Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Living as Exiles in Babylon: Christians in Culture



As we look at 1st Peter chapter 2 and 3, we consider the background of this epistle. Peter wrote his letter to Jewish Christians in the dispersion throughout Asia Minor, in the Roman Empire. Jewish Christians were the recipients, but Peter also speaks clearly to the gentile Christians throughout Asia Minor as well. And Peter writes to these people, exiles, foreigners, people who are scattered, and he instructs them on how to live as exiles in a foreign land. But we will see that its more complicated than just Jews in exile, but more so, Christians in a fallen world.

Peter addresses many questions for us, that we even have today: How do we live in a society that doesn’t honor God? How do we live in our little Babylon, honoring God, but also obeying the laws and precepts of American society?

Watch this video from the The Bible Project titled “Exile.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSua9_WhQFE


1st Peter chapter one begins with a greeting, then goes into a beautiful depiction of the salvation message, split equally between grace through faith in Christ, and then a strong message of holiness and purity in the world. This section about holiness, which the NIV titles “Be holy” concludes by saying “put aside all sin, and grow up in your salvation.” So the context for our scripture today is this exhortation to be holy as God is holy. That leads into our portion, which seems to be the “how” of holiness. It starts “As you come to him, the living Stone…” How do we be holy? Continuously coming to Christ.

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” -1st Peter 2:4-5

From the Reformation Study Bible: “living stone. Christ is this stone (1 Cor. 10:4). The image of “rock” and “stone” is common in the Old Testament (Ps. 118:22; Is. 8:14; 28:16) and is applied by Jesus to Himself (Matt. 21:42). “Living” indicates that Christ is the source and giver of life (John 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus often uses imagery drawn from stonemasonry, a trade He was intimately acquainted with. Carpenters in antiquity worked with stones as well as wood.”

Question: It says Jesus was rejected by humans but chosen by God. How in your life have you experienced a rejection from humanity? Have you noticed ways in your life that God shows he considers you chosen and precious?

Question: We’re spiritual stones, being built into a house of God. What spiritual sacrifices do you offer to God? (morning detail, 6 am snow shoveling? Big or small, doesn’t matter)

We are exiles in the world, and yet we are so precious and chosen, and being built as a holy priesthood in a lost world.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” -1st Peter 2:9-10

Question: What was it like before you knew Christ as Lord? “Once you were not a people.”

It was very dark for me. I was a badly addicted soul. Several times in early twenties I was near suicide. I didn’t know what life was really about. And I called out to God that night and I felt only emptiness. Life without God is very dark, at least for me it was.

Question: What’s it like now to live with Christ in the light?

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” -1st Peter 2:11-12

The sinful desires of this life wage war against our very souls. Which tells me that I’m in danger. We find ourselves as foreigners and exiles in a kingdom that is not our own. We wrestle with the sins of Babylon, and try to throw them off ourselves. And that’s what God calls us to. Abstain from sinful desires God says to us. Abstain by prayer and the Spirit’s victory in us.

For me, I’ve had to really wrestle, to kind of see past the indoctrination our society has put in me. If I don’t resist, I’m prone to become selfish, materialistic, always accumulating more possessions, loving my Starbucks and my high tech gear, and my luxurious accommodations more than I love God. The idol of self is the primary false god of modern society, in my view.

God gives us a radically different way: Live such pure lives among the people here that even if they accuse us of evil, they will see the good we do, and give glory to God.

Question: Have you ever worried that you might have one foot in the world, and one foot in the faith? How can we overcome and give all to God?

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” -1st Peter 2:13-16

Peter didn’t write to the diaspora exiles saying, “Work to overthrow the Roman empire.” Or “Gather yourselves to initiate revolts.” Instead Peter writes saying submit yourself, for the sake of God, to all human authorities.

The irony of these statements, especially verse 14, is that Peter writes that governors and leaders are “sent by God to punish those who do wrong, and commend those who do right” and it’s interesting because of how the authorities in Jerusalem persecuted the church. And soon the church would be under heavy persecution from Nero. Yet despite all that, Peter says submit to all human authorities. “Live as free people” it says “but don’t use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” How many of us have seen Christians who live worldly lives and when you try to encourage them to change, they say, “Well your just being legalistic.”

I’ve encountered that many times. We can certainly abuse our freedom in Christ by using it as a vale for sin, and every time we sin we say, “Well I’m free in Christ.” That is not a proper use of God’s freedom, because God’s freedom calls us to be free from sin, and slaves to Christ.

Question: How do you see the contrast of freedom in Christ and slavery to God play out in your life?

Freedom in Christ I see as freedom from the shackles of sin. Sin is addictive, and Christ sets me free from it. But paradoxically, I’m also a slave to God, one who is called to take part in good works to his service. But I enjoy those works of service, and the shackles of sin offered no such eternal rewards as service to God does.

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.” -1st Peter 2:18-19

Some of the diaspora Jews and believers would be slaves in the Roman empire. Did Peter write to them saying, “Overthrow your masters, kill them in their sleep?” No he didn’t.

Does this mean that the Bible condones and approves of slavery? Of course not! This scripture simply points out a reality of the ancient world. He is instructing slaves to obey God, and through submission to authority win others to the cross of Christ. And if one suffers under the yoke of slavery, they are glorifying God.

Of course God knew that slavery would one day be abolished, by Christians like William Wilberforce. But in the context of 2000 years ago, it was simply a reality of ancient society. Remember, Peter didn’t write to Christians telling them to overthrow governments, instead Christians were called to walk in the tension of ultimate worship of God, and submission to human authorities.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” -1st Peter 2:23-25

In verse 23-25 we see a picture of Christ’s perfect form of submission. People hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate. He suffered, but made no threats. And instead he trusted Himself to God. And not only that, Jesus put our sins on himself in his body on the cross. So that we could die to sin, and live for righteousness sake. We were once empty, lost, confused people without a true place. But now we have come back to the shepherd, and walk in his flock. So while we walk in the world, we are exiles, caught in the tension between submission to God, and submission to the various Babylon’s in which we live.

Question: How have you failed to submit to government, authorities, and employers? How have you succeeded?

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. -1st Peter 3:1-2

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. -1st Peter 3:7

Here we see the concept of submission, which has moved from government, to masters, to the example of Christ’s submission, and now comes to wives and husbands. God gave us the great gift of marriage, between man and woman, exclusively, and he gave us guidelines which are quite clear: mutual submission. That doesn’t mean we meet halfway, that doesn’t mean we put up which each other’s nonsense, it means we submit to each other.

Wives are told that if they have unbelieving husbands, that the purity of their lives will win their spouses over for Christ.

Husbands are told to be considerate of their wives, and treat them with respect. Don’t look down on your wife, don’t treat her like an object, don’t be harsh with her, but be respectful. And respectful in a manner such as this: the realization that you and your wife are heirs of the gift of eternal life. Heirs. Now let me ask you this: What are heirs? They are receiving an inheritance. Now in the context of the body of Christ, heirs are considered what in authority? Equal. Equal heirs of eternal life. Isn’t that interesting? Of course it also refers to the woman as the “weaker partner.” And it also gives the reference that Sarah submitted to Abraham and called him her lord, but we should balance that with a general sense of equality (Galatians 3:28).

So what’s the overall message we can take from these scriptures in 1st Peter chapters 2 and 3? First of all, we know we are chosen, from out of the world, from darkness, and we’ve been brought into the light. And we’re a temple of God. In fact, it says we were predestined for this. We recognize that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of this temple we’re a part of.

Second, we recognize that each of us are like bricks in this house being built up. We’re each different pieces of this puzzle which fits together to form the body of Christ.

Then we are told that we’re foreigners and exiles from the world. We’re a gathering of refugees out of the world, who live in this tension between being citizens of heaven, while still being in this fallen world. We’re told to live such pure lives among Babylon that the Babylonians are amazed and it helps win them to Christ.

Then we’re given this exhaustive list of submissions that we’re supposed to live in. We’re to be submitted to government authorities. We’re to be submitted to our masters, to our leaders. And we’re to be submitted to our wives and to our husbands.

Bullet Points:

-Chosen as part of God’s temple.

-Live pure lives in exile.

-Submit to God, to government, to masters, and to your spouses.


Application Questions:
Question: Do you really see yourself as part of a new kingdom? Or do you still live like an average American chasing the dream of money, family, and good insurance policies?

Question: What parts of your life do you need to unhook from this fallen world to live out a more authentic Christian walk?

Question: Do you practice submission to government authority? Do you practice submission in your marriage relationships? Do you practice submission to those you work for? How can we live it out more fully, the act of Christ-like submission?


References
Bible Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Bromiley, G. W. (2001). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.
Mackie, T., & Collins, J. (n.d.). The Jewish Exile. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://thebibleproject.com/explore/exile/
Sproul, R. C., & Mathison, K. A. (2008). The Reformation Study Bible. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Can One Sin In My Life Lead Me to Hell?


"Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." -Romans 13:13-14 ESV 

In our modern day we as Christians can assume that we're fine with one foot in and one foot out.  We've got the whole grace through faith in Christ equation going in our lives.  That's what it's really all about right?  I mean, if we have some active sins in our lives, no big deal right?  I mean, nobody can be perfect.  Especially if it's just some of the 'small sins.'  After all we've got grace, right?

Part of the equation of salvation is the recognition that we've set aside our old selves, which were corrupted by sin, and we've "put on" our new selves which are being built up in righteousness.  Indeed, the equation of salvation is fairly simple, as Jesus put it, "repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). 

"Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." -Ephesians 4:22-24 (ESV)

And again, "Be holy as I am holy, for without holiness no one will see the Lord" 1st Peter 1:15-16.

Also it is written: "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." -Hebrews 12:14

So, let's say I'm a Christian, and I live my life in service to God, preaching the gospel, and living a set apart life.  But during my life I never repent (turn away from) the sin of stealing.  I occasionally download music illegally from the internet.  I do that in my life, then I die, and face God in the judgment at the end of the world.  Do I go to heaven or hell?  

Another example, we have a woman, shes a Christian, lives for God, and serves in lay ministry.  But there's a sin in her life that she treasures, it's the sin of gossip.  She loves to speak about others, and share details about their lives, and she can sometimes be harsh and cruel in her private judgments.  So she dies, and she goes to face God on judgment day.  Where does she go?

Another example, we have a man who is a Christian, but he holds out a fair amount of unforgiveness toward people who have hurt him.  Other than that, he leads a pure life, but he feels justified in not forgiving others who have sinned against him.  He dies suddenly, and goes before God.  Where does he go?

Still another example, a man struggles with pornography and masturbation.  He's a minister, and he preaches to a large congregation.  He gives a good witness, but has a private addiction that he never addresses despite the Holy Spirit prodding him to do so.  Where does he go when he dies and faces God?

One final example, a godly Christian woman has led dozens of people to Christ, she's done great deeds in His name, but she hangs on to a certain habit.  She asks a friend at a local pharmacy to get pills for her, and give them to her, for a sickness she has, which she could pay for, but since her friend works there, she gets them for free. The Holy Spirit has convicted her many times, but she refuses to set those things aside. As she passes away, and faces God, where will she go?  Heaven or hell? 

The truth is that each of these people in these scenarios would not go to heaven, they would go to hell.  Can a Christian end up going to hell?  Yes they very much can.  We each have a requirement in our personal lives of living in holiness and purity before God.  

This is a high standard of living, but it's quite thoroughly livable in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thankfully for each of us, the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, convicting us, rebuking us, comforting us, and helping us live out our Christian walk.  But we have the choice of resisting the Spirit's leading, and clinging to our old sins.  And if we don't "repent and believe the gospel" but remain unrepentant (unwilling to change) we shouldn't expect to inherit eternal life.  Instead we'll inherit condemnation.  

Ephesians 4:30-31 "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."

Our sins are washed away by the powerful blood of Jesus Christ.  He has paid our debt of sin.  But it was a high, high cost to pay.  Jesus didn't die on the cross, so we could continue sinning in our earthly lives, and use him as a constant damp rag to wipe off our own sin over and over again.  Sadly, we often have a cavalier attitude toward sin in our day and age.  We comfort ourselves with catch phrases about grace, grace, and more grace. In fact it seems as if many of these grace-junkies in the church worship the idea of grace more so than God himself. Now grace is absolutely a central theme of our faith. But it's not the end all be all. Many have used the concept of grace as an excuse to live in sin, not realizing that the scriptures clearly tell us that we've been called to live pure, holy, set apart lives.  

If you are caught in a sin in your life right now, realize this: Jesus Christ will set you free.  The Holy Spirit is right there with you, willing and able to set you free.  Follow His leading!  Any sin that we commit on Earth, as long as we come to Christ in prayer, confess the sin, and repent (turn away from it) we know we will be forgiven.  The important thing is to move into the future and not continue to habitually commit that sin again and again.

Our God is a God of great love.  In fact the word of God tells us God is love.  But our God is also a consuming fire. Heaven and hell are both realities.  We should live in light of that, trembling before our Heavenly Father, and learning to fear Him and as such, live holy lives of reverence and awe for God.

Sadly, this is a somewhat lost teaching in the pulpits of modern day Christianity.  Pastors don't wants to offend anyone.  Pastors don't want to risk losing church members by preaching on those pesky "sin and judgment" verses.  After all it's the message of love that will get people saved right?  Well, yes and no. Love is very important, yes.  But often times we need a good dose of some raw facts about sin and hell, to motivate us toward repentance and change.  Should we share about these things in order to scare people to change?  Not at all.  But people should be taught, and should be warned about the many messages about purity and holiness in the scriptures. We're abdicating our duty if we ignore them. We can't ignore and minimize the warnings of hell and eternal torment in the scriptures.  We can't just write these things out because we don't like them, or think they might offend someone.  

Holiness is our calling.  And holiness we must have, in order to see God.  We all struggle, and stumble in many ways. But in the journey of our lives, as the Holy Spirit convicts us, and calls us out of sin, we should be quick to respond, and quick to repent, realizing that to remain in sin, even as a professing Christian, is to leave our souls in great danger.  God loves us.  Jesus will help us be free from sin.  But we have to take dutiful action as the Spirit convicts and leads us.  But please don't be afraid.  As it is written, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" -Philippians 1:6.  

But I will remind you, that this is not a message that you will hear from many pulpits in our modern day and age of feel good worship experiences and self help sermons.  Which is why it's more important then ever that Christians read the Bible for themselves, carefully, and understand everything that is written.  Don't trust in theological systems, don't trust what the pastor or priest says, trust what the Bible says, line by line, and carefully studied.  

I've made the mistake in the past of clinging too closely to a preferred theological system, whether it be Arminianism or Calvinism or whatever. Don't make that same mistake.  Hold closely to the word of God, and hold lightly to the theological systems of man.  I had noticed over the years of my faith that there seemed to be a disconnect between what I heard in pulpits and what I was reading in the Bible.  

But I comforted myself that the preachers must know better than me about the word, and theology.  But often times that's not the case, and if we see something in the Bible, we should study it and learn it, and follow it to it's logical conclusion.  Heaven is real and hell is real.  Jesus Christ is real.  Everything hangs in the balance.  Don't let any man or woman deceive you with empty words or hollow philosophy.  

As it says in Galatians: "We are each responsible for our own conduct. Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit." -Galatians 6:5-8 NLT

So what is the final answer? Can one sin in my life lead me to hell? The answer to this question is yes.  One sin that the Holy Spirit has repeatedly convicted you of, and you've consistently resisted that call to change, throughout your whole life, to the moment of death (which is an unknown moment for each of us) can and will lead you to hell.  

Our God is a holy, pure, perfect, righteous God of love, grace, and mercy.  He has given us everything we need to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.  But if we snub the Lord, living with one foot in holiness and one foot in sin, we shouldn't expect for the outcome to be heaven, but instead hell and punishment.  I'm sorry, I know, it's a tough teaching, but that is God's standard.  

There are no big and small sins, to sin by breaking one command is to break them all.  But thankfully we have a great savior in Jesus Christ who actively walks with us through this life, and His Spirit is within us, helping us to grow further and further away from sin and deeper and deeper into righteousness.  If you walk with Jesus Christ, He will make you to be holier and holier day by day.  Do that carefully, giving consideration to your ways, and you won't have to worry about falling short of eternal life.  But if you resist the Spirit of God and lazily allow sin to prevail in your Earthly life, realize that the word says you'll reap what you sow.  

Trust in God, brothers and sisters, and give no provision for the flesh to obey it's desires, but live instead to obey the Spirit and fulfill His desires in you.  Amen. 

 Related Posts:
  1. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin
  2. Israels flight from Egypt to the Promised Land
  3. A Heart of Love: What am I seeking in Life?
  4. The Forgotten Teaching in the Church: Holiness
  5. The Army of God will have Victory after Victory
  6. The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America
  7. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding
  8. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  9. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell 
  10. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Going Down the Rabbit Hole of Perceived Reality: What is the truth beyond tyranny and consumerism?


It began with a question... Why?  Why am I here? What is the meaning behind this big blue and green ball flying through space?  I had never asked the question.  I just enjoyed life and suffered, like most people.  But it really felt like a new thing had begun, when I started to ask those questions.  I broke free from the 9 to 5 life, from the television, the bars, the social media, and all of that, and came into a larger world.  

So I began a journey.  A journey into truth, and deception, lies and delusions, power structures, and beyond.  And we'll see how this journey led me to two extremes, authoritarianism and consumerism, the dangers there, and what true freedom for humanity means. 

The common phrase in college at the UW was "it's all relative."  Hedonism is the lifestyle of the day.  Living for pleasure is how the lifestyle was on campus.  If it feels good, do it.  Anything goes as long as you don't hurt someone.  

What is society really?  What is the nature of reality?  Evolutionary biology, of course is the basis.  There is the post-modern pseudo-intellectualism.  And there is a general disregard for any ethic other than utter self interest or conversely, a fiery Spanish-inquisition style of social justice.  

Anything spiritual seemed down right silly.  That's what I was taught.  Public school, college, all of it.  I wasn't really encouraged to question anything outside the bubble.  The bubble would be the universe. And I was always told to poke around all I wanted inside the bubble.  But don't consider anything outside the bubble.  Don't ask the question: Where did the bubble come?  And God-forbid that you ever consider what the meaning of the bubble is!

But there was a common answer I was given by writers, elite social theorists, and the expert class of our society: You make your own meaning.  You bring the meaning to the situation.  And almost immediately I had to ask myself: Why would that be so?  

That is moral relativism.  The underlying belief then is that there is no objective, overarching meaning to anything.  What a disturbing concept.  Of course that is the required conclusion of a naturalistic worldview.  The worldview is smuggled in behind the statement.  But most people don't see reality from a purely physical standpoint.  Most people would acknowledge that there is something beyond the physical, and almost everyone would at least acknowledge non-physical realities like, say, consciousness.  

I felt suffocated by that limited view of reality.  I felt it was being forced on me actually.  I had always thought religious folks were such proselytizers, but I quickly discovered that naturalism is much more forcefully taught than that, it's a downright all encompassing indoctrination of our society.  You are not allowed to question naturalism, evolution is undisputed fact, and if you believe differently you are a danger to our society and must be stopped.  That is a scary concept.  In fact it starts to become it's own sort of religious indoctrination, it's just a new religion, the religion of naturalism.  

Nihilism was never particularly appealing to me.  And those who profess it tend to be a little pushy about their dark nihilism.  So that always bothered me.  Reality is not as dark as you are perceiving it.  Now I'm not saying all nihilists are cynics, and hedonists, but that trio does tend to walk together. 

Around that time I was spending a lot of time at a house with a bunch of hippies and hipsters.  And we all thought we were so slick.  We had it all figured out.  Peace and love.  Go up on the hill, camp fires, drugs, hemp, and reading Hunter S. Thompson, and Abbie Hoffman. I thought I had found the moral high ground, here are the people who have the moral high ground.  They're the "woke" ones.  But very soon I discovered that just wasn't the case.  We'd always sit around and talk politics, philosophy, and spirituality.  But we'd usually be drinking and using drugs.  I found out one of the guys in our circle had drugged and raped a girl. That sort of burst my bubble about the moral high ground thing... 

It's astonishing how wide spread this sort of lifestyle was at the UW.  And moral relativism seemed to transcend all the little subcultures, whether it was the intelligentsia, or the musicians, the hipsters, the sports people, it was almost universal.  And I found it quite bizarre that there was no truth allowed anywhere.  Everything had to be relative.  Well, aside from the tuition fees, and the grades, and basically anything concrete.  That's not relative, that's fixed and objective.  Quite convenient. 

I realized over time that I was being scammed by the university systems.  The cost of tuition was so extremely high that fellow students were dropping into tens of thousands of dollars of debt.  Something was very wrong there.  

But I was locked in, so I continued.  I was also locked in to consumerism and materialism.  I didn't consider myself an atheist, or agnostic, I just pursued my material desires, pleasure, selfishness, and popularity.  I desired approval from my little social circle.  I took all sorts of prescription pills, trying to force my body and mind to accept reality as it was.  But something was wrong with reality, that much I could tell. There was something terribly wrong with the world.  Doctors try to diminish it through pills and prescriptions, but those inner aches are not extinguished by pills and benzos and anti-depressants, but seeking after that which is truth in a strange world.  

But more and more I was beginning to believe that there was an objective point of reference.  I started to seek after a spiritual solution to the issue of the existence of a complex universe. I started to think along the lines of people like Jung who postulated a meta-consciousness binding the thoughts of humanity together.  I explored alternative spirituality, and new age beliefs.  I was seeking after something higher.  I believed in science. But I didn't think science alone could explain everything about the universe. 

One of the great turning points of my life was reading 1984 by George Orwell.  Particularly part II caught my attention, as it was a break down of how tyranny can take over.  Later I read Animal Farm and saw it from another dimension.  From there I just started reading various classic works.  I read Brave New World by Huxley and saw tyranny from yet another perspective, that of commodity and materialism's ability to convolute and destroy human freedom from within.  

I read Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Hell's Angels, The Hobbit, The Time Machine, Dante's Inferno, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Walden, and others. 

I knew something was terribly wrong with the world. But I couldn't really understand what it was, or why it was.  But we each seem to have that inner realization, that something has gone terribly wrong on planet Earth.  

For a while I believed it was the danger of 1984 being realized in society.  Political correctness? Mass incarceration?  Video cameras on every corner?  Crippling national debt?  What was really happening?  

For a season I found myself listening intently to the likes of Alex Jones, Media Matters, Jesse Ventura, Salon, Gerald Celente, and so on.  But soon enough I wised up to the doom porn, even if there were elements of truth in what they were saying.

For a while I felt like capitalism must've been the problem. But it didn't take long for me to realize that capitalism, the free markets had left me in the lap of luxury, with cell phones, laptops, endless food, free water, and the best education in the world.  So that didn't really add up.  But still, something seemed wrong.

I knew that humanity was becoming progressively dumber as time went by.  It was pretty obvious, just by turning on MTV or CNN.  I dreamed of people reading again, and understanding their rights and taking hold of their destiny again.  Maybe Huxley was right.  As the great entrepreneur had said in the heyday of american consumerism: "Sell them their dreams and they'll always be customers."  I'm paraphrasing, but the idea is to get people to believe that their dream is to have what is being sold, the car, the perfume, the home, and so on.  And when the material becomes the dream, then the sales go up.  Sadly, when the material becomes the dream, the dreams become a sad merry-go-round that lead nowhere but to more and more grossly excessive needs.  Huxley was definitely right.  The endless pursuit of things, of materials, of luxury, was a deadly hole to humanity.  In fact in the extreme a materialized person ceases to be human, but becomes a consumer, a fashion show on speed. What a sad state for a soul.  I found it quite appalling.  

This reality of consumption and desire for things is brutally pervasive in society.  I can't escape it.  Have I?  Or have I not?  Do I still endlessly need new technological wonders and softer pillows to justify my existence?  I hope not.  

I recall the romance in 1984.  And it's important to remember that Orwell was an atheist.  Here is the great end, and it is the most gloriously cynical and dismally depressing end imaginable.  The main character falls in love with this woman, and they sneak off together and they want each other, so they have sex.  Then they are both arrested, and he is taken to room 101.  He is tortured with his worst fear, and condemns the woman.  This kills his love for her, because he turns on her.  And she does the same to him.  So at the end you see them both at this cafeteria.  And they hate each other.  And as the march of the oppressive regime and the great leader appear on the screen the main character cries tears of joy and love for the great leader having apostatized completely and been totally brainwashed.  The end.  Charming.  

But that wasn't really reality either.  Few governments in the world are that oppressive, aside from maybe North Korea or China.  And life isn't that dismal.  There's some sort of silver lining to life that makes it gather to be more than the sum of it's parts.  I could never embrace the hedonism and cynicism of gen x or millennials for that matter.  Life isn't empty like that.  

And the fact is we sit on the platform of absolute truth, natural law, civil liberties, and objective laws and governance as we denounce truth as relative, nature as pitiless indifference, socialist totalitarianism as preferable to liberty, and legal positivism as superior to a higher universal standard. It's quite ironic really. 

The pessimism and cynicism is bred from our own self-destructive ideology that we've created in the past 30 years to try and supplant the ideologies of the past that had carried society relatively safely to the present. We've prospered on the truth of the past while simultaneously tearing it down at every turn, then we complain about the results of our own destructive tendencies.  

Huxley and Orwell were both atheists.  And they saw a materialist world destroying society in two ways, one through the power of government, and one through the unrestrained effects of consumerism.  They were both right in many ways, but they were both also quite wrong.  Wrong in that the world has persisted beyond those dark prognostications. And wrong in seeing the world as nothing more than a culmination of self-interest and materialism.  There's more to life than that.  There are things that hold society together, somehow.  It's as if we've been guided to this moment by some unseen force.  

So increasingly I began to move from the school of Athen's painting one might say, from the position of Aristotle pointing down toward the material, and toward the position of Plato, who points up toward a transcendent reality.  One can never understand the truth about life, the world and everything by examining the material world. Though such examinations are certainly helpful.  Instead one must look outside the perceivable world, outside the box of measurable matter. 

So it began, my search for God.  Is God really real?  Which God is it?  Which world religion was right?  Were any of them right? 

It is ironic though, now that I think about it, that an observation in the material world, the flapping wings and beak of a hummingbird gave me the realization that an intelligent designer must be necessary.  That kind of combines the idealistic reasoning of Plato and the material analysis of Aristotle. But in general the complex yet harmonious systems of the planet Earth really made me realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that there absolutely must be an intelligent transcendent all-powerful being.  There is absolutely no statistical chance that time + matter + chance produce any of this complexity, from rocks and stardust to edible fruit and eyeballs.  Princeton did a study on just such a possibility, they found the likelihood to be practically 0.  Or if you like the exact numbers, one in ten to the 124th power, which is a number higher than the number of particles in the entire universe.  Additionally, where had it all come from?  A universe begs the question: Where did it come from?  The best and only reasonable explanation is that an infinite all powerful being created it. They call those two concepts the anthropic principle and the first cause argument.  

Deism didn't really seem too logical to me.  Why would a God make a universe and then ignore it?  It didn't make sense.  

Agnosticism seemed lazy to me.  "Well we can't really know."  Humans have faculties and abilities to reason, study, and understand things.  I think we can use those power to gather data and make decisions on what it true and false.  We do it everyday when we work, pay bills, eat, drink, and so on.  So that didn't work. 

I explored "new age" beliefs for a while.  But they didn't seem grounded on much of anything.  In fact the more books I read, the more it seemed like Tolle and Chopra, and Oprah, and whoever else were just kind of making it up as they went along.  

Hinduism had millions of gods and goddesses.  That just didn't seem to make sense.  Plus that religion didn't seem to have done much good for that part of the world with the caste system and the untouchables and so on.  So that was out. 

Buddhism was a sort of reaction against Hinduism's many gods. In fact in Buddhism there is no god, just a sort of way of life prescribed by the Buddha.  And I had already reasoned past the concept of atheism, so Buddhism I set aside.

Islam, being the second largest world religion was a possibility. But I found the teachings of Allah were quite disturbing.  There were prescriptions for many wives, and killing people who wouldn't convert to Islam, and pushing for sharia law.  It was strange, and the terrorist attacks around the world were almost always done by Islamic extremists so that turned me off as well.  

So I came to Christianity, something that really, really turned me off. I hated Christianity, for some reason. I considered it an ugly, dead sort of thing.  I had read about things like the crusades, the spanish inquisition, the protestant wars, and the decrees of Popes, and all of it had made me very wary of such a religion.

But it was the number 1 world religion, with 2.2 billion adherents worldwide.  The Bible had survived human history, and was the number one best selling book in human history.  So I decided to read it.  Several Christians had treated me kindly, which began to change my view of who Christ really was.  So began a search and a journey into the depths of that faith.  

Often times the truth is surrounded by a bunch of lies people have smeared it with to keep people away from it.  After all the truth is dangerous to people who want money and power.  The Bible is banned in something like 52 countries.  I had certainly been blasted with old ideas about Christianity.  I had been told it was harmful, that it was based on ignorance, that it was all about taking your money, and that the bible had been changed by the Nicean council. On and on the lies went, and as I studied I discovered each of those things were actually false.  But boy had I been taught to hate it quite thoroughly without much cause.  

It's interesting that science, technology, and medicine have become such blessings to society, and people today ascribe that to atheism or agnosticism. But actually, most of the great scientists throughout history were Christians.  Many of the great Nobel peace prize winners were Christians.  Hospitals, orphanages, and universities were all developed by Christians throughout the west.  

All of history had turned on Christianity, right down to B.C. and A.D. though the historical and scientific revisionists of our day have gone about laboriously to rewrite history, and have even changed our measurement to BCE and CE.  If you ever study historical revisionism, believe me, it's quite astonishing.  Also, try studying the errors in science textbooks, you'll be amazed how icons of evolution used in textbooks have been debunked as myths.  But still they are used to justify evolution to this day.

I was quite astonished to learn that the Bible hadn't been changed over time.  I was also quite astonished to learn that thousands of manuscripts of the Old and New testaments provided incredible authenticity when cross-referenced with each other.  There are 5,686 manuscript copies of the New Testament that match each other at a rate of 99.5% accuracy.  I was also quite astonished to learn that the Bible matches with known human history. And Jesus Christ is mentioned by historians of ancient times recorded outside the Bible.  I think the most astonishing realization was that science and faith weren't at war.  We had created this false dichotomy.  In fact science and faith easily walk hand in hand, one interpreting the physical world, as Aristotle advocated, and the other interpreting the spiritual world in principles and ideals, just as Plato believed was vital to know the truth.  

With all of that truth and study before me, I was indeed quite astonished, that at the great depths of the rabbit hole of perceived reality, beyond the 9 to 5 life, beyond the drugs and strong drink, beyond the governments and capitalist economic systems, beyond the conspiracy theories, and philosophies of post-modern times I had found in the depths that Jesus Christ of Nazareth, a humble peasant born of a virgin in the deserts of the middle-east was a real, living savior, a God over all the Earth.  I had finally, at last, found the meaning of life. But maybe more accurately... the meaning of life found me.  And it was a God-person, Jesus Christ, "God with us" who came into human history to save his people.  I began a living relationship with the author of the universe.  Can you imagine anything more exciting than that?  Truth revealed itself to me.  It's quite amazing.  Many won't be able to accept that. But I suppose the question is, will you?  





Related Posts:
  1. Eternity & Christ: The Promise of Life
  2. The Paradox of Victory through Surrender: Rise Above
  3. The Heart & Mind of Humanity: Reflections on Suffering
  4. Coming into Maturity: Grace, Love, and Service
  5. A Cause Worth Dying For: Materialism, Millennials, and the Radical Mission
  6. Life after Death: Law, Eternity, and the Changed Mind
  7. Wisdom from Above: Living in Light of the Victory of Christ
  8. The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord
  9. Sex, Cuisine, and Television: Overcoming the World
  10. What is the will of God?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

10 Testimonies of Heaven & Hell: Visions, Dreams, & Near Death Experiences


"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." -Acts 2:17

This is a fascinating topic of study, the area of near death experiences, visions, and dream testimonies given by people who claim to have seen things from God. This is not an easy topic, as many think this is not a good thing, that God doesn't act in this way anymore, but I would contend that the scriptures say that people do and will experience these things.

Of course we have to test everything by the word of God, and prayer. So if anything below doesn't match with the scriptures, or with what God says about himself in the scriptures, then it should be disregarded. But we shouldn't discount the possibility of witnesses being given visions, dreams, and other experiences from God.

Yes it's true, someone could be making these things up. But as Christians we can't discount all of something ,just because there are a few who will lie and abuse a truth. I'll admit it's tough for me, because I'm a person who cares so much about the inerrancy of scripture, and the importance of doctrinal truth, and scriptural authority. But though I am very orthodox in my views of scripture, I'm also a firm believer that God interacts with us today. His Spirit goes further in the world and in our lives than we might realize.

So I just ask that we prayerfully consider these experiences. Test them against the word of God. Please do that. But please also consider in the Spirit, that perhaps God did give these experiences to these people to give us glimpses of things to come. Or to warn us of places we don't want to go.  

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." -Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)


1. Bill Wiese's Experience


2. Jordan's Testimony


3. Mary K. Baxter's testimony


4. Colton & Todd Burpo "Heaven is for Real"


5. A Glimpse of Eternity Near Death Experience


6. Howard Pittman's Testimony


7. Ugandan Pastor warned about Hell


8. Mario Martinez shares his experience


9. Bryan Melvin's testimony of Hell


10. Sarah Boyanga's Testimony


Related Posts:
  1. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin
  2. Israels flight from Egypt to the Promised Land
  3. A Heart of Love: What am I seeking in Life?
  4. The Forgotten Teaching in the Church: Holiness
  5. The Army of God will have Victory after Victory
  6. The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America
  7. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding
  8. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  9. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell 
  10. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life