Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Army of God will have Victory after Victory

There is hope. We will rise up. Great awakening is coming. Don't think it, know it. We see great struggle, brokenness, and strife. But we don't look upon the world, we look upon Jesus Christ, our glorious risen savior. Therefore we have great hope. Claim this hope as your own. Let it fire your spirit, and blaze to life the pits of your soul, and consume your heart, and fill your muscles with strength. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." -Hebrews 12:1-4

Open your eyes, so you can see. Put on the garments of righteousness, so that you will be clean, and do not soil them. Gather the treasures of heaven.

“The poor and homeless are desperate for water,
their tongues parched and no water to be found.
But I’m there to be found, I’m there for them,
and I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
I’ll open up rivers for them on the barren hills,
spout fountains in the valleys.
I’ll turn the baked-clay badlands into a cool pond,
the waterless waste into splashing creeks.
I’ll plant the red cedar in that treeless wasteland,
also acacia, myrtle, and olive.
I’ll place the cypress in the desert,
with plenty of oaks and pines.
Everyone will see this. No one can miss it—
unavoidable, indisputable evidence
That I, God, personally did this.
It’s created and signed by The Holy of Israel." -Isaiah 41:17-20 (MSG)

There is a roaring in the cities. There is a sinister revival taking place across the nations. The black onyx is rising. And it feels as if we are swimming in the flood waters. If we look at this dark river, spreading like locusts, exploding outward like clouds of mosquitoes to destroy all that is good in the world then we feel hopeless. If we look at that, and when we look at that, and stare at it, the strength drains from our muscles. The blood drains from our appendages. And our faces turn grey and white.

So we must not look upon the world with an endless gaze, we must look upon Jesus with an endless gaze. We must practice the presence of God. Because there is so much struggle and strife and polarization around us. We must constantly keep our mind stayed on Him.

As it says in the word: "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock." -Isaiah 26:3-4 New Living Translation (NLT)

Fix your thoughts on Jesus. Listen to me, there is great sin around you everywhere. Sin threatens from every angle. And we must be clean of it. If we are soiled in the sin of the world when Jesus returns, then we won't share in eternal life with Him. So we must live a radically different lifestyle, a lifestyle of true holiness.

Sin is everywhere. It's as if we are in pure robes, walking across a muddy field. And we must be ever so careful to avoid being soiled by the world. We have our defenses up, and those defenses are fortified and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. We are able to resist temptations of all kinds in the power of Christ.

And we are being sanctified in so many ways, so that our minds become foreign to the world. And the things of the world no longer interest us. And thus temptation comes, and finds an environment foreign to it's nature. And it cannot prosper. Our minds, hearts, souls, and all our strength is fortified by God, as we seek Him and study His word.

This takes practice, and a daily lifestyle of repentance. And of peace, and love, and longsuffering. This is not easy. It's not suppose to be easy. If someone told you it would be prosperity and wealth, they lied to you. This is a hard journey. And God sees all things. If we live a double life, acting one way in public and another in private, God sees. And he will hold us accountable. 

Sometimes I see how people are living and I wonder at it: Don't they realize, don't they understand, don't they know that one day they will be face to face with Jesus himself?  And when I'm thinking of this, I'm thinking of pastors.  And they don't care, it seems.  Don't they think God is real?  Then why be a pastor?  And if they do believe God is real, don't they realize that they will be judged, and condemned, if they don't repent of watching pornography, of affairs on their husbands or wives, and other sins of the flesh?  

Maybe it seems far away or less than real.  But it is quite real.  It will be a real experience.  We'll live through the judgment, moment by moment, and we'll be conscious in eternity, day by day, forever, wherever we spend it.  Yet we choose filthy little sins in this life, and give up eternal glory?

Yes, we do.  And let me tell you, and myself something: A few months ago, I was doing the same thing.  With a little sin I liked to engage in.  And I realized the realities of heaven and hell, but I comforted myself that God wouldn't send me to hell, I'm special, God won't punish me, or look on my sins, His grace is too much for that.  But we're called to repent.  And so I was just playing games.  Sinning, repenting, sinning repenting.  And it's amazing how I could lie to myself.  

"Sin does not leap upon us fully armed. It steals in through a look, a swift, silent suggestion or imagination, but love and loyalty to Jesus will make you watchful and swift to rise up and cast out the subtle enemy. Do this and you shall live, and live victoriously."
-Samuel Logan Brengle

Once again we come back to it: The grace of God comes in and saves me from yet another sin that entangles and enslaves my eternal soul.  It's such a dangerous situation and we come at these sins and struggles with only weakness. Yet in weakness God brings great strength, and sin is overcome and holiness becomes a lifestyle, a lifestyle of lowly service, of love, and of thinking of others greater than ourselves.  It's beautiful and emotionally shocking in beautiful ways. 

"Holiness is not some lofty experience, unattainable except to those who can leap the stars, but it is rather a lowly experience, which lowly people in the lowly walks of life can share with Jesus, by letting His mind be in them."
-Samuel Logan Brengle

The trials are great.  There is no questioning that.  It's so painful at times.  Sometimes I end the day and I lay down in bed and feel like my soul was a punching bag that whole day, for people and their problems.  And often because of my own failings.  But the pain is real.  The ache of the soul is so real.  

Sometimes we need the pain, and the struggle, and the sorrow, and the difficulty that won't end, and the broken part of you that won't heal. It drives us toward God, closer and closer to him. We struggle with that.  But the truth is that without the pain, and the strife, and the struggle, we would probably never return to God.  We'd become prideful, and we wouldn't return to the shepherd. We'd hike off on our own, and come to ruin. 

But we do return, because of much sorrow. And we are wounded soldiers, wounded healers going into the field. I suppose to the world that seems like great weakness. In my mind it feels like great weakness. In fact, honestly it is weakness. It's complete vulnerability and weakness. 

And then you'll be amazed by how God takes that total weakness, and it explodes into victory. But I don't want to phrase it in a way that God makes it 'possible.'  Or that God gives us the ability to have the victory, though that does happen.  But more so God does it himself, through our obedience. God declares victory and it becomes true.   

Gideon's army didn't need 100,000 to overcome the enemy. He only needed 300.  But let's be real, God could've done it with 3. Or 0.  

What's interesting is that when God's angel first communicated to Gideon, he found him in total weakness. He was hiding, trying to reap his crops in a cellar.  And God called him what he wasn't yet, but would soon become: "Hail mighty warrior of God!"  Gideon was hiding in terror, but God declared victory over him before the saga had even begun.

God delights to work through people who are truly yielded to him.  So we must truly yield ourselves to him.  Gideon had hidden faith within him, a radical faith that was daring to say: I can't see how Lord, but I believe you will do the impossible.  So how can we grow in our faith?  It's simple, but requires a daily method of life.  It requires self-discipline, a God-ordered life.  

The ways to do it haven't changed.  Pray everyday, 30 min-2 hours a day.  Set a goal, do it. ('But I don't want to be legalistic!' Please, stop using that as an excuse to be spiritually lazy. God sees your heart, and He knows the truth.) Fast and pray from two or three meals a day, once or twice a week.  Or more.  Attend a good church community weekly, and attend small group/Bible study.  And read the Bible each day, 2-4 chapters a day. Practice silence and solitude.

These practices haven't changed in two thousand years.  It's just hard to do it.  But, just do it.  And if you can't, because most of us can't, then ask God.  Go down on your knees before God and ask Him simply saying: "Lord, help me to read my Bible.  Help me to pray for an hour a day. Please Lord make it possible!"  And believe.  And he will make the impossible possible.  That's where the battle starts though. It starts in you and me.  

We can't fight the battle if we are full of sin, lazy, and don't practice the disciplines and church community.  It starts internally, with you and me fighting ourselves. Greater is the man who conquers himself than he who conquers a city. Proverbs 16:32 (GNT) "It is better to be patient than powerful. It is better to win control over yourself than over whole cities." 

So then, let us suppose that we do this.  Let's say that, perhaps 1,000 of us born again Christians do this.  We really get free from all sin, and we really dedicate ourselves to holy living, in the most humble, meek, and loving way.  And what if 10,000 Christians do that?  What if 100,000 Christians do that, and keep living that way day by day and year by year?  What if one million Christians did that worldwide?  And what if 2.1 billion Christians worldwide, the general entirety of the church universal, did that? We'd see a great awakening like the world has never seen!  A global great awakening!  Could you imagine that?  I can see it now.  Believe for it. 

The body of Christ is in need of great internal transformation, and a transformation that manifests itself externally to the glory of God and to the sort of great awakening that we all hope and long for.  

The church really needs us to be evangelists, apostles, and disciplers. The church needs us to be evangelist equippers, to send out evangelists into the world to win people to Christ. The church needs us to be disciple equippers, to equip church members to disciple the church body toward holiness and spiritual disciplines. The church needs us to be apostles, embracing boldness, daring, and unconventional means and concepts to expand the kingdom of God into new terrain.

And as we discussed, to be able to do this effectively, we have to practice daily spiritual disciplines, diligent study of scripture and personally study various sub-disciplines of wisdom. We must also be willing to endure great struggle and difficulty. No great things done in the Spirit can be done easily.

So what would all this look like practically? This would look like a sincere body of believers in the church pressing out into the community and inwardly toward discipleship holiness. I see it as evangelism being “baked into” every ministry in the church to develop a culture of evangelism, and groups that go out weekly to talk to people door to door and on the streets and at events. 

Just as important would be discipleship groups that closely resemble Wesley’s class and band meetings.  These meetings would be weekly, and would encourage frank discussions regarding struggles, sin, righteousness, good deeds, and proclamation of the gospel related themes in small groups.  Imagine the possibilities.  I am just beginning to imagine it.  

There is great hope for the future.  We don't have to feel lost and upset.  We don't have to look at the world and feel weak and troubled.  We can look at Jesus and feel His total empowerment.  But it starts with me, individually as a person, and then it can spread out to others.  But it starts with us, internally, and then must burst forth externally.  And I really, truly believe it will.  This is just the beginning. 

A new time is coming.  God is doing a new thing in the body of Christ.  I really believe that.  I know it's coming.  A time is coming when the army of God will have victory after victory.  We will rally, for Christ, for the lost, and we will spread the gospel anew to this generation.  

It only takes one.  It only takes a handful of people who are willing to step forward, in these endless tens of thousands of luke-warm churches and say no!  Christ will have ALL there is of me!  I reject this uniform standard of mediocrity!  I reject luke-warm Christianity!  I reject living with one foot in the church and one foot in the world! I reject being content to live in daily sin!  

I radically believe that Christ can and will make me holy as He is holy. Believe.  Step forward.  Reject that halfway standard, even if 80% of the church is living in it.  Give it all to Him.  Step beyond the lukewarm church, which is simply a wide road to hell, and step into the fullness of Jesus Christ, the fullness of repentance, the fullness of submission to Him, and the fullness of the true Christian life of radical missional devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!

"Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
-Hebrews 10:19-31

Related Posts:
  1. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  2. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell
  3. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life
  4. What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life?
  5. How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life
  6. Should I Tithe 10% to my Church?
  7. God will Uphold His Army: Standing on the Truths of God's Word
  8. God's Fingerprint on Reality: Emotions of Life
  9. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin
  10. How to Serve as a Leader in Christian Ministry

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America: Gold Treasure, White Robes, and Eyes that See

Audio Message:

There is a church that I’ve heard of, and I’d like to tell you about it. This church is really wealthy. The members are very, very wealthy and affluent. They’ve gathered great wealth, in their work, in trade, and in imports and exports. A lot of people at this church work for banks, they own clothing stores, and the city where they reside is known for important textiles. In fact, when you walk into this church, the people really resemble the culture around it, more than the transformative born again body of Christ.

Where do you think this church is? Do some churches come to mind when you consider this description? Maybe you’re thinking of a wealthy TV preacher. Or one of the megachurches in our country. Or maybe just a church down the street from you!

But this description is actually describing a church that existed about 2 thousand years ago. It was called the church of Laodicea, and it was described by the apostle John, in the letter of Jesus Christ to the 7 churches in Revelation. And how little things have changed in two thousand years. We’re wealthy, we’re affluent, and we tend to want for nothing. We might wish we had a bigger tv, or a nicer car, but overall we have more than enough food, we have luxurious housing compared to the rest of the world, we have entertainment, internet, safety, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and we are insanely blessed in our country.

Right now in China, at this very moment, Christianity is under open attack. Over ten thousand have been arrested and charged with propagating their Christian faith. Today Christianity is the number one most persecuted religion in the world, and it has been for a while. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from the middle east, in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee persecution. Tens of thousands have died for their faith. Yet here we are, in the united states, safe as can be, blessed with so much wealth, and abundance.

Jesus famously said to the church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” –Rev 3:15-17

Do these words of Jesus fit our modern evangelical view of Jesus? That Jesus was the nicest fellow who ever lived? Not at all. I think we’ve lost a viewpoint of Jesus Christ as He really is. Jesus Christ is mighty and all-powerful. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is bold, powerful, and it says in Revelation that when Jesus returns He will destroy the power of the evil one by the breath of his mouth and the splendor of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Jesus Christ will have an iron scepter in his millennial reign, and he will dash the nations to pieces like pottery (Revelation 2:27).

We should understand Jesus Christ as who He really is: Yes, Jesus died for us on the cross. Yes, he was humble and washed the feet of His disciples. But a great part of Jesus is as King of Kings, and mighty warrior, coming again in strength to rule the nations.

Jesus says to Laodicea: I know your deeds. He knows everything, he reads us like a book. Nothing we do is hidden from God.

So he says: You’re not hot or cold. You’re lukewarm. So I’m about to spit you out! And Jesus says, I know who you are, you think your rich and you don’t need a thing!

How true is that of us today? Do we really rely on Christ? In all our wealth and influence we don’t really need to rely on Christ. We can rely on the money in our bank account. We can rely on our top notch health insurance. We can rely on all the luxuries afforded to us by the salvation army.

Truly, in my life, I don’t need a thing. It’s all right in front of me. Which means I don’t have to rely on Christ for it. Which is a terrifying situation. It leaves me lukewarm. Because I love Jesus, but I don’t really have to rely on Him. I don’t really have to be tested in my faith as much, because I don’t wonder if I’m going to have a place to sleep tonight, or if I’ll have food in the morning. Everything is provided. In America, we live in a bubble, where we think nothing can change, nothing will go wrong. We’ll always be provided for. But the truth is, God can take away what we’ve been given in an instant.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t leave the church in Laodicea with nothing but rebukes. He also encourages them in this way: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” –Rev 3:18

Jesus said to them, that your poor, naked and blind. But Jesus quickly indicates how they can remedy it: (Three things) Purchase true gold that is refined in the fire, white clothes to wear so you won’t be naked, and salve for your eyes, so that you’ll be able to see.

What does Jesus mean? Let’s think about this: What does a real, true, born again follower of Jesus have? They have three things:

-A pure inheritance of treasure in heaven.

-They daily wear the spotless robe of the righteousness of Christ.

-And they’ve been born again and their eyes have been opened to the spiritual realities around them.

So Jesus is inviting the church in Laodicea to a legitimate, complete experience of salvation. Then again, we shouldn’t assume that the people in the church weren’t saved. But perhaps they hadn’t gone on to the fullness of the Christian life, but had lingered in a superficial Christianity that Jesus was indicating was actually bankrupt.

So we see the problem: The church in Laodicea, similar to the churches of America, was lukewarm, and reliant on their wealth, affluence, and prowess, instead of total reliance on Jesus. We think we know everything, and we lack in humility. We think we have it all, we’ve got Jesus, we’ve got wealth, and we are so educated and influential. Jesus flips that’s prognosis on its head and says no: Your poor, bankrupt. You aren’t clothed in me, in fact your naked and exposed. You think your wise, but you actually don’t know anything, your blind.

What is the solution to these problems?

Jesus continues his words to the church in Laodicea in this way: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Rev 3:19-22

Jesus doesn’t call us out to hurt us, that’s for sure. He says “people that I love, I rebuke and discipline.” It makes sense. Just like parents discipline their children, and this is an act of love, so also God disciplines his children, and this is not an act of meanness, but an act of love. If God didn’t guide us, then he wouldn’t be a good God. Of course it’s never fun to be rebuked. In fact, it stirs all sorts of uncomfortable emotions in us. Often in us it flairs indignation, even anger. It provokes sorrow, and confusion, and uncertainty. But if we push through those difficult emotions, and try to respond to God’s rebuke with real change, then it’s like we come out the other side of the discipline and we realize that God has done something incredibly mighty in our lives.

He's changed us for the better, he’s matured us. I know whenever I repent of a habitual sin, and set it aside for good, there is this feeling that overcomes me afterward. It’s like I’ve been through a storm, an impossibly difficult storm, and the storm has yanked the sin from my hand. I open my hand, and God takes it away. The storm was so hurtful, and inside the storm I couldn’t see a way out. But then the storm ended. And I had the feeling of victory: That the Lord had trimmed me down, like one trims a bush, and the Lord had removed the excess. And His presence with me is stronger and more real than before. I’ve taken another step into a larger world.

Jesus is coming very soon. And He is coming for a Holy church, a church without blemish or defect. If we are content to toil in sin and selfishness, we shouldn’t expect to share in any inheritance with Christ. Instead we’ll inherit the lake of fire. So we see that the solution to this problem of our churches looking like the world and our culture, is to to repent, and turn to Jesus.

And to receive three gifts from Jesus:

1. The garments of righteousness

2. The eyes of the Holy Spirit

3. The eternal riches of heaven.

Our churches, and our congregations will reflect and learn from our example. If we strive to live holy lives, then so will the people we serve. If we ignore sin, and live as lukewarm Christians, then the people we serve will do the same.

Jesus said, to make three fundamental changes:

First, Jesus said to reject our reliance on worldly wealth, and stop gathering money and influence in this world. This world is passing away. Jesus’ solution is that we should store up treasure in heaven. Treasures in heaven are gathered through deeds we do in this life to the glory of God alone.

Second, Jesus said to reject self-reliance and to rely entirely on Christ for our salvation. He counseled us to take the white garments of His righteousness. And if we have soiled our garments in willful sin, then He calls us to radical, complete repentance, in fasting and prayer. If your struggling in sin, the solution is to fear God, fast, and cry out in prayer relentlessly.

Thirdly, Jesus said we must reject our worldly knowledge, reject our rules and regulations, reject our worldly five point plans, and the worldly philosophies, of inclusion, of tolerance, of materialism, and of relativism, and instead embrace the timeless spiritual truths of the scriptures, really believing that they do apply today, tomorrow, and always. And that they counsel us better than our fancy degrees and higher academic institutions.

Jesus tells us to be earnest and repent. The NASB and KJV render the word earnest as “zealous.” Another translation renders earnest as “diligent.” The dictionary definition for diligent is “constant in effort to accomplish something; attentive and persistent in doing something.”

The church in America is full to the brim with habitual sin, arrogance, and self-reliance. And we need to repent diligently, in all determination, before time runs out. You can be free from sin. You can be holy as Christ is holy. That’s what we’re called to, to true deliverance. You can fast and pray weekly. You can devote yourself completely to the Christian way. You can be 100% sold out for Jesus. You can be on fire for Jesus.

Too often we say just before we sin yet again: “The Lord will forgive me, so it doesn’t matter.”

Don’t let anyone deceive you, we will reap what we sow. If we sow in the Spirit, we’ll reap eternal life. If we sow to the flesh, we’ll reap destruction.

We need a deadly seriousness when it comes to how we follow Jesus Christ. God is full of mercy and compassion, but He calls us to the most radical and pure lifestyle. Let’s look at some action steps of how we can respond to God’s rebuke, and repent. I want to leave you with these concrete steps to be free from sin, to be covered in Christ’s righteousness, to gather treasure in heaven, and to rely entirely on the scriptures for our worldview of life.

1. Ask God for the gift of the Fear of the Lord.

2. Pray and ask the Lord’s Spirit to reveal in us anything that displeases Him.

3. Repent in Faith of those things God reveals to us.

4. Ask God for the heart of holiness, that He would pour out His perfect love in us.

5. Fast and pray for three days in a row.

6. Institute a new dedication to God in your life, declare a jubilee, a new time.

7. Devote yourself completely to the work of Christ, yielding all of your heart, soul, and mind to Him.

In conclusion, like the church of Laodicea, today in the USA, in the Salvation Army, and across all the churches, we’re in need of deep, true repentance. And God willing, we will repent, and put on the perfect robe of Christ, gather treasures of gold in heaven, and open eyes that truly see.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding of Christianity

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” -1st Peter 1:14-16 ESV

Let me begin by saying that you should trust the scriptures over the words of any men.  We must trust the scriptures much more than Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Edwards, Whitefield or any Pope or bishop.  Our faith in the scriptures must rise far, far above any allegiance to a theology, whether it be Arminian, Calvinist, Molinist, or Catholic.  

But we often struggle with an incomplete view of the scriptures.  We ignore or disregard scriptures that make us uncomfortable, or even those that don't fit neatly into our theology.  This is not good my brothers and sisters.  The scriptures are our highest authority, with God himself being above the scriptures of course, and the scriptures helping us to receive all truth, wisdom, and God's will from God.  Trust the scriptures.  That's my mission for life.  

For the past few months I've been learning about holiness theology.  And it's rocked my world.  I was originally trained in the dispensational, Calvinist-leaning Liberty University.  My greatest influences in Christianity have been Calvinist preachers, people like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and John MacArthur. But in my time in the Salvation Army, and now studying at Olivet Nazarene University's graduate program, I've come to learn about holiness theology, and it has changed my life.

I've come to believe that holiness to the Lord is the great missing piece of Christianity in modern evangelicalism.  In the face of so many multiplied evils in our world, many of us have thrown up our hands and rejected the truth of the scriptures: That we can be holy in a fallen world.

The blood of Jesus Christ has washed away the sins of those of us who believe.  But dare we believe that his blood is worth much more?  Dare we believe that the Holy Spirit, through our new birth, can really change our deepest desires and longings, so that we can live holy as He is holy?  

For the longest time I thought this was impossible.  I thought it was completely and truly impossible.  Why?  Because I struggled with sin everyday.  And to say that I struggled with sin, is to say that I lived in willful sin.  And I taught my mind to tolerate it.  I searched for scriptures that would defend my failures.  

I repeated mantras like: His grace is enough.  His grace covers all my sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. 

I conveniently ignored scriptures that talked about continuance in sin as deadly to the Christian.  I trembled at the scriptures that read: "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" -Hebrews 10:26 ESV  

Sexual sin, lustful thoughts, and the like were always knocking at my door.  And here and there I would open.  But I would repent immediately after!  But this was not a true repentance.  This was simply playing games with God.  I was living in willful sin, while playing word games with God.  

'Once saved always saved' is a doctrine that gave me permission to sin.  It distorted my understanding of the word of God.  We must reject that doctrine as the body of Christ. (Scriptures: John 15, 1 Tim 1:19, Hebrews 3:14). Link to "scriptures on falling away.Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. I had to look past what I preferred, or what gave me blanket assurance, and look to the truth of the word. 

I like many believers struggled greatly with sin, in private.  But I wasn't willing to stay there. There was a dogged unyielding dissatisfaction.  There was a constant conviction of the Spirit within me, refusing to be ignored or silenced.

By God's grace, I soon found in the scriptures something that could help me overcome sin: The fear of the Lord (Matthew 10:18, Proverb 1:8, Eccle 12:13). And so each night I began praying a simple prayer: "Teach me to fear you Lord."  

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's[a] seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother."
-1 John 3:4-10 (ESV)

God answered my prayers over several weeks. I began to truly tremble before God. This fear spiked change, through discomfort. Sin sent me running, or more accurately, the fear of the Lord sent me running.  And I found myself with increasing desires to be holy.  

At that time, visitors came to our chapel and spoke on holiness.  Dr. Bill and Diane Uri spoke for the weekend in several sessions regarding holiness.  And I think for the first time I truly understood what holiness, and sanctification really meant.  Holiness is about a total yielding to the Lord, wherein He perfects our hearts and His Spirit lives fully through us.  I realized that holy living was not a work of man, or a list of rules, or a constantly unattainable goal, but that it was a work of God, and I must simply open myself up to it and be willing to respond to the Spirit's leading. During one of the sessions I listened to Diane preach, my eyes intently focused on her and for a moment I saw the face of Christ flash over her. And I was stunned.  Of course I didn't tell anyone, because I knew no one would believe me. 

At the conclusion of the weekend, a friend and I prayed privately, asking for the blessing. I prayed with Dr. Bill Uri at the mercy seat, asking for the blessing.  And so something very special began in my life. 

During that time we had begun studying sanctification in doctrine classes.  These classes provoked my imagination, and I eagerly began to embrace the concept of sanctification.  Though few seemed as enthused as I!  I found myself studying the handbook of doctrine carefully.  And I found myself mesmerized by a book by Diane LeClerc called "Discovering Christian Holiness."

At this time I was also beginning to study the concept of hell (on my own time) and I began to force myself to read scriptures about the wrath and judgment of God.  I realized that despite my discomfort with the scriptures about God's wrath, I knew if the Bible said these things about God they were true, and right, and good.  I began to dare to trust God in areas of serious friction.

I wrestled in prayer with God about heaven and hell and an increasing reality coming into my mind, that most people in our modern times who call themselves Christians, who live in willful sin, will not receive eternal life, but will be condemned to hell.  Today I tend to believe that were Jesus to return today, it's likely that only about 20% of His church would be ready. I can't prove that number of course, but I'd bet on it.  

These realizations were stark, painful, and disturbing.  I wrestled with these realities and wrestled in prayer with God each night, trying to understand the implications of these truths.  

But I really realized that Jesus is coming back, and He is coming back for a bride who is spotless, and blameless, and who have not soiled their robes (Revelation 3:4).  And I realized that would've excluded me just weeks prior, and indeed many, many others.  

I also began studying near death experiences (NDEs), prophecies, visions, and sermons regarding heaven, hell, and revelation.  It was interesting and useful to learn about some experiences people have had with the Lord.  Of course I was careful to test these testimonies according to the word of God and through prayer (Click here to view.)  

But it brought into my mind some of the realities of God's holiness and justice.  And it also made the real places of heaven and hell come to life in my mind, and the scriptures describing these realities began to jump off the page a bit more.  Don't ever box God in on what he can and can't do.  Or on what he chooses to do and not do. 

For those in the Salvation Army, don't forget that William Booth's ministry was rallied greatly by his vision of the lost, where the people were drowning in the oceans, and he knew he was called to help people out of the waters and into the safety of Christ.

Several strands were beginning to weave together in my heart and life to guide me toward understanding holiness. I had never understood before.  I had tried to comfort myself with scriptures like Romans 7:15-20, when Paul talked about doing what he did not want to do.  But I had to keep reading, and realize that Romans 7 was referring to a life before Christ, and Romans 8:5-8 continues into the life in Christ, where we live by the Spirit and deny the flesh.

So how does one live in the life of the Spirit?  How does one go on into maturity?  Indeed, Christian holiness, holiness theology, the biblical concept of total sanctification is simply moving on to maturity in Christ.

To live in holiness, to be fully sanctified is to be "set apart."  As it says in the word, in 2 Timothy 2:21 ESV, "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work."

And we know that this work is not of us, but it is of God, who instructs us to respond to His sanctifying Spirit through willing obedience and consecration to all of God's work.  As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV) "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In my Christian life, these last five years, I've felt as if I were on a grand adventure.  I had become the pilgrim on his journey.  I had become the warrior in shining armor, fighting the noble cause.  I had been slaughtered at the cross of Christ, and I had died with Christ, and been reborn into his family. But for some reason something was missing.  No, that's wrong.  Nothing was missing, but I knew I was suppose to "go on" forward to more of this blessing.  I had received Christ, I had been born again of the Spirit, I had become a new person, with new hungers, but I knew Christ was calling me forward into maturity.  

But the problem was, like many today, I had learned to be comfortable in my sins, and to comfort myself of God's grace when being convicted by God's Spirit.  This was a deadly, dangerous and deceptive situation, which brings to mind the concept of a "seared conscience" (1 Timothy 4:2).  

Hebrews 6:1 (ESV) says, "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity..."

This journey of growth in holiness was not a work done by man, and it was not spurned on by my own dogged determination, but it was born of God, pressed forward by God, and God himself breached the barrier, broke into the strongholds of sin, swept into my heart, and re-brandished my desires in perfect love.  

Total sanctification is the will of God for every believer.  God calls us to go on to the fullness of maturity in the Christian life.  This is done through a full yielding to the Lord of heaven and Earth.

This is done through consecration to God, giving all we have to Him.  Consecration means to turn over your whole self to God. That is a good way to pray, to "consecrate" yourself to God. Pray saying: "I give everything I have to you Lord, and everything I have is already yours." 

Daily prayers of repentance have been a blessing to me as well. Ask the Lord to search your heart and life, and convict you. Then things will come to mind, and you may pray: "Yes Lord, please forgive me for that, and I repent with a full heart, turning away from sin." It's good daily practice for growth. It's a powerful prayer that will stir deep change in your soul.

Of course we must do more than pray.  We must practice a lifestyle of holiness. We must wage, in all out warfare, battle with the dead sins of the past.  But holiness is not an outward list of rules to follow, it is an inward change wrought by the Spirit.  Our part is to wrestle, cry out for, and doggedly pursue this blessing from God.  Our outward actions will change, yes, but it is because of an inward transformation.  The love of Christ reshapes our heart, rends it, circumcises it, and transforms it.  

This blessing of full sanctification is not an end, in fact it is simply a moment of consummation, it is like a marriage ceremony, we have loved God, and now we are married fully to Christ in perfect love.  But it does not end there, no!  The marriage is just beginning, and the life of the marriage, the relationship, the passion only grows from that moment onward, forward, endlessly to death, and final glorification.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God"

Should the receiving of this blessing of surrender to God, of the transformed heart, puff us up with pride?  Not in the slightest brothers and sisters, and even the slightest pride that seeps out of the soul is a sign of a boisterous legalism.  

The heart of perfect love is first of all meek, humble, gentle, and undesirous of boasting. Love in fact does not boast (1 Cor 13). In fact what need is there of it after all?  We are on mission for God, fully consecrated to Him.  We do all to His glory, and none for our own.  How should we regard other Christians?  As more important than ourselves, as noble adventurers, as warriors of light who fight alongside of us.  Humility is the great sign of a sanctified believer.  But we are all moving forward inwardly toward that blessing, because God desires it for all of us.  Humility in quiet love, is what sanctification is. 

I did not think it was possible.  But at the outset, on my knees before God at the altar, was when I first began to believe that it was possible, somehow in the power of God.  And even that tiny mustard seed of faith was enough for God to use as a beachhead to strike through my soul, my heart, my affections, and my mind.  This was an intense process.  God's presence threw fear into my heart, fear for God.  At times I felt like I'd been sandblasted by the presence of God.  And his holiness struck fear into my depths. This was terribly uncomfortable and painful.  I felt at times like my soul was a windswept plain, a troubled, sinful wasteland of filth with the cloud of God's glory dancing upon it, in the moonlight of the midnight hour.  But somehow the next morning in that desert, the rain clouds burst forth, and the desert bloomed with glorious flowers.  

The beginning is to pursue this blessing.  Pursue it with the primal desire to know God and seek Him earnestly.  Ask Him for fear of Him, ask Him for terror of Him.  

This is an exciting moment.  The past two months have been so exciting, and I've come into a fullness of God's blessing of which I had never really thought possible.  I've come to know God in a more complete way.  I still struggle with temptations. I still battle selfishness. But new victories have been won.  And I don't live in the mindset that I'll always wrestle with willful sin.  That is not what God has called me to, to constant failure to defeat sin.  No.  We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.  We will overcome the world completely.  And we must, if we hope to live eternally. 

My understanding of God in the past has been very much based around orthodoxy, around knowledge of God, knowledge of His word, and in strict prayer.  There was real relationship and love in this, don't get me wrong.  But the added dimension of orthopathy has helped me to understand a greater depth of God.  And I know this is just the beginning.  The fullness of God is dangerous.  It doesn't fit neatly into an orthodoxy.  But it doesn't breach or change biblical truth either.  It just magnifies it in ways I hadn't imagined.  It's like the words jump off the page, and God's glory comes closer than I'd have dared prior.  

Holiness theology has transformed my understanding of Christianity.  It has revolutionized my understanding of the Bible, of Jesus Christ, of the Christian life, and of relationship with the Father.  But really, it wasn't holiness theology that really transformed my understanding.  It was simply the vessel.  It was God almighty himself who has worked this transformation in my heart and life, and for that reason I fearfully give Him all the honor and glory.

We are not slaves to sin.  We are no longer sinners.  We are now born again followers of Jesus.  And we will overcome the world, and every sin that besets.  We are not called to struggle in an endless, hopeless battle of sin all of our days, sinning and repenting, over and over.  No.  That attitude leaves us in forever sin, and truly, damnation.  No.  We are not damned to sin forever, caught in a 50-50 battle.  No.  We are overcomers.  We will and are required to overcome the world.  And we will.  We most certainly will. We will always have temptations yes.  But we can break through in God's grace, in His Spirit, to a freedom of inclination, to true freedom from sin, where our affections, and our desires are fully rended to God. And though sin still knocks at the door, the door is closed. We can always open, but we may live in inclination to never do so again.  Amen. 

"...if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.." -1st Peter 1:17-23 ESV

Related Posts:
  1. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  2. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell
  3. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life
  4. What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life?
  5. How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life
  6. Should I Tithe 10% to my Church?
  7. God will Uphold His Army: Standing on the Truths of God's Word
  8. God's Fingerprint on Reality: Emotions of Life
  9. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin
  10. How to Serve as a Leader in Christian Ministry

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week

This is an account of my experience with fasting and prayer. I decided I would fast from food, aside from vegetables (at night so I could sleep.)  I allowed myself coffee and protein shakes, up to four times a day. I did this for three days. I fasted and prayed during this time, for about an hour each night and at various points throughout the day. This is an account of that experience.

Glory to God alone. You should rarely talk about fasting, and never brag about it.  The truth is most people reading this won't even know my name, and that's for the best.  For those who do, know this: The only reason any of this is possible is because God made it possible in someone as weak, flawed, and indulgent as myself.

Joel 2:12 (NIV) says, “"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." 

Fasting is useful in many ways to the Christian of today in their walk with Christ. Fasting helps us to return to God. Often in this world our heart drifts away from God. Fasting can help us to return to Him and repent. Additionally, fasting is useful for putting the flesh under the subjugation of the Holy Spirit. We feed ourselves so often, at least three times a day, and often this hunger grows more and more, until it has control over us. Thus fasting is a powerful way to put the flesh into submission and quiet it’s never-ending lusts and hungers.

Fasting for me, as I began to plan this fasting experience, was something that felt impossible. I’ve done it many times in the past, yet this time I felt as if it was too much. 

But I was sick one day, and I was searching You Tube for sermons to listen to, and I came across a sermon by a pastor in Africa on the topic of fasting. And he taught that it is our privilege and responsibility as believers to fast. And he didn’t speak of fasting for 24 or 48 hours, he said we could fast for a week, for two weeks, for three week, and he said all the way up to forty days. And I found this convicting and astonishing. 

I thought, surely this must be impossible! But I began to pray and asked God, if God would allow me to fast for a few days. God seemed to respond clearly to this prayer, and put in my mind the thought, that all I had to do was pray, and set my mind on doing this, even if I didn’t really believe it was possible, God seemed to communicate that he would give the victory. 

And I’ve found that time and again in my walk with God: I have to simply step out in faith, and just by beginning to dare to believe that God would make this possible (not myself) then God does things in my life that I simply can’t imagine. He does greater things than I think are possible, when I dare to ask and begin to believe in Him.

I began the night before the fast in prayer and asked earnestly for God’s help. I asked the night before in prayer, and I asked again that morning. I actually ate that morning at about five in the morning, I got hungry and ate a small can of peas. So when I woke up, I was sad, but God encouraged me to continue. For that first day on April 10th I fasted, and drank four vegetable protein shakes. At night I studied the scriptures and my two devotional books, and then I prayed for about an hour. I prayed the “Our Father.” I also prayed the serenity prayer. I prayed by praising God and thanking Him. I thanked God for his faithfulness in my past and present. I prayed many intercessory prayers for people the Lord laid on my heart. And I prayed in repentance from sins, poor attitudes, and ungodly mindsets in my mind and soul. It was a deeper prayer than I’d often prayed before in the past, because I was honoring God.

I found myself unfortunately also focused greatly on the hope of losing weight through the fast. And I wrestled with this each of the three days, questioning my own inner desires and my motives. I’m still uncertain about what I truly desired from the experience. Perhaps it was entirely selfish and based on a desire to have a healthy body, instead of a healthy spiritual soul.

The first night I struggled terribly to sleep because I was so hungry. I woke up with only about 3 hours of sleep, yet I was still able to function throughout the day. It was like God was strengthening me through the experience. I went to my classes, and had my four protein drinks, and I went and played volleyball. Unfortunately, not many people came, so Tony and I played a bit of basketball, then I left. I went back home and I began to study the scriptures, and my two devotional books as is my custom each night, and this time I had a harder time praying, but I prayed all the same, about 30-45 minutes. I think I struggled to pray because I was so tired and dizzy. But I still seemed to do OK. That night I once again struggled greatly to sleep, and I woke up several times in the night and I ate canned peas and green beans, and I also ate a frozen cheesy instant broccoli.

I woke up on the third day, quite hungry and tired, but I prayed in the Spirit, and I began the day. The day went well, it felt like a long day, and my detail seemed quite long because I was so tired. I found myself throughout the day bargaining with myself to eat dinner at the cafeteria. But I was able to fight off those temptations in little prayers in my mind to God. On the third night I studied the scriptures and prayed again for about an hour. I prayed as I normally do, just for longer, on praises to God, requests for family, friends, and others, and I prayed against demonic powers, and wickedness in the enemy kingdom. I prayed for seminary, for cadets, for staff, and for officers. I prayed on many topics, for friends, for candidates, for people far away, and for family of course. I went to sleep that night after eating some vegetables, and I slept about five hours, woke up the next morning and began the day by eating my normal breakfast of five eggs, but I added an extra one.

Fasting and praying was a positive experience for me. For several months during being at seminary I had fasted once a week on Thursdays. But during and after Christmas I lost touch with this practice. However, I will now be picking it up again because of this fast. I planned with an accountability partner to fast twice a week, as John Wesley taught his preachers to do. In fact John Wesley insisted that all pastors being trained in his movement had to fast a minimum of twice a day.  That's the minimum.  I believe twice a week is a good way to honor God, and praise Him. 

One note about fasting: Don't tell people that your fasting.  Don't brag about it.  Don't say "I know I'm not suppose to talk about fasting, but..." Then you talk about it.  And it's like... No, don't do that.  I'm sharing about it to encourage you to begin doing it at least twice a week.  I would say it's OK to share the fact that your fasting with your accountability partner or mentor, or if someone is really insisting on knowing why you seem so tired, or why your not able to go and do something.  Sometimes God is prompting you to share that with someone individually so they can learn to fast as well. In fact my very first interest with fasting was just such an occasion with a worship leader friend of mine. And I pressed him for an answer on why he seemed so off. And he shared with me that he was fasting.  It impressed me, and I began to develop a plan to do it myself. 

I’m going to study more on fasting and attempt to learn skills for fasting, so I may more effectively glorify God and bless His name. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell

This post is linked with the synchroblog, a group of bloggers with diverse viewpoints. Check out the synchroblog here.

In the Old Testament it was described as Sheol, the place of the dead, the dump yard where filth and animal bodies were tossed to be burned.  In the New Testament Greek it took on the term "hell" or "Hades" and "outer darkness."  Today we're going to investigate the biblical concept of hell, and the various statements that Jesus and others made about this place of torment and apparent eternal suffering.  

When I share the scriptures, I've often been like a ninja.  I think many of us are good at this: We dodge, jump, and fly past the scriptures that make us uncomfortable, and focus on the scriptures that we find encouraging.  

Think of scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11, that classic scripture: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." And we pull it right out of context.  The entire book of Jeremiah is a despondent message of repentance from the weeping prophet Jeremiah as he tries to get Israel to turn back to God before it's too late.  But we skip over all of that, and just pull out the one encouraging scripture, that God has a plan for us.  And He certainly does! Yet there are also severe consequences for those who habitually go astray.

Then again, we're in New testament times, right?  We're under the new covenant of grace, in Christ.  So things must be different now, right?  Well, yes and no. Things are different in that we find rest in Christ. But we're also warned to live a pure life in response to the free gift.  In fact, the one who talked the most about hell in the New Testament was Jesus himself.  

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." -Matthew 25:27-30 NIV

And again Jesus said,"Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."-Matthew 10:28 ESV

In the past I've avoided the concept of hell like the plague.  I didn't want to talk about hell because I was so afraid it would drive people away from the church.  But we shouldn't avoid the concepts of hell and judgment in the Bible. We should talk about and consider what Jesus talked about and considered.

If we struggle with these concepts, and we probably should, we should go boldly to the throne of God and ask Him for help in understanding.  God is righteous, and everything He does is right.  We can trust Him to help us understand things like hell. 

So what is hell?  Well, hell is a real place.  It's a geographical location, and a reality.  Just like heaven, eternal life, the new city of God are real places.  These are not metaphors or symbolic imagery.  It's real.  We don't think of heaven as a metaphor, we think of it as a concrete reality.  And in the same way, hell is a reality.

Hell was originally designed for Satan and the fallen angels (Matthew 25:41).  Unfortunately when humanity was deceived by Satan, hell was opened up for human entry.  Hell is a place for those who willfully reject God, and for those who reject His commandments, His teachings, and the free gift of salvation found in Jesus Christ.  

God doesn't want a single person to go to hell (1 Timothy 2:4).  God wants all to be saved.  That's why He called Abraham out of the wilderness to form the nation of Israel.  That's why God gave his commands to Moses.  And that's why God came as Jesus Christ, Immanuel, the savior of the world to offer His life on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

For those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ, there is a place prepared for them called heaven.  Heaven is a real place, with streets of gold, with houses and lodgings, and with angels, people, and of course God almighty.  

There are no aborted babies in hell, they are all in heaven.  There are no babies who died in their early years in hell, they are in heaven. There are no severely mentally ill individuals in hell, they are in heaven. 

So who goes to hell? Well, according to Revelation 21:8 ESV "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

I think we could break it down into three groups:

1. Those who reject Christ - This is the largest group of those in hell, people who rejected Christ, who were deceived by the pleasures of the world, and who loved their sin more than God and his teachings.  

2. False Christians - These are Christians who tried to have it both ways, they followed Jesus, but also stayed in sin.  They were lukewarm. They didn't serve the poor or lost, and they didn't evangelize.  They did not repent of all of their sins.  And they failed to authentically live for Jesus. Many probably thought they were going to heaven, but went to hell instead.

3. True Christians - These are Christians who repented of all sin, who really lived out their faith, and who served and evangelized the lost.  They completed their race, and they share in eternal life with Jesus and the angels.  

Sadly the truth is that hell is much more occupied than heaven.  It's probably something like 300 to 1, or maybe even higher, like 1,000 to 1.  It's an exceedingly crippling realization.  It reminds me of the moment in the Matrix movie when the main character Neo awoke in a pod, and he realized the entire human race was enslaved by machines.  Most people are so deceived they will never come to Christ.  And we have to wrestle with that reality.  It's no wonder that in the movie Neo decried this reality saying, "No, I don't believe it.  It's not possible!" 

I have a very hard time looking upon the reality of hell.  In fact I have struggled with the Lord in prayer, and in devotions and in Bible reading on this topic.  Because there is no escape from hell.  Once someone is there, they can never escape.  

In hell, they will experience torment by fire, by worms, and by memories of the sins they committed (Mark 9:48, Luke 16:25).  The person is conscious. They have their senses.  They experience the passage of time, and they are aware that they will be there forever.  They suffer every moment, and at this very moment people are there, burning and being tormented.  Could there be anything more horrible, terrifying, and soul shaking as this? I can't even handle the thought of it. 

Hell is a terrible fate for any human to fall upon.  But we each are aware of the offer of Christ, and we each have our decision to make: Will we choose God or choose sin?  It's a simple decision.  And the consequences of that decision are far reaching.  

We all struggle with the evil of our world.  We struggle with things that take place, like human trafficking, where children are bought and sold on a black market, repeatedly raped until they die, by the millions.  We ache for those who die in terrorist attacks like 9/11 and daily attacks that take place in Europe and the middle east.  We ache for those men and women who are physically and psychologically abused. We sit in amazement at what men like Hitler and Stalin could do, a single person, ordering the slaughter millions.  God's solution for the threat that even a single sinner is to the order of the universe is permanent quarantine. 

So we should be grateful that God will bring all things into judgment.  He is just to do so.  

John 3:16-18 (ESV) says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

God has offered us the free gift of his Son, if we will only repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ.  We can either choose to receive Christ, or we can choose to reject Christ and stay in our sins.  We each have to make that choice.  And we can all choose freely.  But we won't be free from the consequences of those decisions.  

There are people who have claimed to have been given visions of hell from God.  Prominently, Mary K. Baxter and Bill Wiese. (Click the name to view a You Tube video presentation by them). I'd invite you to view their testimonies, and test them against the scriptures to see if those prophecies are true. If you find the accounts wanting, trust the scriptures, if you find the accounts in line with the scriptures, consider their words.  And remember, do not despise prophecies, but test them according to the word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

I've included a list of scriptures that mention hell.  Please read them carefully, and consider where you want to be for eternity.  

I don't think any of us in our human form can truly understand why the punishment of hell is so severe and completely endless.  It seems so terrible and extreme.  But none of us can truly appreciate the impact that sin has had on us and our world.  We suffer many of the consequences though, don't we?  We should consider the problem of evil in the world when we consider hell.  

And I believe the final end for the situation of hell, and how it makes us feel, is to dare to trust God when we don't understand something.  Trust in God.  Trust in His love and justice.  Trust and obey, and save the questions for later.  We'll be face to face with God one day. If we still have questions on that day, I'm sure Jesus will listen and share His thoughts with us.  But first, let's make it into heaven, by trusting in Christ and repenting of all sin.  

Matthew 5:22 ESV But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 13:50 ESV And throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:41 ESV “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

Jude 1:7 ESV Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

2 Peter 2:4 ESV For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment

Mark 9:48 ESV /‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Luke 16:19-31 ESV “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. ...

Matthew 23:33 ESV You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Daniel 12:2 ESV And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Luke 12:5 ESV / But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Matthew 3:12 ESV His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 16:23 ESV And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

John 3:36 ESV Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Psalm 145:20 ESV The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” ...

Hebrews 9:27 ESV And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment

Acts 2:31 ESVHe foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

Matthew 18:8 ESV And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

Matthew 13:41-42 ESV The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 7:13 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many."

Psalm 16:10 ESV For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

Revelation 14:11 ESV And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

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