Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The #1 Thing to Look for When Joining a Church

I am often asked, "What's the best way to know whether or not a church is worth joining?"

My answer often surprises people. The measure of the greatness of a church is not seen in the size of the church, nor the missions emphasis, nor the children's or youth programs, nor the style of worship. 

Nope. Not at all.

Neither is it measured by the kind of church governance (e.g. elders, congregational, etc.) nor by the relevant ways the church seeks to make an impact in the community. 

A church is worth joining if the message emphasized is God's love for sinners in Christ rather than a sinner's love for God by commitment.

Think about that for a moment. 

If a person's love for God is always emphasized to the neglect of God's love for persons; or if one is constantly challenged to be "fully devoted to God" rather than the glorious gospel of "God being fully devoted" to His people in Jesus Christ, or if a person's love for God is always questioned and compared to another person's love for God (especially those who lead) through a verbal "measuring of each other's personal holiness," then you should put on those proverbial sneakers and run from that church as fast as possible.

Church leaders who feel it their duty to "get people to love God more" by controlling the movies they see or the books they read or the tertiary doctrines they believe is church leadership that has gone astray. When there is more of an emphasis on the covenant you sign to join a church than the covenant God sealed when He gave you His Son, then you've entered a land of law, not liberty. 

In the New Testament, the emphasis is always about God's love for sinners in Christ. When sinners are captivated and overwhelmed by the unconditional, eternal, and transformational love of God in Jesus Christ, we sinners come to a place of personal liberty to "love others as Christ loves us." 

Listen to John in I John 4:7-11:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loves us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.
The above passage contains an inviolable principle of relationships that many churches miss.

We are only at liberty to love other people as Christ loves us when the emphasis of gospel preaching is about God's love for us in Christ.

So next time you consider a church home,  listen closely to the words of the person on the platform. Those who spend more time controlling and directing the conduct of the people than championing and declaring the love of God toward people in Christ are showing tell-tale signs of a pervasive belief in their "spiritual authority" over people rather than their "gifted service" to people.

The Truth will set you free.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A James Bond (Roger Moore) Touching Tribute

Sir Roger Moore died at the age of 89 this week, and condolences and remembrances have been placed on social media from around the world. One particular tribute from Mark Haynes caught my eye.  The anecdote Mark tells about "James Bond"  reveals the power of kindness toward a child, something worth remembering by all of us who have the pleasure of being around children on a regular basis.
"As a seven-year-old in about 1983, in the days before First Class Lounges at airports, I was with my grandad in Nice Airport and saw Roger Moore sitting at the departure gate, reading a paper. I told my granddad I'd just seen James Bond and asked if we could go over so I could get his autograph. My grandad had no idea who James Bond or Roger Moore were, so we walked over and he popped me in front of Roger Moore, with the words "my grandson says you're famous. Can you sign this?"
As charming as you'd expect, Roger asks my name and duly signs the back of my plane ticket, a fulsome note full of best wishes. I'm ecstatic, but as we head back to our seats, I glance down at the signature. It's hard to decipher it but it definitely doesn't say 'James Bond'. My grandad looks at it, half figures out it says 'Roger Moore' - I have absolutely no idea who that is, and my hearts sinks. I tell my grandad he's signed it wrong, that he's put someone else's name - so my grandad heads back to Roger Moore, holding the ticket which he's only just signed.
I remember staying by our seats and my grandad saying "he says you've signed the wrong name. He says your name is James Bond." Roger Moore's face crinkled up with realisation and he beckoned me over. When I was by his knee, he leant over, looked from side to side, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said to me, "I have to sign my name as 'Roger Moore' because otherwise...Blofeld might find out I was here." He asked me not to tell anyone that I'd just seen James Bond, and he thanked me for keeping his secret. I went back to our seats, my nerves absolutely jangling with delight. My grandad asked me if he'd signed 'James Bond.' No, I said. I'd got it wrong. I was working with James Bond now.
Many, many years later, I was working as a scriptwriter on a recording that involved UNICEF, and Roger Moore was doing a piece to camera as an ambassador. He was completely lovely and while the cameramen were setting up, I told him in passing the story of when I met him in Nice Airport. He was happy to hear it, and he had a chuckle and said "Well, I don't remember but I'm glad you got to meet James Bond." So that was lovely.
And then he did something so brilliant. After the filming, he walked past me in the corridor, heading out to his car - but as he got level, he paused, looked both ways, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said, "Of course I remember our meeting in Nice. But I didn't say anything in there, because those cameramen - any one of them could be working for Blofeld."
I was as delighted at 30 as I had been at 7. What a man. What a tremendous man."
Yes, indeed, Mark. Thanks for sharing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Talking TO Someone Rather Than About Someone

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable..."  (Luke 18:9).

In the verse above, what do you believe is the most important word? I may surprise you in that I would choose the first word as the most important word, the little preposition "to."

Jesus could have spoken "about" some who were confident of their own righteousness, but He doesn't do that. He speaks "to" those who were confident of their own righteousness. Jesus always spoke to people, not about people.

And so should we.

Mary Anne Evans once wrote,
"Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker."
Christians are to be people with impeccable tastes. We are never to gossip about others, but we are called to speak to others - just like Jesus did. I've had a rule in my ministry for years called the Principle of Loyalty that goes something like this:
"I will neither give nor receive a negative word about you unless you yourself have been spoken to first."
I never ceased to be amazed at the number of people who wish to talk to me about someone else without ever going to that someone.  I will not listen. In fact, applying the Principle of Loyalty I will ask the person wishing to share with me the latest gossip, "Have you gone and spoken personally to the person you wish to discuss with me?" If the answer is no, I tell them I will not even communicate with them until they do.

I learned from Spurgeon that a pastor who listens to gossip is as guilty as the creator of outright lies. Spurgeon said to pastors he mentored:
"Don't allow certain busybodies to bring you all the gossip of the place. Drive the creatures away. Abhor those mischief-making, tattling handmaidens to strife. Those who will fetch will carry, and no doubt the gossips go from your house and report every observation which falls from your lips, with plenty of garnishing of their own. Remember that, as the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the hearer of scandal is a sharer in the guilt of it. If there were no listening ears there would be no talebearing tongues. While you are a buyer of ill wares the demand will create the supply, and the factories of falsehoood will be working full time. No one wishes to become a creator of lies, and yet he who hears slanders with pleasure and believes them with readiness will hatch many a brood into active life” (Lectures to My Students, p. 328).
As a Christian, if you are offended with someone and talk about that person to other people and not to that person himself, then you are doing opposite of what Jesus did.

Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1).  The Greek word translated "judge" in this verse is krino. This Greek word can mean condemn or "to call in question, conclude, decree, determine, esteem, ordain, think, or my sentence is". Out of 107 times where krino is used in the Bible, only six render it as "condemn" or "damn".

When we look closely at Matthew 7:1-5 the context clearly indicates that it does not only mean "condemn". In verse 2 He says "with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again". So clearly  krinos here not only means condemning people, but it also means "concluding, calling into question, decreeing, determining, esteeming, ordaining, thinking, or sentencing." 

Principle: The way we deal with other people is the way we will be dealt with by God. 

"For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2).

I want God talking to me, not about me. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

The FBI Director, Grammar, and the Serial Comma

America erupted in a firestorm of politics, name-calling, and backlash over the firing of James Comey as FBI Director.  There are possibly many lessons one can learn from this chapter in American politics, but I may be the only one who offers a grammar lesson.

Comey issued a "good-bye" letter to the FBI. I first read the Director's letter on my ABC News Twitter feed. After reading the letter, a comment from a fellow Twitter reader caught my eye. Sweetie Bird wrote of Director Comey, "He uses the serial comma, and for that alone, I shall forever admire him."

Of all the things Sweetie Bird could express her admiration about  FBI Director Comey, it's "because he uses the serial comma"  she decides to bestow her praise. 

He uses the serial comma.

I laughed when I read that statement.

Let me explain what the serial comma is. Director Comey wrote in his good-bye letter:
"In times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence."
The last comma in that sentence (in red so you can see it) is the serial comma. It's the last comma in a list of three or more items and usually comes before the word "and" or the word "or."  If you read newspapers a great deal, you won't see the serial comma because newspapers don't use it to save space. More and more book publishers are also not using the last comma in a series of items, and according to experts in grammar, the serial comma is truly an optional comma. You don't have to use it.

Unless you are a grammar snob. 

The serial comma is also called The Harvard Comma or the Oxford Comma because those two institutions and their publishing houses would die before they allowed any book they published to hit the market without the serial comma. It's expected, demanded, and enforced (visual pun intended). 

Typically, we all might say, "Who cares?" Except, in this one point I side with the snobs. Let me show you why. 

In a documentary of the late Merle Haggard, the text writer promoting the film did not use the serial comma. A sentence from the documentary's description is lifted to show how sometimes not using the serial comma can cause great confusion:
Those interviewed were Merle's two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall. 
In this convoluted culture of ours, a man married to two men is not as unusual as one might think, and without the serial comma, it looks as if Merle was married to two men. However, if the serial comma were to be used, it might prevent any confusion. For example:
Those interviewed were Merle's two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Duvall.
I always use the serial comma. If you've never thought about using it, the admiration Sweetie Bird expressed to Director Comey could be the impetus for you to begin.

If you would like some assistance with proper grammar and punctuation in your writing, I would highly encourage you to download the free software for Windows or Mac called Grammarly.  It is an essential for writers.

Grammarly automatically corrects improper grammar, spelling, and the absence of the serial comma.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tammany Day: The First True American Holiday and Its Connection to Democracy and Enid, OK

May Fete, Enid, Oklahoma, May 2017
This past Sunday, May 7, 2017, several hundred people gathered at Government Springs Park in Enid, Oklahoma for the 102nd annual May Fete tradition. People around the world have celebrated May Day with May Pole dance rituals and other rites since the time of the ancient Romans. These May Day festivities celebrate the new life which dawns every spring. However, there is a very special connection to the May Fete rituals in Enid, Oklahoma and the history of America.

In A.D. 1677  King Charles II awarded land in colonial America to William Penn
 Chief Tammany (c/ 1625-1701)
(A.D. 1644 - 1718). Penn arrived in the New World in 1682 only to discover that the land of many trees King Charles had deeded to him  - land known as  "Penn's sylvania" which means "Penn's woodlands" -  was already occupied by Indians. The Lene Lenape Indians, called the Delawares because they lived around the Delaware River, were the oldest of all the tribes in colonial America. They were called "The Father Tribe," and their leader, Chief Tammany (c. 1625-1701), was respected by all the other Indian tribes. The Delawares not only were the original inhabits of Pennsylvania, they also lived on Manhattan Island and other areas of the northeast.

Penn Statue on top of Philadelphia's City Hall
Rather than going to war with Tammany and the Delawares to  to claim his land (as other Englishmen were fond of doing), William Penn put into practice his Christian principles and signed the very first treaty between Europeans and Native Americans. Called The Great Treaty, Penn agreed to purchase his land of Penn-sylvania from the Delaware Indians and promised that the Indians could live among his family and friends in Pennsylvania in peace and harmony. Penn reasoned that all men were created equal, and the principles of liberty, justice and peace are inalienable rights for humankind, regardless of heritage. Where William Penn and Chief Tammany signed the Great Treat, the city of Philadelphia (e.g. "the city of brotherly love") was founded. On top of the iconic city hall building of Philadelphia is a statue of William Penn, with the Great Treaty in his left hand, and his right hand pointing to Treaty Park where the treaty was signed in 1682. When you walk into the nation's Capitol Rotunda and look up to see the paintings representing the most important events in American history, the signing of the Great Treaty as portrayed by Greek painter Constantino Brumidi is one of the first events depicted. News of Europeans living in "brotherly love" with one another, rather than fighting and killing one another, became the major news event of the early 1680's.

Benjamin West's Famous Painting of the Great Treaty
Tammany's Portrait on a Washington Redskin Helmet
Colonial America erupted in joy in 1682 at the singing of the Great Treaty. Tammany signed the treaty with an X because he couldn't write his name, but he became the first iconic American hero and America's Patron Saint.  Because colonial America was attempting to establish its own identity separate from England, May Day (May 1) in America was changed to Tammany Day in celebration of the principled behavior of this "red skin" named Tammany.  Tammany Societies sprang up in all the major cities of the New World. Tammany Societies were political clubs built on the principles of equality, justice and liberty for all. Tammany Day was a time of celebration and tribute to Tammany. People would attend Tammany Society meetings dressed like the famous American Indian in honor of Chief Tammany. In Boston, after a Tammany Society meeting, colonialists went to Boston Harbor "dressed as Indians" and dumped tea into the harbor because of their opposition to "taxation without representation" and the violation of the democratic principles of equality and justice. George Washington records in his diary on May 1, 1777, while encamped at Valley Forge, that his men were celebrating Tammany Day with great enthusiasm. They were fighting England over principles Tammany represented. In New York City, Tammany Hall became the headquarters of what became the Democratic Party in the United States. As recently as 1937, our nation's capital (Washington D.C.)  honored Tammany by naming their new football team the Washington Redkskins and placed Tammany's face on their football helmets.

Black Beaver (1806-1880)
After the Delawares assisted the colonials in defeating the English during America's Revolutionary War, the descendants of Tammany (the Delawares) were forced to move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the United States government. The Delaware Nation eventually established their headquarters in Anadarko, Oklahoma.  When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the best U.S. army officers, cavalry, and artillerymen were stationed in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to protect the five civilized Indian tribes in eastern Indian Territory from the Plainsmen tribes (Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, and Cheyenne) who roamed the plains in the west. President Lincoln sent an undercover messenger to Oklahoma in the War's first secret mission with orders for the army to evacuate Indian Territory and return to Washington Capital to protect the government from what Lincoln then called "this insurrection." The U.S. Army stationed at Fort Arbuckle turned to Black Beaver 1806-1880),  who lived nearby and was the leader of the Delawares and the direct descendant of Tammany (his great-great-grandson), and asked him to guide the troops north through the Cherokee Outlet to Fort Leavenworth (Kansas). This route was unfamiliar to the U.S. troops. Black Beaver agreed. So in early May of 1861, Black Beaver guided 1,000 U.S. troops, including many future U.S. generals north through Indian Territory. Black Beaver
Black Beaver's Trail through the Cherokee Outlet north
blazed as they went, and he stopped everywhere there were natural springs in order for the horses to drink and the men to refill their canteens. On May 14, 1861, Black Beaver and the U.S. Army camped at Healing Springs in Enid (what is now called Government Springs). The troops eventually made it safely to Fort Leavenworth and in the subsequent years helped President Lincoln and the Union win the Civil War through their military leadership.

The Confederates moved into Indian Territory from Texas and discovered that Black Beaver had guided the U.S. troops north to Fort Leavenworth. They were furious with Black Beaver, so they destroyed his house, burned his crops, kidnapped his family, and put a bounty on his. Word came to Black Beaver of what the Confederates had done even before the troops reached Fort Leavenworth. He was forced to stay with Wichita Indians in southern Kansas (current day Wichita, Kansas) until the war ended (1865). After hostilities ceased, Black Beaver's good friend, Jesse Chisholm, who had stayed with Black Beaver for the duration of the war, asked Black Beaver, "What's the best route to get to my trading post on the Canadian River?" Black Beaver responded, "Follow the trail I blazed four years ago with the Union troops." Chisholm did, and soon that trail became known as "Chisholm's Trail."  But don't tell that to the Delawares. The trail from the South Canadian River  north to Kansas was blazed by Black Beaver and to this day, it is known by the Delawares as "Black Beaver's trail."

After the Civil War, Black Beaver returned to Oklahoma and rebuilt his farm. He eventually became a Baptist preacher. Of all the American heroes in our country, Black Beaver is probably the least known - except by our military historians. In anticipation of our 1776 bi-centennial celebration, the United States government commissioned the exhumation of Black Beaver's body at a private cemetery, and with full military honors, reburied him at the United States Army's Fort Sill where you can see his grave today.

Before Black Beaver died, he was asked by a reporter "Do you have any regrets for guiding the troops north?" He responded, "Just one. I was charged with keeping the original Great Treaty signed by my grandfather Tammany and William Penn in 1682. I kept it above my mantel in my home, and when the Confederates burned my house, the Great Treaty burned with it." So, the Great Treaty signed by Penn and Tammany, the act which began the city of brotherly love (Philadelphia), burned in a little farmhouse in southwestern Oklahoma.

Tammany's great-grandson (4x) is the current Chief (they now call them President) of the Delaware
Delaware President Kerry Holton (left), his mom, and me
Nation. His name is Kerry Holton, and he's a friend of mine. I find it ironic that Kerry Holton was born at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Enid, a hospital which sits just to the north of Healing Springs (Government Springs) park. This park of natural springs is the very place where Black Beaver camped with the Union troops in 1861. I also find it fascinating that when citizens of Enid surround the park for the May Fete celebration every May, they are indirectly honoring Chief Tammany, the man for whom America's forefathers renamed May Day as Tammany Day.

So, particularly to all my Enid friends, next time you walk across a bridge at Government Springs, or your kids or grandchildren participate in May Fete at Government Springs, or you drive by Government Springs on Highway 412, remember this:

1. May Fete celebrations have their roots in the traditional May Day holiday.
2. Chief Tammany of the Delawares signed the Great Treaty with William Penn in 1682.
3. The Founding Fathers changed May Day on May 1 to Tammany Day in honor of Tammany.
4. Tammany Societies formed in every major city, the forerunners of our political parties which were built on the principles of justice and equality for all men.
4. Tammany's great-great grandson, Black Beaver, took part in the Civil War's first secret mission, most of which played out during the first month of the Civil war and included Healing Springs.
5. Black Beaver and 1,000 Union troops - including seven future army generals - camped at Healing Springs (now Government Spring in Enid) on May 14, 1861.
6. The original Great Treaty, cared for by the direct descendants of Tammany, burned in Oklahoma in May 1861 when the Confederates burned Black Beaver's house in retaliation for leading the Union troops
7. Black Beaver's great-great grandson Kerry Holton was born at St. Mary's Hospital in Enid (located next to Government Springs) in 1961.
8. Kerry Holton is now the President of the Delaware Nation.
9. When people from Enid High School celebrate May Fete at Government Springs park every May, there is a very close connection to the beginnings of our great nation and the principles of democracy.
10. If you are ever near Government Springs in the future, pause and reflect on the privileges you enjoy as an American and a citizen of the great state of Oklahoma.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

If Someone Dies Will They Live Again? (Job 14:14)

There are three conflicting views among Bible-believing followers of Christ regarding a person's ultimate and eternal destiny.

Position #1: Some Christians believe in the Eternal Conscious Torment of the wicked in hell with the corresponding Eternal Happiness of the righteous in heaven.

Position #2: Some Christians believe the Ultimate Extinction (e.g. "the second death") of the wicked will come after their resurrection and the judicial, proportional and personal judgment of God for their sins, but the Gift of Immortal Life is given by God only to those sinners He declares righteous in Christ and makes righteous by His Spirit within.

Position #3: Some Christians believe in the Ultimate Restoration of every person by the grace of God through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, a view sometimes called Hopeful Universalism or Universal Redemption.

Lots of conflicts have arisen among Christians over these three views, with deep feelings in each camp. Some of the finest minds through the centuries have debated the issue, decided the question, and often denigrated Christians who disagree. The reason the ultimate destiny of a human being has caused such ceaseless conflict is that it is a question of transcendent importance as well as deep personal concern.

Do the Scriptures teach the eternal misery of the wicked (Position #1) as John Calvin taught? Or does God's Word teach that He will ultimately and graciously grant the restoration of all people (Position #3) as George MacDonald, the mentor of C.S. Lewis taught? Or does the Bible teach a conditional immortality (Position #2) as Martin Luther taught, a position between eternal conscious torment and universal redemption?

John Calvin, George MacDonald, and Martin Luther agreed on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, but they disagreed on the ultimate destiny of the wicked and of the righteous. These three evangelicals carried a deep appreciation for the Scriptures and possessed some of the sharpest minds in Christian history. So in light of their disagreements with one another, it might be wise for us to walk in a measure of humility. as these issues continue to be debated among evangelicals. Evidence of such humility will be our resistance to issuing dogmatic assertions or denigrating accusations to those who may disagree.

We ought to listen and learn from others rather than shout and scoff at others.

We evangelicals who hold to a high view of Scripture as infallible revelation will all agree that the only dependable source of enlightenment on man's ultimate destiny is God. He created us so He alone can give us the answers regarding our future. So we must turn to His Word, not our thoughts, to find the truth regarding a person's eternal state.  Our problem is our fallibility to understand the truth of Scripture, not the Scripture's failure to reveal the truth. It is to the Scriptures we must turn.

When we read the Bible we quickly discover that the conflict between righteousness and wickedness, personalized in Christ and Satan and lived out within mankind, has raged across the centuries. However, the Scriptures reveal that this conflict will finally and fully come to an end with the declared triumph of the Kingdom of Christ (see Daniel 2:44).

Christ will ultimately overthrow Satan and righteously judge humanity's sins. God’s full and final restoration of Paradise on earth through Christ fully and finally reversing the curse on earth, will be Christ's Kingdom forever. He gave a picture of this day when He said, “The meek will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

The Paradise lost by the disobedience of the First Adam will be fully regained by the obedience of the Last Adam. The will of God on earth will be as it is in heaven when Christ’s Kingdom fully comes on earth. The central focal point of the history is Jesus Christ. He came as the Son of Man and the Son of God to restore and redeem what the first man lost. His Story is Redemption. The H I S T O R Y of the universe is God ultimately restoring for man what man initially lost for himself – immortal life in an exotic paradise of peace.

The question at hand is “What is the ultimate destiny of those outside of Christ, or using more biblical terms, those “outside of Christ's Kingdom”? Will the wicked be judged for their sins and suffer conscious torment forever, while the righteous enjoy continuous blessings from God? Or will the wicked be raised and judged by God for their personal sins, only to die a second time as a just punishment for their crimes, while the righteous alone will receive the gift of immortal life? Or will even the wicked on earth eventually see the glory of God in Christ Jesus and bow to the grace of God that is in Christ and ultimately be restored even after death?

One position must be right, while the other two must be wrong because all three positions can’t be right at the same time.

So what does the Bible teach?


Conditionalism or Conditional Immortality – is the belief that that the Bible teaches immortality, or everlasting life, is offered to man only upon God’s terms and conditions.

Immortal-Soulism or Inherent Immortality – is the belief that the Bible teaches man was created with a soul, which has a separate existence from the body, and that that the soul is innately and indefeasibly immortal.

In the first belief, the soul can die. In the second belief, it is impossible for the soul to die, even if God desired to destroy the soul because the soul can’t die. 

It’s possible that you’ve never thought about death in these terms. It could be that you’ve just assumed that all men, both the wicked and the righteous will live forever, because (in your mind), man's soul is like the trick birthday candles you can’t – no matter how hard you try – ever extinguish.

You have been trained to believe in Immortal-Soulism.

What we must all do is ask, “Is that doctrine biblical?”

The Destiny of a Person Based on the Definition of Terms

Those who believe in conditional immortality believe that the person who does not accept God’s conditions for life (e.g. Jesus Christ) will be ultimately deprived of life and totally destroyed. Those who believe in inherent immortality, on the other hand, believe that the person who disobeys God and persists in his rebellion will be cast into an eternally burning hell-fire, where he will be tormented forever because his soul cannot die.

The evangelical who believes in conditional immortality believes when Jesus said, "Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell," (Matthew 10:28), He meant actually destruction and annihilation, which the word "destroy" means. However,  the evangelical who believes in inherent immortality believes the word "destroy" refers to a worse state of existence, like wine gone bad, or cheese turned rotten. The way you define the Greek word apollumi (translated destroy in Matthew 10:28) will vary according to your basic view of immortality. Is immortality inherent to every human being or is it a gift to only those "in Christ."?

Martin Luther believed in conditional immortality. John Calvin believed in inherent immortality.

When Calvin heard that Luther believed in conditional immortality, he published his first book (at the age of 25) to argue against Luther’s position. In the sixteenth-century, book titles were long. so Calvin chose as a title for his book. “A Refutation of the Error Entertained by Some Unskillful Persons, Who Ignorantly Imagine that in the Interval between Death and the Judgment the Soul Sleeps, Together with an Explanation of the Condition and Life of the Soul After this Present Life.” 

Whew! It’s the last portion of Calvin’s title – An Explanation of the Condition and life of the Soul After this Present Life that details Calvin's views that even God is unable to kill the soul of man, because the soul of man is inherently immortal. Calvin later changed the title of his book to the one word Psychopannychia, which is Greek for “the sleep of the soul.”

In Calvin’s day, there were others besides Luther who believed in Conditional Immortality. The Ana-Baptists, who loved to trace their heritage to the early Christians, taught that Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church fathers all taught Conditional Immortality. Calvin called the Ana-Baptists “pernicious pests,” and spoke far more harshly against them than he did Martin Luther.

Both Luther and the Ana-Baptists believed that when the Bible refers to death, as in “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23), that death meant the absence of life. Luther and the Ana-Baptists also took John 3:16 at face value: " "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish (there's that word apollumi again) but have the gift of immortal life."  

Luther and Calvin’s Respective Positions

For Luther, immortal life is a gift of God, for “God alone has immortality” (I Timothy 6:16). For Calvin, to be “created in the image of God” meant that immortality is inherent to the human existence. No man, according to Calvin, can cease to exist because God doesn’t cease to exist. God made man immortal because God made man “in His image.”

Luther and the Ana-Baptists countered that inherent immortality is both illogical and unbiblical. From a logical standpoint, God is also omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Why is a man not omniscient? Omnipotent? Omnipresent? If the attribute of immortality is “God’s alone” as the Bible states, then for a man to be “created in God’s image” no more means that a man is inherently immortal than it means a man is inherently omnipotent. Luther argued it may be easy to say a man is “inherently immortal” because no one has the means to prove he’s not, but one can easily prove a man is not omnipotent like God.

So from Luther’s perspective, the Bible reveals the ultimate answer to man’s final destiny. “God alone is immortal.” Therefore, according to Luther, for a human being to be granted immortality, or to come into possession of eternal life, then it must be a gift bestowed on certain conditions, not an inherent state of that man.

At the center of the disagreement between Luther and Calvin is how they interpreted Hebrew and Greek words like the Hebrew ruach (spirit) and nephesh (soul) and the Greek pneuma (spirit) and psuche (soul). Calvin separated the spirit of man (ruach) from the bodily life of the man (nephesh), while Luther believed the spirit of man (ruach) was what made the life the man (nephesh) unique from animals and angels, but when a man died, he ceased to live because the spirit and body of man are indefeasibly united.

In other words, to Luther, a man’s spiritual life (relationship to God) and a man’s physical life (relationship to the world) and a man’s mental and emotional life (relationship with others) are all so interconnected, that there is never any existence of one without the other. Calvin, on the other hand, believed that a man could be a spirit being, existing without a body (like the angels), and at death, only the man’s spirit makes its way to God. Luther held that no man exists after death apart from physical resurrection.

A Summary of Calvin’s View:  Man has a body that is energized by the spirit of that man. The spirit of a man is directly created by God and “deposited” into the man’s body upon God’s command (while in the womb of his mother). God’s deposit of a man’s spirit into his body gives to this man unique and inherently immortal life. So when the body of a man dies,  his spirit which energized the man's body, returns to God who made is the maker of spirits. Calvin believed that the moment of "death" is when God “unties the silver cord” (Ecclesiastes 12:6) that holds a man’s spirit to his body. A man's body exist without the man's spirit in it, but the body is "dead" and will decay because the spirit of man has gone back to God.

A Summary of Luther’s View: Man is body and soul which is energized by God (life) and a man never exists apart from his body living. Luther’s view that there is no life of man apart from the body of man gave him a high and strong view of the resurrection. The hope of the Christian faith, according to Luther, is resurrection life. The Kingdom of Christ is all about resurrection.  To Luther, the Kingdom of Christ now is Christ's resurrection power within a man; the Kingdom of Christ to come is Christ's resurrection power on the outward man (the physical resurrection). Physical disease, decay and death are the last enemies we face in this life. Christ's resurrection power can happen now within a person, but His resurrection power on all people will happen when He comes.

After Calvin wrote his book Psychopannychia, the evangelical church almost universally fell in lockstep with Calvin. However, since the 17th century, there have been many conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals who believe the Scriptures teach Luther's position. 

I’ve taught Calvin’s view all my life. I find beautiful biblical symmetry in Luther's view.

I see both positions. I understand them both. I could teach both as if I believed them.

In this little paper, I’m not advocating one side over the other. I am expressing my hope that Christian people can understand these issues have been debated for centuries by competent biblical scholars. Many evangelicals have held to conditional immortality. The majority of evangelicals have held to eternal conscious torment.  A few evangelicals have ventured into hopeful universalism. If you’ve come to a settled view of man's destiny based on your study of the Scriptures, then great! I would encourage you to be gentle with those who disagree.

A friend of mine told me he recently came to personally believe the view Luther held. He’s come to the conclusion that the Bible teaches conditional immortality. But then he said something that caught me by surprise, “I dare not tell anyone in my church what I believe. It would cause a huge controversy.”

How sad. The church of Jesus Christ needs some maturity. Puerile and prideful attitudes have no place among the people of God. To shame, shun and shout in anger at those who have taken a different view on doctrinal matters only causes the church to look more like the world than the Kingdom of grace it really is.

Let’s be workmen who strive to rightly divide the Word of truth, but let’s be humble about both our toolbox and our handiwork.  Christ has properly laid the Foundation.  The house we build on top of His Foundation may look differently than other houses built by His people, but as long as we are resting in Him, we will build on a firm footing indeed.

J.I. Packer, a staunch Calvinist who embraces eternal conscious torment, defended his friends and fellow Calvinist theologians John Stott and John Wenham who came to embrace conditional immortality. Packer wrote
"These honored fellow-evangelicals embrace conditional immortality for the right reasons—not because it fitted into their comfort zone, though it did, but because they thought they found it in the Bible.”
May we all have more of the same gracious spirit exhibited by Packer when it comes to fellowship with those who disagree with us on this issue.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Our Painful Afflictions Are a Poke in the Eye of God

"Whoever touches you touches the apple of God's eye." (Zechariah 2:8)

"... and to know His love that surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19)

Each of us strives for life to be as comfortable and convenient as possible. We work hard at trying not to work hard.  Life is good when we eat well, sleep well, work well, play well, see well, hear well, earn well, and relate well. 

But what happens when "the well" runs dry?

I'm old enough and wise enough to know that everyone's "well" will run dry at some point. The Christian health and wealth gospel is a sham.  The idea that followers of Jesus will always physically and financially prosper in this life is foreign to the teaching of Christ and the apostles. Paul said, "Don't be shaken by these afflictions we are going through. For you yourselves know that we are appointed unto this" (I Thessalonians 3:3). 

The temptation we all face is the tendency to measure God's love for us by how well our circumstances are. When things are going well, we seem more prone to feel God's love. However, when things aren't going well, "Where is God's love for me?" Our pain is only exacerbated when we pray and ask God to remove our afflictions, only to have our circumstances seemingly worsen and  our pain intensify.

So how can I measure God's love for me when things are no longer as comfortable and convenient as they once were? How can I avoid falling into the trap of believing that if God really loved me, He would remove from my life those things that are causing me suffering and pain?

The Eye of God Is Touched

When the prophet Zechariah wrote, "Whoever touches you touches the apple of God's eye" (Zechariah 2:8), the people of God in Judah were suffering mightily. Zechariah used vivid language to give hope to God's people. You are the "apple of God's eye," the prophet declared. What does that mean?

The eyeball, or globe of the eye, with the pupil in the center, is called the "apple" because of its round shape. The eyeball has great value and is carefully protected by the eyelids which automatically close when there is the least possibility of danger. That's why in Scripture, the "apple of the eye" is an emblem of that which is most precious and jealously protected.

The Hebrew word translated apple is 'ishon, which means "little man." It is the diminutive of 'ish, which is the Hebrew word for "man." So the Hebrew term "apple of the eye" or "little man" is a specific reference to the center of the pupil where there is "the little image of oneself when looking into another's pupil" (Davies' Lexicon). When you look at your heavenly Father in the midst of your pain, you should always remember that you are "the apple of His eye"

That's right, you are His eyeball.

So because you are His eyeball, when you hurt, He hurts. Or, as the prophet Isaiah said, "In all your suffering, He is afflicted!"(Isaiah 63:9).

When you are irritated, so is He. When you are in pain, He too feels it. When you are uncomfortable, He is uncomfortable. You can't have an affliction come your way and your heavenly Father not feel that affliction as well. You are the "apple of His eye."

So this is how I must measure God's love when "the well" in my life runs dry.

I must realize my Heavenly Father feels with me.

Then Why Does God Not Remove It?

There can be, and there is, only one answer.

Something better is coming my way.

It's the same reason the weightlifter strains under the weights - for the strength that comes. It's the same reason a business owner will endure struggles - for the profit that comes. It's the same reason Christ endured the pain of the cross - for the joy that was to come. It's the same reason that we will endure any pain willingly - if not enthusiastically - when we KNOW that something good is coming our way.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
Here's the hard part. Most of the "good" coming my way is all about God conforming me to the character of His Son (Romans 8:29). Becoming like Christ is God's plan for me. In my experience,  the painful times in my life have done more to shape my character than all of the comfortable and convenient times combined.

Soul Food

Recently I read a story that a missionary told about his son and a cranky woman they met in a restaurant.
"Last week, I took my children to a restaurant. My six-year-old son asked if he could say grace. As we bowed our heads he said, "God is good, God is great. Thank you for the food, and thank you more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. With Liberty and justice for all! Amen!"

Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby, I heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!"

Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?" I assured him that he had done a terrific job, and God was certainly not mad at him. An elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at my son and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer." "Really?" my son asked. "Cross my heart," the man replied. Then, in a whisper, he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."

Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment, and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and, without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already."
Most people when they read that story will focus on the cranky woman.

I'm captivated by the father of the boy. He felt the pain of the woman's attack too. It was his son crying out. The father felt with his son as if he himself were in pain, but he did not remove his son from the uncomfortableness of the affliction. The father ministered to his boy in the affliction and allowed others to come alongside to offer grace and help in his time of need. As a result, something unforgettably good happened to his son.

My affliction is like a cranky old woman yelling at me for my shortcomings. My Heavenly Father hears the shouts, and He and others whisper grace to my soul during my dark moments, teaching me in the midst of my affliction far more than I'd ever learn without it.

Painful afflictions aren't fun. We all want them gone.

But if our Father isn't standing up and kicking the old woman called affliction out of the restaurant, it's because He knows there's something better we can learn from her yelling at us than we'd ever be able to learn without her.

Monday, May 01, 2017

May Day Is Worth Remembering David Livingstone

David Livingstone Praying, May 1, 1873
Today is May Day.

May Day is a traditional holiday throughout the northern hemisphere of the world, celebrating the dawn of spring.

May Fetes, May Poles, May Queens, are all part of May Day celebrations in various countries. It's a time for celebrating.

But I know May Day (May 1) as a day for remembering. It's the day missionary David Livingstone died.

It's worth remembering how he died.

David Livingstone died while praying on his knees beside his bed in the interior of Africa.

Born in Blantyre, Scotland in 1813, Livingstone’s father read missionary stories to him while he sat on his father's knees. Livingstone came to faith in Christ as a child and committed his life to medical missionary service at the age of 21. When asked why he felt compelled to be a missionary, Livingstone responded:
“The love of Christ compels me.”
At his commissioning service, Livingstone knelt down and prayed: 
Send me anywhere, only go with me.
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.
Sever any ties but the ties that bind me
To Your service and to Your heart.
He would later say,
“The words of God came to me during my prayer, ‘Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.’”
Livingstone went for medical training in Glasgow in the mid-1830’s. A growing desire for Africa began to “burn” in his heart. Some Europeans already lived on the coast of Africa during that time, including a Scottish congregational minister named Robert Moffatt who was one of the first evangelical missionaries to Africa. Scottish newspapers published some of Moffat's letters where he described the interior of the Dark Continent with these words... 
"...the smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary has been seen.” 
This phrase captivated the heart of Livingstone.

The London Missionary Society eventually sponsored Livingstone as one of their missionaries, and they sent him to South Africa as both a doctor and ordained minister in November 1840. Livingstone went with the intention and backing of the LMS to take the gospel to the interior of the Dark Continent (called "Dark" because people in Europe knew very little about it). 

Livingstone was 27 years old.

As Livingstone caught his first glimpse of Africa from the deck of the ship which transported him, smoke could be seen rising from interior African villages. Livingstone wrote in his journal: 
“The haunting specter of the smoke of a thousand villages in the morning sun has burned within my heart.” 
As Livingstone began his work as an African missionary, his spirit is encapsulated in my favorite Livingstone quote, the motto for my own life - “I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward." From South Africa, Livingstone indeed moved forward into the interior of the Dark Continent. Thus began a life of walking Africa that would take him more than 29,000 miles back and forth across the continent's vast interior.

As Livingstone moved from place to place, his goal was Jesus in the hearts of the Africans, and knowledge of the land. Five years after arriving in Africa, Livingstone went back to the coastline and married Mary Moffett, the daughter of the missionary Robert Moffett. Their first two children were born during the couple's two-year exploration of the Kalahari Desert.

David sent his wife and children back to England shortly after the birth of their second child because Africa was "too dangerous for small children." In addition, Dr. Livingstone wanted his children to receive a proper education.  

“Mary, why don’t you take them home to England? I’ll come as soon as I can.” Mary left Africa in 1851.

It would be five years before Livingstone could make it to London. 

When Mary laid eyes on David in 1856 at the London port, she did not recognize her husband. During one of his missionary explorations, the branch of a tree blinded his eye and scarred the other. In addition to his mutilated face, Livingstone’s skin had been poached and weathered by the sun and elements. His Scottish skin pigment unsuited for the equatorial sun, Livingstone had been roasted. A lion also had mauled him in the bush, nearly tearing off his arm, giving Livingstone a massive scar on his shoulder.

David walked with a limp and had seemingly aged decades in just five years.

Just hours before his arrival in London, the family had buried Livingstone’s father. David wept on his wife's shoulder at the news, for he had longed to stories firsthand of missionary adventures his father had only told him second-hand when he was a child.

For two years (1856-1858), David Livingstone toured Great Britain, lecturing Englishmen on his discoveries and the advancement of the gospel in Africa. It is said that he never walked into a lecture hall without receiving a standing ovation.

In 1858 he told Mary, “The smoke of a thousand villages still burns in my heart.” Livingstone returned to Africa later that year, sponsored by the pre-eminent scientific society of the day, the Royal Society. Livingstone went to Africa this time with more equipment and even a greater desire to end African slave trade. It was less than three years before the United States of America’s great Civil War would break out over the issue of slavery.

After their children were grown, Mary Livingston rejoined her husband in Africa, only to die of malaria in what we now know as Mozambique on April 27, 1862.

As David Livingstone knelt on his knees beside the grave of his wife, his porters heard him pray:
“My Jesus. My King. My Life. My All. I again consecrate my life to thee. I shall place no value in anything I possess or anything I may do except in relation to thy Kingdom and to thy service.”
In his journal that night Livingstone wrote, "Today the words of God came to my heart again… 'Lo I am with you always with you, even unto the end of the age.'"

Livingstone returned to London in November 1864 to publicly speaking out against slavery. He also published Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries and wrote about his use of quinine as a malaria remedy. In this book, Livingstone becomes the first person to recognize the connection between malaria and mosquitoes.

Livingstone returned to Africa in early 1866, landing in Zanzibar, on the central eastern coast of Africa (modern Tanzania). This trip would be Livingstone's last exploration of the continent and would become the occasion for the spreading of his worldwide fame. Europe lost touch with Livingstone in shortly after he arrived in 1866. No letters got through. Nobody knew where he was. For nearly six years Livingstone was lost on the Dark Continent.

The entire world's interest in the Scottish missionary grew as newspapers around the world recounted how the missionary scientist David Livingstone "had disappeared." The newspaper publisher of the New York Herald sent a reporter named Henry M. Stanley to Africa with the charge "Find Livingstone!" (which would, of course, sell newspapers). 

Of all the people affiliated with the state of  Oklahoma, Henry Stanley's story and his subsequent discovery of David Livingstone is my favorite.  

From March 21, 1871 to November 10, 1871, Henry Stanley explored the interior of Africa, looking for Livingstone. Stanley led his caravan of nearly 2,000 men into the interior of Africa from Zanzibar. During the eight-month search for Livingstone, Stanley contracted dysentery, cerebral malaria, and smallpox. 

Stanley didn't know that Livingstone had also been sick and poverty-stricken. Beginning in July 1871, Livingstone had stopped walking the interior and settled in the village of Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika (western Tanzania). When Stanley’s caravan entered the village of Ujiji on November 10, 1871, flying the American flag, villagers crowded toward Stanley. Spotting a white man with a gray beard in the crowd, Stanley stepped toward him and stretched out his hand: 
“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
Earlier that day, before Stanley found Livingstone, someone had stolen Dr. Livingstone's medicine from his tent. The missionary knew he would die without it. He got down on his knees and prayed:
“God you promised to never leave me … I need that medication.”
The shouts of the villagers interrupted his prayer time. As Livingstone came out of his tent, he was astonished to see Stanley and moved toward him, only to hear him ask, “ Dr. Livingstone I presume?? Stanley continued to speak: 
"I am press reporter assigned to find you and do a story on your life. I am the biggest swaggering atheist on the face of the earth, please don’t try to convert me. Second, somebody has sent some medication for you.”
Four months later, after traveling with Livingstone through the interior of Africa, Henry Stanley knelt on his knees in the African soil and gave his life to Christ. He would later write of his conversion after spending 120 days with David Livingstone:
“The power of that Christ life was awesome, and I had to buckle in – I couldn’t hold out any longer.” 
Henry Stanley and David Livingstone became fast friends, but Stanley would eventually leave Livingstone in 1872 to finish writing his bestselling two-volume book How I Found Livingstone.  

Less than a year after Stanley returned to the States, Dr. David Livingstone died.

In the fall of 1872, just a few months before Livingstone's death on May 1, 1873, Livingstone's nearly sixty-year-old body began to shrivel with high temperature and pain. His porters carried him around Africa on a stretcher. During these painful weeks, Livingstone preached to the villagers while lying prone, propping himself up on an elbow.

After one such preaching engagement on May 1, 1873, Livingstone requested that his porters carry him back to his home village. They brought him into his hut and were going to roll him on his bed, but he said, “No, please help me to my knees.”

Livingstone buckled down on his knees by the side of his bed, clasped his hands and started to pray. His prayers were so profound, his sanctuary so unique, the Africans felt it would be blasphemy to stay in the room, so they stepped out. 

After a time someone came and asked to see Mr. Livingstone for a moment. “Shhh.. quiet please, he’s praying.” 5 minutes went by, he was still on his knees. Several minutes went by, the porters looked in. Livingstone was still on his knees. An extended period went by. They looked in again, and the missionary was still on his knees. Finally, one of the Africans felt Livingstone was too tired and had fallen asleep. He went in and shook him by the shoulder, and said, “Guana (white man), Guana…” As he shook his shoulder, Livingstone fell over.

The great missionary was dead.

Livingstone died exactly the way he had lived – in the presence of His Lord.

My Jesus. My King. My Life. My All. I again consecrate myself to Thee.

The porters took out Livingstone's heart and buried it at the base of an oak tree in his village. His two faithful Christian porters - whom Livingstone had won to Christ - embalmed his body and carried it 1,000 miles to the African coast to in order to ship the body back to England. Livingstone is buried in Westminster Abbey with this inscription.
Brought by faithful hands over land and sea, here rests David Livingstone, missionary, traveler, philanthropist, born March 19, 1813, at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, died May 1, 1873, at Chitambo’s village, Ulala. Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring (John 10:16).
I remember May 1 as the day Livingstone died while in prayer. It's a day worth remembering Livingstone and reflecting on my own life.
I may fill pews and possess the praises of people, I may carefully carry out the clerical calling for a congregation, and I may be even deemed a citizen of stature within a city, but what I am on my knees in secret before Almighty God, that I am and no more.