"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Real Hell Is Really Holy

There is an epidemic of evangelical confusion when it comes to the biblical teaching of hell. Some contemporary Christians seem to believe (and act as if) hell is outside of God and He has nothing to do with it. In reality, hell is created by God and serves a holy purpose.

Some contemporary Christians wrongly believe that hell is a place of torture. God never tortures sinners; there is no need. The "gnawing worm" of conscience in the sinner justly sentenced to hell is enough torture, and it is all self-inflicted (see Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:44).

Hell is the place of confinement prepared by God for those He sentences on the day of judgment, a day described by Jesus as "God's coming wrath" (see Matthew 3:7). God's wrath, however, is not like the wrath of your drunk relative. God's anger towards sinners is impartial, unselfish, tempered, just and holy. He takes no pleasure in the sentencing of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32), but sentences them He will (II Thessalonians 1:8-9). Hell is the Divine prison--the place of confinement--where those sinners outside of Christ are justly sentenced for their crimes against humanity.

Christians need to start viewing hell as the end product of the most efficient, honorable, just and righteous judicial process in the history of mankind.

For example, we have several local and state judges at Emmanuel Enid. The District Attorney for the largest judicial district in Oklahoma is a member of our church. We have many policemen and police women at Emmanuel. We have sheriff deputies and jailors, probation officers, and others who are daily involved in the judicial system of Oklahoma. We consider the judicial system in our city, county and state a very good thing. It is necessary because lawbreakers exist.

The punishment of criminals in our community is a just and holy process because the people involved in the judicial process and the judges who are sentencing the criminals are honorable. The judicial system works, and its effective operation makes life better for people in Enid, Oklahoma.

So it is with God, and so it is with hell. The real hell is really holy. God's hand created it. Every person created in the image of God--but dies without Christ and His redemption--will stand before their Creator and give an account for every idle and thoughtless word, every careless and selfish action, and every hidden intention of the heart. The solemn judicial process on that day will be the most holy, righteous, and honorable event mankind will ever witness.

There will be no cries of "Unjust!" Every mouth will be silenced. Everything wrong will be made right. Justice will finally reign. Again, God will take no pleasure in the sentencing of the wicked to hell, but He will do so for the sake of His honor and His people. Hell is of God, and the real hell is really holy. Hell is the Divine prison created by God to house the wicked.

There are three words that accurately characterize hell from a biblical perspective. Hell is a place of separation, where the sinner is separated from God's mercies by a personal and real imprisonment (II Thessalonians 1:8-9). Hell is a place of isolation, where the sinner is isolated from all human relationships in a place of complete darkness. But what is difficult for many people to understand is that hell is a place of continuation, where the sinner lives, breathes, and exists as a human being. God raises all the dead on the day of judgment (not just the righteous), and those whose names are not in the book of life will have the record books opened and every recorded thought, action, and intention in their lives will be brought to light, and they will give an account to God (Romans 2).

Hell is the prison reserved for those who are found guilty, and according to Romans 3:23, the guilty verdict will be heard by every human being apart from Christ.

Now here's the deal. God is as glorified in the sentencing of the wicked (His justice) as He is in the deliverance of His people from the day of wrath (His grace). Augustine even goes further in his commentary on Isaiah 66:24 when he says, "For those who shall be in hell shall not know what is going on in the joy of the Lord; but they who shall enter into that joy shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness." In other words, Augustine taught that Scripture declares the holy and judicial punishment of the wicked in hell makes heaven a better place.

Christians throughout the centuries have disagreed on how God's justice is impartially displayed in the sentencing of individual sinners in hell. How is it just for Adolph Hitler to receive the same prison sentence of separation and isolation from God and people that a twelve-year-old boy who dies without Christ receives? Answers to this question vary:

(1). Some say that there will be eventual annihilation. John Stott is in this camp. He says that the prison sentence for the wicked varies. The less wicked are rewarded with a lesser sentence in hell. The most wicked will spend the most time in hell. In the end, all the wicked will receive personal destruction and cease to exist. Eternal life is only the gift for those in Christ.

(2). Some say that there will be expectant restoration. George McDonald and C.S. Lewis were in this camp. McDonald was Lewis' mentor and both wrote of what they called "hopeful restoration" where God would eventually win over and restore even the most wicked with His amazing love. Lewis did not go as far as McDonald, but both men believed in degrees of rewards and punishment in hell, with the hope that God would eventually win the wicked over by His love.

(3). The majority of evangelicals (including me) believe in eternal condemnation. I am sympathetic with both of the arguments above, and understand how people have arrived at them. However, I believe that sin against God deserves eternal condemnation because the sin is against an eternal God. What makes rebellion against God so egregious is the nature of God against whom the sin is committed, not necessarily the nature of the sin.. Fire an arrow through the heart of a deer, you will be praised. Fire an arrow through the heart of a man, you will be condemned. What makes one's action evil is the nature of the One against whom the action is taken. God is eternal, transcendent, and Creator of all. A sin against Him is deserving of eternal condemnation.

However, I do believe that somehow, someway, eternal punishment in hell (which is never torture) will vary from sinner to sinner. Jesus said that the people of Tyre and Sidon would find their sentencing on the day of judgment "more tolerable" than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Matthew 10:15). For the third time: The real hell is really holy. No mistakes of justice are ever made by God in His righteous and impartial sentencing of the wicked.

Application: Evangelical churches and mission boards make a huge mistake when they don't rightly understand that hell is of God and hell is holy. When we go into the world and act as if God is desperately trying to keep people from hell, we are lying to sinners. Hell is created by God because there are sinners. Instead of going to the world with good news, we should tell them the bad news. Every person outside of Christ will give an account to their Creator for everything they've ever thought, said or done. After being weighed in the scales of His justice, they will be found wanting, and He will sentence them to an appropriate, just and personal term of isolated imprisonment.

However, if sinners begin to feel desperate about their predicament when they hear the bad news, and they begin to feel a desire for deliverance from the wrath to come, then we tell them the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners.

We churches screw this up big time. We go to sinners who have never felt their accountability to God and say, "Smile, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Truth is, we should reserve that message to those who are in Christ. Sinners who have never felt their need of a Savior need to be given the grim, solemn news that there is a day of wrath coming. Their only hope is to flee to Him who provides an escape.

When a sinner comes to faith in Christ a Great Exchange takes place. All of the sinner's sins are taken by Christ; all of them--past, present and future--because God is not bound by time and when Christ died He died for all the sins of His people. The believer in Christ exchanges his sins for the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. He takes our sins; we receive His righteousness. This Great Exchange is the reason our names are written in the Book of Life and we escape the Day of Wrath.

The evidence that our name is written in the Book of Life by God Himself is that we are continually growing to love others the way He has loved us (John 13:35) and we live lives that could not be accurately described as "sinless" but lives that are always "turning from" our sins (Matthew 1:21) and "turning toward" God in faith. God's people are trophies of grace and are redeemed for the praise and honor of His grace.

Likewise, men who rebel against their Creator--by their own free agency I might add, never forced to rebel by a holy God--and refuse to bow before the only true Deliverer available to sinners, will experience a just and holy sentence of punishment in hell. For the sake of the praise of God's justice and the recognition of the biblical truth that hell is the Divine means for making all things right in the universe, please never forget that the real hell is really holy.

Born in Torture, Adopted in Triumph

There are so many spiritual analogies that could be drawn from this gripping story of an Oklahoma City child abuse case, but the story itself is enough to bring a song into your heart. Well done, Clint and Amanda Lile family! Thanks for sharing His love.

A Pagan America Is Cause for Excitement

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (II Corinthians 4:7).

I saw my first Catfish television show this week. My son told me about it. Very few people over thirty years of age have probably seen the show, but most people under thirty probably watch every episode. It is a documentary about people creating false on-line profiles and then engaging in on-line relationships with other people, all the while pretending to be somebody other than who they really are. The show is raunchy. The show is ridiculous. The show is revealing.

Our world has hit rock bottom.

Our world is filled with bottom feeders.

Bisexual, transsexual, homosexual, asexual -- it matters not; all that matters is that you feel good about yourself. The idea that there is a God to whom a human being is accountable is laughable. To teach young people that the world revolves for a purpose, and that purpose is not self-indulgence, is like teaching a foreign language. Christians are a minority in America. Make it known you believe in Jesus Christ and remind people that every human being will one day give an account to Him for the way they have lived their lives, and you will be called a racist, intolerant, homophobic or any other number of epithets. America is pagan. Americans are pagan. Paganism reigns.

It's about time.

Christians have had far too much political power for far too long. Christians have been way too comfortable for way too long. Worldly power and comfort are to Christianity what diesel is to gasoline cars; it might fit in the gas tank, but over time the engine always sputters and stops. Christians need to suffer a little persecution and feel what it is like to be in the minority. The all-surpassing power of God is never seen or felt when our clay jars look like jewel encrusted golden bowls.

Jesus took twelve disciples in the middle of a pagan Roman empire and transformed the world. For the first few hundred years disciples of Christ were beaten, abused, tortured, and even murdered for their faith. Some were thrown in vats of boiling water, others were crucified upside down, some were stoned, and a few were thrown to the wild animals in arenas filled with pagans laughing and betting how long the poor Christian would last. No follower of Jesus Christ in those early days expected power, riches or worldly goods. Rare were the Lydias who sold purple to the elite or the Christian noblemen who walked the corridors of power. Those ancient Christians were weak by the world's definitions. They had no fame or fortune. They were despised and ridiculed. They experienced penetrating physical and psychological pain from people who perpetually protested their purity. To follow Christ may have meant heaven in their hearts, but it was definitely hell in their hoods.

Yet, in those early days followers of Christ didn't fight those who offended or abused them; they loved them. They didn't bitterly renounce their earthly countries. How could they? They were looking for a better country and a city not built with human hands. They never thought in terms of a material kingdom because they had entered into a kingdom not always seen with the physical eye. The power they had was spiritual. The aura of their presence was Divine. The inner strength they possessed was priceless. Those early Christians may have looked like little ole inexpensive and weak clay jars to the world at large, but the world soon came to see that there was a treasure within them--a treasure missing in the lives of bottom feeders. 

That's how the world will be changed. We followers of Jesus Christ don't need to moan that America is now pagan. We need not complain over our loss of political or economic power. We must simply walk among bottom feeders and show that the Divine Treasure is within us.

Let the show begin.

Independent Fundamentalism in the SBC

The pastor featured in the video below is from Oklahoma and his church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. My forefathers, men like Rufus Burleson, have been Southern Baptists since the mid-1800's. My grandfather was a SBC evangelist, my father has been a SBC pastor for over five decades, and I am now in my third decade of pastoring a church affiliated with the SBC. Tom Ascol brought my attention to the video below on a Facebook comment he posted this week. I'm sure the pastor in the video is well-intentioned in his actions, but I must confess that after watching the video (twice) I am reminded how far some in the SBC seem to have fallen into a brand of fundamentalism with which I am unfamiliar. Further, were more SBC churches and SBC pastors to exhibit similar behavior, I would lead our church to leave the SBC faster than a Usain Bolt runs one hundred meters. Watch at your own peril.

Sex Is a Symbol of Something Else

"Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the bed undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).

Lil Wayne caused an uproar last week when he stomped on the American flag. Nobody gets in trouble for stepping on cloth died red, white or blue if that cloth is a shirt or a rag, but when died cloth is a symbol for America--and you step on it--people get really upset.

Symbols have meaning.

Christians have a hard time explaining why sex outside of marriage is wrong because we haven't been taught that marriage is a symbol of something else. When everybody else in culture seems to be participating in sex outside of marriage, the person who abstains from sex until marriage is often looked upon as weird or abnormal. As Christians, we need to give some very good reasons for why sex should be reserved for marriage. We haven't done our children any favors by asking them to make promises of abstinence without ever giving them reasons for their promises. Here it is:

Sex in marriage is a symbol of a person's union and intimacy with God.

Sex outside of marriage is a symbol of a person turning his back on God.

One should wait for sex until marriage for the same reason Lil Wayne ought to refrain from trampling on the American flag. The flag represents his country, and desecrating the symbol for America is a picture of Lil Wayne turning his back on America. Likewise, sex outside of marriage is a symbol of a person turning his back on a union with God.

Throughout Scripture, God calls those who trust Him "the bride of Christ."  When Paul refers to the union of a man and a wife, He compares it to the union between Christ and His people (Ephesians 5:22-33). It would be right to say that everything about the sexual union between a man and a woman in marriage is a beautiful picture of what it is going to be like when we see our covenant God face-to-face and are united with Him forever.

The euphoria and ecstasy of heaven are pictured in the sexual union of marriage. The intimacy in relationship between a husband and wife pictures the intimacy of relationship between Christ and His people. There is one simple way to prove that the sexual union in marriage pictures something else.

When the reality is present, there is no longer any need for the picture.

I was a wrangler in Colorado and would alternate taking people to the top of two majestic mountains, Mt. Antero and Mt. Princeton, and prepare breakfast for them. How silly would it have been for the people who went with me to the top of the mountains to sit down smack dab in the middle of a 360 panoramic view of the Rockies and pull out pictures of the views from the top of the mountains and focus on the pictures? It would have been very silly. You don't need pictures when you are on top of the mountains and can look at the real thing that the pictures represent.

Jesus said, "During the resurrection (heaven) people will not marry nor will they be given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30). I've heard some people with great marriages get upset with the fact that they won't be married in heaven. Relax. Your best friend here will be your best friend there. What Jesus is saying is that there is no sexual activity in heaven, no sexual union in marriage in heaven, no procreation in heaven.

There is no marriage or giving in marriage (the sexual union) in heaven because there is no need for the symbol or the picture when the reality is present.

The euphoria and ecstasy the marriage bed pictures will be enjoyed the feelings we have of being united with Christ forever. Sexual union within the context of marriage is a picture of our eternal union with Christ.

This is why marriage in this life should never be the identity of any individual Christian Whether you are single, widowed, divorced, or in a bad marriage, the essence of who you are as a person is found in  in your union with Christ, not in a good marriage or the lack of a good marriage. The picture frame may break, or the picture itself may be destroyed, but the reality of what marriage represents cannot be destroyed. Singles, don't let anybody tell you that you are "missing out" by not being married. Look them square in the eye and tell them you have the reality of what their marriage represents. You have union with your covenant God and you enjoy Him and can't wait until you see Him face to face.

Since God designed marriage to be a symbol or picture of the union that people can have with Him, then when a person moves into sexual activity outside of marriage, it is a picture that that one has gone after the pleasure of other gods and has forsaken the joy that comes from union with the one true and living God.
 
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you” (I Corinthians 6:18-19). The argument against sexual sins outside of marriage is that you are in union with God, and if you united yourself sexually with someone other than your spouse, you are symbolizing an abandonment of your union with God.  You are like Lil Wayne - you are trampling on the flag of marriage and turning your back on what the flag represents.

The sin of sexual activity outside of marriage is spiritual, not physical.  Anybody who tries to tell you that sex outside of marriage is not pleasurable is lying. The act of sex is always pleasurable, that's why people are addicted to it. What those people who go after sex outside of marriage forget is that sex symbolizes something else.  The person who looks to sexual activity as a goal has forgotten that there is a God. Only He can feel the empty soul with the joy, purpose and meaning.

Sexual sins are symptoms, not the disease. The disease of the sexual addict is a lack of enjoying a union with God. The symptom of this spiritual disease is to look for sex as the goal. Or, to put it in biblical language, "the sex addict begins to worship the thing created rather than the Creator" (see Romans 1).

“For fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). God is not judging people for participating in the act of sex. God created sex. It is a beautiful and sacred act. The reason God judges fornicators and adulterers is because the person who pursues sex outside of the context of marriage is giving evidence that he or she is not in union with God.  It’s not the act of sex that is judged. It’s not the enjoyment of the act of sex that is judged. It is the separation from God in the act of sex that is judged.

I think Beth Moore is the one who said, "There is no high like the Most High."  The person who is enjoying their union with God will have no problem honoring the flag.
 
It makes zero sense to condemn the world for their sexual immorality. They have no concept that sex is a picture of something else. But there may come a time when you can use the subject of sex as a way to witness of your union with Christ.
 
Next time someone pressures you to have sex outside the confines of marriage, feel free to say no to that person in this manner, "I find you attractive. I am sure I would enjoy having sex with you. However, sex is a symbol of my covenant relationship with God. I am united with Him. He has pledged His fidelity to me. He loves me. He cares for me. I am going to wait for sex until marriage because I wish to honor the symbol He has given me of my relationship with God. To have sex with you now is to symbolically turn my back on my union with the most important Person in my life. I will not trample on the symbol of my spiritual union with my God."
 
Then take a picture of the look on your friend's face.
 
             

The Truth Will Set You Free

I have many Arminian friends. Truth be known, I have more Arminian friends than Reformed friends. However, I read recently where Dr. Roger Olson, author of Against Calvinism, made a convincing argument that the word "Reformed" has been wrongly claimed by Calvinists. Dr. Olson,  one of the leading evangelical Arminian scholars in America, believes the word "Reformed" does not historically define one's soteriology, since many  Arminian churches and denominations have used the word Reformed in their names. After reflection,  I agree with Dr. Olson. In my opinion, the word Reformed identifies a church with a particular view of ecclesiology. In simpler language, Reformed churches, whether they are Calvinistic or Arminian, seem to have specific beliefs about how a church should operate. For example, a Reformed church will usually have  (1). A clear separation between clergy and laity;  (2) A strong belief that the kingdom of God and the church are synonymous, and (3). Reformed churches will have leaders who emphasize their spiritual authority over God's people. In short, Reformed churches have much in common with Roman Catholic ecclesiology and little in common with Roman Catholic soteriology. That's an observation, not a criticism.

My Reformed friends dislike that I refuse to emphasize any law but Christ's Royal Law of love (see James 2:8) and that I resist any recognition of spiritual authority in the life of a believer other than Christ's authority. A few of my Reformed pastor friends seem to want to force service to God and the institutional church through exerting their perceived spiritual authority. As a result, you wind up with people who feel obligated to do what they do. I am not Reformed. I believe when the Holy Spirit motivates and empowers His people, Christians will serve freely, cheerfully, and generously with nothing expected in return from God. The Spirit doesn't need me to motivate God's people through guilt, and God's people will only truly be motivated by a comprehension of God's love, not fear. Christ does a good job of building His kingdom, and He came to set His people free from bondage. But it seems Christians finding freedom fosters fear in Reformed people like water fosters fear in cats.

The one thing all Reformed churches and people seem to have in common is an emphasis on law. Reformed leaders feel it necessary to keep their people obedient to a set of laws. Though the laws change from church to church, many Reformed leaders make the mistake of confusing their institutional desires with God's desires. Therefore, giving to the church becomes giving to God's kingdom; serving the church becomes serving God's kingdom; questioning the pastor becomes questioning God's king on earth, etc...

Why is there so much emphasis by Reformed people on the law? I believe one of the reasons is due to a longstanding misinterpretation of New Testament passages that seem to speak of God 'judging the works' of every individual, including Christians. For example, Romans 2:5-8 (NAS) says:
(5) Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, (He will give) eternal life; (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey righteousness, (He will give) wrath and indignation.
Most Reformed leaders (Arminian and Calvinistic) believe the above passage teaches:

(1). Every person, including Christians, will be judged for the deeds done in this life.
(2). Those who do good will be rewarded by God with honor, glory and eternal life.
(3). Those who have been selfish and disobedient will be given wrath and indignation.
(4). Therefore, it is important for those in spiritual authority to keep people obedient.

This interpretation of Romans 2:5-8 is full of error in my opinion, and I'm not the only one who thinks this way. For example, the great New Testament scholar Henry Alford (1810-1871) writes in his brilliant commentary on Romans that "the Apostle is speaking of the general system of God in governing the world--punishing the evil, rewarding the righteous--but no question at present arises as to how this righteousness is to be obtained."

I believe Romans 2 is addressing sinners in general. I don't for a moment believe that Romans 2 is referring to judgment for sinners who are in Christ by grace through faith. God deems those in Christ perfectly righteous (see II Corinthians 5:21).

In Romans 2 Paul is slowly and methodically building an argument that the good and loving Creator measures a human being's works in this life for the purpose of reward or just punishment. Even those without the Law of Moses know by nature that they are to love their Creator and other people and that they are to do good. God gives reward for persistent, continual good works that are done with right motives (life eternal), but He gives a holy sentence of impartial judgment for a life of selfish disobedience. The final judgment before God is a judgment of one's works in this life. In the very next chapter, Romans 3, Paul draws his argument to a conclusion:

There is no one who is righteous - See Romans 3:10

There is no one who is obedient - see Romans 3:11.

There is no one who is good - see Romans 3:12.

I often hear well-meaning Christians say that at the final judgment, God will judge whether or not people received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are wrong. The final judgment is about one's works in this life. Does a person live persistently and continually in an unselfish manner and do good for others with the motive of bringing glory to God. If so, they are rewarded with eternal life. But who does that? Answer: Nobody. What are the consequences for not living this kind of good life? Everybody receives a righteous and impartial sentence of judgment from a Creator who purposed that the people He created were to live a life of goodness and love.

Every single person is without excuse.

I often hear well-meaning Christians say, "But what about that person who never hears about Jesus? How can God judge them? They didn't have a chance?"

When I hear Christians say the above, I immediately know they haven't spent a great deal of time thinking through biblically what it is that God judges in people. God is a good, kind, gracious and loving God. He treats people with kindness and love. He created us in His image. We are to be as unselfish, as loving, and as kind to other people as God is to us. Yet, everyone of us is selfish. Everyone of us is disobedient to God's royal law of love. Everyone of us violates our own conscience  of what is right and we do the very thing we know to be wrong. We make excuses, but deep down we know we are guilty. It is our sin that God judges. It is our rebellion that God measures. Our sin and rebellion is not God's fault, it is our fault.

At the judgment, it will be proven there is no one good but God.

The good news is that the Creator God came to earth and lived life as one of us--and He lived His life the way life was supposed to be lived--but He died in darkness and isolation the death each rebel deserves to die because of his or her personal sin and selfishness. But, incredibly, after Jesus rose from the dead He promised broken and heavy-laden sinners some good news. I call it the Great Exchange. He said to broken sinners: I have taken your sins upon Me and I have given to you My perfect righteousness. You are delivered from judgment. You are free from the curse of sin. You are My people. Paul puts it like this:

"But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:21-22).  "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). And then he says, "For this reason righteousness is by faith, in order that righteousness may be in accordance with grace" (Romans 4:16), and "Therefore, being justified by grace through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

This is the gospel. This is the good news. God makes His love for broken sinners so captivating, so alluring, so charming, so dazzling, so enthralling, so mesmerizing, so spellbinding (gospel comes from "good spell"), so magnetizing, so enrapturing, so gripping, so compelling, so hypnotizing, and so absolutely "sweep me off my feet" enamoring that God's people cannot, will not, must not -- and indeed do not refuse to be transformed by His love.

Those sinners who believe in Christ will never stand before God in judgment. Believers in Christ will never have their works measured by God. Believers in Christ have been given perfect righteousness (i.e. "His righteousness") as a gift of His grace. Believers in Christ are at peace with God because of this righteousness, a righteousness that is granted to them by God Himself. Believers have been freed from sin and delivered from the consequences of their sins. Christ has set us free, and whom He sets free are free indeed. Of course, when this freedom begins to be taught, people who are oriented to law will ask, "What! Are you kidding me? If I believed that, I would just go on sinning, because no matter how much I sin, grace for me increases all the more!"

Sound familiar? That is exactly the objection Paul anticipates in Romans 6 and he answers it by saying that when we are "freed (there's that word freedom) from sin" we derive benefit from Christ, even our sanctification! In other words, the same amazing love that transformed our hearts will begin to be shed from our hearts into the lives of others. We become Christians - little Christs--and begin to love others as He has loved us. We can't help us. His love is that transforming. As our Savior from our sin and our selfishness has declared, "By your love will everyone know you are mine" (John 13:35).

Remember, the judgment of God for sinners revolves around works in this life and the ultimate determination that nobody is good.

On the other hand, the grace of God revolves around the works of His Son,  Who alone is good. Those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life never stand in judgment.

As ancient hymn says:

"Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great high Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me

My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart."
 
If a "no-good person" is concerned that a good-news God might choose to bypass him with His amazing grace, I would encourage that no-good person to get on his or her knees and ask the gracious Creator to "be merciful to me a sinner." We might even join you in singing one of the old classics that described our hearts when we awakened to our no-good nature, "Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior."

Jesus Christ always stops when He hears a humble cry--because it was His love that drew from us that good and wonderful cry in the first place. For by grace have we been delivered from our selfishness and sin.

And now, we are free.

Serious Reflections on Every Christian's Life from Daniel Defoe's Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

They don't make movies like they used to make them: they make them better.

They don't write books like they used to write them; they write them worse.

Daniel Defoe's The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was written in 1719 and has stood the test of time as a first-rate fictional adventure for both children and adults. Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe in a simple, narrative style, and he is often credited as being the first English author to make realistic fiction a part of English literature. Before the end of 1719 Defoe's book had run through four editions, and since then Robinson Crusoe has become one of the most widely published books in history, spawning numerous sequels and adaptations for stage, film, and television.

What many do not realize is Robinson Crusoe is filled with intentional and beautiful underlying spiritual principles. Defoe wrote a second book about Crusoe entitled The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. In 1720 he wrote a third book with the fancy title Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with His Vision of the Angelic World. This third book explains the first two Robinson Crusoe books. Literary scholars with no appetite for Christian doctrine nor any affection for spiritual matters will scoff at Serious Reflections, but listen to what Defoe says in the author's preface to his third book on Robinson Crusoe:
The present work is not merely the Product of the two first volumes, but rather the two first volumes may rather be called the Product of this: The Fable is always made for the Moral, not the Moral for the Fable.
Defoe then shows how Robinson Crusoe is an allegory about how life goes--for every human being, but with particular attention to those who come to faith in Christ. If you are a Christian, Robinson Crusoe is the story of your life. In Defoe's third book where he explains the allegory,  I have found some of the wisest, clearest and most profound advice for Christian living I've ever read.

For example, one of the things that bothers me about most evangelical churches (particularly Baptists) is the emphasis on isolating people from "the world" and separating Christians from objects of worldly influence; in essence, withdrawing to our evangelical islands in the sea (like Crusoe). Defoe writes with wit and wisdom on the folly of such behavior in Chapter 1 of Serious Reflections. In preparation for a fall Wednesday night series at Emmanuel Enid called Serious Reflections on Every Person's Life through Daniel Defoe's 'Adventures of Robinson Crusoe',  I am modernizing and paraphrasing the archaic 18th century English of Defoe's Serious Reflections. The following wise counsel comes from Chapter One:
"The truth is our withdrawal into a religious hermit-like existence, separating ourselves in solitude from this world, is but an acknowledgment of the defect and imperfection of the promises and resolutions we have made.  Our incapacity to bind ourselves to what we deem as needful restraints and our failure to keep and observe the vows we make become the reasons for our withdrawal. Or to say it another way:  The one who seeks happiness in heavenly things, through prayer and good works, but at the same time is sensible to how disagreeable such a life is to this world, will cause his soul to commit a rape upon his own body, through carrying his body by force into a desert, or into a religious retirement and/or solitude, from where he cannot return.  In such a place it is impossible for this person “to have conversation with Mankind” other than with those people who are under the same vows as they, and the same banishment as they. The folly of this kind of religious activity is evident many ways:
(1). Christians can come to enjoy all the desirable advantages of solitude without a strict retirement from the world.  When thoughts are strictly governed there is no need for outward formalities of religious exercises, rigorous religious activity or any apparent outward mortifications of the body, activities which I justly call a rape upon human nature.
(2). Wild beasts are not just in the wilderness. There is no escaping them in a cell on the top of a mountain, or on a desolate island in the sea. However, if the soul is truly the master of the body and the mind is confined, then all is safe.  What advantage is there in a bodily retreat from the world, especially a forced retreat as some require, when the problem is a matter of the mind?
(3). Our business is to get an isolated soul, not a withdrawn body. We must ever have a frame of mind truly elevated above the world, for then we may be alone whenever we please. Even in the middle of a harried and corrupt world and among a great company of people with different moral values or no values at all, when our thoughts are rightly engaged we are free from the wild beasts that would tear us apart.
(4). The soul is superior to the body. The body is the servant and slave to the soul. The body has no hands to act, no feet to walk, no tongue to speak. The soul possesses understanding and will, which are the two deputies of the soul's power.  All the passions which agitate, direct, and possess the body, are rooted in the soul. When we get the soul into it's natural superior direction and elevation, there is no need to prescribe a person to withdraw from the world.
(5). Christians say it is being entangled by worldly things which interrupts their focus and contemplation of heavenly things and thus becomes the excuse to withdraw and isolate themselves from the world.  But what evidence of true Christianity is there in removing the body from the presence of worldly things? For example, a desire for something contracts the same guilt as if that something were actually experienced. For our Savior says, “He that has lust in his mind and desires a woman unlawfully has already committed adultery.” Our Savior’s meaning is that that the problem is thinking on a woman to desire her unlawfully, even if one has not looked on her or has not seen her at the time one's thinking of her. How shall this thinking of her be removed by transporting the body away from the object of desire?
Answer: The lust in the mind must be removed by a change in the soul. For only when there is a change in the soul will the mind be carried above the power or reach of the allurement.  Otherwise the vicious desire remains in the body as force remains in the gunpowder, and it will exert itself whenever touched with fire.
Isolation and solitude from the world, as I understand by it, is a retreat from human society, on a religious or philosophical account. Such a thing is a mere cheat; for it can neither answer the end it proposes or qualify us for the duties of true Christianity which we are commanded to perform. Therefore, religious isolation from the world is really irreligious in itself and is inconsistent with a Christian life.”
Yesterday, a friend sent me a video of Southern Baptist preacher who uses me as an illustration in his message (You may watch it here). The pastor is of the belief that separation from the world is true religion. Not so. True religion is being smack dab in the middle of a pagan world and finding yourself unaffected. When we feel the need to condemn others and isolate ourselves, it is usually a sign of a fear within that we can't keep the promises and vows we have made to God. I feel no need to either make or keep any promises to Him yet I find myself believing and resting in every one of His promises to me, which are much superior promises to anything the world offers.

Thank you, Robinson Crusoe, for illustrating it so.

The Compelling Love of God

One of the things I love most about blogging is the interaction with readers. After my post detailing how George McDonald left the theology of his childhood and came to believe in universal reconciliation, several Arminians wrote me, quite upset that I could believe in God's distinguishing and effectual love for His people. I always learn from people, particularly those who disagree with me, and I thought one particular exchange with Kristen helps clarify what seems to be some misperception about the power of God's love for His people - whether His people belong to a select group of innumerable individuals from every nation, tribe, kindred, tongue and family (i.e. "the world") as I believe, or every single individual of the entire human race, as George McDonald believed. My Arminian friends, like Kristen, have trouble seeing how God's love can always be effectual without taking away human freedom. For example:

Kristen: "As an Arminian I believe that God must put the desire to be rescued in the human heart. The difference is that I don't believe God makes the desire so overwhelmingly strong that humans have no power to refuse."

Wade: "I think you are misunderstanding what I believe, Kristen. I have never believed, have never taught, and have never written that any human being does not have the power to refuse.

I have always believed, taught, and written that God makes His love is so captivating, so alluring, so charming, so dazzling, so enthralling, so mesmerizing, so spellbinding (gospel comes from "good spell"), so magnetizing, so enrapturing, so gripping, so compelling, so hypnotizing, and so absolutely "sweep me off my feet" enamoring that I cannot, will not, and must not refuse, though I have the power to do so.

Have you ever been loved like that? I have! By Him"

Why is it important to see that God's love for us is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness? Because it is only the comprehension of the incomparable love of God that leads to change in our lives (see Ephesians 3). Or to summarize, allow me to put in modern language a saying by a wonderful divine of old:

"Real faith is coming to God in the absolute absence of any positive feelings or spiritual desires, without any healthy glow or good aspirations, weighted down with low thoughts, failure, neglect and wondering forgetfulness, and yet being able to say to Him, 'You are my Refuge.'

Be Careful of the Hashtag SBC'ers

I am not in Houston, Texas for the annual Southern Baptist Convention. However, I'm keeping up with what is going on in Houston through Twitter. Barry McCarty, the chief parliamentarian for the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted this morning that many pastors are tweeting about the Southern Baptist Convention using  #SBC2013 instead of the "official" Southern Baptist Convention hashtag of #SBC13.

What's the big deal? Well, it seems #SBC2013 is the "official" hashtag for the annual Sports Bra Challenge (SBC) in New York, whose theme is "Reveal Yourself." I really think God must have a sense of humor. Here are a few tweets this morning from pastors at the Southern Baptist Convention using the wrong hashtag (some soon deleted):

"That was incredibly uplifting!" #SBC2013

"Anybody else think we look small on television" #SBC2013

"Why is it so cold in this arena?" #SBC2013

"I can't tell if that pastor was glaring or staring at me" #SBC2013

"I find myself growing more and more irritated." #SBC2013

Be careful of your hashtags SBC pastors.

How to Kiss Calvinism Goodbye: The Gracious Way to Depart from the Doctrine of God's Distinguishing Love

I was twenty years old when I first read God's Everlasting Love to His Elect by John Gill. To this day, other than the Bible, no book has impacted my life more. Gill showed me how God is love, and how the Father's love is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness. Previous to reading Gill, I had been infected with the delusion that God had a holy hatred for sinners and Jesus had a longing love for sinners. I believed that the Father desired to punish sinners because of His holy nature of justice, but Jesus offered Himself to the Father as a Substitute for undeserving sinners. My notion of a bi-polar God bothered me, but I just assumed that justice and love were mutually exclusive--- until I read Gill. Then I began to see that God is love, and when He moves to save His people, He saves them in love, through love, by love and for love. The Father and the Son are one in motive. "For God so loved the world...."

I have never struggled with what some call God's distinguishing love for His elect. Since every sinner is responsible for his own sin and rebellion, I felt that if God chose to love an innumerable company of sinners instead of every individual sinner, who can complain (Romans 9)? It's a little like you saying to me, "I love your wife, but I don't love her like I love my own wife." I understand the difference. You chose your wife, not my wife. However, in my journey of faith I have discovered that not all of God's people are as comfortable with God's distinguishing love as I am. Some believe that God's love abides upon each human being to the same degree of fullness as every other human being, and the notion that God has a distinguishing love for His Bride bothers these Christians immensely.

George McDonald (1824-1905) was one of those Christians.

It is said that the first time the doctrine of predestination was explained to young George McDonald, he burst into tears, although he was assured that he was one of the elect. George would grow up and become a Congregational minister himself, but he was eventually kicked out of the ministry for suggesting that the consuming fire of God's love would eventually overcome sin and rebellion in every human being. George McDonald turned to writing, and his influence was enormous. Most American evangelicals have not heard of George McDonald, but they have heard of those discipled by him:

C.S. Lewis called McDonald "my master." Lewis had picked up a copy of McDonald's book Phantastes at a train station bookstall. "I began to read," says Lewis, "and a few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier."

G.K. Chesterton said McDonald's book The Princess and the Goblin "made a difference to my whole existence."

Mark Twain was greatly influenced by George McDonald, as was the great Christian devotion writer Oswald Chambers who said, "It is a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that George MacDonald's books have been so neglected."

I could go on, but you get the picture. George McDonald would eventually write many books, but two of them, Robert Falconer and Lilith,  show his intense dislike for the idea that God's salvific love is given to some and not to others. C.S. Lewis describes in George McDonald: An Anthology  how McDonald kept the "worthy" portion of his Scottish Calvinism while renouncing the doctrine of predestination: "In the very midst of his intellectual revolt (from Calvinism), McDonald forces us to see elements of real and perhaps irreplaceable worth in the thing from which he is revolting."

Don't gloss over what Lewis is saying about McDonald. In the midst of rejecting God's distinguishing love, McDonald keeps his readers focused on the real worth of Calvinism. If the "real worth" of Calvinism is not God's distinguishing love, then what is it? McDonald believed Calvinism correctly conveyed a real sense of God's majesty, sovereignty, and power. McDonald believed and taught that God can do as He pleases at all times or He would not be God. This was the portion of Calvinism that McDonald deemed worthy. What McDonald despised was the belief that God chooses to save some and not all.

George McDonald came to believe in universal reconciliation.

C.S. Lewis never fully adopted George MacDonald's eschatology of universal reconciliation. However, Lewis did challenge the traditional doctrine of hell, showing how much he was influenced by McDonald.  In Lewis' book The Great Divorce,  a person named "MacDonald" appears as a heavenly guide and shows how it might be that a person who continually spurns God's love might spend eternity in total isolation and darkness. Then, a character named "Lewis" challenges the heavenly guide (McDonald) by reminding him that he had believed in universal reconciliation while he lived on earth. MacDonald responds that indeed,  it is possible that everyone will eventually be saved (just as he believed on earth),  but "we cannot know this" with certainty. C.S. Lewis taught in The Great Divorce that what we can know is God's mercy and love are endless, but if we spurn His love and mercy, we cease being human beings in any meaningful sense. If God's mercy and love do not ultimate obtain for us victory over our sin and selfishness and hell is eternal, then that hell will be "outer darkness" where the consuming fire of God's love is not experienced. For God's fire of love consumes our sin.

C.S. Lewis came very close to embracing the universal reconciliation of his master George McDonald. Ironic, is it not, that John Piper tweeted "Goodbye Rob Bell" when Rob Bell published Love Wins (a book that questions, but does not deny the existence of an eternal hell) while during that same time period John Piper extolled C.S. Lewis as the greatest influence in his life. Both men, Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis, believed the same thing about hell. C.S. Lewis simply wrote fantasy while Rob Bell spelled it out in plain English. I'm not sure why Piper has not tweeted "Goodbye C.S. Lewis" except for the fact that we sometimes seem more concerned with tweaking perceived opponents than in learning from fellow disciples.

Southern Baptists are convening in Houston, Texas this week. Calvinism is an issue for the SBC. There is a dividing line between those who believe in God's distinguishing love and those who believe in God's universal love. Throughout history, evangelicals who have had a high view of God's sovereignty, a keen intellectual and theological awareness, and a desire to communicate the love of God to sinners, have all rallied around the cross of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation He brings. There is a way for Southern Baptists to refuse to believe in God's distinguishing love for His people; they can be like C.S. Lewis, George McDonald, Rob Bell, Paul Young and others and believe in universal reconciliation.

I do not.

However, if one chooses to reject the doctrine of God's distinguishing love and finds universal reconciliation distasteful (as many Southern Baptists do), then the only alternative is to deny the sovereignty of God and make Him into a fickle human being whose love is dependent on the performance of those being loved. That isn't good news, it's really rotten news. When you make your god as fickle as we are, you have turned him into a person just like us.

Thankfully,  God is not like us.  His love is an artesian spring that is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness. He is love. His love continues. His love never ends. Love can't end, because He continues and He never ends. To rightly believe in God's sovereignty and God's unconditional love you must either be a Calvinist or a universalist. The only other option is to believe in a God who is not sovereign and a love that is always conditional; I want nothing to do with that kind of religion, for it is has no good news.

In Defense of KFOR Weatherman Mike Morgan

Weather in the Oklahoma City metro is big business for television stations. Some of the best meteorologists in the nation are in OKC  because the National Weather Service Forecast Office is in Norman, Oklahoma; the premier meteorology department in the country is at the University of Oklahoma; and, of course, OKC is ground central for tornadoes. Gary England of Channel 9 is in his seventies and had a starring role in the Hollywood movie Twister, and he was recently featured in a LA Times feature. Gary is often considered the standard bearer for local meteorologists, but in my book, Mike Morgan of KFOR Channel 4 is the best. Imagine my surprise when I read today an article from Reuters that vilifies Mike Morgan for giving "irresponsible" tornado advice last Friday evening during the El Reno F-5 tornado.

My daughter and her husband have recently moved to OKC from Mississippi. They temporarily live at a hotel on SW 15th and Meridian, a place DIRECTLY in the path of the super tornado last Friday night. I was on the phone with our daughter when Mike Morgan described the dimensions of the tornado, the direction of its movement (bearing directly toward our daughter and her husband), and when he declared that if you can't get underground, you need to move SOUTH and get out of the tornado's path. The hotel where our kids live has no shelter, no underground safe place, and I immediately told my daughter and her husband to "get out and move south." They did and I guided them over the phone. Like thousands, they became stuck in traffic and eventually took shelter in a restaurant at SW 59th and May - two miles south and one mile east of their original location. It was a scary, difficult time for us all.

I had just spent several days in Moore helping victims of the May 20 tornado. I was in Moore the night of the May 3, 1999 tornado. I was in Diamondhead, Mississippi within 12 hours of Katrina coming on shore (Diamondhead was ground zero), and I have been at every major tornado disaster in Oklahoma since the mid-1980's. I did not take Mike's advice because Mike said it. I took Mike's advice because I believed it to be best -- and still do. I was in El Reno and Union City within hours after the tornado hit last Friday and I came home Saturday night and told my wife that the El Reno tornado was an F-5 and a worse tornado than the May 20 Moore tornado of eleven days earlier. She didn't believe me. She said the National Weather Service was calling the El Reno tornado an F-3. I assured her it was worse than the Moore tornado. Sure enough, this week the El Reno tornado was classified as the widest tornado in history, and it came just a few miles per hour away from being the strongest tornado ever. As it was, it was super strong F-5 tornado. Had it not dissipated on the west side of OKC, it would have DESTROYED my daughter's hotel. She and her husband would have been just out of the reach of the massive 2 miles tornado in their shelter at SW 59th and May - just barely, but still out of its reach. I believe it was the right decision for my daughter and son-in-law to leave. If you don't have a basement, shelter, or safe place underground, you need to be out of the path of a major tornado. The problem with our kids is they waited almost too late.

Mike Morgan posted on his Facebook that he has shed many tears since last Friday because of the criticism coming his way. Obviously, some wish to blame him for the deaths that occurred, but that's absurd. Pundits and other television stations will continue to vilify him. I will not. Why? Because it is always best to be outside of a tornado's path, and Mike Morgan pinpoints the tornadoes better than anyone else on television and gives precise and accurate information. He did it on May 3, 1999; he did it on May 20, 2013; and he did it on May 31, 2013. He's the best in my opinion. And I don't think I'm the only one who thinks he is the best. Why?

Because the roads were jammed.