Tough Questions #1: Why would a loving God send people to hell?

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Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.

1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)

As followers of Christ, we will be asked some really tough questions. There are very real objections among the seekers of the world, many of whom genuinely want to know the answers. Some, on the other hand, may have already made up their minds and will refuse to accept any response contrary to their own views. But for the rest, you and me have the responsibility to offer them the basis for our own hope and beliefs. Over the next few posts I will attempt to offer somewhat simple answers to questions that I’ve been asked that I believe many struggle with. These won’t be exhaustive responses for the purpose of debating anyone. They will be taken straight from what any of us can learn from reading what God has provided in the Bible. I want to keep them simple because that will be easier to remember. I’m not for a moment assuming that everyone reading these posts will not have an answer for themselves. I only want to provide a resource for anyone who needs it, whether you’re the one asking the question, or being asked the question.

For the first question I selected one that multiple atheists have posed to me over the years. I’ve even seen some in the church battle over the concept of hell and how people could actually be sent there.  Not long ago I came across a book that took a stab at answering this question by completely erasing hell and claiming that everyone gets saved. That’s only one example of why we have to stick to the Bible when answering these tough questions and not put our own speculations into it. One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve heard from multiple people is that the Bible’s response should be our response and if the Bible is silent then so should we.

The Bible does have a lot to say about hell. Check out verses like Revelation 21:8, Matthew 25:46, Psalm 9:17, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Mark 9:43, and Proverbs 15:24 just to name a handful. It’s a very real place. And it’s horrible. Because it’s so bad, we can approach that one of three ways: One, being overly thankful that Jesus came to save us from such a place causing us to become more urgent in sharing the gospel and seeing people saved and loving like Jesus. Two, look at God with disdain for allowing people to go there and continue to reject His love or share His love. And three, disregard it all and live life with a sense of apathy and run a huge risk of being wrong. Ignorance will never be bliss in matters like this.

So, my response to the question is three-fold:

  1. People reject God, not the other way around. The last thing God wants is for someone to go to hell. The Bible is very clear that His heart is for the salvation of mankind. Look no further than the cross for that. God stepped out of heaven, became flesh, and died on our behalf. The way to life is simple. It’s Jesus. Who is God in the flesh. God made salvation clear and open to all. But man, in the stubbornness of their heart, refuses the life raft. That’s because our sinful nature would prefer to think highly of ourselves than admit to the need for salvation. As technology advances, more and more people live a life absent of God because they feel as though they don’t need Him. A lot of people just can’t come to grips with their need for healing and saving. Every other religion in the world, other than Christianity, is man-made as a means to reach heaven on our own warrants and credentials. The problem with that is, none of us will ever be good enough. That’s why God came to us, with open arms, and continues to do so as long as we are alive.
  2. Freewill is really risky. Out of God’s great love, He allowed us to have the ability to choose. We can choose sin or holiness. We can choose love or indifference. We can live fully self absorbed or completely poured out for others. God didn’t create robots, He created humanity. And because He loves us so much, He wants our love and affection in return, but only willingly.
  3. Great love has to have a full measure of justice. There has to be punishment for the depravity of mankind. The greater the love, the greater the wrath. That wrath is fully displayed on the cross of Jesus or in the fires of hell. Everyone who falls on Jesus, who took on the full punishment for us, will escape the later wrath. Those who reject the sacrifice of Jesus will have to pay for their own sins themselves.

God loves every single person who has ever and will ever walk the face of this earth. No matter your sin, God loves you. No matter how broken, He wants to put you back together.  No matter how lost, God wants to save you. Choose life. Choose the love that’s freely offered.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 (ESV)

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Rejecting Grace

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There are two responses that a person could have to being shown grace. One, they despise the act simply because they take it as an indictment of their own behavior. It deepens their anger and animosity. They view the kindness of another as salt in their wounds and a gift that seems more like an assault. It’s as if grace becomes some derogatory element. The second response is an equally intense emotion, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. Some will be totally raptured by the unprecedented tenderness and compassion of another. They won’t spite the love of another, rather, they will embrace it. Grace will break the hold of anger and unforgiveness that is wrecking the relationship. Obviously this takes a high level of humility, while the first reaction is distorted by pride.

I’ve seen both of these responses in my own experiences. What prompted me to write on this topic was my efforts in sharing about the Gospel with non-believers. Most of the people I share with are friends, students, and some who I have had the pleasure of having dialogue with through this blog. Everyone I have ever spoken with have had one of these two responses to the Gospel message. When the end comes, all of those who have rejected the message of Jesus will have done so because they reject grace. You know the common excuse: “I’m a good person and I think in the end, God will acknowledge that above all my bad deeds.” This person feels they have no need for grace, and they take the gospel as an accusation that they are a bad person, instead of the greatest proposition of love and acceptance.

I’ve been going through a study of the book of Revelation with my Father-in-law and a common theme that arises is the unashamed relentless refusal of human kind to repent before a patient God. It’s all because they reject grace. Pride will never allow a person to see their need for the unwarranted love of another. Pride dismisses love as a need and places it in the “I’m owed” category. If that person is shown love it’s only because they deserve it and in no way will it ever change their character. This person would look at the cross and think that it was a waste of time and life because they didn’t need it. Unfortunately, most of mankind will display this pattern of thinking.

To accept the gospel means to accept our need. To accept that we are broken, and guilty, and hurting, and searching, in need of being found. That takes a lot of humility. A LOT of humility. And so many are unwilling to go there. I don’t want to be unwilling. I don’t want anyone reading this to be unwilling.

If we can openly fall on the grace of Jesus, then we should also be open to the grace of our fellow brothers and sisters. But I know Christians who erect walls with others. I know Christians who are spiteful and harsh. I know Christians who refuse to let go and forgive. But this should never be so. This is not the mark of someone who has been touched by grace. To be touched by God’s grace is to be transformed by it. Those who embrace the grace of God should also embrace the grace of another. They should also lovingly extend that grace to another without hesitation for we have broken God’s heart far more than anyone could ever break ours.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Luke 7:47 (NIV)

The problem is, people don’t think they have much to be forgiven for, so their love comes up wanting. The woman who threw herself at the feet of Jesus and washed his feet with her tears, knew her great need and knew God’s grace. Her love showed it. And so should ours.

We’ve all probably known people who can be so humble before their Savior, raise their hands in praise, weep before Jesus, and yet be so harsh among their brothers and sisters. It’s not new to the 21st century either. Jesus addressed it in His own ministry. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a servant who had been forgiven an incredible debt (as we all have who are covered by Jesus’ sacrifice). Once forgiven, that servant showed no mercy to the one who owed him a debt. Jesus referred to that person in the story as the “wicked servant” because of his refusal to show mercy, as he had been shown mercy.

We have to face up the fact that we are without excuse. Even the kindest of us are still guilty of harboring resentment, getting frustrated, not being sincere, clinging to things that have happened to us, holding a grudge, or outright refusing to forgive someone. If we could keep things a little more in perspective we’d realize that we are hardening our hearts in so many ways. We have to release ourselves from the bondage of anger, offense, and unforgiveness. We need to release others from our expectations. We need to see others how Jesus does, with a heart full of love and grace.  Our relationships need it. Our health needs it. And the world needs to see that grace on display. We need to remember that we have been forgiven far more than we will ever be asked to forgive others.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

Worn by Worry

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

The act of worrying begins and ends in the mind. And our minds are so smart that they can even create things for us to worry about. Have you ever been there? Jesus lists a few items in verse 25 of Matthew 6 that are considered basic necessities. Jesus isn’t just telling us not to worry about our nice car, the newest phone, or affording the next family vacation. I heard a phrase once that referred to concerns like these as ‘first world problems’. He goes much deeper than that. Jesus says don’t even worry about the things you need!

Some translations of this passage use “anxious” and others use “worried”. The English word “worry” comes from the old English Wrygen and the Old High German Wurgen, both meaning “To Strangle or Choke”. It’s no wonder that worry and anxious thought have a horribly negative effect on our bodies. We don’t even need science to prove it to us because we can feel the life, vitality, peace, and joy being drained out of us when we are worried. Our health and wholeness is literally strangled out of us bit by bit. There is not a single part of a person’s body that is not affected by worry. It doesn’t stop there either. Anxiety and worry one person’s life will carry over to affect others.

If we claim allegiance to Christ then that should change absolutely everything for us. We cease to exist as we were. The entire point of being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:3, and many in others) is that our lives will be completely consumed with Him. The problem is, we still think about ourselves way too much and give far too much room in our lives to things that are not about Him. It’s no wonder we don’t think about Him like we should. It becomes very hard to live from our new identity when we live like we don’t have one. But, our new identity is key to having peace rather than anxiety. The new person is focused on the Eternal One and eternal things.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

Come read more about how Jesus wants to set us free from a life of worry. In chapter 8, I share some of my story of an anxious filled life and how I’ve been saved from it. Get your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Thanks for reading!

Peace brothers and sisters

Destiny in the Insignificant

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The story of Joseph in the bible is among the most compelling and encouraging. You have a man, who at a young age, is sold into slavery by his brothers, purely out of jealousy. So here is a man with less than favorable beginnings, who will one day become someone of great importance. It’s the ideal rags to riches story that inspires so many. Joseph’s life was the picture of God’s unfailing love and refusal to abandon us in even the most trying of times.

The story takes place between Genesis chapters 37 and 50. That means a quarter of the book of Genesis recounts his life. That’s the same book that covers well over a thousand years of human history, from creation to nearly 4000 years ago. The life of Joseph only accounted for 110 of those years. So this story must carry some incredible weight and importance for us today.

I want to pick up in Genesis 39, after Joseph has been sold into slavery and is currently serving in a royal Egyptian’s home. Long story short, the Egyptian’s wife tries to seduce Joseph, but because of his upstanding moral integrity, he refuses and she ends up framing him for a crime he never committed. Joseph is then thrown into prison where he quickly rises to a prominent position.

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

Genesis 39:19-23 (ESV)

What Joseph probably didn’t realize was that God was going to use his prison sentence to bring salvation to an entire people. Most people wouldn’t consider prison an opportunity. I certainly wouldn’t. But after learning about Joseph’s story, I can hopefully view my troubles in an entirely new light. Because this seemingly insignificant moment in Joseph’s life would unlock not only his destiny, but that of his family, nation, and the future of the world.

Throughout the next chapter of Genesis, Joseph is going to have a conversation with two men in the prison. A baker and cup-bearer, who were both imprisoned by the Pharaoh. The conversation is basically Joseph interpreting dreams that both men had. We don’t know the relationship that Joseph had with them, only that he was placed in charge of them by the captain of the guard. Relationship aside, the important thing to get is that the future of the world will unfold due to this one conversation between three men.

Later in the story, the two men get released from prison. The cup-bearer would be acquitted of his charges. Two years later, when Pharaoh is desperate to have his dreams interpreted, the cup-bearer tells him about Joseph, the man he had met in prison. This would lead to Joseph successfully interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and being elevated to second in command in the most powerful empire in the world. From that position, Joseph would preserve the lives of thousands, including his own brothers who had sold him into slavery years earlier, from a worldwide famine. As the story came to an end, Joseph tells his brothers why things unfolded the way they did and how it is he was able to save his family and so many others.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Genesis 50:20-21 (ESV)

This one conversation, in an Egyptian prison, altered human history. An insignificant event established the destiny of an empire, a nation of people, and for even us today. Jesus Christ was born into that nation of people and He was undoubtedly the most significant figure in world history. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus forever changed eternity for humankind. And it can all be traced back to that day in a prison nearly 2000 years before God arrived on earth in the person of Jesus.

Don’t ever allow moments in your life to seem insignificant. They may be the most significant thing to ever happen to you. No conversation, no relationship, no trial, and no opportunity is ever a waste of time. Any one of them may change things forever.

Be encouraged brothers and sisters, God is always at work in your life.

Who are you looking for?

As Mary came to the tomb of Jesus she saw that it was empty. Absolutely heart broken, she began to weep. Then she heard a searing question from someone she didn’t even know was there, “Who are you looking for?”

A lot of us are standing outside the tomb of the risen Jesus, looking for Him in the wrong place. Many of us are looking for the living among the dead. We are searching for a savior who lived nearly 2000 years ago instead of one who is every bit alive today. We’re mourning His absence as if He weren’t standing right next to us asking the very same question that He asked Mary, “Who are you looking for?”

Who are you looking for brothers and sisters? Is it the Jesus who died or the one who lives? Is your Jesus still buried in a tomb, powerless to change your life, your circumstances, and your future? Or is your Jesus risen in full glory and power as the one who laid the foundations of the world and created the very tomb that lays empty two millennia later? There is only one real Jesus, one real savior, and He lives in the believer, for the believer, and through the believer. Jesus could not be defeated by death, and he can bring that same victory in your life. Be encouraged friends. The one whom you seek is ALIVE!