Questions on Tragedy

We never expect it to happen but always dread that it will. When the tragedy of Columbine happened our nation was appalled and we searched for a handle on the situation. When the tragedy of 9/11 happened, our nation was even more surprised and questions about God flooded our consciousness. Now we have another tragedy which still surprises us and resurrects the questions . . . again.

The senseless killing of people inflamess the heart of our society. The tragic murder of almost 30 people on Friday has us reeling. I feel horrible about the circumstance and as a minister I am asked the questions. Why does God allow evil to prevail? What did those little six and seven-year old children do to deserve this? How could God let this happen?

And those kind of questions lead to deeper analysis. If God is “all-powerful,” than he would do something about bad things.  So, he is either uncaring toward humanity and our troubles and unwilling to help, or he is enjoying our suffering. That seems to be where it stops. Two options only: (1) God is uncaring or, (2) God is unwilling to help. These are not the only questions about the issue.

There are several facets to answering the problem of evil. And most ministers know the “pat” answers; and they’re correct, but they don’t usually affect the heart and don’t often satisfy the mind, but unless a person has the Spirit of God, we shouldn’t expect others to necessarily get it when given an explanation. Things like: Without pain we wouldn’t know there was something wrong and God allows pain and evil for us to learn discipline and so we will have faith in God and it gives God and his people the opportunity to share his love and compassion and God did do something about evil when Jesus died on the cross and defeated sin, evil, death, and the devil, and more.

The reasons are all true, but it is still sad when the lives of children’s are taken from them at such young ages. I can’t fathom the depth of grief family and friends experience in such circumstances. I have yet to preach or officiate at a baby’s or a child’s funeral. but I have preached many for teens and young adults and the emotions are similar. It is horrible, whether it is an accident, a sickness, a murder, or something else that took the young person’s life. I hate it but am privileged that God has gifted me and I am able to serve in tragic circumstances.

The thing is, when people begin to wonder where God is in tragic and troubling circumstances, they assume that this life is either all there is or this life is the best there is. If those things are true, than the senseless murder of 20 school children, a mother and a father, the other victims and the suicide of the killer are even more tragic.

This life isn’t “it.”  There is more. Jesus did come to defeat sin, evil, and Satan, and he did so by dying and paying for our sins on the cross. When we put our faith in Christ, we are putting our lives in the hands of a living and eternal God who has something incredible in store for us. There is more. Eternity with God where he is, where he dwells where there is no tragic circumstance, where Satan has no power, where all is good and safe.

Revelation 21:1-7; Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children, NRSV.

First, the heaven and earth that we know will be done away with. Why? To make way for that which is perfect and compete. Sin has been here on earth since shortly after creation (cf, Genesis 1-3), and the devil was with God in heaven when he rebelled and was cast out, so evil and impurity has been where heaven is. And when God creates the new heaven and new earth, they will always be without sin and what sin does. It brings death. Death won’t happen again. It brings crying. there won’t be any reason for tears any longer. It brings pain. Pain will not be a part of anything again. Therefore, nothing that brings hurt or difficulty or trouble will ever occur.

There is more to this life, there is the eternal life to come for those who are in Christ. Those who lose their lives, from old age, tragic circumstances, horrible situations that bring pain and death, actually have a better circumstance than we who are still living. They are safe with God.

I feel for and pray for the family and friends of the victims in the Connecticut tragedy and will for a while. I pray for their comfort and relief. And God will provide it according to each person’s willingness to receive. As bad and as sad as it is, things are not without hope, with God, in Christ.

Father above, of heaven and earth, please give the help that comforts, whatever the source, give strength as these events weaken hearts and souls, and please give the families unexpected grace this Christmas, Amen.

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Misunderstanding Hell

Hell! People generally do not know the truth about hell. They get that it is a place of punishment and torment, but they also think that it is the devil’s home, that he is ruler of hell and lives there and is the lord over those who are in hell, even commanding and devising their punishment. He and his demons are running around what looks like a cave, with fire all over the place, laughing and enjoying their time as people are suffering in this prison.

There have been countless movies and even cartoons that depict hell in this way. Satan and his demons are sort of depicted like Pharaoh and his taskmasters who enslaved, guarded and mistreated the Israelites in Exodus. They are free to move around and torment and order those who are in hell.

That is not what the Bible tells us. The book of Revelation has the most vivid picture of what takes place. @Revelation20.1-3, Satan who has been bound by God, limiting his extensive power (we are living in that time right now until Jesus returns) is locked up in the abyss. This is mistakenly thought of as hell, but it is something different. After the thousand years, which is symbolic of a long period of time, Satan is released and he will war against Jesus for the last time.

@Revelation20.10, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” When the devil is in hell, he will be there to be punished and will experience pain and torment for his evil. Hell was created for this purpose. Now, things get worse.

After the devil is dealt with, the great judgment happens in verses 11-15 of Revelation 20. Verse 15 tells us, “And if anyone’s name was not written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Hell was created in order to punish the devil for his evil, but those who follow in sin will join him in his punishment and it will be horrible. In other parts of the New Testament hell is described as a place of fire and brimstone (like here in Revelation), a place where there is darkness, no light at all, a place of eternal torment, a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.  The picture that is the New Testament is painting for us is one of unending pain and eternal torment.

God does not wish for anyone to suffer in hell. His desire is to save you from your sin and have you stay with him for eternity. There, nothing bad can happen, there will be no memory of it, because everything to do with sin and its power will be removed and kept from you.

Read Revelation 21 which describes this. At verse 4 we are told that there will be no tears, no death, no mourning, or crying, or pain, because those things have passed away.

In Christ, we have this hope, an eternal hope because if we are in God’s presence, we are protected and provided for. Protected from sin and provided with eternal love and peace.

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Inadvertent Wisdom

I love what you might hear when you switch stations on the radio. One person is talking, a DJ, or a commercial spokesman, or someone, and you get one part of a sentence from one and another from the next. Makes for some good laughs.

It happened today. Here’s what I got.

Voice #1, “The great thing about retirement is…,” and voice #2, “the warranty.”

At first I literally laughed out loud. Most people going into retirement probably feel that their warranty is about to run out, but, after I laughed I thought, that’s just it, that’s what it means for the faithful Christian.

One of the promises for the Christian, our future hope, is eternal life with God.  Usually, when we age, our parts wear out. My folks have new joints, Mom new knees and Dad new hips. A lady I work with who is my age (55 this year) has a new knee. This life has no guarantees. Our bodies wear out, our emotions can be injured, our minds grow tired, and eventually, we die. Our bodies in the material state in which we live will not last forever. We will die and be transferred into the spiritual realm, completely.

I had a friend who went to be with the Lord in January 2010. I wrote about his faith while he was dying (https://blogthechurch.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/dying-mans-faith/ and, https://blogthechurch.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/faith-journeying-toward-heaven/ and, https://blogthechurch.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/the-king-is-coming/, these are all about Jim). Often, when you would ask Jim how he was doing, he would respond, “I’m vertical. It’s better than the alternative.” Jim loved to laugh and tell a good joke, and that was one of his funnies. But a lot of people really believe that living is better than the alternative. The alternative being death.

Death is the last vestige of this life. It is when Christians move into heaven with God. Like Jim, though he died with peace, uncomfortable in his earthly body because of age and cancer, he died going to the better alternative, eternity with God.

Why? Because of the warranty.

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5

There’s your warranty info. No more of the bad and evil and harmful and sinful things of this life affecting our life with God. A new home, a perfect indestructible home, and an eternal Father who loves and cares for us.

The great thing about retirement (dying as a Christian) is the warranty (eternal life with God and Christ).

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Boy Am I Blessed!

It is not hard to become a Christian. You hear the Gospel of Jesus and when you believe the Gospel, you have faith in Christ (Romans 10:14-17). Then when you have met the conditions (faith; Romans 10:9-10; repentance; Acts 2:38; confession: Romans 10:9-10, & baptism; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), then you are saved, God has saved you because you have identified with Christ through his death (that’s what immersion is for, cf., Romans 6:1-6). That’s the easy part, knowing what to do, but, it can be more difficult for some people to come to the point of belief, or repentance. It can be difficult to let go of what we already know and keep ourselves living in the that way which the Bible describes as sinful and worldly and idolatry.

Once I am saved, when I have become a Christian, well things are new. The Bible even calls it a new life (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:16). I am not who I was. I have a brand new life, I start over. If I simply keep living the way I had before, then I am not different just a little older. But with salvation in Christ, with the Holy Spirit in my life, with God’s Word the Bible leading me, then I am being transformed, renewed (Rom. 12:2) into the likeness of Christ.

At least one time, when there was a huge crowd of people, Jesus taught them. In Matthew 5, he was on a mountain in Galilee and began to teach the crowds. He began with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-16).

Each “Beatitude” begins with “Blessed are…” meaning, “joyful are those who….”

This is what it is like to live in Christ, to be a Christian, to have life.

  • It is a joyful thing to realize you are poor in your spirit and you need God. It is joyful because God’s kingdom is in us; Mt. 5:3
  • It is a joyful thing to mourn that you are a sinner, because God’s salvation will bring you comfort; Mt. 5:4
  • It is a joyful thing to be meek. Gentle in character but firm in conviction; you will “inherit the earth,” fill it with joy; Mt. 5:5
  • It is a joyful thing to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because you will have; Mt. 5:6
  • It is a joyful thing to be merciful, you’ll get mercy back and from God; Mt. 5:7
  • It is a joyful thing to have a pure heart, you are going to get to see God because of it; Mt. 5:8
  • It is joyful when you are a peacemaker, that’s what the children of God do; Mt. 5:9
  • It is a joyful thing when people persecute you because of your righteousness, it means you are in the kingdom and people who hate God hate Christ in you and will try to insult and stop you; Mt. 5:10-13

This is spiritual of course. It plays out here in the material world with the sense that God’s kingdom is expressed in and through your life.

This is the character of those who are saved. Not one or another of the Beatitudes, but all of them together. It’s like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It’s not one or two things, it’s all of them at once that make up the produce of your life.

Why am I blessed? I am blessed because I have salvation, I have God in my life and Christ is leading me by the means of his Spirit. I have heaven and a great reward, now and in the future (John 10:10, “life abundant”).

Boy am I blessed!

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What does it mean to be “In Christ?”

If all of life has purpose, the single most important purpose is to know Jesus Christ.  And the burning question may be why?  Why do I need to know Jesus Christ?

Jesus is the single way to know and experience God.  It figures since God sent him for that purpose and that he is the “Son of God” (meaning ordained/chosen by God not a physical son).

Romans 6 and 8 talk about being in Christ (6:11, 23; 8:1, 39).  2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us what it means to be in Christ, “Whoever is in Christ is now a new creation.

In Christ we are made new.  Whatever we were, sinful sinners, the person we were, has been made new.  The character of our human nature has changed in Christ, therefore we are new.

So Romans 6:11; we are dead to sin and alive to Christ.  Sin doesn’t rule in our lives anymore.  It has no power over us.  It cannot make us its prisoner if we are in Christ.

Romans 6:23; the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Christ, we experience eternal life.  That’s the forever moment with God.  Given to us now, in Christ, with future promises.

Romans 8:1; there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  That old self was set for destruction, meaning, eternal punishment, but the new self (new creation) is no longer condemned.

Romans 8:39; (nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  In Christ, we are never separated from and nothing can remove us from God’s love, in Christ.

Even Romans 12:5; in Christ we who are many form one body.  It’s interesting that so many different backgrounds (socially, ethnically, economically, educationally, etc) all come together into one body, one union of faith and belief and hope.

We are made new.  We become what God intended for us in the first place, in Christ.

In fact, in Christ, God says, “I know who you are.”  Before, when we were outside of Christ, God didn’t know us.  He couldn’t, he doesn’t have anything to do with sin.  As sinners, he wouldn’t.  But, in Christ he can.  Christ is without sin.  Christ’s sacrifice paid for our sin.  Our faith joins us with Christ and through our union with Christ, God forgives our sin, and makes us his heirs with Christ and that’s when he knows us.

God chooses to forget your sin, but he knows who you are and what you are tempted too and strengthens you and empowers you and with that you will stand.

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Why a Bucket List?

I have a question.  Where does the term bucket list come from and why does it refer to things I want to or need to do before I die?

There is one thing every person must do before they die and that is to become a faithful, believing, obedient disciple of Jesus Christ.  Without that, nothing matters and the horrifying result of failing to accept Jesus and become his disciple is an everlasting, eternal separation from God.

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My Identity

Who Am I?

From the moment we’re born we go through changes.  Our environment changes.  We were safe and comfortable in our mother’s womb and then, the climate changes, there is light, the sounds are new, and we begin to experience life on the outside.  Each moment is new and our bodies change.  The changes are more frequent the younger we are but we continue to change (hair color, the amount of hair, weight, sagging parts of our body, etc.  Smile, it happens).

We also try to find our place in this world.  In one way or another, we struggle with who we are and who we want to and who we will become.  We struggle with the why’s and our chances and choices have the greatest effect on what happens in our lives.

Usually what we choose in any given situation is based on what we have through experience found to work.  Like one child whose mom was a drug addict.  She would get high and be out of it for a couple of days or more.  Her child, a toddler, would be left to himself and cry because he was hungry and his diaper needed changed.  She would only do something about it when she was coming down and only to stop his crying.  It was annoying, but her little boy needed nurturing and care.

He eventually learned to fend for himself and when he was removed from his mother, he was given to an aunt who wasn’t much better.  She did similar things and didn’t care for him a whole lot better.  Since he had to learn to fend for himself so much, as a teen,

Who Am I?

whenever issues arose, he would go into his protective mode and try to do things physically and emotionally which prevented him from having healthy relationships with anyone.

We are always trying to find our place in life.  Since life is constant change, we are still trying to find where we belong.  And for some of us, it is hard.

The Harry Potter series of movies is interesting in that it is the prolonged and compelling story of a boy who is trying to find his place in this world.  His world is toppled barely before he gets started in this world.  Losing his parents he is thrown in with an uncaring, unfair, and unkind aunt and uncle.  When he finds out that he possesses magical abilities and attends a school of magic, his first choices are his friends and into which house he will be with.  He is constantly pursued by the bad guy and Harry’s has to make choices based on what he knows and understands and it affects the whole world around him.  His world and his friends world as well.

Harry Potter is about figuring out where he fits in the world.

God has a place in this world for each of us.  But our identity is bound to Christ.  Because our identity is ultimately about where will be in the end.  There are only two choices, heaven or hell.  Moving in with God or being thrown in the prison made for the devil.

If I am in Christ, I am identified by Christ.  I am identified by his blood and by his character and my place in this world and in the world to come is a part of God’s kingdom.

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