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

Spirit of the Living God, Ashton Davis, Enid, OK

This song, sung by Asthon Davis at Emmanuel Enid's REFUGE worship service on October 15, 2017, moved me when I heard it live, but its just as moving hearing it again on YouTube. Our church is blessed with some talented folks. Ashton is a senior at Enid High School and is called to lead out in worship for the Kingdom of Christ. ------

Wade and Katie McHargue Are Must Read Authors

Anytime I come across good books, I like to pass them on as recommendations to those who read this blog.

Wade and Katie McHargue are a couple who've been missionaries on the field, pastors in a local church setting, and all-around Kingdom people.

I recently read Katie McHargue's book Captured by Love: And Raising a Generation Captivated by God. Ladies, this book would be a superb read for your church, small group, or women's Bible study. Katie shows the importance of learning to rest in God's love and raising kids in an environment of love.

An Amazon reviewer had this to say about Katie's book:
I got the book today and couldn't put it down so I just finished it! God is so amazing and this is a story of an ordinary mom who chose to follow our Extraordinary God and many lives have been impacted including my own. I highly recommend this book. Its an easy read yet very powerful. Full of Scripture and Truth for everyday as well as testimony that will inspire and challenge!
Another reviewer said:
This book is valuable to any woman of any age, married or not, with children or not, young or old. If you want to love Jesus more, you will find inspiration in Katie's story. She has whetted my appetite for more of Him!
When I was with the SBC International Mission Board, Wade and Katie were missionaries in Africa. I became acquainted with them then, but have enjoyed seeing how God has used them in ministry now that they have returned to the states.

Wade McHargue has written a book entitled The Elijah Generation, where Wade challenges men who
are living in this age of "decadence, degradation, and despair" to take a good, hard, and honest look at our lives in light of the standard of God's word.

Wade challenges Christian men:
  1. To lose our lives for Jesus' sake, that we can truly find them. 
  2. To see, "What would happen if I gave myself completely over to God?"
  3. To offer all we can offer to Jesus for the praise of His glory as we live in light of eternity.
If you are looking for biblically solid, encouraging books from a husband and wife who live for Christ and His Kingdom, I encourage you to buy Captured by Love and The Elijah Generation

Thank you McHargues! You are a blessing to many!

Five Helpful Things to Remember As Parents Age

Bob Cleveland became my friend during a pretty dark period in my life (2005) when the denominational leadership of the religious denomination in which I minister (SBC) turned on me. Bob Cleveland stepped up and befriended me. He also defended the biblical principles I was articulating,  not just personally but publicly.

He and I could tell some pretty interesting stories about Hard Ball Religion.

That said, over the last decade, I've discovered Bob Cleveland to be a wonderful writer, a loveable logician, and an astounding apologist. Bob is a humble man, with some remarkable friendships. He has coffee with university Presidents, exchanges emails with shakers and movers, and shares a robust appreciation for the Kingdom of Christ and all  of Christ's Kingdom people. 

Bob was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 12, 1938. He lived in Calumet City, Illinois until the age of 15 when his family and he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. He attended Thornton Fractional Township High School (T.F.T.H.S. - try that on the back of letter jackets!) and later attended Purdue University. Bob spent most of 50 years in the Property/Casualty Insurance industry and retired in February 2008. He is happily married to Peggy (March 13th, 1959), a four-time breast cancer survivor with a faith as strong as her husband's. The couple now makes their home in Birmingham, Alabama where they are members of First Baptist Church, Pelham. Bob has traveled to 36 countries, 45 states, and traversed through 116 airports, so he's a man of the world, but more importantly, he's a man belongs to the Christ's eternal Kingdom!
The other day Bob sent me an email that contained an anecdote about how Bob cared for his aging parents. I asked permission to post this because I believe it will be an encouragement to many who find themselves in the same situation. Pay particular attention to the five principles at the end of his email to me.  
My folks lived in a nice condo in Clearwater, FL, in 1985. They were in their mid-70's.
I traveled a lot then, and frequently had meetings in Orlando. I'd always schedule them to end on Thursday, and mom & dad would pick me up in the afternoon and I'd visit with them over the weekend, then fly back home. 
They'd been there some years, and were active in a local church, and with the County ARC. Chatting on Sunday afternoon, I asked dad what he'd do if mom died. After some conversation, he said he'd want to live close to family. 
I said "Well, that's Long Island (where my brother lived) or Birmingham (where I lived). He said he would not want to live in New York, so I said "So if mom dies first, you would want to move to Birmingham, right?" He said yes.
 Asked the same question of mom, and after she danced around it a little, she said the same thing. So I responded that, whoever died first, the survivor would move to Birmingham. And they agreed with that.
 I pointed out that, when one of them died, the survivor would not just lose their spouse of 55+ years, but they would also lose their church, their home, their friends, and there activities. So wouldn't it make sense to move now? Then they could have new friends, a new church, and new activities before one of them became a widow.
A week later, they called and said they'd been upset when I brought that up, because they knew I was right. So they had already listed their condo for sale and they'd be here a week later to find an apartment.
 I went out that week and found an apartment 5 minutes from here and 2 minutes from my office. The loved it and rented it the day I showed it to them.
4 years later, dad died (several interesting stories about that), and mom could not go back to the apartment. The lease was up, so she moved in here.

I was very plain with her. I told her to never ever do anything that would divide Peg and me. And I had to call her on it a few times, too. Things like saying "Don't tell Peg this, but ....". I always simply stopped her and told her never to say that to me. And when she said things like "I guess I'll just find another place to live" I would answer "Next time you say that, you're going to find your stuff at the curb."
We enjoyed her time here, and I think part of that was attributable to precise and understandable ground rules.
Gee. The same thing seems to have worked with our kids, too......
I was always frank about her driving, too (she had a fairly new Chrysler). And we'd discuss it when she'd have some kind of little mishap, like missing a turn-in to a parking lot and end up with a wheel in the ditch. I also told her that we'd be happy to take her anywhere she wanted to go, so one day she called me to her room and said "If I give you my driver's license, will you cut it up for me"? And together, we did.
One of the more rewarding things happened when she died. She was spending time in a nursing home after a broken hip. Peg was out of town in Indiana, and on July 4, 1997, when she got back, we went to visit mom. She said she had decided she was going to rejoice regardless of her circumstance, and welcome anything God allowed in her life (that was BIG).
4 hours later, about 1 a.m. on July 5, 1997, the phone rings and they told me mom had some kind of episode and they were taking her across the street to the local suburban hospital. I said we'd be right there ... about 30 minutes away.
As they were putting her in the ambulance, they told her "Bob's on his way", and she said "Oh, good!" And that's her last words ... she'd had an abdominal aneurysm, and died before they got to the hospital.
I learned a lot from that scenario.
1) Clear unambiguous rules work.
2) Nobody wants to talk about death, but God said it's appointed to us to die one day, so talk about it.
3) The important thing is to be there, and be available. 
 4) God doesn't show us things so we can sit down and be quiet.  Do something.
5) It's time to talk about this sort of stuff before it's time to take action. And so it goes..... 
You can read more of Bob's writings at his blog at Eagle's Rest

Living Life in Mrs. Pege Rogers' Neighborhood

Early Monday morning, October 23, 2017, just after the clock struck midnight, 55-year-old Pege Rogers suddenly and unexpectedly died of an embolism in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Over twenty years ago, Rachelle and I became friends with Pege and her husband Jeff. This young couple and their children had become members of Emmanuel Enid. For nearly 10 years we enjoyed fellowship with the Rogers prior to Jeff's business transferring him and his family to Colorado Springs.

The ups-and-downs of life, which are common to us all, were also part of the Rogers family when they were in Enid. The down times were particularly difficult during those early years, especially for Pege. She was open and transparent about her spiritual journey and her struggle with depression. We walked with Jeff and Pege through those shadow times, and like fog dissipating in a valley, God's grace shined through and Pege came out of her dark times stronger and more Kingdom-oriented than ever before. 

While living in Colorado Springs, Pege and Jeff have remained part of our church. Jeff became a biblical scholar par-excellence, teaching others the Scriptures deftly through his writings. Pege would watch our services online and she became a leading commentator on my blog posts. Sometimes I learned more from reading Pege's short observations about what I'd written than I did from my own research. 

Recently, Pege gave me permission to publish an email she wrote to me on the observations she made about her struggle with anger. Most people know that depression is stuffed anger, and the wisdom of Pege on this matter is invaluable. 

Pege wrote:
One thing my mother always said was "YOU MADE ME ANGRY!" I had a lot of power as a kid, didn't I? Both my mom and dad knew the words to lay on shame and guilt. I believed I was responsible for so much for my mother's or father’s bad behavior because of what I did or did not do to make them happy, I took responsibly for how others felt. I became very, very driven to how I behaved and performed. I became a “HUMAN_DOING, instead of a “HUMAN BEING”. Alas, I could never get it right for the standard changed like their emotions. I would always say, “I don’t want you to feel,” or “I don’t want you to think,” or “I don’t want you to believe.”
I was married for about 12 years when I came to you complaining about my marriage. You began to teach me about relationships. You used good ole Oklahoma English to talk to me, it sounded like words from another planet as far as what I could understand. You were patient because it took a very long time for me to understand. When I begin to think like this I found it to be a difficult paradigm shift. It came slowly. It changed my life.
I began taking responsibility for my own actions. My kids did not "MAKE ME ANGRY", I chose anger as a response to my kids. My husband was not changing in the ways I wanted him to change. Isn't that what he is supposed to do? LOL!!! I could not change my husband all I could do was love him. Let him live in freedom. God would bring the changes about that He wanted to bring about. I was only responsible for ME, my feelings, my hurt, my responses to people. I did not need to perform my Christianity for God to approve of me. God approved of me because of CHRIST. Sanctification was a process not a do and don't list all so people would think I was a good Christian and they would like me because I did so much in the church.
I learned to JUST BE ME. I let others be themselves. I became less judgmental and less critical of others and I learned to love them. I learned that I have Christ. That is enough. If I am loved by others that's great. If I am rejected by others That's great too for I will be alright because I have Jesus. Like I said, it took me a bunch of years to retrain my thinking, but praise be to God I did learn. My marriage is healthier, my relationship with my children as adults is wonderful and I make decisions and take actions according to what I believe is the right thing to do. I also reap the good or bad consequences without fear or blame of others. THANKS, WADE!!! I appreciate you not giving up on a slow learner like me.
Jeff, Rachelle and I and many others have lost a friend.  We lost a sister-in-Christ who has taught us much. Our prayers are with you and your children, now adults themselves. I wish all of us could live the rest of our lives in Mrs. Roger's neighborhood. Pege got it.

Funeral services will be Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 11:00 am.

The Whiteshirts Came to Know Him Only After They Knew How Much I Cared to Know Them

Some moments move me in ways difficult to express. One such moment occurred last Sunday, October 15, 2017.

What happened is a defining event for me personally.

As I walked through an area where we set out tables and chairs for people to eat breakfast and visit between worship services, I saw a Chinese family sitting by themselves. I sat down and had an enjoyable conversation with recent emigrants from China who now live and work in Enid. They've been coming to Emmanuel Enid for several weeks.

As I got up to leave, I noticed two young ladies seated at the next table. They looked to be Native American.

Both girls shyly glanced my way as I approached, and then they hurriedly looked back down at their breakfast. I was sure they'd overheard my conversation with the family one table over, and I wondered if the girls were thinking, "Will he stop and talk to us too?"

Many Native Americans experience racial prejudice, even in Oklahoma. It's hard for American Caucasians to understand the feeling of being ignored or overlooked because of the color of one's skin or ethnic background. I did not want to convey to these girls that they were unimportant to me.

People blindness is a dreaded disease I fight hard to never catch.

So I stopped and greeted the girls. Both of them looked up and smiled. 

"Ladies, do you mind if I pull up a chair and join you?"

They smiled again and said no.  I pulled up a chair at the end of their table.

"What's your names?"

Francesca introduced herself first. She told me she was sixteen and had been coming to Emmanuel for a few weeks. She then introduced her sister, Alice, age twenty-four. Alice said this was her first time to come to Emmanuel.

"You two girls are beautiful. Do you mind me asking, 'Are you Native American?'"

Alice blushed, and said, "Yes. We are full-blooded."

"What tribe?"

They told me they were Cheyenne/Arapaho. They explained that their mother is Cheyenne and that their father, now deceased, was Arapaho.

"Are you girls interested in your Cheyenne/Arapaho heritage?"

"Of course!" they said, with what now seemed a perpetual smile.

For the next ten minutes, I sat with Francesca and Alice and told them the story of the little two-year-old Arapaho boy who had survived the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.

The boy, the son of an Arapaho chief, was left an orphan when his entire family was massacred at Sand Creek. He was plucked from the carnage by a United States militia soldier from Colorado named Lemuel Graham.

Graham, with the help of his friend and fellow soldier Jesse Wilson, hid the Arapaho toddler in a stove for their journey back to Denver, Colorado. They hid the boy because their commander, Col. John Chivington, had issued the order, "No captives, no survivors."

"The soldiers mistakenly thought the boy was Cheyenne, which is easy to do," I told the girls. "For as you know, Cheyenne and Arapaho people have similar heritage and customs."

Upon arriving in Denver, Graham and Wilson gave their Arapaho captive his new name - Wilson R. Graham.

"What the soldiers did next with the Arapaho toddler was unconscionable," I said.

The girls looked at me, wide-eyed, anticipating what would be said next.

I recounted how the soldiers placed Wilson Graham in a traveling circus for their personal financial gain.

The circus went to small frontier towns throughout eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and even western Missouri. Americans would pay a penny to see the "Indian savage" who'd survived Sand Creek.

Wilson Graham was a circus-captive sideshow in the Wilson and Graham circus for three years, 1864-1867.

"The United States and the Plains Indians were at war during the time Wilson Graham was held captive," I told the girls. "But in 1867, when Wilson was five-years-old, this Arapaho circus boy became instrumental in bringing peace to the frontier."

I told the girls how in 1867, the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, sent the United States Indian Peace Commission, composed of high-ranking army generals and politicians, to negotiate peace with the Plainsmen Indians who'd been on the warpath since Sand Creek.

The Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa finally all agreed to meet the Peace Commission at an Indian holy site called Medicine Lodge (Kansas) with one condition:
"You must bring the circus boy with you." 
U.S. Army General William T. Sherman was commissioned by the President to use all resources at his disposal to find the circus boy and bring him to Medicine Lodge. The General who was well-known for scorching the earth in his March to the Sea at the end of the Civil War was now searching the earth to find the little five-year-old boy Indian boy.

Sherman's troops found the boy in the traveling in a frontier city town and had the boy taken to Medicine Lodge on October 15, 1867, accompanied by the Peace Commissioners.

"Girls," I said, drawing my story to a close, "As a result of this five-year-old Cheyenne/Arapaho boy being brought to Medicine Lodge  exactly 150 years ago today (October 15, 1867)  the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty was signed."

I thought it was remarkable that I was telling this story to two Cheyenne/Arapaho girls on the anniversary of the Cheyenne/Arapaho circus boy being united with his tribe.

I also thought I was finished with the story, but the girls had one question for me.

"What happened to the boy?" 

"He reverted to his Arapaho name Tom Whiteshirt and...."

I stopped talked talking when I heard the girls gasp.

"We are Whiteshirts," they said. 

I was stunned.

I knew that all Cheyenne/Arapaho Whiteshirts in Oklahoma descended from the lone Whiteshirt survivor of the Sand Creek Massacre. 

Francesca and Alice explained to me that their deceased father was an Arapaho Indian named Alfred Whiteshirt. When they'd introduced themselves to me, they'd not given me their surname.

I told them that they were definitely related to the Whiteshirt who was the circus boy. Their eyes were wide, and they had more questions. They'd never heard this story before. 

I told them to wait right there, and I'd go print off an article for them that I'd written about it

When I came back five minutes later, the girls' mother, Mona, was standing with them. She confirmed that she was full-blooded Cheyenne and that she'd been married to their father, Mr. Alfred Whiteshirt. Mr. Whiteshirt had died a few years ago. Mona had never heard the story either, but she was ecstatic that her girls were learning about their heritage. 

I gave them the papers I'd printed off and told the girls that I'd really enjoyed getting to know them and looked forward to visiting with them again.

I didn't have to wait very long. 

After our third worship service last Sunday morning, about an hour and a half after I'd met Francesca and Alice for the first time, the sisters came to see me.  I noticed their eyes were filled with tears. 

Both Alice and Francesca told me that they wanted Jesus Christ to be the King of their lives. They desired Jesus to make His home in their hearts. They wanted their hearts to be God's House

As we spoke, the tears that were welling up began trickling down their cheeks. I reminded them of God's love, and how through surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ, everything they'd ever done wrong - past/present/future - would be forgiven by the work of Christ. I explained that with Jesus as the Lord of their lives, He would lovingly and patiently care for them and watch over them forever. 

I assured them that there was "no ritual" nor "chant" to ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. It was just a matter of opening their hearts to Him and receiving Him into their lives as King.

Then, as we prayed, I stretched out my hands and placed them on the crowns of their bowed heads as these two descendants of Tom Whiteshirt asked Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior. 

Francesca and Alice were saved.

Tom Whiteshirt was saved from temporal death by a U.S. soldier at the Sand Creek Massacre. 

Tom Whiteshirt's great-great-granddaughters were saved from eternal death by Jesus Christ 150 years later. 

Since Sunday I've followed up with Francesca and Alice. They both will be baptized on Sunday, October 29, 2017, testifying publicly of their faith in Jesus Christ. We've purchased for them Bibles and will personally encourage them as they learn what it means to walk in the grace and love of God in a fallen world where people are still being massacred

I know that Jesus saves His people (see Matthew 1:21).

But last Sunday was a reminder to me that Theodore Roosevelt was right
"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

The Story of a Boy at Medicine Lodge So Long Ago

Tulsa Police Officer Jimmy Whiteshirt
Today, October 14, 2017, is a significant anniversary that few Americans will note.

150 years ago today, October 14, 1867, a well-armed caravan of nearly 500 American soldiers and politicians arrived at a Plainsmen Indian religious site called Medicine Lodge. The purpose of this so-called “Peace Commission” was to negotiate a peace treaty with the savage Plainsmen Indians, including the Comanche, Apache, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Kiowa.

What happened at Medicine Lodge during the two weeks of negotiations and treaty signing (October 14 - October 27, 1861), is an example of United States colonialism.

American exceptionalism is nothing new. The Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty between the United States government and the Plainsmen Indians is an example of a belief that the American way is always the best.

But it's one thing to promote exceptionalism; altogether different to live an exceptional life.

Alfred A. Taylor, who was present at Medicine Lodge as a young man, and whose father, Nathaniel Green Taylor, served as the Chairman of the Indian Peace Commission as well as Superintendent for Indian Affairs for the United State’s government, would later explain why peace with the Plainsmen Indians in 1867 was so important for the United States, and yet so difficult to obtain:
The task of this Commission was a most important and difficult one, involving, as it did the settlement of a war which had been going on for more than three years; the settlement of claims for rampages growing out of the massacre of peaceable Indians by Chivington at Sand Creek, Colorado - which caused the war; and claims growing out of the destruction by Hannock's troops of the Cheyenne "Dog Soldier" village at Pawnee Fork, Kansas - which prolonged the war and made the pacification of the Indians much more difficult; the adjustment of claims for back annumities, and the removal of the various tribes from old to new reservations.
The November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre remains the worst massacre of women and children in American history. American volunteer soldiers, mostly farmers, businessmen and even preachers and teachers were all involved in committing the massacre.

In 1867. the Plainsmen Indians were still seeking retaliation for Sand Creek, remaining on the warpath. 

So the United States  Indian Peace Commission traveled through hostile territory and arrived at Medicine Lodge on October 14, 1867. Medicine Lodge was chosen by the Indians as the site for the negotiations due to its long distance from any U.S. military fort.

Sand Creek was still fresh in the their minds.

The Indian Peace Commission arrived at Medicine Lodge with a specific three-fold purpose:

  1. To convince the Plainsmen Indians to withdraw all opposition to the construction of the Pacific railroads. 
  2. To get the Plainsmen Indians' to relinquish their claims to land lying between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers to build a railroad linking the east and west coasts.
  3. To get the Plainsmen Indians to withdraw to new reservations in western Indian Territory (Oklahoma) set apart for them.

Medince Lodge, an ancient holy site to Plainsmen Indians
The fact that the Indian Peace Commission successfully negotiated this treaty, and that the Plainsmen Indians withdrew to reservations in western Oklahoma is truly astonishing.  Credit must be given to the Plainsmen chiefs, including the tranquil Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle, who signed the treaty on behalf of their people. 

Though the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty was negotiated and signed, peace would not immediately come. For the next decade, Plainsmen warriors would often “go off the reservation” to hunt,  kill white buffalo hunters, and take retribution on Americans encroaching on their land. 

The United States government in the 1860's, 70's and 80's followed the example of English and
The Great Plains - Roamed and Owned by the Plainsmen
European Colonialism in Africain and implemented American “colonialism” in fulfillment of Manifest Destiny - uniting the east coast (Atlantic) with the west coast (Pacific) - though the Plains in between both American coasts was land roamed and owned by the Plainsmen Indians.  Some Americans believed "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," a belief which blossomed into the Sand Creek Massacre.

But political leaders sought peace through American colonialism.

Colonialism, as seen in the British and European explorations of the Dark Continent (Africa) and the explorations and land claims by the United States of the Dark Plains during the late 1800's, revolved around the three “C’s" of Colonialism:

Christianity, Commerce, Civilization

Plainsmen Reservations (West), Civilized Nations (East)
The United States laid claim to the plains north of Oklahoma in 1867,  and would later lay claim to the plains of western Oklahoma through a series of Land Runs in the 1880's and 1890's, for the stated purpose of "civilizing" the Plainsmen Indians.

Rather than slaughtering the Indians, the government deemed it best to assimilate the Indians into American culture. The goal was to convert the Indians to Christianity, teach them the principles of commerce, and in the end, civilize them.

The Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty is the first treaty between the United States government and the Indians that explicitly states the goal of civilizing the Indians. 

This is why it is a historic treaty. More than a few Americans, today especially millennials, are upset
Wild Bill Hickock 
with modern American exceptionalism, Christian evangelism, and economic capitalism.  150 years ago, colonialism was chosen by the government as the only option to bring peace with the Indians.

Whether it could have been done differently is open to debate. Whether or not colonialism was the solution chosen by the government of the United States is without debate.

The people at Medicine Lodge 150 years ago reads like a world's list of Who's Who of the 19th century. Henry M. Stanley was there, working as a news reporter, just four years before he discovered Dr. Livingstone in Africa.  So too, Wild Bill Hickock was there serving as a scout for the U.S. military, less than ten years before he was killed during a poker game in Deadwood, South Dakota, holding the infamous Dead Man's Hand.  The Cheyenne savage Okuhhatuh, whose life story is one of the most captivating in the history of America, was also at Medicine Lodge. George Armstrong  Custer was supposed to be there, but he was in jail, sent there by General Hancock after Custer left his command of the 7th Cavalry to visit his wife. Black Kettle was there, but on Black Kettle and his wife Medicine Woman at the Battle of Washita River.  Five generals, three U.S. Senators, one state governor and many future state governors, and a host of other remarkable men and women were all present at Medicine Lodge.
Henry Morton Stanley 
November 27, 1868, just a little over a year after Medicine Lodge, Custer and his 7th Cavalry soldiers would kill

But I'll close by telling you the forgotten story of one five-year-old boy present at Medicine Lodge whose name you ought never forget. You can learn more about him from a superb 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, written by Michael Allen, a descendant of one of the soldiers who participated in the Sand Creek Massacre.

5-year-old Indian boy
The five-year-old boy at Medicine Creek those 150 years ago went by the English name of Wilson Graham.  He was a Plainsmen Indian. He'd survived the Sand Creek Massacre as a toddler. Though the military commander at Sand Creek,  Col. John Chivington, had ordered there were to be "no survivors" at Sand Creek, two Company C cavalrymen, Lemuel Graham and Jesse Wilson, took possession of the boy and hid him in a stove to bring him back to Denver. Some soldiers brought ears of the Indians they'd cut off, displaying them in bars for drinks. Other soldiers brought home "the snatches" of the Indian women, displaying them as trophies. Other soldiers brought home scalps, fingers, tongues, and other bodily appendages. These two soldiers hid the boy in a stove to take him back to Denver to make money displaying him in a traveling circus they were putting together.

According to Henry Stanley's account of Medicine Creek, the Indians would not meet to negotiate a treaty without this boy present. General Sherman found Wilson Graham in a sideshow circus and made sure the boy made the trip to Medicine Lodge as part of the Indian Commission.

I'll let Mr. Allen pick up the story from his 2014 Wall Street Journal article:
Graham promptly made the boy the main attraction in a circus that also included rattlesnakes and a bear. Mr. Graham bestowed upon the boy his new white name: Wilson R. Graham.
But by 1865, the government was parlaying with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, trying to bring an end to the bloodshed. There was a sticking point. The chiefs demanded the return of the little boy.
The commissioner of Indian affairs instructed the then-Colorado governor, Alexander Cummings, to locate him. He reported that he was no longer in the territory. The Army, too, pressed the search, finally picking up his trail in Indiana. By one account, soldiers staged a dramatic backstage rescue of the boy, now about five years old, just as a performance was concluding.The child returned West to considerable media acclaim.
In 1867, he joined the expedition of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who was traveling to the plains to punish hostile Indians. The boy made a favorable impression on a young George Armstrong Custer. “He was dressed comfortably in accordance with civilized custom; and, having been taken from his people at so early an age, was apparently satisfied with the life he led,” Gen. Custer wrote in his book, My Life on the Plains.
After it was determined that he wasn’t Cheyenne at all, but Arapaho, he was handed over to a chief of that tribe, Little Raven. He received a new name: Tom White Shirt, and was brought to Oklahoma, where some of the demoralized Indians had been resettled. For a time, he continued to interest the press. Henry M. Stanley, the English journalist who would go on to win world renown for locating Dr. Livingstone in Africa, met up with the child while on a newspaper assignment. “This boy is rapidly forgetting the English language,” he wrote. “He is efficient in the use of the bow and arrow, and has acquired prominence among his many playmates on account of his varied accomplishments. His feats of leaping and wrestling command the respect of the Arapaho elders. His knowledge of the English language is a source of constant admiration, and his many-bladed jack-knife is an object of envy to his brother braves.”
Tom White Shirt, in the manner of many child stars, eventually dropped out of sight. He married multiple times. He was given 160 acres to homestead—same as my great-great-grandfather—and lived out his days near Calumet, Oklahoma. 
His life was far from easy. He never learned to read or write. The federal government viewed Native Americans as incapable of handling their own affairs. Files in the Oklahoma History Center show that Tom White Shirt had to seek permission to buy clothing or a train ticket. In 1925, he asked a local supervisor if he could withdraw $60 from a bank account held in trust, $25 of it for Christmas and $35 to lend to a man named Peter Hoof. “I do not like this loaning but Pete is such a reasonable and good fellow I will say yes,” the supervisor wrote. Tom White Shirt signed with a thumbprint.
The 1894 Indian census shows Tom White Shirt at 29 years old, living with a wife, White Cow, a 9-year-old son, Falling Off The Horse, and an infant daughter, Georgia. By 1920, the son, renamed Earl White Shirt, had himself married, to a woman named Good Warrior. He had three daughters and two sons. Earl went into show business, joining a famed Oklahoma Wild West show as a trick shooter.
By the time Tom White Shirt died in 1933, around the age of 70, the clan he founded was enthusiastically repopulating the plains. Earl’s five children had nine children, who in turn had 49. I was able to identify 135 people in the sixth generation, and 122 in the seventh.
There are soldiers and social workers in the White Shirt family tree, alcoholism counselors, tribal leaders and a documentary filmmaker. Some live in poverty and some have struck oil. One of Tom White Shirt's great-great-grandsons, James Earl Whiteshirt, known to his friends as “Jimmy,” earned a Medal of Valor from the Tulsa police department for risking his own life to save a shooting victim. At 63, he alone has seven children, 20 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. By last week, the White Shirt line was up to at least 331.
331 Americans from the loins of one five-year-old Indian boy who escaped Sand Creek and whose presence at Medicine Lodge was demanded by the Plainsmen Indians before they'd negotiated with the United States.

Today, on this 150th anniversary of the Indian Peace Commission arriving at Medicine Lodge, I'm reminded that every American life, like American history, is filled with mistakes, heartache, and tragedies. But what makes our nation great is the ability of all Americans, regardless of ethnicity, to rise out of the ashes of tragedy to find individual triumph. 

Thanks, Jimmy Whiteshirt. I served with you when I was a volunteer chaplain at the Tulsa Police Department during the late 1980's and early 1990's.  Your heroic actions deserve the Medal of Valor (see picture at the top of this post). 

Jimmy, you've inspired me today. From tragedy to triumph, yours is the story of a boy at Medicine Lodge. 

And the Smoke of Their Torment Will Rise Forever

Rachelle and I are supposed to go to northern California in November. My cousin runs a Bed and Breakfast in Napa, and we are to spend a few days at the Inn on First.

We might not go.

The Napa fires are horrible. One reporter last night said, "The fires are apocalyptic."

Though impressed with the vocabulary of the reporter, I couldn't help but wonder how many listeners new what apocalyptic meant.

Here's a modern definition.

Apocalyptic [adj.] - "describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world."

Most Americans think of apocalyptic as a synonym for "the end of the world."

Unfortunately, our modern American definition doesn't do justice to the actual meaning of the Greek word αποκάλυψη, which is the English word apocalypse

The Greek word apocalypse means "to unveil, or to reveal." Anytime you come across this word in the Bible, you should translate it with this meaning.

The Book of Revelation is called The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is revealed as the King of kings and Lord of lords, the One whose Kingdom is eternal.  Jesus is revealed, not destroyed, and that's why the last book of the Bible is called the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Jesus Christ.

In the Bible, names for books often come from the first word or phrase used at the beginning of the book. For example, "In the beginning..." translates the Hebrew word בְּרֵאשִׁית‎ (bereshit), which is Genesis in English. Thus, the first book of the Bible is called Genesis.

Likewise, the first words of the book of Revelation are:

αποκαλυψις ιησου χριστου
The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ

The Apocalypse is a revelation of Jesus Christ! With apologies to Leonardo DiCaprio, the last book of the Bible reveals Jesus as the King of the World.

The NBC reporter's story about Napa was indeed revealing (apocalyptic). Our hearts go out to the people who live in and around Napa, including my cousin Jamie.

What the reporter revealed about Napa is why we may not go to Napa in November.

The Napa wineries are destroyed.

The fires in Napa may be out by November, and the smoke may dissipate by the time of our trip, but what the fire destroyed is gone. Six wineries. Millions of wine bottles. All around Napa.

That was a revelation to us!

Don't tell anybody (I'm a Baptist preacher remember), but the reason my wife and I were going to Napa with friends was for the wine tours around Napa.

But the wineries are gone.

The revelation about Napa affects my future decision about going to California.

The Biblical Revelation of God Destroying the Wicked

God reveals in Scripture the end of the wicked. He does so with precise apocalyptic (revelation)  language.

In the book of Isaiah, the people of Edom made a terrible mistake. Edom, a country south of Judah, had within its borders a people the Jews called Edomites. The Edomites sided with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar in Isaiah's day and entered Jerusalem with the Babylonians to plunder the capital city and capture and kill God's people, the Jews (586 B.C.).

God spoke to the prophet (Isaiah 34:5, 8, 9-10) and revealed (there's that word again) the end of the nation of Edom.

"For My sword is satiated in heaven,
Behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom
And upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance.

Edom's streams will be turned into pitch,
And its loose earth into brimstone,
And its land will become burning pitch.
The fire will not be quenched night or day;
Its smoke will go up forever.
"

Last March, Rachelle and I were in southern Israel, standing south of the Dead Sea, at the very border of the ancient land of Edom. 

Folks, there were no burning fires in the land of Edom, neither during the night nor in the day. There was no smoke rising in the sky

When the Bible uses apocalyptic language like "the fire of their torment will not be quenched, and the smoke of their torment will rise forever," it is a revelation of the end of the wicked.

It's not God's act of punishing that endures forever. It's the effect of God's judgment which is eternal. The Edomites were destroyed. 

Have you shaken hands with an Edomite? There are none. There is no national identity. Edomites have no museums to their legacy. Edomites have no national holidays celebrating Edom.

The Edomites are gone. They are destroyed. Just as God said to Isaiah. "The fire will not be quenched night or day, and its smoke will rise forever." 


The Biblical Revelation of the Ultimate End of All the Wicked

The same language God used with Isaiah about the destruction of the Edomites is used by the Apostle John to reveal (there's that word again) in the book Revelation the ultimate end of the wicked.

The wicked will be destroyed.

Pay close attention. The Bible clearly and consistently speaks that God will destroy the wicked, beginning in Genesis and throughout the final book of Revelation. God's holy and righteous removal of the wicked from existence is a prominent theme of Scripture. It is the just and righteous end for sin. "But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked" (Psalm 37:38).

An even more prominent theme in Scripture is God's eternal love and grace for death-deserving sinners in Jesus Christ.  He gave us His Son to die and rise again from the dead, conquering sin and death, to take away "the sting of death" (I Cor. 15:56-57), and gift sinners who "kiss the Son" (Ps. 2:12) with a changed life here and immortal life then. 

Salvation for the righteous in Christ. Destruction for the wicked outside of Christ. No future life for the wicked. Eternal life for the righteous.

Both salvation and destruction are acts of God. However, there are two places in the New Testament where the Apostle John quotes from Isaiah 34 and God's destruction of the Edomites (Revelation 14:11 and Revelation 20:10). Many Christians read these two passages, ignoring all the other verses throughout the Bible that speak of the wicked's destruction, and then wrongly conclude that the process of destroying continues forever, rather than the more biblical teaching that the end result of God's destroying the wicked (e.g., destruction) is eternal.

"A little while and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found." (Psalm 37:10).

Let me show you this truth from more Scriptures. 

The Bible speaks of  "eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9), and "eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12), and "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:2), and "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46), and "eternal destruction" (II Thessalonians 1:9). These activities of God represent both His love and grace as well as His righteousness and justice

There is something very interesting about these eternal activities of God involving His grace and His justice.

(1). Eternal salvation is the result of saving
(2). Eternal redemption is the result of redeeming.
(3). Eternal judgment is the result of judging.
(4). Eternal punishment is the result of punishing.
(5). Eternal destruction is the result of destroying.

God's act of punishing the wicked ends. The effect of His punishment for the wicked, which is death through the destruction, is forever. So too, God's gracious act of redeeming sinners comes to an end, but the effect of the act of redeeming is forever - immortal life!

"For God So loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosever believes in Him will not perish, but have immortal life"  (John 3:16). 

Why is it that we Christians comfortably and correctly point out that the Bible teaches the process of God saving us is not eternal, but the results of salvation are eternal; while at the same time we eagerly contradict Scripture and logic itself by proclaiming the process of  God punishing the wicked is eternal, instead of the results of God's punishment (death) being eternal? 

What does Jesus tell us about the ultimate end of the wicked? 

None of us should be amazed that Jesus said that all the wicked who perish in this life, like the people of Edom, will one day "hear My voice" and "and I will raise from the dead (John 5:28). Christ is the one who tells us this.  He tells us not to be astonished at the truth of the resurrection (John 5:28-29). Resurrection is a fact. It's the heart of the Christian faith.

Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection (I Cor. 15:23), and all that He has created in His image, both the righteous and the unrighteous in this life, He will one day raise from death, some (the righteous) to the resurrection of immortal life, and some (the wicked) to the resurrection of judgment, which is the second death (John 5:29).

In the resurrection, sinner apart from Christ will give a specific account to their Creator for the "deeds done in the body" (II Cor. 5:10).

For example, the Edomite standing before God at the judgment, the one who raped and tortured a Jew in 586 B.C. will be judged. The Edomite, the who threw rocks at the Hebrew stragglers as they made their way to Canaan in the early 15th century B.C. will also be judged. The Edomite who died of "natural causes," maybe not as a rapist or murderer, but one who died in a state of selfish independence from God, suppressing any knowledge of His Creator and the natural law to be kind, generous and loving to his fellow man, will also be judged.

Each Edomite will be appropriately and justly judged by God, and then each will eventually be cast "into the lake of fire" where they "shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed with the full strength of the cup of His anger" (Revelation 14:10). 

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is immortal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 3:23). 

All the wicked will die a second time (Revelation 20:14). 

"And the smoke of their torment rises forever."  (Revelation 14:11). 

Get it? 

They will be no more. It's not the process of their punishing that continues, it's the result of their punishment that is forever.

The Wineries and the Bottles of Wine in Napa Are Gone, but the Smoke and Fire Ends

We may not go to Napa in November. 

It's not because the smoke isn't gone or the fires won't be put out. No, we expect the process of burning will be over

We may not go to Napa because the wineries and the wine bottles are destroyed

In a future post, I will show you how the greatest enticement for surrendering your life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, turning yourself over to Him as your King, is the knowledge that it is only through Him you will have immortal life. 

Death is the wages of your sins. 

You may think that torture from God is the wages of your sin. The Bible never portrays God as a torturer.

God destroys. 

Nothing evil will be present in the eternal Kingdom.

May God show us the power of the Good News.

God, in His love for dying sinners, gave us His only Son to die as a substitute for sinners, "that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). 

___________________

These October posts are written in honor of Martin Luther and the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (October 31, 1517). Whether you believe what is written here is biblical or not, my goal is to show you that men like Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and others all held to what is called conditional immortality. 

Biblical Proof There Is No Eternal Torment in Hell

The title of this post is an abbreviation of a much longer title of a book written in 1638 entitled The Torments of Hell, the Foundation and Pillars Thereof, Searched, Discovered, Shaken and Removed, together with, Infallible Proofs that There Is Not To Be a Punishment After this Life for Any to Endure that Shall Never End.

Whew!

And just think, some people think my 28-minute sermons are too long!

Anyway, the author of the book mentioned above is Samuel Richardson  (1602-1656), the pastor of the First Particular Baptist Church of London, England.  Samuel was one of fifteen Baptist pastors who signed The First London Confession of Faith in 1644, which in my opinion, is the earliest and best Baptist confession of faith. It's earlier than the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, and it is better than the Second London Confession of 1689.

Enough dry history. Now the punch.

Samuel Richardson and other reformed London Baptists during the 18th century did not hold to a belief in the eternal conscious torment of the wicked in hell. They believed in conditional immortality, a view held by many early church fathers as well. Samuel Richardson saw the Scriptures to teach that God's judgment for the wicked meant death. In other words, he believed the wicked perish.

You can read Sammy for yourself.

But for those with a cup of coffee and just a few minutes to read, I will post just five of the twenty infallible proofs that Samuel Richardson gives from Scripture that teach the wicked perish in hell (die) as a result of God’s judgment on their sins. You may be unfamiliar with Samuel Richardson and his views on conditional immortality (as well as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and others with similar views), but you have to appreciate Samuel Richardson’s high view of Scripture.

Sammy says:


1. The doctrine of eternal punishing is contrary to the Word of God

The doctrine of a punishment never to end is contrary to the word of God, because it maintains
that the wicked shall have eternal life.

If man was to live forever, why was the flaming sword set to keep the way of the tree of life?

Lest he put forth his hand and take of the tree of life, and live forever, Gen. 3:24

No eternal life came by the first Adam. Eternal life came by Jesus Christ, who is the tree of life.

Eternal life is promised and given by Jesus Christ alone.  Eternal life is by Jesus Christ, Rom. 5:21; and, he that eateth of this Bread shall live forever, John 6:58. 

Because I live, ye shall live also, John 14:19.

God sent his Son, that we might live through Him, 1 John 4:9.

Only believers have eternal life.

He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, John 3:36.

Whosoever believeth shall not perish, but have everlasting life, John 3:14-15. 

I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, John 10:28.

The wicked abide not forever, 1 John 2:17.

If ye live after the flesh ye shall die. Rom 8:13Him will God destroy, 1 Cor. 3:17.

The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, 1 Cor. 1:18. 2 Thes. 2:10. 

They utterly perish, 2 Pet. 2:12. Luke13:3. 

To their own destruction, 2 Pet. 3:16.

They abide in death, Rom. 6:21-23; 1 John 3:14. 

They shall be destroyed forever, Psalm 42:7.


2. Even the First Man (Adam) Was Not Created with an Inherently Immortal Body

If Adam had not sinned, he would have died; as appears from the following considerations,

Adam had, in his creation, a natural body, 1 Cor. 15:44: that which is natural is not eternal, I Cor. 15:46. 

Adam was of the earth, earthly, I Cor. 15:47-48, therefore mortal and corruptible, I Cor. 15:53-54.

Man in his first being was corporal and visible to be seen; things seen are not eternal. If Adam had stood, he could not have conveyed to us a body immortal, or not dying.

In his Treatise of Heaven, p. 131, Basil says, "If God had given Adam an immortal and unchangeable nature, he had created a god, and not a man."

Augustine, in his Book of Confessions, says, "Because the Lord created man of nothing, therefore he left in man a possibility to return to nothing, if he obeyed not the will of his Maker."

Immortality is not natural to man according to the Scriptures.


3. Christ is not the Author of eternal torment, but the Deliverer from death.

The opinion of a punishment after this life never to end, makes not sin, but Christ, to be the author of the torments of hell and the cause of men's thus suffering.

The Bible states that if  Christ had not come, there would have been no resurrection: and if no resurrection, there could be no suffering of any torment after this life; for if there were no resurrection, men would perish in their graves: that would be their end. 

If Christ be not risen, they which are fallen asleep are perished, I Cor. 15:17, 18. 

That the resurrection came by Jesus Christ is also evident, because Christ says, I am the resurrection, John 11:25. 

By man, that is Christ, came the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:21, therefore, it is called the resurrection of Christ, 1 Pet.3:21.

Christ is called the first fruits, because He first rose from the dead; after Him others. If Christ had not risen, no man should ever have risen from the dead; therefore it is said, they came out of their graves after His resurrection, Matt. 27:53.

And since Christ is the resurrection, and the cause of it, inasmuch as it came by Him, sure none will deny, that if there had been no resurrection of the dead, there could be no suffering after death, so long as God is God; therefore it follows, if any shall so suffer, Christ is the cause of it, for without Him they could not have lived forever, and therefore could not suffer forever.

And is it not very hard and unreasonable, and contrary to the word, to charge Christ to be the cause of their so suffering? Seeing Christ came in love to the world, John 3:16, to save, and not to destroy, Luke 9:56; Luke 19:10.

He came to save sinners, 1 Tim, 1:15. Luke 4:18.

He rose again for our justification.


4. Fear of eternal torment causes a feeble mind and does not produce love for God.

Freedom from fear causes love; love causes service; the love of Christ constraineth; it tends to the comfort of many, who through weakness of faith give way to Satan's temptations. To fear the torments of hell causes a feeble mind; comfort the feeble minded, 1 Thes. 5:4.

It is a comfort to many, whose children and friends die, and leave no testimony of their conversion, to be free from this fear; for the fear that they are to suffer so great and endless torment, hath saddened and troubled the heart of many a parent and friend. God hath said, He will not contend forever, nor be always wroth; for the spirit would fail before him, and the souls he has made, Isa. 62:16.

Man is not able to dwell with everlasting burnings, Isa. 33:14.

To be in so great a torment as they speak of, without end, ease, and refreshment, the spirit must fail, (a small thing will make the spirit fail;) and if so, trine of endless torment. That doctrine makes men melancholy; it drives them to despair; they know not what to do, and they sever the brittle thread.

Fathers and mothers, in repeated instances in the United States, have murdered their children, lest they should grow up, and commit sin, and be damned. Can a doctrine which produces such dreadful consequences be the doctrine of God?


5. Eternal torment is contrary to the revealed nature of God Himself.

Eternal torment does not correspond with the nature of God. God is love, 1 John 4:16.

It is His nature; there is no anger or fury in love; fury is not in me, Isa. 27:4. 

God wills us to love our enemies, who abuse, wrong, and hate us; much more will God love his enemies, Luke 6:35.

If God should love only them who love him, do not even the publicans the same? Matt. 5:46.

All that is in God is infinite. God is love; his love, therefore, is infinite, without bounds or limits, though we, in our shallowness and narrowness, have often set bounds and limits to that which is infinite. There never was any beginning in God, therefore no beginning of His love.

The infinite blessed God is one and always the same; l am the Lord, I change not, Malachi 3:6.

This love delights in mercy and love, and not in the eternal torments of hell, or in the punishing of sin; that is, his strange work, Isa. 28:21.

Christ died to answer the law which we transgressed. Christ did not purchase the love of God; He loved us before the world began, and ever will, John 13:1.

God was never destitute of love. Christ saith, Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me, John 17:23.

At what shall God be angry, or dissatisfied? God was never angry with Christ nor His people, nor at the being of sin, nor at Christ's taking our sins upon Him; for He laid them on him, even the iniquity of us all, Isa. 53:6. 
.
It is not suitable to the mercifulness of a father towards his child, of a creator to his creature, the work of his hands, to impose so great a punishment without end, upon any of them: that would be worse than to forsake the works of his hands, and is contrary to Psalm 145:8-9.

Your heavenly Father is merciful, Luke 6:36, rich in mercy, Eph. 2:4.

The Lord is gracious, of great mercy; the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. All thy works shall praise thee, and thy saints shall bless thee, Psalm 145:8-10. 

He is good to all, he despiseth not any, Job 36:5. 

In Summary

Samuel Richardson states, "In reading the Scriptures, we are not to understand any text in such a sense as is not plain in Scripture, or is contrary to Scripture, or contrary to the law of nature, or contrary to the general goodness of God to mankind, or contrary to the gracious spirit and mercifulness of a saint, or contrary to the mind of Christ, which he declared when on earth, or contrary to the fruits of the blessed spirit, the nature of the love, goodness, and mercy of God; or in such a sense as shall tend to contradict or lessen the glory of God, or lessen the greatness and riches of his grace; for it is not to be imagined that God, who is only wise, should do and teach contrary things.

I am sure there is no inconvenience to the gospel, nor any dishonor to God, nor any grief, nor any obstacle to the faith and love of any good man, nor any discouragement to any man in serving God, that there is not to be a punishment for any to endure, that shall never end.

Nothing can be more plain than that which has been said, to anyone who will agree to the truth.

Some will not agree to anything though ever so plain and certain, if it is contrary to the tradition of their fathers: their way is their folly; and their posterity approve their sayings, Psalm 49:13. 

Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Isa. 53:1.

Some believed the things that were spoken, and some believed not, Acts 28:24. 

They make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn away the just for a thing of naught., Isa. 29:21.

O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle, Psalm 140:7

So be it.”

Conclusion

Samuel Richardson gives a total of  20 infallible proofs from Scripture why eternal torment in hell is not the biblical teaching of God's judgment for the wicked.

My purpose this October 2017, the 500th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses on the Door of Wittenburg Castle, is to show that many saints of God, erudite men and women who have believed the Bible to be the infallible Word of God, have never believed the Bible teaches eternal torment in hell.

Martin Luther was one.

Samuel Richardson was another.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is immortal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

500 Years Later and Martin Luther Is Reforming the Church Again on the Meaning of Life and Death

On October 31, 2017, the evangelical world will celebrate the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther pinning the 95 Thesis on the door of Wittenburg Castle, marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther called on the Church to look to the Bible alone in answering the question, "How is a sinner made right with God?"  This question in Luther's day would have been the more theological "How is a sinner justified? Luther believed the Bible alone answers this question accurately:  By God's grace in Jesus Christ through faith in Jesus Christ.  Or, as Luther and the other reformers declared in Latin:
Sola Gratia (Grace alone). Sola Fide (Faith alone). Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). 
During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had departed from the biblical teaching of justification by grace through faith and began the corrupt practice of selling indulgences.  An indulgence was an official Church document that a priest would hand to a sinner after payment of gold or silver to the Church. According to the doctrine of indulgence, the sinner's payment would absolve the sinner or his designee from any divine punishment due sin. Thus the sinner could go ahead and indulge himself. One monk by the name of Tetsel would walk the streets in Luther's day, hold out the Church coffers for donations, and then sing:
"As coins in the coffer ring, souls from Purgatory do spring." 
Luther, a Catholic priest, opposed the sale of indulgences. His 95 Thesis had the more formal title Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. The Church labeled Luther a "protestor," and that's why those who followed Scriptures and supported Luther on the doctrine of justification were called "Protest-ants."

Luther's complaints against the Church and Church leaders were harsh. He believed that the Church wanted money to build great cathedrals, and "scared the hell" out of commoners to get the money. He condemned the pope's extravagance and desire for more riches. One of Luther's 95 Theses asked the question:
Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?
In response, the Church condemned Luther, excommunicated him, put him on trial, and came close to burning him at the stake for his rebellion against their authority.

Religious leaders have a bad habit of not wanting their views questioned. It's much easier to attack a reformer as heretical so as not to disrupt the flow of institutional funding than it is for institutional leaders to painstakingly examine their standardized teaching for any potential errors. All of us are more comfortable creating pain for protestors than we are risking the personal and public shame in having to admit something we taught doesn't line up with Sola Scriptura.

For Luther, the issue was biblical authority over Church authority. Luther believed every Christian should be careful to derive what he or she believes from the Scriptures alone and to hold fast "to the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

The Church condemned Luther for his biblical view of justification by grace through faith. They called him unorthodox, heretical, and pronounced him anathema (e.g., cursed).  He paid a heavy personal price for his dissent against the Church, but Luther remained steadfast to Scripture.

Luther's calm, defiant, and reasoned accounting of his views on justification before Church leaders was grounded in Luther's firm belief of Sola Scriptura/  He defended his popular writings which disputed indulgences on the basis that he only wrote what the Bible taught. Dr. Scott H. Hendrix, the author of Luther and the Papacy, writes:
Luther asserted that his conscience was captive to the Word of God and that he could not go against conscience. Though already excommunicated by Rome, Luther saw himself as a sworn teacher of Scripture who must advocate the right of all Christians to hear and live by the gospel. 'Here I stand: I can do no other. God help me.'
500 years after Luther's courageous stand against the Church, most professing Christians see Luther's view on justification as orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church's view of indulgences (since renounced by the Church) as heretical.

Reformation eventually removes the error and reorients people to the truth.

A New Reformation Is Dawning 

Another Reformation is dawning in the evangelical church. Ironically, this new Reformation also finds its roots in Luther.  

This modern Reformation is over the meaning of life and death. Martin Luther and today's Bible-believing reformers are emphasizing two biblical truths denied by many Christians. These two truths are as follows:
  1. Immortal life is a gift from God to those He justifies by grace and is not inherent to human existence.
  2. Destruction through death for a human being is the just and final judgment of God for one's sins. 
These two biblical truths may be called for simplicity's sake the doctrine of conditional immortality.

If Jesus tarries, Luther's belief in conditional immortality will most likely be considered Christian orthodoxy in the year 2517, and the modern evangelical belief in the eternal conscious torment of the wicked will die a fate similar to the false doctrine of indulgences.

That kind of talk may be strange to your ears because you have been in churches all your life where you were told by authoritative Christian leaders that hell is where the wicked will receive eternal conscious torment. You never thought to question whether the Bible teaches that the wicked have immortal life.

To Martin Luther and other reformers in his day, and to many Bible-believing Christian reformers of this present day, Jesus Christ conquered death and now holds "the keys of life and death" (Revelation 1:18), and immortal life is only given to those who are in Him.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is immortal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (Romans 6:23).
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His Son - His only begotten Son - that whosever believes in Him will not perish, but have immortal life" (John 3:16)
Christ taught there is coming a time when "all who are in the graves will hear My voice" (John 5:28) and will be raised from the graves where:
"Those those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:28-29). 
The Bible teaches that "there is no one who does good, not one" (Romans 3:12). The standard of good that God sets for being granted immortal life is far superior to any goodness we possess or display. God expects perfect goodness (Matthew 5:48). He created us in His image, and He expects and deserves nothing less than goodness that reflects Him. Nobody deserves to live forever because nobody is good like God.

So back to the original question of this post: "How is a sinner justified?" Or, to put it another way, how does a sinner receive immortal life from God, which is what perfect goodness deserves?

Remember Luther's answer in the year 1517.

A sinner is delivered from destruction through death and given immortal life by God's grace in Jesus Christ through faith in Jesus Christ.  Sola Gratia (grace alone). Sola Fide (faith alone). Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).
"Kiss the Son or He will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction" (Psalm 2:12).  
Jesus is very important to the human race.

Jesus died. He died in place of sinners. Jesus died as the only perfect Substitute for sinners. He died bearing the penalty of our sins, which is death. "God made Him who had no sin (e.g., He who didn't deserve to die) to be sin for us (He willingly died for us) so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (and live forever)" (II Corinthians 5:21).

So only the righteous live forever, and sinners are only righteous in Him.

Destruction through Death for the Wicked

But it's the second category of people Jesus raises from the dead - 'those who have done evil' - that is the subject of the modern Reformation in the church.

Luther and the other reformers in his day, including John Wycliffe,  John Hus, William Tyndale and many others, believed that the Bible teaches the final punishment of the wicked meant their total destruction through death.
"A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity." (Psalm 37: 10-11)
"The wicked are like chaff that blows away." (Psalm 1:4)
"The wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." (II Thessalonians 1:9)
The modern evangelical church teaches that all human beings are inherently immortal and so every human being lives forever, whether righteous or wicked. To many evangelicals today, immortal life is not conditional upon being justified by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Immortality, they say, is inherent to being human.

Martin Luther called the Church's teaching of inherent immortality "a monstrous fiction" (Volume 7, pp 131,132).

Luther believed that the Bible teaches destruction through death is God's just punishment for the wicked. He understood through the Scriptures that though "God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33;11), God will still "raise the wicked" (John 5:28) for the Day of Judgment. After Jesus righteously exposes and censures each individual sinner at the Judgment Seat, Jesus will sentence the wicked to die a second time (Revelation 20:13-15).

This is why the Bible teaches that you should not fear a man who might take your life in your first death when your body is destroyed and your breath goes back to God who gave it for a season, but rather, you should fear Him who has the power to destroy both your body and breath in the second death which is forever (Matthew 10:28).

Jon Hus, John Wycliffe, and other Reformers agreed with Luther.

The wicked will cease to exist.

John Calvin did not agree.

John Calvin opposed Luther's views on the destruction of both body and soul. Calvin believed, like the ancient Greeks, that there is an invisible, immortal soul that lives within a body and is distinct and separate from the body. At the young age of twenty-five, John Calvin published Psychopannychia, a refutation of Luther's conclusions on the intermediate state based on Luther's belief in conditional immortality. 

Calvin took the position that the soul is innately immortal. To Calvin, just like the Greek philosopher Plato, all souls exist independent of the body and are indestructible and immortal. Therefore, it is impossible for the wicked to be destroyed because the soul of the wicked is indestructible. 

Calvin taught and believed in inherent human immortality, a doctrine that the institutional Roman Catholic Church taught as well. Martin Luther, John Hus, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and most of the other reformers in Calvin's day refuted Calvin's and the Church's teaching on inherent immortality and taught that the wicked will face their just judgment for their sins and be completely destroyed by God.

Most evangelicals today who align with Luther and the reformers on the biblical doctrine of justification by grace through faith have rejected Luther's and the other reformers' teaching on conditional immortality. Most evangelicals continue to embrace Calvin's and the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine of inherent immortality. 

So unlike 'justification by faith,' Luther's 'conditional immortality of the soul' never blossomed into evangelical orthodoxy even though Luther's writings on this subject were comparable to his writings on justification by faith in both breadth and depth.

A follower of Calvin might be tempted to respond, "That's because Luther's views on the destruction of the dead are heretical and not biblical." 

I issue a caution. Don't make the same mistake the Roman Catholic Church did in 1517.

The Bible Teaches Conditional Immortality according to Luther and the Reformers

Martin Luther and the other reformers believed immortal life was a gift, conditioned upon faith in Jesus Christ. They believed the Scriptures teach that those who reject Christ will suffer the punishment of destruction through death.  To the reformers, immortality is inherently natural to God alone. But God will give immortality as a gift to those He deems righteous.
"...the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and lives in unapproachable light... "– 1 Timothy 6:15-16
"To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." – Romans 2:7
"The soul that sins shall die" – Ezekiel 18:20
"The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." – Genesis 3:22
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." – Matthew 10:28 
Luther and the reformers believed that the punishment of the wicked was destruction through death, not torment through the ages. The Lake of Fire would be the fulfillment of God's promise to ultimately destroy the wicked.
"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branchwill be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty" (Malachi 4:1-3). 
My friend Paul Young, the author of The Shack, is a hopeful universalist. I do not believe universalism has any biblical merit. As already mentioned, the Scripture teaches that Christ will raise every person from death at His coming (John 5:29), but for some, this resurrection is an act of God's justice and judgment through death, and not grace and the gift of life.  Not all will live forever. Some will die a second time. 

Christians are called not to take vengeance for the evil done to us or against those we love. We are to anticipate that God will properly deal with unrepentant evildoers. He will destroy them through death. The punishment of death is God's prerogative as Creator, not ours. The Apostle Paul writes;
"Do not take revenge, " the Apostle Paul tells us, "but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). 
I have written in defense of Paul Young and his orthodox views on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul Young is like all orthodox Christians when it comes to an understanding of God's grace in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

What Paul Young struggles with is the thought of God eternally punishing sinners. Forever in hell is a very long time in Paul's way of thinking, especially for a ten-year-old who dies without faith in Christ. So Paul and other Christian believers like him are hopeful that Christ will eventually deliver everybody from eternal conscious torment in hell.

But the Bible does not teach universal reconciliation.

Maybe the antidote for people who gravitate toward the unbiblical doctrine of universal reconciliation is the biblical teaching of conditional immortality.

Destruction through the second death is the just punishment of the wicked.

Conditional immortality was part and parcel of Luther's message 500 years ago. It was as important to the reformers as justification through faith. But while following Luther on justification, the majority of the evangelical church has followed Calvin and the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of immortality. But that is changing.

A new Reformation is dawning.

Objections to Be Considered

In honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I will be writing the next few weeks (until October 31, 2017) on objections that many Christians have on the doctrine of conditional immortality. Some of the questions I will seek to biblically answer during October 2017 include:

1. If destruction through death is the ultimate punishment for the wicked, then what motivation would the wicked have to turn from their sins and trust Jesus Christ? Is not eternal conscious torment the only way to scare a sinner to Jesus?

Answer: I will hope to show that it is only the goodness of God that leads a sinner to true repentance, and scaring people to Jesus with visions of eternal conscious torment is similar to the sale of indulgences in Luther's day. It's good for business but does little to change lives.

2. What happens to a believer in Christ when he or she dies the first time? Does not conditional immortality necessitate the belief that at the time of the first death the body goes back to dust and the person's breath dissipates and disappears, so that there is 'nothingness' until the resurrection?

Answer: I will hope to show that in the resurrection we are outside of time and that from the perspective of the one who dies, the resurrection is immediate, regardless of the number of years that have passed from the first death to the general resurrection when Christ calls our names.

3. What about Revelation 20:10 and Revelation 14:10-11 and the Parable of the Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? Don't these biblical texts teach that the wicked will be tormented forever?

Answer: No. I will hope to show biblically and textually that the apocalyptic language of Revelation is consistent with the teaching of destruction through death throughout the Bible, and I will again show how the teaching of the Rich Man and Lazarus is Christ's way of cautioning religious leaders about taking money from unsuspecting and gullible people for personal gain. In the end, religious leaders who sell their message to become rich will be destroyed.

These and other questions will be answered in future posts. Feel free to ask your own in the comment section.