeffer said this in 1970

One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservation means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us…

If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.

Francis Shaeffer quoted in Steve Ogne & Tim Roehl, TransforMissional Coaching: Empowering Leaders in a Changing Ministry World (Nashville:  B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 17.

Some Links for Moms

Here are a couple articles about mothering that I’ve seen and thought worth sharing:

These were all very good articles that I thought would be encouraging and edifying for moms.