Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christianity and Hell, An Answer

Luke 12:4-5
"And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!"

I am thankful for a number of resources that helped me in my study of the issue of hell and the Christian. First, a two part sermon by John Piper titled "The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell," available on SermonAudio.com. Secondly, an article that popped up on my church's website written by J. Gresham Machen titled "The Fear of God." Lastly, a short article written by Doug Britton titled "Counterfeit Freedom."
To recap, I have been asking, what is the point of Christianity other than the fear of hell? The answer to this question has many interesting facets.

The first point is that absolute freedom does not exist. You will serve either God, or sin and self. There is no third option, and you can't serve both. We may try to say, "‘It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’" Is this not what we are in fact saying when we say we shouldn't be threatened with hell? But, in fact, as Machen puts it:

"Is this the way to overcome fear? Surely not! We can repeat such words only by the disguised cowardice of ignoring facts. As a matter of fact, our soul is not unconquerable; we are not masters of our fate or captains of our soul. Many a man has contemplated some foul deed at first with horror, and said, ‘Am I a dog that I should do this thing?’ And then has come the easy descent into the pit, the gradual weakening of the moral fibre, so that what seemed horrible yesterday seems excusable today; until at last, at some sad hour, with the memory of one’s horror of sin still in the mind, a man awakes to the realization that he is already wallowing in the mire. Such is the dreadful hardening that comes from sin. Even in this life we are not masters of our fate; we are of ourselves certainly not captains of our bodies, and we are of ourselves, I fear, not even captains of our souls."

The second point is similar, that absolute fearlessness does not exist. You will either fear God, or fear man. [See John Gill on Luke 18:2 as regards the judge who regarded not man- the fear of man as we are discussing it is not in view.] The fear of God is a righteous reverence that has the final judgement in view, and results in observance of God's commands. The fear of man is tyrannical as it is based upon the whims of peers and results in contradictory and capricious action that makes you as tyrannical as the men you serve. In the same way, the fear of God will cause you to become more like Christ. Which would you prefer? Because, again, you must choose to live by the fear of God. If you don't you will live by the fear of man. Machen puts it this way:

"The words of our text, with the solemn inculcation of fear, are also a ringing denunciation of fear: the ‘Fear him’ is balanced by ‘Fear not’. The fear of God is here made a way of overcoming the fear of man. And the heroic centuries of Christian history have provided abundant testimony to its efficaciousness. With the fear of God before their eyes, the heroes of the faith have boldly stood before kings and governors and said, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.’"

This is why I quoted Luke 12:4-5 at the beginning. I believe Christ cuts to the core of the fear issue by clearly explaining that it's either the fear of man or the fear of God. Those are your options.

The third point relates to who God is. God is above you and me. God is sovereign. God is maker and ruler of all. He does not exist on the same plane as us; he is not our equal. He is the ultimate authority and power. It is His right to welcome into His presence or banish into eternal torment. He is the great I AM.

The fourth point relates to the third, and it concerns, as John Piper put it, the "echo" of hell. The root of our perplexity of why God would allow anyone to go to hell is our lack of appreciation for how great and glorious the God of the universe truly is. If hell is so terrible, how GREAT and MIGHTY and WONDERFUL must the Lord be, that to transgress His glory and His law requires it! So then we reveal that we don't have a very high estimation of who God is. We are offended at hell because we have brought God down to our level, or made ourselves the same as God. In these post-Enlightenment, post-Civil Rights Era days of equality and democracy it is altogether too easy to put God into an equality with ourselves. But He most certainly is NOT EQUAL to us!
Hell's terribleness has never been overstated, and likewise, neither has God's glory. At our most hyperbolic, we could not overstate the greatness and glory of the Almighty God!
Likewise, if hell is so terrible, then consider the greatness of Christ's salvation! Through His life, death on the cross, and resurrection, he has tasted death for every man (Heb 2:9), and satisfied an eternity in Hell for untold number of those who are to be saved! Truly, how great a salvation has been purchased by Christ's sacrifice!

"O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

"My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

"Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

"He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me."

Lastly, no one is saved by the fear of hell. John Piper calls this the "Insufficiency of Hell." The fear of hell, of burning, of pain, is a natural fear. No work of the Holy Spirit is required for someone to profess Christ based on the fear of hell. Heaven is for those that love God, not for those that merely fear hell:
I Cor 2:9 - "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'"
James 1:12 - "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and judgement, and righteousness, not through masterful arguments, although those may be used to bring a person to the point of conviction. No, the Holy Spirit does his convicting work by exposing Christ in all His glory to the sinner, exposing the goodness and greatness and glory and power and majesty of His excellent Being. Salvation occurs when the sinner's heart makes the only proper response to this: surrendering and yielding to Him, recognizing Him as Lord, hating even the garment stained with the flesh. This is the meaning of Jude 23: the fear there is not fear of hell, but the fear of God engendered by the Holy Spirit's revealing of Who He is. They are pulled out of the fires of Hell because they despise sin, because they have seen the Lord of glory and now fear Him.

CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS

Romans 11:22a - "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God"

What about you Christian? John Piper put forth a question like this: "If you could go to heaven, have all your loved ones there, have all the pastimes and amusements available, plenty of money, no tears, joy forever, a beautiful mansion, good health, but Christ was not there, would you be ok with that?"

Did you ever really LOVE God? Have you fallen out of love with God? Ask God to forgive you, and to show you Himself and His glory again. Saturate your life with His praises. Meditate on His goodness and righteousness. Read the Psalms. Play praise music. Until you can, from your heart, give him your own loving praise.

In short, Christianity is about nothing if it's not about Who God Is.

What of hell? Hell is for the Christian! John Piper says that hell is there to shock the Christian out of his worldliness (and complacency). Namely, worldliness is more than carnal Christianity. It is enmity with, or hatred toward, God, deserving of hell!

What of our witnessing? It should be designed to set forth Christ in His love, majesty, and glory. We should not threaten with hell, nor make hell a major part of our presentation. To scare an unbeliever into Christianity is to produce a counterfeit conversion. Let's allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christianity and Hell, pt. 2

In considering my previous post, it seems that there are several different ways of answering the question, "Is Christianity merely about escaping from hell?"
First of all, it is important to recognize the assumption in this question. Namely, that there appears that there is nothing in Christianity that benefits our temporal, earthly existence. Put that way, it might seem silly.
Three Scriptures come to mind. The first is Jhn 10:10: "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." The second is Gal 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." The third is Mat 6:33: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."
These three Scriptures represent three ways of answering, or at least attempting to answer, the question. The first is to claim that as Christians, we are promised the "abundant life." However, the life Christ gives us eternal, and we have it now inasmuch as we are justified, and secondarily, as we are sanctified. The "abundant life" is about spiritual abundance- God working on us to make us more of what He is. It is entirely spiritual. God is in the business of soulcraft with His children- crafting our souls to come into conformity with His Spirit.
This doesn't answer the question satisfactorily. Spiritual development is great and all, but we know at the resurrection we shall be completely sanctified regardless of how far we progressed in our spiritual walk while in the flesh. If here-and-now Christianity is about sanctification, then Lord, transform me now! Give me an incorruptible body now! (I Cor 15) Why leave me here?
Secondly, we can attempt to answer the question by appealing to the fact that we have spiritual fruits that enable us to, if you will, "shine as a light" and "brighten the corner". These spiritual fruits are positive character traits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The problem with this answer is that the fruits of the Spirit don't seem to correlate with the Christian/non-Christian divide. There are plenty of good people in other religions or among non-believers; and there are plenty of bad apples among Christians. The latter could be explained as tares; how do you explain the former?
Thirdly, we can attempt to answer the question by saying that there is "kingdom work" to be done here on earth. But what is this "kingdom work?" Many churches are big on soulwinning. "Get them saved, train them, get them back out there to get more people saved" is their mode of operation. I used to be in a church like that. What's the point though. If all we are here for is to save people from hell, we're just begging our original question.
What is "kingdom work?" The Reconstructionist Christian Right has an answer. But Christ said in Jhn 18:36, "'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.'" There is no record of early Christians trying to form a Christian Coalition or Moral Majority against the Roman government.
What else could be "kingdom work?" Some see it as the work within, the kingdom of God in our hearts. This is the kingdom as sanctification, and begs the question from the first approach dealing with sanctification, why leave us here?
What are we left with to define kingdom work? The social gospel? Liberation theology?
If the "kingdom of God" is purely future, this third approach does not provide a satisfactory answer either.
Christ said in the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven." Perhaps the kingdom is merely God's will being done. In this way, "kingdom" is more understood as "reign" or "authority." The more God reigns over the hearts and actions of men, the more His kingdom is come. But isn't God already sovereign? What is God waiting for? And isn't defining the kingdom of God in this manner, as before, making it refer to sanctification yet again? Which again begs the question, what are here for when God could transform us anytime He wants?
Let the righteous be glorified, the unrepentant be damned. Call judgment now and be done with it. God knows all our hearts.
Maybe God is leaving us around because he is giving the hell-bound a chance. But that doesn't do anything to answer our question.

I guess I just don't get the whole big point of eternity. No, you are not going to heaven when you die. Biblically, as a Christian, you die, and in a twinkling the next thing you experience is the resurrection, then the judgment seat, then the marriage supper, then the millennial kingdom. If you are pre-trib, the judgment seat is in heaven. But I am post-trib. (Why is God going to raise me, take me heaven to judge me, then send me away from heaven's glory to come back to earth at Armageddon? And how are the tribulation saints judged?) In any case, you maybe get 7 years in heaven then it's back to this earth for a 1000 years, then a new earth and new atmosphere(heaven) is created, and the Holy City comes down. Sorry Christian. You don't spend much time, if any time, in heaven. It's back to this planet, just under new management.

Somebody get me excited about this.

I don't have answers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mind Trap

Anyone out there care to comment on this?

Whilst eating lunch, I considered my disdain for personal evangelism.
The pastor summed it up perfectly the Sunday before last when he told us about a man who said that Christianity wasn't worth it. Since he gave up on Christianity, his life has been going smooth. But while he was a Christian, he was always struggling.
This is Biblical. As Christians, we are promised trials and testing, and are admonished in Scripture to not consider it strange.

So here's the mind trap.

So why would I recommend Christianity to someone given that is the case?

The inevitable answer from my Christian friends: so they don't end up in hell.

My inevitable reply: so Christianity is just about escaping from hell?

What say you?

Protect Yourself and Your Computer

Some disturbing news yesterday was that viruses and spy ware are now being used by pedophiles to use your machine to harvest child porn, and store it for them.
Obviously, this could get you in a lot of trouble, if the FBI shows up at your house and arrests you for it, and confiscates your computer.
The best way to guard yourself against this is to install an Internet filter on your machine. I have a link to K9 in my sidebar. After installing it, make sure it is set to block AT LEAST "pornography" and "security threats." I would also suggest having it block sites relating to "illegal activity." What this will do is prevent you or any process on your system from accessing these kinds of material without a password, even if you do get infected.

Also, here are my general tips for protecting your PC:
1. Remove paid antivirus software and install free antivirus software. You can't afford to let your subscription to paid antivirus lapse and then fail to be protected for even a short period of time. My suggestion is to remove these and install a free antivirus such as Avira, AVG, or Avast.
2. Install an Ad-Blocker. If you use Firefox, you can try Ad-Block Plus, which allows you to select a server from which it will obtain ad-blocking information. If you are willing to pay or don't mainly use Firefox, consider Ad Muncher, which will block ads from ANY application on your system. Unscrupulous ads are often the gateway to spy ware.
3. All three free antivirus programs above include spy ware protection. For additional spy ware protection, consider installing Spybot Search & Destroy. The disadvantage of this program is that it doesn't manually update itself... you need to make sure to update it maybe once a week, and tell the program to "Immunize" after the update has completed.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Unemployment

Unless you work for the federal government (not including the Postal Service), you need to have a plan for what you will do should you go to work one day only to be told you have been eliminated.
The "official" unemployment number just topped 10%. But that's the government's massaged, spun, happy-face number, also known as U-3.
The government's skeleton in the closet number, the broadest measure of unemployment, is U-6, and is over 17%.
That's not the end of it, because even U-6 is somewhat "messaged." It's not the raw number.

The raw number is 22.1%. (shadowstats.com) Finally, a number that actually represents what all of us are feeling.

Roughly one out of five people are out of work. You really need to have a plan. You need to have an idea of how your finances will play out in the first three months of unemployment. If you don't like the picture you see, do something to change it if you can, like saving or paying off debt- if you are not already living paycheck to paycheck like me. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, maybe you can put back your upcoming tax return for a rainy day, or use it to get rid of a monthly payment.

The markets are paying only a little attention to the situation; they have placed their faith in government numbers and stimulus. Same with the media; they trot out the government line too. It keeps people optimistic for now, but reality will catch up with everyone sooner or later.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Firefox Forgets your Logins pt.2

I posted before how to resolve the issue where Firefox forgets your logins every time you launch it.

However, I kept having to go through that procedure in order to fix things. It got SO annoying I went back to Firefox 2. Then I went back to Firefox 3 after upgrading to Windows 7, and it started happening again.

I removed Threatfire AND Spybot, with no success- THEN I found the culprit- the Firefox AdBlock extension! Since removing this extension, the problem has gone away.

I run FF3.5 with Adblock on my work XP computer, so this issue appears to only occur with AdBlock on FF3.x under Vista or 7.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Church Continues to Act Adulterously

From The New Republic:

"'We are turning to socialism and away from God!' Joseph Grab said as he stood amid the thousands who gathered on Capitol Hill today to attend Michele Bachmann’s 'House Call' protest against the health care reform bill. Grab, a retired engineer from Hershey, Pennsylvania, was clutching a leather-bound King James in his hand and a green sign that simply said 'Pray' in the other. 'This bill is going to include murdering babies, it’s going to bankrupt us, and it’s going to make totalitarianism grow,' he said gravely."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bringing on the Scary


I believe we are at "Return to Normal."


CIT goes bankrupt, from "The Guardian":

"Thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in the US face financial difficulties and could go out of business after lender CIT Group filed for bankruptcy protection last night. Although the company will keep operating, it is unlikely to be able to make the same number of loans as before. CIT provides working capital to small firms such as shops, their suppliers and restaurants, many of whom are already struggling in the recession.

In one of the the biggest corporate failures in US history, CIT made its filing in the New York bankruptcy court yesterday, after a debt-exchange offer to bondholders failed. CIT said most of its bondholders have agreed a prepackaged reorganisation plan which will reduce total debt by $10bn (£6.1bn) while allowing the company to continue to do business. The collapse is also bad news for US taxpayers, who stand to lose the $2.3bn provided last year to prop up the troubled lender.

Creditors will end up owning the company, while common and preferred shareholders – including the US government – will be wiped out by the plan. This is the government's biggest loss yet through its Troubled Asset Relief Programme (Tarp). "The decision to proceed with our plan of reorganisation will allow CIT to continue to provide funding to our small business and middle-market customers, two sectors that remain vitally important to the US economy," said CIT's chairman and chief executive, Jeffrey Peek, who will step down by the end of the year.

But retail trade groups are worried that many shops will be left without financing – and stock – ahead of the crucial Christmas season, with traditional banks also cutting back credit. CIT has provided funding to 2,000 firms that supply merchandise to more than 300,000 stores. About 60% of America's clothing industry depends on CIT for financing. Harold Reichwald of law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips said CIT's case is likely to force the company's customers to look elsewhere for financing. "If I was a small businessman, I would say to myself, 'I have to find alternatives'," he said. "In this marketplace, there aren't a lot of alternatives.""

An interview from the blog "The Automatic Earth":

"I think almost all assets will fall as price support is knocked out from underneath them, but the dollar should rise initially on a flight to safety. Scarce cash will be king for a long time, and the value of one’s currency relative to available goods and services domestically will matter much more for most people than its value relative to other currencies internationally.

In a deflationary scenario, prices fall, but purchasing power typically falls even faster, meaning that everything becomes less affordable despite the lower nominal prices. Prices in real terms, adjusted for changes in the supply of money and credit, are what matter.

In a world where almost everything is becoming rapidly less affordable, the essentials will be the least affordable of all, as a much larger percentage of a much smaller money supply will be chasing them. This will confer relative price support."

[...]

"Whereas inflation can conceal a fall in purchasing power, so that people may not even realize it is happening, deflation brutally exposes it. Wages would have to fall just to keep purchasing power the same, but keeping it the same will not be an option for cash-strapped employers. In addition, with a large surplus of labour, workers will have no bargaining power.

This is a recipe for exploitation the like of which we have not seen for a very long time, but in the intervening adjustment period it is likely to lead first to war in the labour markets.

I would expect general strikes and a breakdown in the reliability of centralized services such as healthcare, education, power systems, water treatment, garbage (and snow) removal etc. This will be exacerbated by plunging tax revenues for all levels of government, which governments will try to compensate for by raising taxes, on anyone still capable of paying, to punitive levels. We would thus expect rapidly deteriorating services at much higher cost.

Many people are at risk of being eventually priced out of the market for goods and services, and particularly the essential ones, entirely.

In my opinion, we stand on the brink of truly tragic circumstances."

What To Do When You Are Doubting God's Care

You may recall I posted earlier about wondering where God is, and why He doesn't seem to come through, and whether He is really listening. Well God has his ways, and while I still have the same job, the same finances, the same needs, He used some mostly unrelated things at church this weekend to teach me on this. So I will share it with you.

1. Recall what you know God has done for you in the past (I Sam 12:23-25)

When you really stop and think about all the times before that you know God worked in your life, it begins to seem really silly to doubt God. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have had important points in your life that you can point to, where God has stepped in and taken care of you. Taken together, these points in your life form a testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of God. Take time to quietly think back over your life and consider these times God has shown Himself faithful to you.

2. Realize God wants you to trust Him day by day (Mat 6:33-34)

In Psalm 37 we read, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." Again, take a look back over your life. Has God ever left you desolate, as a Christian? Hasn't he always provided for your basic needs?
Also, whenever you have seemed to have lost it all, hasn't God always, in His time, set you back on your feet again? Even at the low points in your life God brings the ravens to sustain you through the times of testing and trial. A full savings account was never necessary to secure God's provision, was it?
Maybe you have been coasting along through life with your job and budget and paying bills and not thinking twice about it. Now you find yourself wondering how you will make it. Maybe God is trying to pull your focus to Him.

3. Remember that this world is not our home and our blessed hope is in Christ coming again (Tit 2:12-14)

I was raised on Southern Gospel music and much of that music was about heaven and the joy of seeing Christ face to face. Have you thought about His coming lately? When I thought about it, I was taken aback by how long it has been since I really stopped and meditated on Christ's coming and our final reward. As Christians, our expectation should be on Christ and His promises, and primarily on His promise to come again in glory and power. We will be glorified, sin's power will be completely broken, our new bodies will be whole and healthy, we will meet our departed brothers and sisters in Christ never to part again, and we will see Christ face to face! "Thy kingdom come" should be our heart's desire.

4. Let the Holy Spirit renew your mind and so transform you into His image (Rom 12:1-3)

The renewal/transformation is the process of sanctification, which is carried out by the Holy Spirit. It has three parts:
1. Reception- Learning/Conviction
2. Response- Obedience
3. Reward- Spiritual Growth
The Holy Spirit teaches and convicts you, after which when we choose to be obedient then the Spirit gives us the power to obey, after which our faith increases as we move forward in our Christian walk. However, this process can never happen if you aren't receptive to the things of the Spirit and of God.
Are you allowing yourself to be taught? Do you read the Scriptures? Do you attend church? Do you fellowship with other believers? Do you study spiritual matters and doctrines? All of these things are nothing in themselves- but they are powerful in that they are opportunities for you to receive teaching and instruction so that you may be more obedient and conformed to Christ.
Are you yielding to conviction? When the Spirit knocks at the door with a message of correction or rebuke, do you listen, or do you try to shut it out and ignore it?
God cares enough for your soul to send His Holy Spirit to teach, convict, comfort, and guide. He is very much interested in perfecting you. If I were working on a wooden replica of a sailboat, painstakingly recreating every detail, do you think I would leave it out in the rain without treating the wood? Or would I hand it to a 2 year old to break? Certainly not!
If you are a Christian, you will know the fine hand of God working out your spiritual condition over the years. And you must know that your spiritual condition is paramount to Him. If He must bring the circumstances around you down to the ground in order to advance the condition of your soul He will. If you are not focused on the work of the Spirit in your life and the renewing of your mind, you will not understand this, and you will condemn Him over circumstances when He is simply exercising responsible stewardship over your soul!
This is why the issue of the "renewing of your mind" is important. In making the Spirit's work in your life a primary focus you unlock the potential to actually have an answer for the question, "Why is this happening to me, God?"
If you DON'T have the answer to that question in your life right now, this is a clear indicator that you need to seek Him, and put more focus on what He trying to do for your soul. Your circumstances actually become an invitation from God to have a closer relationship. And to think we are upset about this!