Friday, 2/15/19 – Tough Question

“Paradise, Heaven, Abraham’s Bosom – I’m confused!!!”

I had to chuckle when I first read this question. It showed me the enquirer was digging deep in God’s Word and mining the sort of questions that have challenged the saints through centuries.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

The question as it originally came to me was this, “When Jesus is on the cross and he says to the thief, ‘’I tell you the truth, today you will be in Paradise with me.’ what exactly is He saying? Because Jesus didn’t go to heaven that day, He spent time in hell…right. And what is paradise, is it heaven or like Abraham’s Bosom?”

Right away I knew I had my work cut out for me. But hey, the best steak is worth the chew! – Right? 

As I researched I was surprised to learn that even the early church father’s could not agree on this. In fact, the topic is far more complex that the question above articulates.

sky space dark galaxy

The term “heaven” appears in the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The original Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament is in the plural “shamayim.” In scripture it is used of the place where birds fly (Matt. 13:32), the place where the stars are located (Isa. 13:10), the realm of angels (Matt.18:10) and where God dwells (Deut.4:39). Paul curiously writes of having been caught up to “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

bloom blooming country countryside

The term “Paradise” appears in Luke 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4, Rev. 2:7. The same Greek word (paradeisos) is used for “garden” in the Greek Old Testament, e.g. “the Garden (or Paradise) of Eden.” In Judaism “the Garden of God” also refers to the place where righteous souls go and await the resurrection (See Luke 16:22 “the bosom of Abraham” and Rev. 6:9 souls of the martyrs under the altar.)

To me, all this adds tantalizing tidbits to the question at hand, but I hesitate to get too dogmatic about details.

As to how Jesus could be three days in hell and “today” be with the repentant thief in Paradise, we can add a few more questions…

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If our understanding of Paradise is correct, it seems that a similar construct can be discerned when speaking Hell. Two Greek words are used in speaking of these nether realms: “Hell” and “Hades.” Hell (aka “Ghenna,” “the lake of fire,” etc) is “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) and will be where the unrighteous go after the final judgement (Rev. 19:20-21; 20:10-15). If Jesus had visited Hell after his crucifixion there would have been no one there! “Hades” (Hadas) makes more sense. This appears to correspond as the opposite to Paradise, it being a place where the unrighteous dead await the judgement.

To the thief on the cross Jesus promised “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Yet when he arose from the tomb three days later He told Mary, “I am not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). More to chew!

Into this mix we must also remember that Christ in his fullness has all His Divine attributes. He is Eternal, and He is Omnipresent. This means He is capable of being all places at all times. But at what point did He again resume that fulness?

Perhaps rather than trying to discern the more difficult aspects of Christ’s statement , I.e. “Today” and “Paradise,” we should focus on His words “you will be with Me.” For me, at least, that is sufficient.

Press on…

Note: This enquirer also had a second question. I’ll tackle it next week! 

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 2/8/19 – Tough Question

“What does the Bible mean by ‘We walk by faith?’”

The exact phrase is found in the King James rendition of 2 Cor. 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
The NIV reads, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” The Amplified version expands it, “for we walk by faith, not by sight [living our lives in a manner consistent with our confident belief in God’s promises]

grayscale photo of man

In the passage above Paul is writing about the frailty of these earthly bodies and how they are unsuited for eternity. He reminds his readers of the transformation that will come, and that by comparison all present troubles are indeed “light and momentary” (4:17). The believer rests in this hope and thereby “walks by faith, not by sight.

This idea of the Christian walking, or living day-to-day, by faith is found throughout the New Testament.

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Paul knows that in addition to their frailty, these bodies are also corrupt; their natural (fallen) inclinations are always to self and sin. The believer must refuse these, turning instead to the wishes and enablement of the Holy Spirit within. This is that “working out” of one’s salvation Paul spoke of to the Philippians (Phil. 2:12).

To the Galatians Paul wrote,

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal. 5:16-18).

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” Paul writes (v.24). Just as he had said of himself, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (2:20). That “old man” is indeed crucified, but not yet expired. He yells and curses from that cross, even while writhing and growing ever weaker. Paul was well acquainted with this struggle too (See Romans chapter 7).

photo of pathway surrounded by fir trees

Our job is to think twice in all the little decisions of life… to “keep in step with the Spirit” (v.25)… to choose the Spirit over the flesh… each righteous decision one more “step” toward holiness. One day, that “old man” will pester no longer. We will not need to think “twice” for only the righteous thought will remain.

This journey is all by faith–our steadfast reliance upon the Holy Spirit. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Press on…
Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 2/1/19 – Tough Question

“How Can a Loving God send people to a place as horrible as Hell?”

fire orange emergency burning

There are no cell phones in hell.

Say that to anyone under twenty these days and they’ll likely think, “Wow! That really would be hell!” But it gets worse… much worse!

There is no Facebook in hell… no Netflix, no Spotify, no Google, Alexis, Twitter or FaceTime. But is gets even worse still… There is no electricity in hell. There is no light, no day, no stars, no moon. All is darkness in hell. Darkness and fire, worms and regret, weeping and grinding of teeth.

fire wallpaper

Jesus pulled no punches when speaking of hell. He said of hell that it was a place of great separation. He said that between heaven and hell “a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.“ (Luke 16:26). He said it was a place of agony, a “blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:42). In parable He described the torment of a rich man who begged “…send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:26). He cited Isaiah 66:24 saying hell was a place “where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:48)

We prefer to imagine there is no hell. In fact, even in writing this blog I’ve had to wrestle the whole way through with my tablet’s spell check. Even it tries to deny hell, choosing instead to type he’ll. But hell is indeed very real place.

On his deathbed renowned atheist Voltaire cried out “I am abandoned by God and man. I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months of life. Then I shall go to hell and you will go with me, oh, Christ, oh, Jesus Christ!” it is a horrible thing to die without Christ, as Jude said, to be among those “for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 13).

So how could a loving God send anyone there?

black and white cemetery christ church

Jesus did not come into this world to send people to hell. Jesus came into this world “to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). He came to die in our place to save us so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16b). We must understand this: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17).

Hell was not intended for people; it was intended for the devil and his demons. Jesus spoke of it as “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Nonetheless hell is populated by many men and women who have turned their backs to Christ… and many more will yet join them.

firefighter holding water hose

You see when one repeatedly refuses the lifeboat there is no place for that soul to go than over the approaching falls. You cannot blame the boatman. If you will not climb into the arms of the fireman there is no place for you than to burn in the flames! You cannot blame the rescuer.

Indeed, there are no cell phones in hell. Nor are there any cell phones in heaven. We won’t need them or desire them there. You do not need one here either in order to reach out and contact Christ. He is right beside you now. Reach out to Him. Make Him your Saviour and your Lord.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 1/25/19 – Tough Question

How can I be “Born Again?”

ambulance architecture building business

I received a call the other day from a man in crisis. He had just learned that the chest congestion he thought he had was in fact something far more serious. His medical team’s best prognosis still left him eyeball to Eyeball with His Maker in just a few short months.

For the past three days his mind bad been racing. Everything had to be re-evaluated, not in terms of life goals as he was used to thinking, but in terms of eternity! He had not slept more that one or two medicated hours nightly. He had lost his appetite for all but peace of mind, something not on the hospital menu card.

“I need to get well… start going to church,” he said. “I need to straighten out my $@#% life…,” he blushed.. “and speech,” he added. “Gotta quit the smokes too! – Gee, that’s hard.”

abandoned ancient antique arch

“I seen them movies,” he continued. “Someone goes to some big church meeting… something happens. I went to a church once… they were saying and doing all sorts of things… I couldn’t understand it. I went to this other church too…. They sang old hymns…. The minister guy stood up and talked. I don’t think he mentioned the Bible…. Jesus. Some things come close, but there’s always this part that seems missing.”

Finally, he paused…

“All those are good things to do,” I began, “but you don’t need to wait… you can find that peace now. Set aside all those things you mentioned. There are really only four things you need to understand.” I listed them on my fingers:

1. God loves you. He want to transform you into something wonderful… for eternity.

2. There’s a problem. God is Loving, but He is also Holy. He can’t have anything sinful in His Presence. If we are going to get to Him we are going to have to be holy! But we are not! This is something God cannot overlook, because God is also Just. He doesn’t bend the rules!

I told him about a judge whose son had come before him for sentencing for a crime he had committed. The fine was $500 — which the son did not have. The judge could not let his son go free; if he did, he would not be a just judge. But he loved this boy. What was the judge to do? The judge took off his judge robe stepped down and gave his son the money for the fine. The boy paid the fine and was free. Justice and love had both been satisfied by the grace extended by the father-judge.

“This is what Jesus did,” I explained. “Believing that is the 3rd thing that is necessary.

black and white cemetery christ church

Number 4 is the most important thing. Points 1, 2, and 3 have to move from your head to your heart. You surrender your life to Jesus, turn from sin with His help, and let His Spirit transform you. Read your Bible, pray at all sorts of times, share your life with Jesus and learn to hear and obey His Voice.

The gospel is such a simple thing: 1. God loves you, 2. Your sin has separated you from Him, 3. God has made a way through Christ to restore you, 4. You agree, and take Jesus as both Saviour (He paid for your sin) and Lord (you commit to obey Him – you stop calling the shots and instead follow His step-by-step plans and commands).

The jailer… fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He… asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:29-31a)

The next time I visited this man He said he felt calmer… “There’s a different ‘feel’” he said. He has begun a new road, a new life….. He has been “born again!”

You can be too!

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer

Friday, 1/18/19 – Tough Question

“Who are ‘the remnant of Joseph’ mentioned by Amos?”

I received this interesting question a few days ago: Amos 5:14-15 mentions “the remnant of Joseph.” Who are this “remnant of Joseph” and when does this prophecy take place? Is this the final judgement?

20190114_080143Chronologically Amos would the first of the prophets, although it appears his call to this service came as quite a surprise to him. “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees,” he confessed to Amaziah. “But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” In the 8th century during the reign of Jeroboam II Amos moved from Tekoa in Judah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel where he prophesied its destruction and the Babylonian Captivity (7:11).

But Amos also foresaw the day when Israel would be restored (9:11-12), a passage cited by James during the Council in Jerusalem as the believers considered God’s grace in extending salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 15:15-18). This grace is still being outworked today. In our world of inequality, greed and power Amos still calls us to repent. On at least two occasions Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. cited Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” in an April 16, 1963 letter from a jail in Birmingham, and in his August 28, 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech from Washington.

To answer this question more directly it appears Amos has in mind the “remnant” (what remained) “of Joseph” (i.e. of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim — Joseph’s two sons who grew to become these two tribes, and now largely consisted of Ephraim.) Others see this as more widely representing all who had faith like that of Joseph.

Many prophecies can be seen to have interpretation for the time in which they were uttered as well as application for a future time. In some cases the prophet is aware of this dual or split focus, while at other times he may not. Many other prophecies have no further fulfillment but stand as testimonies that what God promised He brought to pass.

For my part I must only know that I must be ready at any time for eternity through full reliance on the sacrifice of Christ to bring me safely home forever.

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 1/11/19 – Tough Question

“What does it mean to ‘tempt’ God?

I have never been tempted to eat a cockroach.

20190108_081730Although I have heard these insects can be eaten toasted, fried, sautéed, or boiled, I have also read that ingesting them raw can result in sickness and possibly death. So no, I cannot be tempted to eat a cockroach.

In a similar way, God cannot be tempted to do evil, as James says, “…God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)

We are tempted because sinful passions still exist within us. As long as we are in this flesh we must work with God to subdue these, to, as Paul wrote, “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24). The old man is “crucified with Christ,” (Gal. 2:20), but he’s not yet expired; he thrashes about, tugging at the nails, longing to wreck more havoc.

But God Himself has no such evils, no point at which temptation could allure Him. Barnes explains this more fully:

(1) There is no evil passion to be gratified, as there is in men;
(2) There is no want of power, so that an allurement could be presented to seek what he has not;
(3) There is no want of wealth, for he has infinite resources, and all that there is or can be is his Psalm 50:10-11;
(4) There is no want of happiness, that he should seek happiness in sources which are not now in his possession. Nothing, therefore, could be presented to the divine mind as an inducement to do evil.

God cannot be tempted to do evil just as I cannot be tempted to eat a cockroach!

man holding bible

In His incarnation, divinity and humanity united, allowing Christ to share in our experience. Matthew and Luke both record Christ’s very real external temptation by the devil (Matt. 4:7, Luke 4:12) testing God against all three challenges: flesh (turning stone to bread), world (demonstration of dramatic spectacle), and devil (handing over the devil’s own power in exchange for one instance of satanic worship). Jesus defeats all three by skillfúl use of the Sword of the Spirit, the written Word of God.

The author of The book of Hebrews reminds us “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Heb. 4:15). In His humanity Jesus shared in our experience of temptation for purpose of identification with us, but In His Divinity, as James stated “God cannot be tempted by evil.”

The term ‘tempt’ can also mean “to put God to the test.” While God cannot be enticed to do evil, we certainly can irritate Him by our lack of faith and sinful waywardness.

At one point during the wilderness wanderings the Israelites complained to Moses saying, “‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?’… And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Exod. 17:1,2, 7) See also Deut. 6:16, Mal. 3:15,

God has chosen to respond to us with grace. We do not merit this grace and we dare not take it lightly or arrogantly impose upon it. If we do, we “tempt” God. We become like a sassy child pushing a parent’s patience.

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 1/4/19 – Tough Question

“How can I grow spiritually in 2019? — A shocking wake-up call for procrastinators!”

black calendar close up composition
Empty boxes

Perhaps entering this wide-open, full of days New Year you might think ‘This year I am going to devote more time to the Lord! I will read my Bible, pray, witness, memorize, meditate!’

Great goals! Nothing wrong with the goals. But don’t let all those empty square boxes on your calendar dupe you into thinking you have plenty of time. In fact, for most, even a 70 year lifespan yields far less fruitful hours for spiritual discipline than most imagine.

Someone once figured it out like this…

20181231_171903Taking that 70 year lifespan as a base, and 365 days in a year for ease of calculation (I’ll leave you to factor in the leap years!), this amounts to a 25,550 day lifespan. The average individual gets about 7.9 hours of sleep nightly… across these 25,500 ‘sleeps’ this amounts to 8,395 24-hour days spent asleep, reducing our waking count to 17,105 24-hour days.

Of course each of these ‘sleeps’ requires a certain amount of ‘getting-ready-for-bed’ and ‘waking-up-for-the-day’ time. Tasks such as bathing, dressing, brushing, and whatever all that stuff is that ladies in particular do! Essential time for her, down time for him as he taps his foot in the hall. Then there’s the dressing up or down through the day for a gala event, or the yard work. Altogether over the 70 year lifespan this eats up another 730 24-hour days! Eating, over the sink, at home (including cooking and wash-up), cued in a drive-thru, or at the Olive Garden, accounts for a further 2,190 24-hour days!

To pay for all this you must have a job, perhaps not every day but most likely for five days of every seven. Over your career work time uses up another 5,840 24-hour days. On average we spend about the same amount of time commuting to work, doing errands, and other travel as we do eating, 2,190 24-hour days. Unless you’re sick: 1,460 24-hour days!

All of this we find exhausting and by day’s end we may opt to crash by the TV or internet, or take a Saturday to “go fishin’” – the average for these comes to 2,920 and 1,643 24-hour days respectively.

What are we left with for spiritual pursuits over the course of our allotted ‘threescore and ten’ (Psalm 90:10): 183 24-hour days in a lifetime, or just 2.6 days in any given year — that’s just a tad over 62 hours!

Oh yeah, and then there’s the years you’ve already lived!

“Teach us to number our days,” wrote David, “that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 9:12)

“…be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) cautioned Jesus.

“Be very careful, then, how you live,” Paul urged, “—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-16).

“Be alert and of sober mind.” Peter demanded, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 58).

Set your good goals, but get on them right away — today!

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.