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Posts from July 2011

Kirk Cameron Here Sunday & Setting the Record Straight About "Growing Pains"

Tomorrow we begin a new teaching series titled "Worth It" that covers the history of and true meaning of marriage. Timely since we're hosting Kirk Cameron and Warren Barfield tomorrow afternoon for the "Love Worth Fighting For" Marriage Event.

This event was scheduled months ago when I began talking with Mike Williams of Feed Your Faith Ministries. This is the group hosting this event and others like it throughout the nation. What started as one event in the Knoxville, Tennessee area a few years ago has now expanded to many cities and multiple events. 

Mike's Feed Your Faith site says this about the ministry:

Feed Your Faith was started in 2006 by Mike Williams.  His concept was simple:  Bring in the best and brightest Christian speakers, authors and musicians to spiritually feed believers while raising money to physically feed those in need.  Feed Your Faith has worked with nationally known writers and music groups including Kirk Cameron, Warren Barfield, Lee Strobel (former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and author of The Case for Christ), author Mark Mittleberg, DecembeRadio, Decyfer Down and Sanctus Real (Dove Award winning Christian Rock and Alternative band), NEEDTOBREATHE and Sarah Reeves.  To date, Feed Your Faith has raised tens of thousands of dollars for charities throughout the Southeast United States.

It's a great concept and more of a missional strategy for conferences and concerts than we have seen in the past. We're proud to be partnering with Mike and Feed Your Faith for this event.

Lwff_poster.2011-07 Kirk Cameron, of course, is best known for his portrayal of Mike Seaver on the 1980s hit sit-com "Growing Pains." While a teenager, he was an avowed atheist, but God revealed Himself to Kirk and Kirk surrendered his life to Christ. At that moment, everything changed. The platform of being a celebrity and an actor has provided Kirk with numerous opportunities to share the Truth with others.

His appearance in the Sherwood Pictures release Fireproof moved him to a place of speaking not only of knowing Christ personally, but of living out one's faith in everyday life. The theme of Fireproof was marital reconciliation and God's design for marriage (one man, one woman for life.) This is the backdrop for the "Love Worth Fighting For" events.

Musical guest Warren Barfield will be at the event as well. He has numerous songs to his credit, including the song "Love Is Not a Fight" from the Fireproof movie.

Kirk's celebrity recognition opens doors to reach many who otherwise would not be interested in a Christian marriage event held at a church. The local news agencies have run and are running stories about the event. Numerous 40-something ladies are calling the church upset that there are no more early access tickets available. I hope they still come. Hopefully, they won't bring their old copies of Tiger Beat with them. Regardless, Kirk will be ready.

We're glad to be hosting this event, primarily for the emphasis that Kirk and Warren are going to give regarding God's plan and desire for marriage. Simply put - marriage is "worth it" and "worth fighting for."

There are still tickets available for the event. It begins at 3pm at First Baptist Church and will last through 6:30pm. There is no child-care available. Kirk and Warren will have resources for sale as well. 

I hope to see you tomorrow. You can buy tickets at the door or online here.

 

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE ON "GROWING PAINS."

A few months ago, when we announced we were hosting this event, a friend asked me via Facebook how I knew Kirk Cameron. I joked and said that I appeared on Growing Pains as Mike's best friend. I was just kidding and I thought that would be obvious, but apparently, sarcasm doesn't work on Facebook. He ended up going to work and telling others that I was on the show. They did a Google search and couldn't find me on IMDB.COM. No doubt. I'm not an actor and was never on Growing Pains. Unlike some who pad their resumes with jobs they never had, I was just kidding and thought my friend knew this. He does now. So, I apologized to my friend. All is good.

I did watch Growing Pains and I'm sure if I had lived in Southern California in the 1980s, I would have  been chosen to play Boner (Mike Seaver's best friend and the worst character name in the history of television.) Just to set the record straight, I was never in the show. Boner was played by the late Andrew Koenig (son of Walter Koenig - "Mr. Chekov" of Star Trek fame.)

Oh, and even though I look like Murray Wiggle of The Wiggles, I was never on that show either. I was on Romper Room about 36 years ago in Biloxi, Mississippi, but that's another story.


Church Planting is Great. . .But Who Waters the Seed?

I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6 ESV

In the Corinthian church, factions were developing. They were divided over past leadership and most likely leadership style. Some claimed to follow Paul and others Apollos. They could be identified because one group was wearing T-shirts that had "Paul" on the front and the others had ""Y Apollos" shirts.

There is much to be said about the resolution of differences within the church body and Paul addressed this plainly in this passage and elsewhere.

However, the phrase that caught my attention today is the "planting" and "watering" part. 

ChurchPlanting-LogoOnly As a denomination, we are all feeling the push and emphasis toward church planting, and rightly so. There is a great need for church planting in our nation and throughout the world. Church planting is nothing new, but there seems to be a renewed emphasis upon it right now.

Funding is being determined based on how it supports or affects church planting initiatives. Target cities and areas have been designated where planting needs to happen and men are moving to the urban areas and targeted communities to plant churches.

Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, calls church planting "one of the most important movements of our era—and one that follows the pattern set by the apostles." A reading of the New Testament gives credence to the face that the apostles were planters.

I am supportive of the church planting movement and believe every local church in existence should be as well. While we are far from the cutting edge as church planters here at First Baptist Orange Park, it's becoming evident that church planting and support of planters is not optional. In decades past, churches would plant "missions." For years, our church supported this. In our community today there are two established local churches that began decades ago as mission churches from First Baptist.

However, this new renaissance of church planting has a different look and feel than the former "mission church" plant. At least in our circumstances.

It seems the older model was to find an area, send some people and then seek out a man to lead. In our most recent experience, God has risen up the man, given him the passion for planting and then we have come along side to support.

Currently, we support a church plant in Tucson, Arizona (Legacy Church pastored by Chase Delperdang) and one in Dubuque, Iowa (River City Church pastored by Josh Dryer.) I met with Andrew Hopper earlier this week and we hope to be able to partner with him and a new church plant beginning in 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina. We also have been contacted by a church planter in Portland, Oregon, so the opportunities are there as well.

The need for churches in these areas, and others is clear. 

Scripture reminds us of the calling to go.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him uof whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear vwithout someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15 ESV

The primary focus has been on planting churches. However, there's another aspect that seems to be missing here. It's the watering of the planted seeds.

Paul stated he planted the seeds and then Apollos came along and watered through his teaching and that ultimately it was God who brought the increase. 

It must be remembered that God alone brings the increase. No church plant will ever be healthy if it's built on the charisma of the leader, the quality of the music, the "cool" promo pieces, etc. It may grow initially, but health will not be attained.

This watering of the seeds is happening. There are groups in denominational service focused on church health and discipleship. However, we, the church, cannot leave the watering to others. While I greatly appreciate our denominational missionaries and their efforts, there just aren't enough of them to take on this task fully. The church cannot contract this out to others.

So, what does it mean to be a "church waterer" (I know, that's a weird term, but I hope by now you know what I mean.)? We, First Baptist Orange Park, aren't there yet, but we're learning. Here's some building blocks I believe are key:

  • Financial support. Church planters need tangible resources. While our church is not in a position to fully fund the numerous church planters we sponsor, we do give some financial help monthly. Even if it's just enough to fill up the gas tank a couple of times, it helps. At this point, any size church can do something. God desires us to be generous givers. The church must model this for the members. In addition to regular giving, special offerings are great ideas as well.
  • Prayer support. Maybe I should have listed this one first. Sometimes people say "Well, I can't give you any money, but I can pray for you." That's not a cop out. That's needed and vital. However, don't just drop your church planters names on a generic prayer list with 500 names of people who have the flu. Take some set aside times to pray for planters, their families and the community they are seeking to reach for Christ. Write cards or emails of affirmation. Be intentional. Honestly, we as a church, have to do better with this.
  • Go visit. I had the opportunity to go to Tucson this summer with one of our church members and friend to meet Chase Delperdang and the people of Legacy Church. There's nothing like face-to-face meetings. While not everyone can do this, when the opportunity comes, take it. When visiting, do so to serve the planter. Don't expect him to be your host, other than to show you the good restaurant to visit. Talk about life. Pray with him and his family. Serve.
  • Vacation there. This has been developing this year. My friend who traveled to Tucson with me shared that he and his wife had a vacation coming up and he wanted to go back to Tucson. Now, Tucson isn't exactly on the top of the list of hot vacation spots, though it was very hot. My friend shared that he felt this would be a great way to vacation - to go to places like this, then volunteer to serve in the church that weekend and give some encouragement to the members and leaders there an maybe a break in some areas. They made this trip last week and it was great. So, I'm throwing this concept out to all our church members - to possibly take a vacation at a church planting location to get away and enjoy time together, but to also serve the Lord and make that trip a mini-family-mission trip.
  • Resource the church planters. These guys need resources just like any church leaders. I've sent books, DVDs, and other resources to the pastors. The intent is to keep them connected in the conversation regarding the larger picture of what God is doing.
  • Encourage. Pastoring is a lonely calling. I've discovered that personally and in talking with other pastors in our city. If it's lonely for pastors of churches that are established, how much more for those in pioneer areas or church planting scenarios. Find creative ways to encourage these men and their families.

These are just some ideas. You probably have more. 

Church planting is needed.

Church "watering" is needed just as much.

As we send out these men and their families, let's ensure we stay connected and intentional with them for the sake of the Gospel (and the health of the planters, their families and the church plant.)


Did Jesus Go to Hell?

In an attempt to address more questions regarding hell, even though we have finished the teaching series on Sunday, I will be posting a few common questions with answers related to the subject.

There are shelves of reference material in my office as well as great theology and doctrine books out there that address these issues much better than I can on my own. Taking from the wealth of knowledge available, I attempt to clearly address some common questions.

One question regarding hell has to do with Jesus and his trip there following the crucifixion.

While many have never heard this, there are groups of believers that affirm this to be accurate.

HellFire Apparently the concept of this journey by Jesus into hell comes primarily from the Apostles' Creed, which states, "He descended into hell." There are also some Scriptures that allude to this, at least in English. This leads to an entire study of the realm of the dead as described in the Bible and the difference between Sheol, Hades and Hell. There are differences, yet none affirm thte reality of a place called purgatory, or like purgatory (which is an unbiblical and false teaching altogether.) Consequently, it is important to believers to differentiate and understand the Hebrew concept of Sheol and the realm of the dead, which is most often translated in King James English as Hell.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe this realm of the dead is Sheol. It simply means "place of the dead" or "place of departed souls." In the New Testament a Greek word is used to describe the same place and that word is Hades. New Testament verses affirm that this is a teamporary place, where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection and judgment. Revelation 20:11-15 describes the reality of this.

This realm of the dead (Sheol/Hades) is a realm with two divisions. One is the abode of the saved and the the other is the abode of the lost. The abode of the saved is called "paradise" or "Abraham's bosom." There is a great division or chasm, that separates these two abodes (Luke 16:26).  When Christ ascended into heaven in the first of the book of Acts, he took with him all the occupants of paradise (the saved believers) with him (Ephesians 4:8-10).  Those in the other abode of Hades (i.e. the lost) remain there until the final judgment where they will be cast into hell.

This is probably confusing for many. Don't be. Remember, one's salvation and eternity with God in heaven is determined in this life by what an individual does with Jesus. Remember, salvation is available alone through Christ. Remember the truth of John 14:6.

Those left in Hades (or Sheol if you like the Old Testament term) have no hope.

In 1 Peter 3:18-20, it states "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water."

This is another strange passage, but it most certainly doesn't mean that Jesus went to hell to preach the gospel to unbelievers from Old Testament and pre-cross times who had died.

The word translated as "spirits" in this passage is referencing supernatual beings, both good and bad. When the word is used with qualifications (i.e. spirit of man, etc.) it holds a different meaning.

Peter is therefore, referring to supernatural beings. He references that these spirits were disobedient "in the days of Noah" which connects the ancient Old Testament stories to the story of the cross. This also brings the reader back to the strange account where apparent evil angels had relations with human women and were "imprisoned" by God for it.

This story is found here: 

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. Genesis 6:1-4 

That's a weird study and some have real issues with the concept, and maybe other explanations of the creation of the Nephilim than I have shared. It's truly a mystery.

However, going with my first explanation regarding the Genesis account, here are some verses that speak of the "imprisonment" of the evil angels.

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. 2 Peter 2:4

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. Jude 6

Just going here raises other questions, most likely.

It appears then that in the 1 Peter passage, Jesus did not go to hell to preach to the unsaved of old, but to this angelic prison where he proclaimed victory over sin and death in light of the cross. This was victory over these evil angels, also called demons.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities  and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:15

So, now that I've totally confused you, I'll try to answer simply.

Did Jesus go to Hell to preach to the unsaved? NO.

Did Jesus go to Sheol/Hades after the crucifixion?  YES, but not to preach the gospel.

Did Jesus go to the suffering side of Sheol/Hades in order to be further punished for our sins? NO. This is an unbibilical teaching that some are spreading. The death of Jesus on the cross and His suffering in our place was sufficient payment for our sins. His shed blood offered the cleansing of our sins (1 John 1:7-9).

Did Jesus go to Hell at all? NO. His soul/spirit went to the paradise side of Sheol/Hades. He did not go to Hell.

Does Hell exist now? Well, in our view of time, NO, but it is very real and coming. Hell is a future occurance that is painted clearly in the "lake of fire" statements of Revelation.

Why isn't Sheol/Hades the same as Purgatory? Because there is no hope for those left in Hades and Purgatory is a man-made creation and therefore, a lie.

I recommend you read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and check out www.gotquestions.org regarding this. I referenced both greatly in answering this and shared almost verbatim some of the information from both resources here.

 


What About "That Guy?"

 1 4 - What About That Guy_ 

Whenever a discussion begins relating to eternity and heaven and hell, certain questions inevitably come up. In this final message on the reality of Hell, I address one such question.

One of the most asked questions about eternity and heaven and hell sounds something like this: 

“What about that guy on the other side of the planet who has never even heard of Jesus Christ?”

 Often people will respond with a vague reference to the “age of accountability” without realizing that the age of accountability isn’t truly a biblical principle either. (Click here for more information on the "age of accountablity.")

Yet, this concept bothers us. It bothers us that there are people in the world who have never heard of Jesus and therefore, according to what we read in Scripture, will not get to go to heaven when they die.

That guy The question about the person who’s never heard of Jesus leads to more questions, like. . . 

What if a person has been born on the other side of the planet and they have never even heard of Jesus?

What if they were born into a Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or other religious family and just believe what they’ve been told and have never heard of the true Jesus?

What if he simply responds to the light he’s been given?

What if he lived the best he could, and if he had heard the gospel, he probably would have believed it?

Questions keep coming and if you’re in a group, you will discover someone who has a variation of these questions. They always seep in. We wonder. We worry. We want to believe that God is fair, based on how we define fairness.

We must remember the greatness and mystery of God is higher and deeper than anything we can fathom. Yet, He reveals what we need to know about Him and the Truth of how to know Him.

Then, there’s this verse.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  - John 14:6 (ESV)

 We read this and then say “But what about. . .?”

You’ll notice there is no “but, what about” in this verse.

There’s Peter’s sermon.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.  - Acts 4:12 (ESV)

 It’s pretty straightforward. There’s one way to heaven. There’s one way into relationship with the Father. That one way is Jesus Christ. Not Jesus and good works. Not responding to the light. Not doing the best you can. It’s Jesus and Jesus alone.

There is nothing, no hint in Scripture, that tells us that anyone can be saved apart from relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ.

Scripture teaches of this revelation of God throughout nature and creation. It’s called “General Revelation.” The thing is this general revelation is sufficient for condemnation of our sins, but not for salvation.

People can view the creation and beauty of it all and realize there must be a God and have no way of knowing His name or the way of salvation.

The Bible is clear that people do not, on their own, respond to this “light” or general revelation on their own.

Paul addressed this in his letter to the Romans.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. - Romans 1:18-21 (ESV)

All have been given the “light” or general revelation that there is a God. Yet, and this may be hard for you to believe – ALL people reject this.

This passage is clear that all people are condemned not for rejecting the gospel, but for rejecting the general revelation that’s given to all people.

The sin nature drives people away from the recognition of the Savior.

It is clear that there is no way for a person to come to God apart from Jesus Christ.

However, God is a creative God and can use whatever means necessary to reveal not just generally, but specifically.

God has proven Himself to use dreams, visions, specific thoughts and other amazing, miraculous things to reach people for Himself.

There’s the story of the Chinese man who was a brilliant university student and a rising member of the Communist party.  One night as he slept, a shining person appeared in a vision, saying in Chinese, “I am who you are looking for. My name is ‘Gospel,’” with that last word – Gospel in English.

The young man had never even heard of the word “Gospel.” He found a dictionary and looked it up. Through this vision, God revealed his Good News and the story of Jesus Christ. This man is now a Christian pastor with an effective ministry.

Many missionaries will share of the great awakening occurring in the Muslim world today. More Muslims are coming to Christ today than ever in history. In many cases, there are stories of people dreaming of a man named Jesus appearing to them and speaking truth to them.

Sometimes we just want to push these stories off as fables, but then why would people risk being martyred by accepting Christ based on a fictional dream?

God has done this at times. In Scripture, we read of the vision God gave to Cornelius and how that changed his life and resulted in his coming to Christ through the ministry of Peter.

God is perfectly able to bypass what we would call the norm, to provide special revelation to some to accomplish his purposes.

Paul emphasized this. . .

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” - Romans 10:11-13 (ESV)

It must be noted that even though these amazing, miraculous stories happen. . .they are not the norm.

Cornelius story of his dream and vision are remembered because it was so unique.

Even in these amazing exceptions, it must be remembered that there is no avenue apart from Jesus Christ to God. He is the only way, truth and life.

In Scripture, and in our day, people are most often and normally brought into relationship with God through the obedience of a human messenger.

But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? - Romans 10:14 (ESV) 

For all of you who have been worried about the person on the other side of the planet that does not know Christ, it comes home to this – you are His plan for reaching the world.

Verse after verse affirms this.

You and I are the “someones” God has chosen to be His hands and feet.

There are over 1.5 billion people in the world who have never heard the gospel. God makes it clear it is our responsibility to go to them.

Sharing the gospel is not up for a vote. 

Most discussions about God’s ways are subtle attempts to keep us from living out our faith.

You may be saying that you cannot go to the other side of the world to share Christ, but by now you know better, don’t you?

Through your regular tithes and offerings here, you support missionaries all over the world and keep them on the field.

Our service and donations to ministries like the International Learning Center reach people in cultures previously unreached.

We speak of the unreached people groups throughout the world and we seek to see them saved. The reality is there are still unreached people groups here in our own community.

How will they know unless they hear?

They won’t.

There are many follow-up questions that could come, but at the end of the day, we have been chosen by God to share the Gospel and make disciples.

Let God be God. He is the judge of the world. His ways are right and just and holy.

As one pastor put it, “We have to simply believe what Scripture says and not go beyond it.”


Is Your Church Like Facebook or Google Plus?

Churches have been organizing small groups (i.e. Sunday School classes, LifeGroups, home groups, etc.) for years. There have been volumes of material published to help churches understand the very best way to connect with newcomers and to minister with seasoned members.

Flake's Formula (a systematic strategy for growing churches through the Sunday School designed by Arthur Flake) has helped Southern Baptist churches plan and design their educational ministries for almost 100 years. I'm not knocking it. In fact, it worked and still does in certain areas because the principles are solid. There have been evangelists (does anyone remember Leon Kilbreth) who touted the values of Sunday School and the importance of organizing to reach people that have spoken to hundreds of churches over the years.

While the days of the Sunday School revival are over mostly, the reality that small group connectedness is valuable remains. Jesus modeled this. He was the ultimate small group leader.

Churches still understand this, but struggle with reaching people who may not connect through traditional Sunday morning Bible study. I'm not advocating getting rid of Sunday School. In fact, we here at First Baptist still have a pretty strong small group time on Sunday morning. 

However, it's becoming clearer through the years that people are not connecting in the small group as easily as in the past. Yet, there are few really new models (and maybe that's because there's "nothing new under the sun") for connecting with people in small groups.

We advocate and promote the Sunday morning small group time. We endorse and encourage mid-week groups that meet on the church campus. We also value and support home groups and meetings taking place in resaurants, workplaces and schools. In fact, we boldly state that any and all of these small group times "count." 

That's huge. From a church and denomination that traditionally only counted the meetings that took place on Sunday mornings before worship (i.e. Sunday School), to say that any small group meeting that happens for the purpose of connecting with people and studying the Word of God has been a welcome transition.

Now, we find ourselves enjoying more freedom in our small group ministry. Yet, there's still a problem. We're really not connecting.

This is the age of social media. It's here to stay whether you like it or not. In fact, social media has been around long before computers. It just was fleshed out in the real relationships between people.

Now we have a venue to connect, at least superficially, online.

When the internet began, it was a basically designed to share documents between offices and computers. Over time, it evolved into a system that could connect people via social media (YouTube, blogs, chat, etc.) Now, it's taken another leap forward. We now see a web built around people, where their profiles and content are moving with them as they visit different websites.

This occurs via the "Sign In with Facebook" app that appears on many sites and "check-ins" with such apps as Foursquare. Twitter, which originally confused consumers and made many say "This thing isn't very useful. What can you say in 140 characters? Why would you?" is now huge. Revolutions have literally been followed via Tweets. Politicians have lost their jobs through it. Twitter, in some form or fashion, is here to stay.

OK, so what does all this have to do with small group ministry and the church?

I believe (and I fully admit, it's  just my belief and this thought process here is embrionic) that many of our churches and small groups are seeking to connect with an outdated model. The outdated model I'm referring to is not "Flake's Formula" or anything LifeWay has published. I'm speaking of "Facebook."

There aren't many people left on the planet, especially in our nation, that have not at least heard of Facebook. The amount of users is staggering and continues to grow. Even with the fear and obvious reality that Facebook has issues protecting people's privacy, the numbers grow.

There are some things about Facebook that make us believe we are connecting with others when we're not. For instance, the word "Friend." What does that really mean? It used to mean someone with whom you had a positive relationship. It was a real person who cared for you and vice versa. Many of us have an abundance of acquaintences, but in truth would only claim a few as friends. Then, there were the "best friends" we had. Those were special people. Being a friend took time. It was not effortless. It was, in fact, biblical. 

Google-Plus-Facebook Then, social media changed the meaning of the term. Currently, I have over 2,200 "friends" on Facebook. I started looking through the list earlier today and noticed that there were many whom I've never met in person. Some aren't even real people (I'm a "friend" with a local news channel.) Others are acquaintences. Some I haven't seen since high school (Facebook eliminates the need for reunions.) Many are brothers and sisters in Christ, but only a small group would really be considered my true, close friends. Now, don't get me wrong. These people are friendly, but are they really my friends, in the truest sense of the word?

There's the reality that of my 2,200 "friends" most do not even know each other.

There are all the pages I "Like." What good is that? Businesses create pages on Facebook so people can become "fans" and "like" their products, but beyond that click, what's the point? In most cases, I've just created digital "junk mail" for my Facebook feed.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like Facebook. I use it. In fact, we have pages on Facebook for our church and different ministries and use those to promote events and special ministries. 

I wonder. . .and I'm rambling on my keyboard with these thoughts right now. . .have we shifted our small groups and connectedness in church? These relationships which are supposed to be about glorifying God together in community have become surface-level, hope you get the newsfeed announcement, Facebook-style friend gathering (where if you're not in attendance, that's OK, because we'll update you later with a Facebook message regarding class prayer requests and the schedule for who is to bring breakfast the next week.)

Something's missing.

Some may read this and think I'm just slamming technology and social media. I remind you that you're reading this on a blog. I use Facebook. I use Twitter. I like them. I read my news on the computer, etc. Just saying - this is not a rant against computers or technology.

This is just an observation that we may be clumping all our "friends" together, hoping to connect, but in reality missing many.

Now we have a new social media venue available. Google Plus was revealed not too long ago. It has been touted as the next Facebook, or as some have boldy stated, the program to dethrone Facebook. That all remains to be seen.

However, there are some interesting things about Google Plus that seem to at least acknowledge the reality of relationships. One reality is that sociability is complex. As Paul Adams has so clearly described in his slide show called The Real Life Social Network v2, people do not have one group of friends.

Online, as in Facebook, there is one group of friends. I'll use my group for example. I have one group of 2,200 friends.  They don't all know each other.

People have many independent groups of friends. For example, people have family, school friends, work friends, friends from city A, friends from city B, friends with common interests or hobbies, etc.

These can be categorized many ways: life stage, shared experience, hobby, etc.

According to research, regardless where an individual lives or what part of the world he/she is located, the friending groups are remarkably similar.

When people throughout the world were asked to list and group their friends, some interesting things were discovered.

On average, most people have between 4 and 6 groups.

Each group tends to have between 2 and 10 people.

Each group is independent. However, even in the days before online social networking, people have tried to mix their independent groups at times. In many cases, this was to no avail. The only common denominator was the one individual.

Like it or not, we are tribal and in this case, we find ourselves in different tribes. . .but rarely can the tribes mix.

Yet, in churches, we create small group communities based on some arbitrary thing like age or zip code or life stage (and in many cases these work) but discover that we often miss the desired goal of reaching everyone. That's why many of our groups have dozens of names on the roll sheet that never attend. 

This may be why some folks disengage in small groups? Try as we might, there are some who just cannot or will not connect. 

For example, if you post an update on Facebook, to whom is that intended? I post a lot (too much I've been told by some) and often they are spiritual things related to a series I'm preaching or a book I'm reading. I guess at some very thin level it can be called "internet evangelism" but in reality, it's an intended update that often gets comments or "Likes" from an expected audience. 

Dallas-wins-getty-250x200 If I post something about the Dallas Mavericks (BTW - in case you didn't know, they beat the Heat and are the World Champions!!!! ) the comments and "Likes" come from a group I attended high school with and maybe my son because I have indoctrinated him in the ways of Mavs fandom.

The reality is that most of our posts and updates have intended audiences and are usually a small subset of friends and acquaintences.

Even within a subset of friends, there are even more subsets.

Here's where I'm going with all of this.

We often use the bullhorn to attempt to reach and connect with people. We have a large list of names. We scream through the bullhorn that we love God and people and invite others in. Then, we wait and a group responds. . .but often they don't connect. Why? Because we're attempting to connect, even in a small group setting, with large group ways.

Maybe we need to go back and read "Flake's Formula?"

Google Plus has come along and recognized the subset of "friends" and relationships and is attempting to take advantage of this. Perhaps it will work. Who knows? Regardless, it reminds us that the mission we have been called to - of reaching this world with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, is better done in relationships with others (and I mean real "friends") rather than in the large group of 2,200 plus.

It's been modeled before.

Jesus spoke to thousands. 

He connected with 12.

He was "best friends" (can I say that?) with three.

Not sure how all this is to be fleshed out, but it has me thinking. . .and that's dangerous.

What do you think?


Is Your Church Wearing Leisure Suits? (@tonymorganlive)

Do you remember the leisure suit? If you still have one in your closet, sell that thing. They're going for up to $39.99 on eBay. If you still wear a leisure suit. . .stop. They're out of style and though no one has yet told you, apparently, I must speak the truth. They are ugly.

Church consultant Tony Morgan has written a great little leadership book titled "The Leisure Suit Trap: 8 Reasons Your Church is Stuck." It's available for free download here.

I love his Introduction that gives the "History of the Leisure Suit." Morgan writes. . .

At one point the leisure suit was trendy, highly functional, everyone was wearing it, and it was easy to care for. It served a purpose: people needed to wear clothing that was functional and fashionable at the same time. What better solution than a polyester suit?

Eventually, the leisure suit went the way of the pet rock and the cassette player. They disappeared because better ideas came along. That’s the way history works.

Some churches are still wearing their leisure suits. Figuratively, of course. Many churches are stuck. Though they may have had a season where their kingdom impact was expanding, things have slowed down or started to decline. They know something has to change, but many times they’re unwilling to change. They’d rather keep wearing the leisure suit.

The leisure suit disappeared as fashion trends changed. Anyone caught wearing one was immediately branded as out of touch with reality or irrelevant. Sure, the leisure suit still serves a purpose, but almost no one wears them. Unfortunately, many churches still do! They sit comfortably watching the disco ball spin overhead wondering why the congregation is growing older and smaller. What they are doing is no longer connecting with today’s culture. They are not seeing the fruit.

By the way, whatever you perceive to be "traditional" churches aren’t the only churches that are stuck. Your church may have started one hundred years ago or ten years ago or even just ten months ago—but stuck is stillstuck.

We can grow so accustomed to what we are doing that we are no longer aware that the rest of the world wandered off into the future. While we were counting nickels and noses, the world changed.

It’s easy to strut around proclaiming, "I like my leisure suit." But does it really matter what I like? Am I here to exclaim the awesomeness of my personal preferences, or am I here to focus on those people I am called to impact? It’s one or the other.

Sometimes we don’t realize we aren’t connected. We need fresh eyes to see that we are stuck in one or more of several ways.

What’s the point? Until we look at our methods, our message really doesn’t matter. When we keep trying to use the same systems—hoping and praying for different results—that’s when we know we’ve fallen for the "leisure suit trap."

We laugh at the comparison of the church to the leisure suit, until we realize it's a "zinger." You know, one of those "gotcha" statements that makes you say, "Oh, we may be still wearing our leisure suits." I'm not going to break down the 8 signs of a "stuck" church here. I will say that we are experiencing or teetering very close to experiencing a few of these signs even now.

We must continually seek God's leadership and guidance and never rest on the past, or even the present, when it comes to the good things we do in ministry. This read was a good reminder to me that First Baptist Church of Orange Park is glorifying God, but we have not "arrived." May we continually be challenged to be the church God desires us to be.

BTW - in fifteen years, we'll be talking about khaki pants and polo shirts just like we're talking about leisure suits today.


How Can A Loving God Send Someone to Hell?

01 3 - How Can a Loving God Send Som

The topic of hell evokes very strong emotions and opinions among people. 

The biblical metaphors are great with imagery of fire, torment, darkness, stench, etc. 

The question comes: “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?”

 

Doubt1 Before we go any further, we need to understand something very clearly here.  This series on hell that I am preaching on Sunday mornings,  has the potential of becoming nothing more than a diatribe on a religious teaching, or doctrine that will lead us into nothing more than a mental exercise and create fodder for future religious debates at Starbucks.

If that is where we land, we have wasted our time here.

This series is not about grabbing hold of an understanding about hell, but rather about grasping and embracing the greatness of God.

This God we serve and worship freely here today is sovereign over all. His greatness surpasses anything our brains can comprehend.

We may find ourselves in analyst mode, seeking to understand why God does what He does. In some cases we have good answers, only because He reveals them to us.

In other cases, we remain perplexed. There are things about God that seem, on the surface, contradictory or confusing. This is due to our perspective.

There are mysteries about God.

There are things that won’t make sense to you or me. Not that we’re right, but that we don’t see fully.

God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours. God’s ways are so much deeper than our comprehension.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 ESV

God, the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Savior has every right to do – get this – whatever He desires. 

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:3

 

This must be understood. God is God and does what he pleases. He is the ultimate.

When it’s all said and done, our desires, our understandings, our wants aren’t the point – He is.

While this may rub some of you wrong because you have never been allowed to think this way before, it remains true – Our God is Self-centric.

He exalts Himself.

As we grow deeper in our relationship with the Father and our understanding that all that we are and do is to bring him glory, we must understand that he is the object of exaltation. Who else should he exalt? Should God exist for our sake? Should God exist to make us happy?

If that is your God, he’s no god at all.

Therefore, our study of hell has one ultimate purpose – to glorify God.

So, this loving God whose ways are higher than ours created this eternal place of damnation called hell.  Then, those who reject him end up spending eternity there. 

How can a loving God do this?

This question has baffled men for centuries. This question, among others, drove the early church leader Origen into a theological quagmire and ultimately led the church to discount many of his teachings.

He ended up, even within the church, believing that all people would eventually end up in heaven. His argument was that the love of God demanded such.

Yet – this teaching is heresy. It’s totally wrong and has the great potential of eliminating any need for evangelism, discipleship or worship. To the nth degree, the question becomes “What’s the point?”

This question begins with the topics of God and love. We must start there – God is love. This is deeper than just saying God loves or God is loving. God is love and therefore, He defines love.

Our definitions of love always fall short. We equate love with happiness and peace and warm fuzzy feelings.

If this were love, then hell is totally incompatible with love.

This is what leads people to say that a loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.

God does not have to save everyone to show love. Love is the character of God. Though God does things that to our minds seem unloving by our standards, they are not by His. His standards are the only ones that matter.

Not only is God love, but there are other attributes that characterize Him. Things like holy and just.

A holy and just God will not minimize sin or ignore it. Otherwise, He would be disingenuous to His own character.

In the midst of grasping God’s character as one of love and his attributes of holiness and justice, we must also understand His love in light of His freedom.  He has the freedom to do whatever He desires.

God is compelled by no one.

This leads to some very difficult truths. God’s freedom means, therefore, that God can withhold love. This concept bothers some because it almost seems that God would withhold a major part of his nature and therefore not be love. This is not the case. The mystery of how true love, justice, holiness and mercy all exist and yet, do not contradict is challenging at best. So, how does it work? I don’t know, but it does.

Paul struggled with this as well. As he wrote to the Christians in Rome, he was experiencing great sorrow and anguish over the fact that he couldn’t do anything to cause others to come to Christ.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Romans 9:3 ESV

Paul continues in this chapter to describe how some come to Christ and others do not.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but  “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.  For this is what the promise said:  “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.”   And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written,  “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:6-13 ESV

Wow! “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” God hated Esau?

This verse makes for some pretty feisty small group discussions and normally ends in a divided group.

The word for hate here is the same concept used by Christ when he stated that no one can serve two masters – for he will love one and hate the other. It’s the same concept as when Christ said that we must hate our family members in order to follow him.

In this sense hatred is not absolute but relative to a higher choice. Of course, I have good friends who differ on my interpretation of this verse (and they're still Christians, too. Go figure.) and that's what leads to "fun" small group meetings.  So, that being said, a full understanding may not be achieved this side of heaven.

It’s a common mistake to think that God can’t be loving unless He saves everyone. This is where the universalists land. The reality is this assumption violates the freedom and sovereignty of God and the true nature of love.

You may still be confused as to how all this is fleshed out. Recognizing that there are people who suffer for eternity in hell, separated from God is heartbreaking. It was for Paul as he stated in Romans 9. It is for us. I’m not trying to minimize that. It’s depressing and sad.  Yet, you must come to realize that God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving One does what is just, right, and loving in a much deeper and more profound way that you can ever imagine.

We who reject God in this life will not rejoice with him after this life. The Bible affirms this. The book of Revelation states that all sinners flee from the vision of Jesus because they do not desire him. Hell is real and only for those who persistently reject the real God in favor of false gods.

As C.S. Lewis put it, either people will say to God “Thy will be done,” or God will say to people “Thy will be done.”

Heaven and hell are the result of God’s nature – his great love, but also his justice.

We serve a just God.

We serve a loving God.

God loves His children and eternally, he protects his children by separating them from sin and evil.

The question today is “Are you one of his children?”


Every Crisis Is Local. . .What's the Church's Response?

Once again a terrible crisis has hit our community. An eleven year old boy was accidentally shot and passed away yesterday. We are in the process of ministering to the family through this tragedy. Funeral plans are being made and it looks like the services will be here at First Baptist.

We are connected to this story in a number of ways:

  • Some in the family are members here at First Baptist.
  • The young man attended one of the schools we adopted a few years ago.
  • His home is in our community and we believe God has placed us in this community to show His love to all.

The story has been on the local news channels and in the newspaper all week, not to mention the trends on Twitter and Facebook. This story tugs at the heartstrings of many people and elicits varied responses.

Our role is to show God's love to the family during this time and do our best to help them through the pain, all the while bringing glory to God.

I noticed something this morning when looking at the top news stories online. Whether it was a report of the missing boy in New York, the drowning of a child, murder of an elderly woman, or continued stories related to high profile cases, each of these stories is more than a "story."

We live in the world of 140 character Tweets and sound bytes and tragic stories shared on local news stations, only to be immediately followed with "Well, tell us what the weather is going to be like tomorrow?" We shift gears quickly. Now, this is not a rant about the way local news is presented. It is what it is and they only have 30 minutes to present stories and keep the audience from changing the channel. I get that.

It's just at some level, I need to slow these stories down. 

In this age of information overload, the severity of the stories presented, whether local, national or global, gets watered down. . .until the story is based in your own community.

On this point, we must realize that every crisis, every tradegy is local. At some level there is an individual or family or community grieving when tragedy strikes. While the rest of the world can just segway to the weather or sports, those closest to the story cannot.

What is the role of the church in this?

Crying We, and many other churches across the nation, have begun to understand the concept of being missional (and no, it's not just a ministry buzzword.) Churches have sought to reach out in their community to show the love of Christ in very real and tangible ways. The shift has moved from doing things for the community to promote the church, to doing things for those in the community to express the great love and glory of God.

It's easier to be missional when all you're doing is providing school supplies, grilling hamburgers, cleaning up a local park, allowing the Scouts to meet in your building, or giving away water bottles at a city festival. When crisis hits, however, it's a little different.

In the Winter 2011 issue of Leadership Journal, the cover title stated "Crisis! Moments You Dare Not Waste."

There are a number of great articles in this issue, relating to how the church and believers can show God's love in times of tragedy. The foci of the articles varies. Some are about conflict within a church body. Others are about how a church responds when crisis and tragedy hits the church (the murder of the pastor at First Baptist Maryville, Illinois, for example.) There is a one article by John Ortberg titled "Don't Waste a Crisis."

Some of the highlights of this article that I deem appropriate for us as we help our community heal and point them toward Christ are as follows:

  • Do no harm. This is great guidance. No one wants pain, regardless if they're a believer or not. The place to begin in crisis is simple. This is not the time to start preaching, teaching or explaining. This is the time to just be with the hurting. Paul said it best "mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15). It's amazing what the Bible doesn't say. It doesn't say to tell people to get over it because others have it worse. Answers are not needed to minister in crisis. Mourn with those who mourn. Easy answers may not be readily available (yes, I know God is sovereign and at the deepest level, He is the answer) but presence is what's needed at the moment of crisis. 
  • Ministry takes time. In our fast-paced, sound-byte "now to the weather" society, we often want to rush our ministry to those in crisis. This is wrong and dangerous and if this is the type of ministry the church offers, it's better to offer none. Mourning and grief cannot be hurried. Therefore, ministry to those who mourn cannot be hurried. Here's a truth that Ortberg makes clear "If there's not enough time to deal with small crises, then eventually the pace of your life will create a large one. Then you will have time." Now, that's more of instruction for pastors and leaders on personal health and crisis ministry, but it also is relevant for the church as a whole. In truth, every crisis is major to the one experiencing it.
  • Crisis is a temporary opportunity for a permanent gift. A crisis can be an opportunity for growth, but only if we respond correctly. When a crisis occurs, the spiritual antennae of people go up. People are praying. Even people who never pray begin to pray. They hold and attend vigils. It's interesting, because in most cases the prayers just aren't right. They're worded wrong. They're focused wrong. People pray for those who have already deceased, which is not biblical. When 9/11 happened, churches were full. People were united and spiritual. Then, as in every case, the crisis fades (at least for those not directly affected.) When crisis fades and so does the spiritual urgency. The church's role during the crisis is to, though love, help people discover how to make changes that will outlast the crisis.
  • Crises can purify your church. It's amazing how a crisis brings everything into perspective. Those little ministry frustrations that seem to grow like mold within an inwardly focused church often melt away when something more serious comes up to focus upon. You know, when the churches in Joplin, Missouri were destroyed by the tornadoes, I doubt the church arguments about whether to sell the organ or not were even considered any longer. 
  • Crises can produce deeper roots and deepen love. Paul says it best - "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:2-5 ESV
  • In a crisis, people are hungry for Hope. God glorifies himself through the redemption of souls and the rescue of lives. He is our Hope. Therefore, crisis is the prime time for the cure of souls and the receiving of life. The church must remain focused on this.

The reaction of many when facing crisis is to retreat, to try to be alone. It's strange, because it's during these times that many want to help, show support and love and seemingly just show up. It's weird and sometimes threatening. One day the front yard is empty and the next there are hundreds gathered, holding candles with television cameras in the background. I'd want to be isolated at that moment as well, I believe. 

Ortberg gives some wise counsel here. . .

"In normal times, isolation hurts. In crisis, isolation kills. In normal times, community blesses. In crisis, community saves."

He's not using the word "saves" here as in eternal salvation, though that is the ultimate goal. It's to remind us that the healing process takes time and God uses His people to show His love so that He can bring true healing and hopefully life through Jesus Christ to a crisis situation.

The church (not just First Baptist, but all Bible-believing New Testament churches) must realize that being missional is not an option for obedience and that when we step out in that mode, crises will occur (they have been occuring anyway, we just often have not responded) and the church must respond. All we do is intended to show God's love and grace and to point people to the only Hope. . . Jesus Christ. This brings God glory. 

To read John Ortberg's full article in Leadership Journal, click here.


Why Seeker Sensitivity Misses the Mark

For decades churches have taken business principles and "baptized" them to make them church principles. Now, don't get me wrong. Many, if not most, of these principles of leadership and organization are great and even appropriate within the church. However, there are times when it seems that churches and leaders are so focused on the latest principle or leadership idea that the reality of what it means to be the church sometimes gets lost.

A number of years ago the push was for every church to develop a vision or mission statement. Again, if your church has one of these statements, that's not a bad thing. 

I guess sometimes it has to do with personality style, too. There are some who are more eclectic and feel constrained by a mission statement. Others need a statement. They have a hard time functioning in ministry without one.

Over the past few years, churches have been focusing on changing the scorecard (i.e. that which we count and measure to determine if we're doing OK as a church.) This has become one of the most challenging things for churches today. After generations of counting the three "B"s to determine how well we're doing (baptisms, budget and buildings) it is difficult to not fall back into that mode. 

So, new scorecards are needed and a revisit to this concept of mission and vision statements.

In truth the mission of the church has never changed. Some struggle with the broadness of statements based on the Great Commission and Great Commandment. That's too bad because the mission of the church hasn't changed since these Scripture passages were written. I have a feeling we're not allowed to change them either.

At the core of who we are as the church, there is only one reason we exist. There's one mission. There's one vision and that is "to glorify God." 

That must be enough. Spyglass

Years ago churches were encouraged to be seeker sensitive. The initial motives were pure - to reach the unreached. Churches changed much to become culturally relevant in their communities. Worship styles changed. Dress codes were relaxed. Some went so far as to remove any reference to sin or any other "offensive" doctrines.

Some things that changed were needed and truly non issues when it comes to the true prophetic vision to bring glory to God. Other things that changed in order to be "seeker sensitive" were and still are heretical.

I was reading some from David Platt's book Radical Together tonight and this section truly resonated with me (and resulted in a few too many Tweets at a late hour.)

But let me remind you of a startling reality that the Bible makes clear: "There is . . . no one who seeks God." So if the church is sensitive  to seekers, and if no one is seeking God, then that means the church is sensitive to no one.

Wow! How true!

The Scripture reminds us that people do not seek Truth. They do not seek Him. Yet, Jesus tells us that the Father is pursuing worshippers for His glory. Therefore, it is God who is seeking, not man. 

A church that builds its "vision" upon reaching those who are supposedly seeking God (of whom there are none) rather than upon focusing and bringing glory to God will miss the point royally. Oh, attendance may increase initially and some churches may sustain it for a while, but the reality is that a church focused upon anything other than glory of God is missing the point and is, therefore "doing" church for the wrong reasons (Yeah, I know that comment will get some negative reactions, but . . . oh well.)

The Father is seeking. He has been seeking sinners for generations. He knows how to do this and does it well. While I'm not against great sound systems, air conditioned buildings, coffee in the foyer or a really good band by any stretch of the imagination, it must be remembered that God is not relying on us to draw people to Him. 

Though the scorecard needs to change, there will still be one. I think it's just simpler than we've made it in the past. Perhaps, what matters is just so difficult to count and that's why the old scorecard grew in popularity.

What is that new scorecard? What is that vision?

Simple.


We are to make disciples, love people and bring glory to God (and by making disciples and loving people we do bring glory to God.)

I like how Platt ends the section on vision and seeker sensitivity.

So let's be radically seeker sensitive in our churches. But let's make sure we are being sensitive to the right Seeker.


Sheep, Goats, Heaven, Hell & Judgment

01 2 - Building Our Own Hell


We tend to use familiar items to describe things we're not so sure about.

Sheep goats The practice of comparing like this has been done for centuries. Even Jesus would use this process when describing things such as the Kingdom of Heaven to His followers.

The problem is that sometimes we go to extremes and get the story all wrong. This is the case when describing hell. Some have problems even believing it exists while others re-write the Story to fit cultural norms.

Man has been doing this for years – describing and imagining hell based on what is familiar.

Origen (church scholar from the second century whose teachings came under scrutiny based on a number of issues) – hell was a place where the souls of the wicked were purified so they could find their way back to God.

Dante – hell was a place under the earth’s surface with nine levels of suffering, where sinners were bitten by snakes, tormented by beasts, showered with icy rain, trapped in rivers of blood or flaming tombs, and so on.

C.S. Lewis – hell was a dark, gloomy city, or a place where “being fades away into nonentity.”

AC/DC – Apparently, hell is a place to party, as the song states “Going down, party time. My friends are gonna be there too.” And there’s a highway that leads there.

So, hell has taken many forms in our minds. We read of the flames and darkness in Scripture and from those metaphors, build our own concepts of hell. . . or in some cases choose to relegate all biblical descriptions as nothing more than religious imagery and not authentic.

I believe in order to get a clear understanding of what Jesus is referring to when speaking of hell, we must first do our best (and it will be difficult if not impossible) to see what first century Jews believed about hell.  Why is this important? Because the context of Jesus’ words about this place of separation are built upon these understandings or at least in deconstructing them.

The Old Testament was the foundation for this understanding, but the Old Testament doesn’t say much about hell.

The doctrine of hell is progressively unveiled throughout the Old and New Testaments, just as other doctrines are. That’s why the reading of the entire Word is essential. It’s vital to knowing who you are in Christ and understanding the truths that matter. 

The doctrines of heaven, hell, salvation and the like did not change over time throughout the writings of the Old and New Testaments. Rather, the truths were unveiled over time, never changing, but slowly revealed in fullness.

For the first century Jew:

  1. Hell is a place of punishment for those who don’t follow God.
  2. Hell is described in imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament.
  3. Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment.

The typical view of the after-life in the first century among Jews was that after the wicked die, they go to a place called Hades (or sometimes called Sheol.) This place is not the same as hell. Hades is not usually depicted as a place of punishment, though the wicked may suffer there. It’s a place where the wicked wait until judgment day. After they are judged, the wicked are thrown into hell as punishment for their sins.

These teachings permeated the first century world. The Pharisees affirmed these ideas about hell.

When Jesus entered into his public ministry at age 30, he spoke boldly of the truths of God. His first declaration about his identity met with controversy as people rejected his teaching and ran him out of town.

At other times, he spoke boldly against some common teachings of the day on such things as forgiveness, marriage, law, etc. In other words, he was not afraid to speak the truth even when it was opposite of the accepted teaching and the norms of the day.

Interesting that when it came to teaching about hell, Jesus affirmed what was believed. It is a place of punishment for those who reject God. It is a place of pain – fire and darkness, etc. It is an eternal place.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus speaks of a day of judgment when people will be separated as sheep are separated from goats. 

In the first century, sheep and goats were often kept together during the day. They would feed together in the fields. Then, when night came and the shepherds would often bring their animals in from the weather. The sheep could tolerate the cool air, but the goats could not. The goats would be herded together for warmth.

The imagery of the right hand and the left speaks of the day’s understanding of honor and power.

There will be many who will not find themselves spending eternity in heaven with Christ.

Can you imagine standing before Jesus with all your understanding of what it means to be a good person, with your good deeds stacked up against others (or at least what you feel are your good deeds) only to have Jesus say “Step to the left, please.”

Some struggle with this passage because they immediately go to a thought of “works salvation”. This is not accurate. Though at first glance, it seems in contrast with the teaching of grace, as I said earlier, we must look at the Bible as a whole. The child of God is brought into His family by grace alone through faith, not of works. 

Some will live their lives believing that they are "sheep" only to discover they are "goats." Don't be one sent to the "left."

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23