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)

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!

Doorposts and Crossbeams

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I’ve heard a lot of versions of the gospel. Some are extremely burdensome, and others, well, could easily just leave Jesus out of it. When people try to put their own twist on the message, it gets really distorted. I wonder how many non believers are confused by the mixed messages. Actually, it’s those in the church who are probably more susceptible to becoming confused. The gospel, in it’s simplicity, is beautiful and easy to understand. Salvation is not a road with twists and turns meant to get us lost. It’s a straight path, narrow as it may be, that’s paved by One person, and guided by the One who made it. The gospel is meant to bring joy and hope to a desperate world.  Confusing and complicated things don’t do either of those things. One easy way to understand the message of the gospel is through doorposts and crossbeams.

The Passover is a beautiful illustration of the gospel. It’s a story of redemption. It’s a story of deliverance from bondage. It’s a story of faith in the grace of God. It’s a story of victory. Israel was in slavery in Egypt when God responded to their dyer need out of His own love for His children. After Aaron and Moses delivered God’s message to Pharaoh, nine nasty plagues reeked havoc on Egypt. The tenth, however, would be the worst of them all. The tenth plague would be God’s wrath on sin, idolatry, pride, false religion, cruelty, and so much more. The Destroying Angel would sweep through the land of the most powerful empire on earth and lay waste in one of the most heart-wrenching ways. The people would bear the weight of their rebellion against the God that loved them. But, as always, God made a way.

When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

Exodus 12:23 (NIV)

The blood on the doorposts, was the blood of a lamb. That’s it. In faith, Israel would kill a spotless lamb and cover the doorposts of their homes with the blood. That blood would save them from the wrath of God that was about to be poured out. It wasn’t only the good Israelites that got to be covered with the blood. It wasn’t even just the Israelites who were covered. Anyone who could humble themselves enough and trust in the blood, could be covered. I’m convinced that even Pharaoh himself could have done this. But, as we can read from the Exodus story, Pharaoh was anything but humble. His faith was in himself.

The gospel is that straight forward. Love in all it’s simplicity. Jesus hung on crossbeams to bleed for all of us. His blood covers anyone who wants to put their faith in Him. You don’t have to be a good person to surrender to Jesus…you just have to surrender and let the blood do it’s work. We don’t have to be the spotless ones because Jesus was that on our behalf. Those rescued from Egypt were imperfect people, and so is the Church. But, we are rescued all the same. We are rescued from the wrath of God to come on this rebellious and self-worshiping world, only because of the blood of Jesus. When God looks at you, He sees His child. He sees someone covered by the most precious blood. But, just like those who God rescued from Egypt, we have to follow Him out of slavery. God didn’t deliver Israel so they could stay put in bondage. God covered them and bid them to come and follow. When He stepped out of heaven in the person of Jesus, He did the very same thing. The sacrifice of Jesus means we’re covered and invited. That invitation has always been to whoever will come. To whoever, will put their faith in God’s love. To whoever is covered by the blood.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (TLV)

Happy Passover brothers and sisters!

Fun Ways to Teach Kids about God

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Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

Knowing the word of God is important. Teaching the next generation is equally important. But as any parent can testify, that can be challenging. When they are really young, their attention span is nonexistent. As they grow, rebellion can seek in a bit. But teaching our kids can be exciting and impactful. Nothing can replace the value of doing devotions and bible stories with our kids at bedtimes or after a breakfast meal. But sometimes we need to spice things up a bit. And that’s ok!

I’ve come up with a list of 12 activities that can help parents with children who are toddlers or teenagers. I’ve done them with kids of all ages and they are fun and they leave an imprint. You can make them as in depth and challenging as you’d like. Or you can keep them simple. Give them a try and have a blast! If you have other ideas, please comment on this post.

  1. Make a Fort
    • Build a fort out of anything safe around your house, whether inside or out.
    • Take time to share about how God protects them like forts were used to protect people
    • Bible verse: Psalm 18:2
  1. Balancing Act
    • Have your kids try to balance on several objects that are really difficult.
    • Then place your kids on something that is really easy to balance on.
    • Share about God’s word being a firm and steady foundation that we can stand on.
    • Bible verses: Matthew 7:24-27
  1. Trust Fall
    • Standing on an elevated platform or on the floor, have your child fall back into your arms. Repeat as long as they have fun.
    • Talk about how we can trust the Lord to catch us in uncertain times and especially when we’re afraid.
    • Bible verses: Psalm 84:12, 56:3, 31:14
  1. Being Blinded
    • Blindfold your kids and give them directions so they don’t run into things. Guide them around the house or outside.
    • Share about how the Lord leads us, especially when we don’t know what lies ahead of us in life.
    • Bible verses: Proverbs 3:5-6
  1. Water Act
    • You need to do this outside or in the bathtub. Fill a clear container with water. Then using food color, or a dark beverage like soda, pollute the water so that it’s no longer clear. Talk about how sin does that to our lives.
    • Then continue to fill the container with water again until the container is full of clear liquid. Talk about how Jesus, the living water, cleanses us from our sin and makes our lives clean again.
    • Bible verses: 1 John 1:7-9
  1. Tabernacle
    • Build a tabernacle in your yard similar to those that were constructed during the Feast of Tabernacles from Leviticus 23. You can make it out of anything really. A canopy works great. Dress it how with lights and more!
    • While sitting under the tabernacle, share about how Jesus walked among us and other ways that God wants to be with us (Holy Spirit, Temple, in the future, etc…).
    • Bible verses: John 1:1-14
  1. Treasure Hunt
    • Hide things all over the house or yard and have them look for them. They should be things that are valuable to them so they are even more motivated to find them.
    • After they’ve found everything, talk about how Jesus pursues us when we are lost and will never give up on us.
    • Bible verses: any of the stories from Luke 15
  1. Orchard
    • Go to a local orchard in season where you can find grape vines or fruit trees.
    • Use them as illustrations to talk about living a life that bears good fruit and how we depend on the vine (Jesus) to make that happen. If a branch gets cut off, it dies and doesn’t bear fruit.
    • Bible verses: John 15:4 and Galatians 5:22-23
  1. Dodge Ball
    • Have your kids try to get from one side of the house or yard, to the other, while you throw soft objects at them (parent therapyJ) and try not to get hit.
    • Then give them a shield of some kind and repeat the attempts. Talk about how much easier it is to defend yourself when you have a shield and how faith is that shield in life. Because to get from one end of life to the other, life will bombard us with a lot.
    • Bible verses: Ephesians 6:16 and 1 John 5:4
  1. Heavy Relay
    • Using a bucket or bag, have them race or just try to run. Each time, add another heavy object (books or rocks work well) until it becomes too heavy for them to run. Then empty the bag and have them run again.
    • Talk about how sin weighs us down in life but how Jesus wants to remove the weight from us.
    • Bible verses: Hebrews 12-1-2
  1. Dress Up
    • If you have girls, princess dress up works great. If boys, then it’d be a prince obviously. Same principle. After dress up, do a photoshoot.
    • The focus of this activity is to tell them about how they are princes or princesses of the King of Kings
    • Bible verses: 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 1 John 3:1
  1. Explore Nature
    • This can work anywhere from a back yard to hitting the trails. A camp trip works great too!
    • While in nature, point out all the amazing things that God has created for us to enjoy.
    • Bible verses: Creation story in Genesis 1, Psalm 95:4-5, Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20

How do you swing the Sword?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

The Bible is sometimes referred to as a sword. That’s because it’s the best weapon a person has against the lies of cultures that are pervasive in every society. The Bible cuts through our selfish motives, pride, deceit, carelessness, and so much more. It shows everyone of us just how much we need a Savior, then introduces us to Him. It shows us the remedy for the ills of life and the purpose for which we were all created. It’s the ultimate source of strength, encouragement, and hope. It is a lifeline for sinking men and women across the globe.

In Ephesians chapter six, the Bible is called the Sword of the Spirit. It is meant to be wielded to crush the enemy lines that seek to spread darkness and chaos throughout humanity. But that enemy is not in the flesh. It’s spiritual power that seeps into every facet of this world. But all too often, this sword is swung at those who need to experience its life changing qualities, not the sting of another’s insult. The Bible is a tool to fight evil, not to fight people. This sword is meant to build bridges not cut down people in its wake. This sword is meant to bring healing, not further injury to those who are already wounded. As followers of Christ, we use His sword to fight for those in our life, not against them.

With one fell swoop of His Sword, God could wipe out fallen humanity. In a moment of real honesty, we’d have to admit that we’d all deserve it. But He doesn’t. God uses His Sword to mold us into what we are actually supposed to be. God doesn’t destroy with this weapon, He creates new life in us. I wish more believers would want to do the same. I know many who do. But I also know of a lot who would just as soon run someone through with the sword than love them. I think it’s pretty obvious who’s been touched by God’s redeeming grace by how they use His Word. His Sword is an instrument of love. Handle with care.