Jehovah Reigns

As we consider the significance and impact of the death of Jesus on a cross, awaiting the resurrection that Sunday will bring, may the words of Charles Wesley be an encouragement and reminder to us of who God is.

This Easter weekend, may God bless you and encourage you by his Spirit and by his Son Jesus Christ.

Jehovah reigns on high
In peerless majesty;
Boundless power his royal robe,
Purest light his garment is;
Rules his word the spacious globe,
Established it in floating seas.

Ancient of days!
Thy name And essence is I AM;
Thou, O Lord, and thou alone,
Gav’st whatever is to be;
Stood thine everlasting throne,
Stands to all eternity.

The floods, with angry noise,
Have lifted up their voice,
Lifted up their voice on high;
Fiends and men exclaim aloud;
Rage the waves and dash the sky,
Hell assails the throne of God.

Their fury cannot move
The Lord who reigns above;
Him the mighty waves obey,
Sinking at his awful will,
Ocean owns his sovereign sway;
Hell at his command is still.

Thy statutes, Lord, are sure,
And as thyself endure;
Thine eternal house above
Holy souls alone can see,
Fitted here by perfect love,
There to reign enthroned with thee.

Gideon’s 300 and God’s Victory

While Sparta’s 300 fell to the Persian army, God gave victory to Gideon and his 300 soldiers over the Midianite and Amalekite army.   The text for this sermon is Judges 7:1-23.  I pray that God’s Spirit challenges your heart as you listen.  Ask yourself, “How big is your God?”

Questioning David Platt and the Hindu Funeral Pyres

David Platt was recently elected as President of the International Missions Board for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).   And although I’m a minister in the Church of the Nazarene, the SBC is still our family in the greater kingdom of God.  We are brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Although I disagree with many SBC teachings, evidenced by the remainder of this post, I do not doubt that God will continue to use the people of the SBC to expand his kingdom.  I pray that the heart of God expands in David as he takes on his new role.

On his website, David posted a video explaining his new role.  He states that one of the reasons he accepted this new responsibility was due to an extremely moving experience he had in Nepal.  He was hiking and came across several bodies burning on funeral pyres.

He says, “We came to this Hindu holy river, where, when we walked up, the first thing we saw were funeral pyres above this river and burning bodies on top of those funeral pyres.  We learned the custom for the people in this area was to bring up friend or family member within 24 hours of dying, and bring them to that river, put the body on that funeral pyre, and set it ablaze.  The thought is, as the ashes go down into the river, this will help that person in the process of reincarnation.  So we rounded the corner and saw this river, this scene, and I was just stopped in stunned silence as I found myself looking at bodies of people who were alive 24 hours before, now burning and realizing, ‘This is an earthly picture of a spiritual reality that’s happening right now.  These are people who died in their sin, apart from Christ, and are in an eternal hell at this moment.  They’ll be there forever.'”   If you’re interested listening to the audio or watching the video, it’s only about nine minutes long.

I respect and love David as a Christian brother, but I disagree with him theologically.   I want to say that there is nothing wrong with disagreement; I do not question his salvation nor his devotion to God and to God’s people, nor his ability to lead.  But sometimes it is good to see another point of view.  Even when one point of view is stated confidently as the Christian point of view, there are still other ways of thinking that stay within the orthodoxy of Christ’s Church.

I’ve learned to be gracious in disagreement, which is what I am attempting to do here.  We can disagree without casting people out as heretics and evil-doers; perhaps this is one area where the Christian Church can differ from secular society.

As a Christian, it’s good to think critically regarding every aspect of our faith.  We have to ask if different statements makes sense.  We have to ask ourselves difficult questions and ask whether or not our faith will hold to the test of those difficult questions.

We can even doubt, but we must learn to doubt faithfully.  I do not mean to be faithful to doubting, but I mean that we are still faithful to God through our doubt.  When I doubt, personally, it doesn’t mean I abandon my faith.  It means that I critically test my doubt with questions like, “How does this idea line up with scripture?  How does this idea line up with both my experience and the experience of others?  How does this idea line up with reason and logic?  How does this idea line up with Christian teaching?”

When I listen to people, there is often a constant track going on in my head which questions everything that the person says.   And so when someone makes a definitive claim that a person is, at this very moment, burning eternally in hell, I question it.

The main reason I question this statement is because scripture teaches resurrection.  It teaches the clear resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, Jesus Christ ascending into heaven, and Jesus Christ returning again.  But it also teaches the resurrection of all people at Christ’s return; Christ, at that point, will judge their hearts and determine their fate (Jn 6, Lk 14, 1 Th 4, Dn 12, Rv 20).   To deny this is also to deny the teaching of the Church, which affirms the historic Nicene Creed and Apostle’s Creed.  Both creeds teach a second coming, resurrection of the dead, and judgment of the living and the dead at his return.

Let us not also forget Paul’s imprisonment by the leaders of Jerusalem which led to his journey to Rome.  Paul was taken captive and beaten because he believed in this general resurrection in addition to the resurrection of Christ.  Several of the Pharisees, who believed in a general resurrection, did not want to imprison Paul.  The Sadducees, who did not believe in a general resurrection on the other hand, did want to imprison Paul because he was teaching contrary to their beliefs.  A fight broke out between the two groups over Paul’s understanding of the resurrection (Acts 23)!  (Perhaps the Pharisees were starting to come around, after all?)

Our own denominational Article of Faith, number 16, for the Church of the Nazarene reads, “We believe in the resurrection of the dead, that the bodies of both the just and of the unjust shall be raised to life and united with their spirits – ‘they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’  We believe in future judgment in which every person shall appear before God to be judged according to his or her deeds in this life.  We believe that glorious and everlasting life is assured to all who savingly believe in, and obediently follow, Jesus Christ our Lord; and that the finally impenitent shall suffer eternally in hell. (Gn 18:25, 1 Sam 2:10, Ps 50:6, Is 26:19, Dn 12:2-3, Mt 25:31-46, Mk 9:43-48, Lk 16:19-31, 20:27-38, Jn 3:16-18, 5:25-29, 11:21-27; Acts 17:30-31, Rm 2:1-16, 14:7-12, 1 Cor 15:12-58, 2 Cor 5:10, 2 Th 1:5-10, Rv 20:11-15, 22:1-15).”

If there will be resurrection in the future, at which point God will determine his eternal judgment, then God has not yet made a final judgment upon the people who are not in Christ.  It would be an unjust God who has revealed a promised judgment upon resurrection at Christ’s return, but instead judges immediately upon death, especially to something so serious as eternal damnation.

Moreover, it would be an especially unjust and unmerciful God who judges those who have never heard the gospel or the message of the true God to eternal damnation immediately upon death.  If there is anything we can learn from the story of God interacting with the people of this world, as demonstrated in the combined canon of the Old and New Testaments, it is that God loves both justice and mercy!

Reading immediate judgment upon death to eternal hell does not do justice to the complexity of scripture, human authors of the different books, the gospel of God in Jesus Christ, the inspiration of scripture through God in the Holy Spirit, or the love, mercy, and justice of God in the Father.  Nor does this type of reading do justice to the intellectual tradition of Christianity dating back to the authors of the New Testament.  We must learn to read scripture critically yet faithfully to God and the Church.

Unfortunately, it can easy to be misunderstood when discussing these aspects of theology.  I am not saying whether or not the people David Platt saw will see eternal life or death.  What I am saying is that I do not agree with his assumption that they “are in an eternal hell at this moment” and that “they’ll be there forever.”

Ultimately, the people who David saw burning on funeral pyres will be resurrected from their death to see the judgment of Christ.  Christ will be a just judge before them, taking everything into account.  As creatures of God, we do not know their judgment; we do not determine their fate.  We are all fallen creatures.  Humble before God, our creature-minds cannot come close to comprehending the full creator-mind of God.  But we must remember that their judgment solely rests in the hands of Jesus Christ; I have faith that whatever he decides, whether to eternal life or death, he will be just and merciful.

This is a much more beautiful picture of God, one that is scripturally accurate, and one that is true to the teaching of the Church.

We spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to expand the kingdom of God in this present world.   Christ’s kingdom first broke into this world when he was born to the virgin Mary.   As Christians, when we make disciples of all the different nations, we give them the promise of God in this current life as well as eternal life.  It is a much bigger picture of God’s work in this world than what happens after death (although that is also important!).  We give lost peoples the hope of God’s justice and mercy – here, now, and today.

We have the promise of eternal life with God through Christ, but we must remember that the promise of eternal life begins today, continues throughout our lives, continues through death, sleep, heaven or whatever may be in-between, and continues through resurrection!  It will be ever-expanding until Christ’s return, when the kingdom will be fully consummated on this earth and a new creation has been brought about as the creation was forever meant to be.

Still, even though I have theological disagreements with David, I believe that God’s Spirit will continue to work through him and expand the kingdom of God in this world.   The love, goodness, mercy, and truth of Christ will be shown, which is ultimately most important.   However, it’s good to have different viewpoints so that we can challenge our thinking when it comes to theological assumptions, yet still be faithful to Christ and his Church.   I pray that God will bring many blessings to David, his ministry, and the SBC family.

I’ve given some of my thoughts.  What are your thoughts?

Seeking the True Christ

There are many distractions in the world that take our attention away from the true Christ.   Paul warns of empty deceit and worldly philosophies that exist and take our attention away from the gospel.  Instead, we must always focus on serving our Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The text for this sermon is Colossians 2:8-15.  I pray that God’s Spirit moves in your heart as you listen.

May God bless you.  May the peace of Jesus Christ reign in your heart.  May the fruit of the Spirit be exhibited in your life.

Correctly Understanding the Theology of “Heaven is for Real”

I recently had the privilege of watching a great movie.  You might be familiar with the title.  It’s called “Heaven Is for Real.”  I had heard about the book for quite a while but never had an opportunity to read it.  When the movie came out, I put it on my list of films to watch.  But it wasn’t until a few days ago, with my fiancé, that I finally watched this story.

If you’re interested in a movie with lots of action and a suspenseful plot, it’s probably not your type of movie.  But if you’re interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ and learning about one boy’s incredible, God-given vision of eternity, then watch the movie.

Granted, the movie has been adapted to a film version from the book, so I’m sure there were some changes.  However, at the end of the day, the basic story is the same: Colton, at a young age, became sick with appendicitis, and while unconscious on the operating table, had a vision of Jesus Christ and heaven.  He recovered, only to have extraordinary and unexplainable observations and insights.

I have to admit, though, I was a bit skeptical at first.  Trained in theology, I need to be able to think very critically about stories like Colton Burpo’s.  The particular branch of theology that this movie deals with is eschatology – the end times of this fallen creation in anticipation of the coming age in a new creation.  While it doesn’t deal with the “end times” specifically, it does deal with life after death, which is related to eschatology.

That is why I can appreciate an article like Drew Dyck’s, “What Hollywood gets wrong about heaven.”   It is definitely a great article.   Drew reminds us of scriptural accounts of heaven from the prophets Daniel, Ezekial, and Isaiah.

Drew writes, “In Scripture, when mortals catch a premature glimpse of God’s glory, they react in remarkably similar ways. They tremble. They cower. They go mute. The ones who can manage speech express despair (or “woe” to use the King James English) and become convinced they are about to die. Fainters abound.”

He also reminds us of John’s revelation, in which heaven is presented as an awe-inspiring place.  But it is also quite terrifying from the perspective of our fallen and limited human understandings.  I like the text CNN uses for the link: “heaven is for scary real.”  It’s because it is for scary real.

It’s also why I can also appreciate noted Christian leader John MacArthur’s critique, “Heaven is Real; Hallucinations are not,” in which he says he simply does not believe the child at all.

However, as smart as the man is, I, along with many others, disagree with John MacArthur’s theological viewpoint. He is approaching the movie from his system of thinking, which comes from a very rigid Reformed theology.  Don’t get me wrong, though – he makes several legitimate points and has an understandable reason to write what he wrote.  His article should be taken very seriously because there can be such a wide variety of  these types of near-death experiences.  He offers great input as part of the conversation, but as a former professor used to say to me, “What’s the so-what?”

Unlike John MacArthur, coming from the Wesleyan tradition of Christianity, I cannot simply ignore someone’s profound personal experience – especially when the boy’s experience offers such unexplainable happenings like Colton recognizing his great-grandfather as a young man, Colton knowing that his mother miscarried, and Colton recognizing the Christ from a painting done by a little girl, whom he had never met or heard of, on the other side of the world who had a similar experience.

In the Wesleyan tradition, I have to at least try to reconcile a story like Colton’s with Christian tradition, Christian experience, theological reason, and scripture.  We must think a little deeper in order to figure out how this makes sense with a correct understanding of theology and scripture.  We must ask, “What’s the so-what?”  We’re on the right track; we just have to think a little harder.

We must ask how Colton’s story fits in with the greater story of God’s redemption of the creation that is explained in scripture.  The Spirit of God is at work in people’s lives today – even a child’s life – just as much as the Spirit of God was at work in the thousands of years of history that scripture covers.

Moreover, as a Christian I’m asked to believe in the possibility of the miraculous. We have to have faith, after all, in the life, death, and resurrection of a living Jesus Christ!

Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from an overly-simplified version of eschatology in which a person dies and either goes to heaven or hell, and that’s the end of the story.  However, that is not necessarily how it works.  Paul, prophets of the Old Testament, apostles and disciples of the New Testament, and most importantly Jesus Christ, the Messiah, all speak of a resurrection and judgment at the last day and of all things being made new in eternal life with God.  If you’d like to read a little further on this subject, as well as dive a little deeper into the possibilities of immediate life after death, check out a previous post, ““The Great Divorce” and Understanding Eschatology.”  Part of the post summarizes N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, which is also an excellent resource on life after death.

What I’ve come to realize is that, most of the time, when people speak of heaven they mean the new creation that God will redeem this world into at the onset of the next age.   This fallen age will come to an end with the return of Christ, resurrection, and judgment unto eternal life or death by Christ.  The earth will be made new, and heaven (God’s dwelling place) will come down to a new Jerusalem.  Those whose hearts Christ judges worthy will dwell in this new creation.   It will certainly be heavenly, but it won’t be heaven proper.

Heaven, properly understood, is God’s dwelling place.  It is not of this earth.  It is the place described in Daniel, Ezekial, Isaiah, and John’s revelation.  It is awe-inspiring and terrifying.

But here’s the key: God did not create humans to dwell in heaven proper.  He created us as the pinnacle of his creation to dwell among the rest of his creation – the beautiful earth described in Genesis 1-3.  It is the beautiful earth we still see today.  And when this creation will finally be fully redeemed, wiped free from effects of sin and fallenness, it will so much more incredibly beautiful!

As people created to be part of a creation, being in heaven proper – a place not ultimately intended for us – would have the exact effect it had on Daniel, Ezekial, Isaiah, and John – trembling, cowering, speechless, and faint.

This quick illustration might help – you were created to drink out of a cup, not from a high-pressure firehose.  A human being in heaven proper is like drinking out of a high-pressure firehouse.  Even a short period of time will most likely produce some extreme consequences for the person!

Or think about this other example – an animal, taken out of its normal habitat, will not do too well; it was designed to function best in its original habitat.  Humans, as creations of God, are designed to function best in God’s creation.  And they will ultimately function greatest in God’s redeemed creation!

Considering everything, we must ask how Colton’s vision fits in with a correct theological understanding of God’s plan for people and his creation.  Ultimately, I just cannot dismiss Colton’s story as hallucination.  Theologically speaking, it cannot be dismissed as such either, as John MacArthur is quick to do.

It can be explained best, however, as a vision from God, given to Colton, of life in this new creation.  It is an incredible experience.  The mystery of God, in all of its greatness, made complete in Jesus Christ, and given to us by the Spirit, has given Colton a vision of God’s new creation – the place so many people call heaven.  Scripturally and theologically speaking, Colton’s vision is actually an accurate experience of the new creation.   Christ has a horse; Christ rides on a horse in John’s revelation.  The new creation is also free from the effects of fallenness; Colton describes everyone as young and with perfect vision (that’s great for me and my fiancé, because we’ve had bad vision our entire lives!).

It is certainly not an event where we can just put our foot down and exclaim with all certainty, “Impossible!”   To do so would be to put the power and mystery of God in a box and limit the work of the Spirit and the risen Christ, which will lead no where good.

God has shown his love to Colton through this vision, and in doing so, has inspired so many countless others to also turn their hearts to the reality of God and Jesus Christ.  And ultimately, hearts oriented and turned toward the love, grace, and glory of Jesus Christ is what matters most.

I pray that throughout the remainder of his entire life, Colton continues to inspire others toward the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Witness of the Creeds

Christians all around the world adhere to two significant creeds – the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.   Often, though, these are two very important pieces of Christianity that can be easily forgotten.

A creed is a statement of belief.   Both of these are short summaries of what a Christian believes!   They easily sum up the story of Christ in a concise way, yet they are also theologically and scripturally accurate. I would challenge you to seek to commit them to your heart and mind.  Seek to understand them faithfully with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

These two great pieces of music, ‘We Believe‘ from the Newsboys and ‘Manifesto‘ by The City Harmonic, might also help.   Check them out!

When someone asks you what you believe as a Christian, or asks you what your testimony is, perhaps by joining in with the rest of the witness of Christ’s body throughout the past two millenia, you might give the best answer – simple, concise, accurate, and to the point:

The Apostles Creed

I believe in God almighty
And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord
Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
And the third day rose from the dead
Who ascended into heaven
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
Whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead
And in the Holy Ghost
The holy church
The remission of sins
The resurrection of the flesh
The life everlasting.

There is also another version of this creed:

I believe in God the Father almighty
I also believe in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord,
conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell,
rose again the third day,
ascended into heaven,
sat down at the right hand of the Father,
thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God the Father All-sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended into the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge the living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end:

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father*, who with the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets:

In one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church:

We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins. We look for a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.

*There is division between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox churches regarding this phrase.  One of the main reasons for this division is that the Western church began inserting this phrase into the creed without consulting the Eastern church.

Blood Worth More than Silver or Gold

The blood of Jesus Christ is precious.   It is worth more than all the treasures of silver or gold that the world could offer!   But Christ also calls us to live in a way worthy of his precious blood.  Do you desire this way of life?

The text for this sermon is 1 Peter 1:17-23.   I pray that these words will challenge you to seek after the precious blood of Christ.