Hell is not Empty

“If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth.”

Hell is a very concrete teaching of Scripture, one which theology has attempted to find many loopholes out of. You really can’t deny it’s existence, however, when you read the Book.

What I can’t figure out is, who is in it?

“In 2003 a research group discovered 64% of Americans expect to go to heaven when they die, but less than 1% think they might go to hell.”

Talk to any Christian and they’ll inevitably talk about this guy they know who (put in a long list of horribly disgusting sins he does), but “he’s a Christian.” We celebrate over the latest athlete or entertainer who accidentally mentioned something about “faith” and regardless of any lifestyle evidence conclude that “oh but they’re a Christian.”

I’m certainly not encouraging people to conclude who is in hell, but I also don’t encourage anyone to decide who is in heaven either. Let me say this though: someone has to be there.

Theology: The Study of Loopholes

At Bible Study last night we were talking about using Scripture in ways it was not intended to be used, and or, changing the meaning of the verse to force an application into it. At which point I said something like, “Most theology is an attempt to find loopholes in what the Bible plainly says.”

I stand by that. This morning I came across this blog post about a seminary professor critiquing his mainly pastoral classrooms. In the post he says,

“There is a vast ‘scholarly’ coping mechanism out there that has evolved with the main goal of avoiding obvious conclusions.”

Indeed. It’s called “job security.” If everything was obvious we wouldn’t need people to tell us what to think.

Alice Cooper

“I go to Bible study on Wednesday mornings – I even teach sometimes – but I’ll still get up on stage and be much scarier than Marilyn Manson. It doesn’t mean that, as a Christian, you can’t be a rocker or an entertainer. It’s your lifestyle. I never use bad language. That’s not gentlemanly. Alice might slit your throat but he’d never use the F word.”— Alice Cooper

Ax Church

One way people think they are “keepin it real” when it comes to church is to spiritually say, “I just wish we could take the church back to the New Testament model.” Sounds wonderful and also shows a total disjoint with reality.

Seriously? Are ya sure?

Grace Digest points out an aspect of the early church in Acts 6:4. The pastors say they will devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word, you deacons can do all the rest.

Would that model fly in your church? Wouldn’t you be upset if your pastor wasn’t there to coddle you in your latest “crisis?” Wouldn’t you be tempted to ridicule your pastor for doing nothing all week? Do you really want to be one of those who has to “do all the work?”

Oh, then there’s the bit about not having any possessions but having all things in common. Oh yeah, many of them were being killed and imprisoned, too.

I’m all for having the “early church.” I think the “late church” is very messed up and way off the path. But still, know what it is you’re saying when you clamor for “the Acts Church, man.”

Keep It Real Church!

In 1 Samuel 15, God tells Israel to destroy the bad guys and wipe out all their stuff. Instead, Israel keeps some of the stuff to sacrifice to God. Samuel confronts them, “What are you doing? God did not ask for sacrifice, He wanted you to listen to Him!”

How much of our “spiritual activity” is actually what God asked us to do? Here are a few examples, both of which are not necessarily without some tongue in cheek and yet still, where is it in the Bible?

1. Ladies’ Bible Studies: My experience with these (minimal considering I’m a man, but I do know some women) is that these are gossip/whine sessions. Furthermore, I know that my Bible (and probably yours too) says “And if they [women] will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home.” But, I know, your ladies’ Bible study practically saved your life and was one of the most honoring spiritual things you’ve ever done.

2. Children’s Ministry: Not one word about this in the Bible. Children are told one pretty basic thing in the Bible: Listen to your parents. It’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their kids spiritual things. Oh but, I’ve seen so much good come out of it and so many kids don’t have parents that teach them. Reminds me of our critique of welfare though: people don’t work because they don’t have to. Parents don’t teach because the church is.

Again, I’m somewhat facetious in this but still I’m just sayin. I keeps it real. Examine what you are doing. Is it really what Scripture tells us to do? If it is, then fine, I won’t dissuade you. Being busy in church is not necessarily a spiritual activity though.

There are some pretty basic things the Bible does tell us to do, make sure you do those.

Financial Proving Grounds

I read this morning that cutting $6,000 of expenses a year is the same as getting a $10,000 raise, financially speaking (not the same because you have $6,000 less of something). That breaks down to this: Roughly speaking: every dollar you save in spending is like two dollars you’ve earned (or at least $1.50).

The reason why is because you have to pay taxes on a raise whereas cutting spending is not taxed, plus you also eliminate sales tax by not buying stuff.

Luke 16:8-11

Beer Drinking Theologians

A new study about Czech Republic avian ecologists (professional bird watchers) shows that the more a scientist drinks beer the fewer papers he will get published and the lower the quality of those papers will be (based on citations).

Conclusion: drinking beer lowers the quality of scientific work.

I find this interesting, what with me being a HUGE fan of Czech avian ecologists (go Zdenek Hubálek!), but it also struck me interesting how so many famous theologians are, and or were, beer drinkers.
Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Calvin, the puritans (they forced a landing on Plymouth Rock primarily because they were running out of ale) and Catholic monks (many of whom brewed beer back in the day) all imbibed on Satan’s Kool-Aid.

Science is largely an intellectual exercise and drinking impairs intellectual reasoning, whereas, if you’ve read enough theology, you know that intellect left that arena long ago. Drinking beer helps you get theological papers published (ask Donald Miller).

So, there’s the ticket you scuffling theologians out there waiting for your big break. Leave sobriety to the bird watchers and go tip a few back.

Why We Should Be Holy

I am reading in Leviticus lately and read chapter 11 today spurring a thought on these verses

“For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

The deliverance from Egypt is brought up over and over by God to get Israel to wake up and listen. They never do. Their deliverance from Egypt was a deliverance from bondage and slavery followed by a journey to the Promised Land.

This is all an illustration of today: we are released from bondage to sin and we are now on a journey to our Promised Land–Heaven. When God brings up His salvation of them, His delivering them from bondage, He says He has now become their God.

That being the case, Be holy for I am holy. God is holy, God saved you, God is your God therefore, you be holy. Not being holy is always viewed as a sign of rejecting the holy God.

Why should we be holy? Because God is holy.

Must be why Paul tells us we should be perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Bruce Ivins

Bruce Ivins is more than likely the guy who sent out anthrax to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy after 9/11. His apparent motive is that Daschle and Leahy were bad Catholics because they supported abortion.

The poisoner is responsible for killing 5 people and injuring 17. Seems a strange way to promote a pro-life agenda. Ivins committed suicide a month ago so there will be no trial.

Masab Yousef

Masab, son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, has converted to Christianity. Here is an interesting article about his conversion and the inevitable outcome of going public with his conversion: never being able to go home again.

“I know that I’m endangering my life and am even liable to lose my father, but I hope that he’ll understand this and that God will give him and my family the patience and willingness to open their eyes to Jesus and to Christianity. Maybe one day I’ll be able to return to Palestine and to Ramallah together with Jesus, in the Kingdom of God.”

HT: Get Religion

Abel’s Sacrifice

I have heard many people say that the reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not his brother Cain’s is because Abel’s sacrifice was an animal and it shed blood. Veggies don’t bleed = God mad.

This sounds fine and I guess I can’t argue with the premise, however, it’s not the stated reason God accepted the sacrifice. If you read Leviticus (yeah, I know) you will find that there are a number of sacrifices that involve grain, including grain offerings for sin (Leviticus 5:11-13).

Therefore, it is not right to teach that only Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable because it had blood. It’s not consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Here’s the verse, Genesis 4:4, that shows us the true reason God accepted the sacrifice, “And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering.”

The reason God accepted Abel’s offering is because he accepted Abel! “the LORD had respect unto Abel.” God respected (better translated “accepted” or “was pleased with”) Abel long before He accepted his sacrifice.

The Bible teaches that without faith it is impossible to please God. With faith it is possible. Psalm 40 makes it clear, as well as most of the prophets, that sacrifices with no faith were pointless, not pleasing to God and, in fact, infuriated God.

You can kill goats and bulls all day long and never get your sin taken care of. God requires faith. Abel had faith (Hebrews 11:4), God accepted him and that’s why God was not bugged by Abel’s sacrifice.

Olympic Humbuggerage

–Let us all remember that while our little American gymnasts were crying over falling off a beam that hundreds of Chinese Christians are being persecuted every day.

–There’s something about Olympic gymnastics that reminds me of Calvinism. It’s like, no matter what you do the winners are predetermined and there’s nothing you can do about it. Fall all you want, you’ll get the medal they predetermined you to have.

Tozer On The End

Tozer’s article, The Decline of Apocalyptic Expectation, laments the fact that people don’t look for the imminent return of Christ anymore. He remembers a day, around WWI, when believers made decisions based on the fact that they believed Christ was returning soon.

We view them as silly now because, obviously, they were wrong. Tozer defends them however in saying that although their timing may have been off, their sentiment certainly was not.

Why do so few actively live as though Christ could return any second? Here’s the best part.

The causes of the decline of apocalyptic expectation are many, not the least being the affluent society in which we live.

If the rich man with difficulty enters the kingdom of God, then it would be logical to conclude that a society having the highest percentage of well-to-do persons in it would have the lowest percentage of Christians, all things else being equal.

If the “deceitfulness of riches” chokes the Word and makes it unfruitful, then this would be the day of near-fruitless preaching, at least in the opulent West.

And if surfeiting and drunkenness and worldly cares tend to unfit the Christian for the coming of Christ, then this generation of Christians should be the least prepared for that event.

Righteous Threads

Was reading in Exodus yesterday about Aaron’s special clothes he was to wear to set him apart as a guy who serves God (Exodus 28:2). The clothes made the man.

Wouldn’t it be sweet if there was a shirt we could wear today that showed everyone we were on God’s side? Well, maybe there is.

My latest podcast is just over two minutes and talks about how to show you are on God’s side.

On Breeding Spotted Mice

One of the funniest and yet totally true articles I’ve read by A. W. Tozer is this one entitled On Breeding Spotted Mice.

In it he expresses credulity that a guy devoted his life to breeding the perfect spotted mouse. Tozer thinks this is a sad use of a life. I imagine many others think Tozer’s life is equally sad for using it to criticize mouse breeders. I wonder who is right.

I don’t know, but I know I like this paragraph near his conclusion on the mouse breeder.

One of the glories of the Christian gospel is its ability not only to deliver a man from sin but to orient him, to place him on a peak from which he can see yesterday and today in their relation to tomorrow. The truth cleanses his mind so that he can recognize things that matter and see time and space and kings and cabbages in their true perspective.

The Spirit-illuminated Christian cannot be cheated. He knows the values of things; he will not bid on a rainbow nor make a down payment on a mirage; he will not, in short, devote his life to spotted mice.

Jesus Was Right Once Again

Face it, the Bible is pretty straightforward: people who love money and stuff do not love God. Worldliness is the opposite of Godliness.

People whose lives are filled with work so they can get and keep all their stuff up and running, are sinning. It’s not right and it will destroy you.

But hey, if you don’t want to take God’s word for it or mine, that’s fine. You can take this guy’s.

“A materialistic lifestyle tends to perpetuate feelings of insecurity, to lead people to hinge their competence on pretty fleeting, external sources, to damage relationships, and to distract people from the more fun, more meaningful, and freer ways of living life.”

Justifying My Sin

Sin is big fun. Lately I’ve been thinking about my sarcastic tendencies and how sometimes, maybe like once or twice, my sarcasm might have possibly crossed a line. Maybe.

This is not a very fun realization, that something I enjoy almost more than anything else is probably, quite possibly not as good as I once thought it was. It’s just my personality, I can’t help it. Riiiight.

But hey, who cares? God forgives me, His grace covers it, it’s not like it will keep me out of heaven.

“Faith will justify the sinner but it will never justify the sinner and his sin.”

A. W. Tozer said that. I think it makes a fine point. I am justified because Christ died for me. He didn’t die for my sin but because of my sin. His death was for me, the sinner. He loved me, not my sin. Therefore, my sin is still sin, it has not been justified.

All my sarcastic jokes that might not have been as righteous as previously thought (righteous indignation ya know) are not all of a sudden made righteous because of my faith. On the contrary, I now, as a man of faith, can fully see the sinful grossness of my fleshly fun.

Being forgiven through the grace and mercy of God is great. If it means anything at all to me, the sinner with the huge debt that I cannot repay, I will rejoice in it and respond with love that knocks off the gross stuff that indebted me in the first place.

Sarcasm is not justified by Christ. Sarcastic people can be. I am and because of that I will not share with you my sarcastic conclusion. For now anyway. But, no worries, I’m sure my flesh will fall soon enough.

Two Ways To Mess Up A Sermon

As a frequent sermon-giver, sometimes even in church, I do a lot of thinking about presentation. There are two extremes I can go to in my sermons: hyper-application or hyper-fact giving.

Hyper-application occurs when I give an application for just about every verse I deal with. By the end all the applications sort of run together and people leave with the three ways to make their marriage more love-filled with the six steps to real love allowing them to implement the four steps to financial responsibility allowing them to take on the 8 reasons to give away your money now. In the end, no one knows what happened.

Hyper-fact giving occurs when I list out the seven ways this Hebrew word can be used and the 13 verses this word shows up in and the four different words the Greek uses to translate the word leading us to the eight main differences in Greek/Hebrew translation. In the end everyone knows what happened–nothing.

I think both are immense time wasters, if not dangerous. Telling people exactly what to do now that you’ve heard this verse removes any struggling a person might need to do with that verse. “OK, I’ll just do what he said.”

Giving so many facts leads to knowledge without love. It leads to people feeling smarter but not having gotten anywhere spiritually. Most fact-giving sermons are light on application, usually the application is tacked on and makes little sense.

There’s a balance in there. Facts and applications are both necessary. Extremes are to be avoided. Good luck with that.

Hell and Other Nice Things

My latest podcast is up.

In four minutes I’ll explain to you what love is, why hell is just fine, why David’s psalms of vengeance are also fine, and why it’s also fine if you share your own vengeance thoughts with God, in fact, not doing so may be a bad sign, it probably means you’d rather take vengeance yourself.

Christianity By Half

“Whatsoever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord.” Not only does this give meaning to life’s mundane activities; it also brings immense meaning to life’s essential aspects.

Christianity, our becoming like Christ, should be done whole-heartedly. It demands your heart, soul, and mind, all that you are. You can’t do it half way.

Unfortunately, Christianity as we hear it, stops halfway. We get the first part but fail to move on to the second part. We’ve got the principles but we miss the perfection.

Modern Christianity says this:

Don’t be bad.
Don’t hate.
Don’t be bad with money.

Nothing is wrong with these statements; all are in Scripture. It creates Christian who don’t do the “really bad sins.” It creates Christians who are “nice,” never acting like they hate anyone. It creates Christians who are paying off their credit cards and paying down their mortgages like good citizens.

Again, nothing wrong with that. What we miss, however, is the second part. The second part proves that Christianity has truly taken root.

Depart from evil AND do good.
Don’t hate BUT actively love your enemies.
Don’t be bad with money SO you can give more away.

Christians are not known by what they DON’T do but by what they actually do (some might say, “By their fruits”). Christians are not known for their non-hating, but are to be known by their love. Christians are not to be known for being fiscally sound but by their generosity.

There’s always a replacement activity for the activity the Spirit will remove from your life. Not doing evil frees up a lot of time, energy and money to do good.

People who live their lives attempting NOT to do something wrong will generally live life doing nothing. People who live life TO DO something usually will. It’s called a goal.

All of this is in emulation of the life of Christ. Christ didn’t come not doing sin, He came doing righteousness. Christ didn’t come not hating, He came to demonstrate God’s love. Christ didn’t come not wasting money, He came to help the poor, oppressed, sick and needy.

It all fits together. Don’t quit halfway through. Be not hearers of the word but doers! Don’t be content to hear, know and quote, be content to do what it says, both parts.

Power Laws and Church

I came across an article today on Power Laws. The gist of the article was focused on blogging: why some blogs get all the traffic while most sputter along in anonymity.

In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.

More choices equals more inequality between the top choice and the bottom choice. The Power Laws explains why the top choices got to be top and why the bottom choices usually stay at or near the bottom.

It got me thinking about church. It is my frank opinion that there are way too many options for spiritual instruction today. It’s too easy to church hop and never become part of anything. Too many options not enough substance. And, with all humility, there is no way on earth there can be this many biblically qualified pastors.

Notice how, now more than ever, there are more mega-churches and more churches closing their doors for lack of funds? This is proof, according to the Power Laws, that there are many options in the Christian world.

Mega-churches are not a sign that churches are selling out necessarily, nor is it a sign of moral weakness in the church. It’s just the way life goes. It’s all about the Power Laws.

There weren’t mega-churches like there are today because there weren’t enough churches before to have really unequal distributions. Don’t you love how a mega-church phobia can be explained away with mathematics?

The Old Cross

I did a Bible study last week about how Paul talks about the cross and the crucifixion. In each context* Paul explains that the cross is an active force in our life, ridding ourselves of what we were and becoming what Christ is.

Many view the cross as back there, already done, I did all that when I got saved. But the cross isn’t just an entrance into salvation; it’s the life of faith. Paul always explains the cross as having an impact on what you are doing right now.

In the midst of the Bible study someone brought up an essay by A. W. Tozer on The Old Cross and the New Cross. It’s a brilliantly written essay and explains many of my frustrations with modern day “Christianity.”

The interesting thing is that this essay was probably written in the 40’s or 50’s. The trends he is pointing out then are even more ridiculous now. The church, ever since it’s beginning, has been trying to water down the offense of the cross.

I’ll let Tozer say a few words,

The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam live without interference. . . . The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.

The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level.

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.

God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must repudiate himself and concur in God’s just sentence against him.

We need more Tozers in the world.

* Romans 6:6-13; 1 Corinthians 1:17-23; 2 Corinthians 13:3-6; Galatians 2:19-21; 5:24-26; 6:12-14; Ephesians 2:14-17; Philippians 2:4-8; Colossians 1:19-23; 2:14-22; 3:17-20;