Packs of Fifties

Packs of Fifties

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

If you would win a contest where the winner was handed Federal Reserve packs of $50 bills every ten seconds until the winner said, “That’s enough,” how many packs of bills would you take? I remind you that those packs of fifties are each $5,000.
Would you take two packs? Ten? One hundred? Would you let them hand the packs to you for a minute? Five minutes? Five hours? Five weeks? When would it be enough?
If you’re like most people, you’d let yourself drown in packs of fifties. You’d go until you couldn’t go any more. And then you’d wish you had a few more.
The wise man said, “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.” Solomon should know. As the wealthiest King of the nation of Israel in old times gone, he knew what it was to amass such wealth as to cause one to hurt. He knew the trials and pain it often brought. He also knew that, as he said a little later on in his message to mankind, “Exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So, what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?”
We come into the world with nothing; we leave exactly the same way.
I think we all could write a book about someone we know who spends his or her life chasing after wealth. Some of us may know of someone who won a lottery of some kind and instantly became wealthy. And most of us can also tell of the misery and problems that can naturally occur when that happens. Life as one knows it stops. It’s now a “whole ‘nuther ball game.”
Then there’s the greed for more, never being satisfied with what one has…always looking for ways to parlay what one has into even more. Just as the winner of the contest has a difficult time saying, “That’s enough,” so we have a difficult time being satisfied with where we are in life with what we’ve been given. It seems there’s always a greener yard in the next development, a newer vehicle in the driveway up the street, and a higher-paying job across town.
Paul said that he had learned to be content with whatever his situation was. Paul had learned the secret of contented living. Paul knew that because he had Jesus Christ, he had enough. He knew that Christ would supply for his every need in this life, and also in the life to come.
Imagine what the church and the New Testament would be like had Paul spent his time amassing more money, power and prestige instead of serving the God of heaven and earth. Imagine what might have been had Paul gone the way of most of us in our greed and material desire. Imagine what our lot in life would be had Paul not preached to the Gentiles.
So, where are you in life? Are you collecting packs of fifties, wanting just a few more…a few more…a few more? Or have you too learned the secret of contentment…contentment in the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ?

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Only Then

Only Then

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

It’s been raining here in the Wichita area. Of course, that’s not a new thing. Nor is it something that folks in the rest of Kansas haven’t experienced recently. It seems that the rain has been falling pretty much everywhere, and there’s been a whale of a lot of it…enough for whales to swim in at times!
I have to wonder if God looks down on his creation and sees us griping about how dry it is, and complaining that the drought we’re in is going to be right up there with the droughts of the ’30s and the ’50s when the dust blew and nothing grew. He sees all of this, and decides He’s going to give us what we’ve been longing for…and in way too much abundance. I think it may be much like the Israelites of the Old Testament who complained about not having meat to eat in the wilderness, and God gave them so much meat that they gorged themselves on it and got deathly ill.
I wonder if we wouldn’t complain so much about the things that we have no control over, whether things might be a little less severe and extreme. If we would give God the glory for whatever comes, recognizing Him as the Maker, Creator, and Sustainer, maybe things would run a little more smoothly for us. If we would acknowledge the sovereignty of the Almighty…that He can do with His creation whatever He desires to do, just perhaps we wouldn’t worry so much about too much of this or too little of that, even when it comes to the weather.
I don’t know that things would really change in terms of the amount of rainfall, heat, cold, snow, or wind if we began to give praise instead of complaint. Things might continue to to to extremes from time to time, and things might seem to be out of kilter once in a while. But it would be our ATTITUDE that would change. Our demeanor wold change. Our speech would change. And our thinking would change. As Paul says in one familiar place, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”
No, the weather itself might not change, but if we change how we view what He does to and with His creation; if our complaining and griping would cease, imagine how life would be so much more full and rich. We would be concerned about those things we ought to be concerned about, and all the rest would not be able to clutter our minds with useless worry.
Our relationship with our Creator is one we should cherish and respect, acknowledging His sovereignty and power. Only then will we be the kind of created beings He expects us to be.

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Comfortable Clothing

Comfortable Clothing

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

I don’t write nearly as often as I used to. It’s not that I don’t have something to say. And it’s not that I don’t have the Internet or the computer. It’s that my days seem to be much more full than they used to be some months ago, and my thoughts and thought patterns seem to be much more “spread out” than they used to be. Where it was at one time I could mull over some topic for a considerable period of time, even days, now it seems that there is always something to interrupt that process. There is always some other thing that needs attention. Something else is vying for the “thought time” I have available.
Who knew that semi-retirement would be like this? Who knew that I’d be right back in the soup, as it were? Who knew that life would remain a challenge in this particular way? Certainly, I did not. Having spent fifty years in the work force, I was looking forward to a little down time. One would think that wouldn’t be too much to ask. However, that’s not the way it has come about.
“Church work,” although usually not physically strenuous, nevertheless can be wearing, taxing, and long. The hours can be odd, the things dealt with can seem like mountains to be climbed, and the reward for a job well-doe can be so fleeting. Of course, it’s that way with many vocations today. Many of my friends and family, including of course, church family, are in the same kind of work. We get up, face the day, put on our best faces, and seize the day at hand. We do our jobs, produce results, and then do it all over again the next day.
But let me tell you something. If you’re a Christian; if you’re a child of God, all of your days should be work days. Even your days of rest should be work days in that you are being refreshed and made ready for what is to come. Christians don’t have a day off when they don’t have to be Christians anymore. We always are called to be the beacon that points people to Jesus Christ. We always have a message. We always are setting ourselves as examples. We always should be ready to give an answer for the Hope that lies within us.
So, as I sit in my church office on a Saturday morning, here because the work demands that I be here, I am reminded that even though Saturday is often a day off for me, I’m really not off work. I’ve not left my Christianity on the shelf somewhere. I can’t relax and take off my faith. Nor would I want to do so. My faith is who I am. I am comfortable wearing the Name of Jesus. That is my clothing, and my prayer and hope is that it always clothes me.
No one likes to wear clothing or shoes that don’t fit. It’s a continual struggle to get through the day with that kind of discomfort. Being comfortable in the clothing you are wearing is vital to having a good day. In the same way, be comfortable in your faith. If you are comfortable in the cloak of Christianity, your day will be more productive, and you will enjoy the time you’ve been given here on earth. On the other hand, if your faith doesn’t fit right…if you and your faith don’t “get along” well…if you’d be much more comfortable not having to wear the Name of Jesus Christ through the day, but do so because of “appearances,” your days will be days of weariness, discomfort, and fatigue. Because your spiritual clothing doesn’t fit, you’ll always struggle with it; always fuss with it; always wish you didn’t have to endure it.
I don’t know what you need to do in order to make your spiritual clothing comfortable for you. Only you and God know that. I do know that I get through my days much easier knowing that my clothing fits…that I’m comfortable being a child of God. Not physical comfort like an easy chair or a full stomach…but a spiritual comfort and peace that enables me to get up again the next day, face the day, and be God’s partner in redeeming the creation.

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Beams of Heavenly Light

Beams of Heavenly Light

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

”Even in the midst of the darkest rainstorm, beams of heavenly light shine through.” You’ve seen quotes similar to that many times, I suspect. These kinds of things seem to come from either the eternal optimist or the eternal pessimist. One experiences the realization; the other experiences a wishful hope of realization. Then there are those of us sort of in the middle who say, “Well, that’s nice sentiment.”
For all of us, there are days and weeks…sometimes even months and years…when the rain just keeps on coming. It’s difficult to see the beams of heavenly light. It’s difficult to see anything except the rain and the clouds. And for some of us, mental illnesses keep us from ever seeing the beams.
There has been much on my plate these last few weeks, now stretching into months. I thought when I retired some years ago that I would no longer have to feel the stress and strain of management, decision-making, and daily grind. I think God had other plans for me, though, because that’s NOT what has happened.
And I can feel my age in these days. Some years ago, I may have been tired, but I would have been ready to go each day. Now, I have to sort of sit on the side of my bed and tell myself that I don’t want to lay back down…that I need to get up and get on with the day. Some years ago, I would have been looking for something to do if I happened to run out of things. Now, I look forward to those times I carve out for myself when I don’t have anything to do.
Are you in the same boat as I am? Are you looking for those beams of heavenly light? Are you not finding much in the way of those beams? How is life treating you right now? Do you feel put upon, bogged down, and weary?
No, I’m not going to prescribe Geritol (you younger ones, Google it). I’m not going to give you a lecture about how our lives are too busy, and we need to let go of some things and take time for what’s important. No, we already know those things.
What I will do is commiserate with you, and tell you that your God…the Creator of you…loves you and desires that you seek relationship with Him above all else. And I’m going to tell you that whatever it is that occupies your day; however busy you are; whatever you do, do it with the idea of fostering relationship with your Creator. I suspect that if you (we) do that, those beams of heavenly light will start to appear to us, brightening our day and letting us know that we are indeed loved by God.

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Can Christians Suffer from Depression?

Can a Christian Struggle with Depression?

It is funny how certain events, which were very mundane and unmemorable at the time you experienced them, stand out in your mind as significant memories. For example, I remember a time when I was a child that my mother and I returned from a late night run to Wendy’s. We had bought Frostys and were preparing to go inside and enjoy them together. For whatever reason, as my mom sought to unlock the front door, she dropped hers and it spattered all over the sidewalk. I remember feeling very sorry for her that she was not going to get to enjoy her ice-cream. How old was I when that happened? I don’t know…maybe five. Why does that stand out to me as a significant memory of my youth? I have no idea. I just remember that it does. I doubt she remembers it. It is funny how such things can stick with you.

That leads me to another mundane event that I remember. It was in the late spring or early summer of 2012. I watching the Charley Rose show late one night. They were doing a series of episodes on the science of the brain and on this particular episode they were talking about depression. Several people sat around his table that night and discussed their experiences with depression. At the time that I listened to them it struck me as so strange. Their experiences were foreign to me and I could not really understand how what they were saying could be true. One gentlemen told of how after he had went on medication, after two weeks, he was suddenly back to his normal experience. He said to himself, “Oh, there you are again…where have you been for the last several years?”

I was fascinated, but I didn’t understand.

Little did I know, that only a short time later, I would understand his experience all too well.

Fast forward a few weeks to Saturday night, June 30th. For a few weeks I had noticed a slight change in my mood. I was more emotional than usual. A friend from out of town had been scheduled to have dinner with me and when he canceled, I cried. What? Cried? Yep. Cried. I had no idea why. I wrote it off as a strange aberration–possibly that I had not had enough sleep, or maybe there had just been too much stress lately and I thought I really needed a night out with a friend. I just knew the experience was strange. And happening more often.

All of that was a prelude to the night of the 30th. That night I had prepared for my sermon that I needed to preach the next morning. Everything was as it often was on a Saturday night. My family was already in bed and I was the last one to go to sleep. As I made my way to the bedroom something rushed over me–it actually felt like a physical event–and something changed in my brain chemistry from which I have never been the same. Suddenly I was filled with anxiety…suddenly I was afraid of things that had never occurred to me. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with emotion. What had happened to me? I did not know.

All I know is that for days, and then weeks, and then months, it did not change back. Every moment had become a moment of excruciating pain. Nothing seemed right. I could not think like I used to. I could not reason like I used to. I could not change what was happening in my mind. I knew what was happening was not right somehow…not the way things were supposed to be…and yet I couldn’t reason my way through it back to a place of stability.

What I slowly came to realize is that I was experiencing my first moments of clinical depression.

To try to explain to you what hell the next 6 months of my life was like would be impossible. For those who have suffered with depression and anxiety, all I can say is, “you know!” For those who haven’t, all I can say is, “you couldn’t possibly know.” There is nothing like it. Even grief, which shares many similarities with depression, is not quite like it. It is a thing unto itself, and it is a monster.

Thankfully I had a wife who was very sympathetic. For about two weeks after our first son was born she had experienced post-partum depression. Lucky for her, she was able to pull out of it rather quickly, but she experienced it for a prolonged enough time that she knew my symptoms and knew what I was suffering through. I don’t think I would have ever made it through to the other side had it not been for her.

For six months I dealt with this monster mostly alone. I had an older friend who I was seeking spiritual guidance from, and he helped me along the way. But for reasons I can’t remember now, I was hesitant to go to the doctor. I had always heard that depression medication was highly addictive and it was not something I wanted to get into. I was afraid of it because I didn’t understand it. But after the encouragement of another close friend who had been through depression, I began to research the options myself.  I discovered that the medication was not like I thought it was. While it was true that certain medications for anxiety can become highly addictive, it was not true of depression medication in general.

Finally, after six months, I broke down and went. I had no choice. Either I had to get help somehow, or things were going to start coming undone in my life. Somehow I had managed to successfully work during that time and hide it from the people from whom I was preaching. I was too afraid of what they would say if they knew. And if they fired me, how would I then support my family? That would only make the depression that much worse! I felt like I was trapped with no where left to go.

So I went to the doctor. He prescribed me some medication. And two weeks later I had the experience of the man who I had seen on television earlier that spring. “Ah…there you are Curtis! Where have you been for the last six months?”

I wish I could tell you from that moment forward I was better without any regression. The truth is, it took a year of experimenting with medications and several years of counseling to come back to full health. Somehow I had fallen into a hole that I never knew existed before. The suffering was awful. But the pain was instructing.

Believe it or not, as I look back on it now, I am grateful for the whole experience. Not that I would ever want to fall back to that same place again. The suffering was of a kind I had not known was possible, and I would be lying to you if I didn’t remain somewhat afraid of it even to this day. No one goes through such an experience without carrying some battle scars on the flip side of it. It reminds of me of Jacob who wrestled with God, and then walked with a limp forever after. That is true of me. I am walking upright again, but forever with a limp.

But the reason I remain grateful for the experience is because it has made me a better minister. I know am far less judgmental of people’s suffering than I used to be. When someone walks into my office and is suffering from pain, I know now that I cannot fix it for them. I didn’t know how to fix my own pain. But I also know now that I am not afraid to walk beside them as they wrestle with their own pain. I know the trenches. They are familiar terrain to me. And I feel well enough now to walk with others who are still wounded but trying to reach safety.

So why write about it? Why preach about it as I have promised to do this Sunday morning. Because depression has often been kept as a dirty little secret in the church. I was afraid to tell my congregation in Slaton, Texas about the pain I was suffering. But when I came back to sufficient health, I told them of the struggle I had been through and the strangest thing happened. Person after person came up to me that morning and shared their own experience. I had never known. So many people had suffered in silence because no one had ever had the platform to step up and say anything about it publicly. It was then that I decided that I would not remain silent about my experience of depression. That if out of my own pain I could lend a helping hand to others who had been there, or currently were there, that I would do so. It needs to be said from the pulpit from time to time that even Christians can suffer from depression. Yes, we are called to be a joyful people, and I think a healthy mental experience is often a joyful experience. But we do not live in heaven yet. And we are not as strong as we like to think. Things affect us. Stresses draw us down. Events catch us unaware. And alas, some of us by temperament are just prone to a brooding personality. I wish it wasn’t so, but for some reason, in God’s wisdom, he has made it so.

So this Sunday, I am going to share something that is deeply personal to me. I am going to share my experience of depression with you. I do so in order to reach out to those of you who suffer silently. I want you to know that the church at Riverwalk is a safe place to make your sufferings known, and that it is a place where you can look to for support. You will not be judged here. You will be loved, precisely where you are. If you have never suffered depression, then it will be informative for you to understand from someone who has what it is like. It will help you be sympathetic to your family and friends who suffer. But most of all, I don’t want you to think God looks down on you because of your suffering. The disease does that…it tempts you to believe that everyone is against you…even God. It’s not true, and occasionally a preacher needs to stand from his pulpit and say so.

I hope you plan on being here this Sunday. I think you will not regret having come.

God bless you!

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Lessons From Lilies

Lessons From Lilies

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

Several years ago, we sold the old home place. It was the place where I and my family were raised…the only place my parents lived in their married life. The day before the closing, I went to the place and dug up some old-fashioned roses and some lilies. The roses had been there since before Dad had bought the place in 1939. My mother planted the lilies.
The roses aren’t doing great, but are hanging in there in the terrible soil at our new place. I put the lily bulbs in front in a flower bed area that had a little better soil. There were about six of them. They’ve come up each year and have bloomed.
However, in the past couple of years, they seemed to not be doing so well. I decided to dig them up and re-plant them in the same area, dividing them, hoping that would help. So, late last summer, I did just that. I dug up the five or six bulbs and divided them, as they had new bulbs growing on their sides. I replanted over a dozen of the bulbs and the newly-separated bulbs. They immediately grew some leaves in preparation for wintering over.
This spring, I am amazed at how well they are doing. They are vibrant, gushing with foliage, and ready to bloom. The change had to be the fact that I freed the original bulbs from being bound in and limited by those that were growing on their sides. There were no other changes that I made.
There’s a point to this story, as you might have guessed. Those bulbs became more what they were meant to be after they were freed from the bondage of the “sucker” bulbs that were attached to them. And those sucker bulbs themselves became wonderful plants in their own right, growing and blooming.
The analogy doesn’t fully hold…however, the Hebrews writer says in chapter 12, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We can be more like what God intends for us to be if we will but throw off the sin and burdens that entangle us and keep us from blooming to God’s glory.
Christ Jesus has set us free. John says that we can know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free. He also says that “If the Son (Christ) sets you free, then you are free indeed.”
Paul says in Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Freedom in Christ is permeating the entirety of the Story of the redemption of mankind. We were meant to be free…free in Christ Jesus…not having any yoke or burden of slavery to anything or anyone. It isn’t Christ that binds us…we bind ourselves. We bind upon ourselves improper interpretation of Scripture, the opinions of people, traditions of old, and our own weakness and frailty. We seem to enjoy being miserable. We seem to relish our slavery.
Take a look…a good look at yourself. Have you let Christ free you? Do you live a life of freedom, joy, and peace? You can, and you can do it now.

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Act Six, Part Two: The Vocation Forever Realized

Act Six, Part Two: The Vocation Forever Realized

Our study this week is going to bring us full circle in the Biblical story. Over the course of five different Acts, we have watched the story of the Bible unfold for us. That story has been filled with drama, beauty, adventure, and even danger–grave danger–but as the story comes full circle, we find that it arrives at the most beautiful place we could imagine. Indeed, the apostle Paul says that we can’t even imagine the grandeur of how this story will reach its conclusion. Even though we don’t know the specifics, what we can know is some generalities about our future to come. What is crucial is that we see that God’s original purposes for his creation will not ultimately be thwarted. God’s original intention was that human beings would rule over his creation, taking on his image and his wisdom in order to do so. They were to bring the glory of God to the ends of the earth. As we draw our study of the Biblical story to a close, that is exactly what we see happening. The final picture of the Bible is the remaking of the heavens and the earth. Everything corrupt and evil will be eradicated from it. Heaven and earth will be married at last, and God will dwell with his people, and they will worship him as their God.

This Biblical picture of the renewal of the heavens and earth goes all the way back into the Old Testament period. As the prophetic book of Isaiah draws to a close, it gives a vision of a “new heavens and a new earth,” where all the evil that was present in the previous heavens and earth has now been done away with. This tradition carries over into the New Testament in the letter of 2nd Peter, where Peter promises that God will lay bare all the elements of the present heaven and earth, and they will be refreshed and renewed as the home of righteousness.

Finally, the Biblical picture of the new heavens and earth comes to its fullest expression in the last two chapters of the Bible–Revelation 21 and 22. There the picture is not of all God’s people flying off somewhere to live in heaven, but of heaven coming down and making its presence known on the earth.

Why is this image important? Because without it the Biblical story does not arrive at its appropriate ending. The story must end as it began. God’s desire was to rule over all of creation through his image bearing creatures. That plan was thwarted for some time because of evil. But God will not ultimately be thwarted. He will find a way for his will to at last be fulfilled. When God unites heaven and earth together at last, we human beings will finally take our place over creation as always intended. But we will not do it alone. We will reign there with Christ, who has already taken his place at the right hand of God. The completion of God’s purposes will be for us to take our place there beside him as his fellow brothers and sisters. That will only happen when Christ has fully defeated all of his enemies. Those enemies include Satan, evil, and last of all, death.

What this means from a practical point of view is that for those who have put their confidence in Christ, the best is yet to come for us. Some of us have been blessed to live a fulfilling life here on earth. Others of us have not. But whatever the case may have been for you in this life, the true fulfillment of your potential is yet to come, and no one will be disappointed.

What will it mean to reign with Christ? Will it mean that we will rule over other human beings? Not necessarily. Certainly, there may be some role in the future for a structure of authority. But this authority will be nothing like it is on earth now, where everything is tainted by evil. In the new heavens and the new earth, we will all be given a task that perfectly fits our temperament, personality, and skill set. For some that may mean ruling over cities and nations. For others, it may mean watching over animal life. For others still, it may have some purpose in working the land. We don’t know the specifics of any of this; we are only speculating. All we know is that God will lead us to our full potential, and there will be no end to the great joy we will experience in God’s great future.

The resurrected life will not be like one eternally long church service, though I imagine there will be times of amazing worship. The resurrected life will not be one of passivity, sitting on a cloud strumming our harp. Though, no doubt, we will experience rest like never before. But there is more to it than worship and rest. As Dallas Willard liked to say, “We should think of our destiny as being absorbed in a tremendously creative team effort, with unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity, with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment.” This is the future that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined.

So the good news is, a grand future awaits those who have committed themselves to Christ. Whatever disappointments we have experienced in this life, they will all be made up for and corrected in the next. Justice will finally flow like rivers and the goodness of God will pervade every part of creation. There will be no more evil, suffering, pain or death. Never again will we visit a hospital or attend a funeral. Never again will we worry about our health or our future. All will be provided for in the world without end.

Have you contemplated this future in Jesus Christ? Have you let this vision of the new heavens and earth pervade your thinking? This is what our future will consist of if you put your trust in Christ. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Only Christ has the words of eternal life. Where else would we go?

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Act Six, Part One: The Vocation Forever Lost

Act Six, Part One: The Vocation Forever Lost

We are quickly coming near the end of our study of the Bible as if it were a Six-Act play. We have followed the story of God and the human vocation throughout all of the Old Testament, and now much of the New Testament. We have seen the noble vocation given to human beings. We have watched how they squandered that vocation through sin. We carefully followed the story of Israel who was called to be a solution to the human problem; we also observed how they failed. Then, just as the tension comes to its highest point in the story of the Bible, we saw God himself enter into human history in the person of Jesus Christ and live the life before us of the true human being. This allowed him to defeat the powers of evil that have kept us separated from God, as well as take the rightful place of all human beings, which is at the right hand of the Father ruling over all creation. Jesus is now sharing that rule with the church, who has begun to resume their calling through redemption, but is now awaiting the final deliverance of evil so that they can participate in it fully. In our next article, we will draw all of this together as we see how the Bible ends with God saving his redeemed people, along with creation itself, thus allowing human beings to resume the vocation always intended for them.

However, before we can put that last piece of the puzzle in place, there is one subject that we must unfortunately take up. While it is true that God will resume the human vocation for those redeemed in Christ, it is also true that for many the human vocation will be forever lost. This is usually represented in the Biblical concept of Hell.

Hell is a topic that has come under a great deal of scrutiny over the last number of years. While the doctrine of hell is taught in the Bible, and has a long historical tradition of teaching in the church behind it, it remains true that the doctrine is terribly unpopular and is often denied by modern people. It is not hard to understand why the doctrine is so unpopular. Who wants to think of an eternity of conscious torment of one sort or another? On the other hand, if there is not some reckoning at the end, some way that God judges and condemns evil, thus setting the world right, there remains an incompleteness to the story of the Bible that can’t be accounted for in any other way.

Traditionally there are three different ways of understanding the teaching of hell in the Bible. The “traditional view” says that at the end of history as we know it, God will resurrect the wicked along with the righteous. But while the righteous will be escorted into everlasting life, the wicked will be banished from God’s presence in everlasting torment. No doubt, much of the reason this doctrine is so unpopular is because of many of the images that have been associated with it. These images are often rooted in metaphors in the Bible, but were expounded upon in the Middle Ages. These include images of people being thrown into a lake of fire where they are literally burned over and over again for all of eternity. In many people’s mind this makes God worse than the most disgusting of dictators.

A second way of understanding the doctrine of hell is called “Universalism.” This is the idea that after some kind of punishment has been dealt out after the resurrection, some opportunity will remain for people to repent and turn from their wickedness, and therefore God will eventually save all people. This view has especially grown popular in Western culture, which is often very sentimental in its beliefs. While there are aspects of this belief that seem appealing, ultimately, if God does not account for wrongs committed and judge the world, it leaves very little motivation for us to not take matters of vengeance into our own hands. However, the option remains persuasive to some.

A third way of understanding the Bible’s teaching on hell is called “Annihilationism.” This concept says that after punishment is rendered by God for a designated period of time, which would be different for each person, the final result will be the ultimate destruction of the person. This destruction would include both body and soul. Essentially, the wicked would cease to exist. This is often thought to be a good medium for those who find the Eternal Conscious Torment too horrendous to believe, and yet cannot accept the sentimentality of the Universalists.

It is not my purpose in this series to strongly advocate for one theory or another. As you can probably tell, I find the Universalist position the least likely of the three. I think the Biblical teaching clearly rules it out. I also don’t find it likely that God will forever torture people in literal fire. I think the fire is a Biblical metaphor for something else. The torment may be no less real, but it may be something more like having to live with the person we are forever becoming. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how we can make our life a living hell. Many people have made their lives just that very thing even in the present life. I think either the Eternal Conscious Torment option or the Annihilationist option both to be legitimate ways of understanding the Biblical material. One has to remain somewhat flexible when talking about future things of which we know very little.

The main emphasis I would like to make in this study continues to follow the story line of God and the human vocation. Whatever the final outcome of the wicked may be, whether in some kind of conscious state, or ceasing to exist, the main point is to see that for some, the vocation God has given to human beings will be forever lost. Having given people the opportunity to repent and turn to God now, if they do not do so, they will forever lose the right (and perhaps the ability) to work in cooperation to bring God’s wise and loving order into all of the earth…indeed, the new heavens and the new earth.

This is a sad prospect, but it remains one we must be very aware of. Life is not a zero sum game. There are serious repercussions to our choices. If we insist on worshiping something else besides God, whether that be our own selves, or something different, God will let us have the desire of our heart. Only by desiring him and what he is doing in creation will we be made eligible to resume our true vocation in the resurrected life. We only have one shot at it. The question is, what decision will you make?

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The Hallelujah Anthem of the Free

The Hallelujah Anthem of the Free

RiverWalk Church of Christ Wichita Ks  Minister

When my Lord bought freedom with the blood of His redemption
His cross stamped pardon on my very soul
I’ll sing it out with every breath, I’ll let the whole world hear it
This hallelujah anthem of the free
That iron bars and heavy chains can never hold us captive
The Son has made us free and free indeed
Let freedom ring down through the ages from a hill called Calvary
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free and you can sing let freedom ring
 – – – -Let Freedom Ring by William J. Gaither

If you haven’t listened yet to this song, which is now about 15 years old, you need to do so. The words above aren’t the entire lyric. But they are the ones I always wait for whenever I call this song up on YouTube. They give me strength, renewal, and hope.
The theme of the song is freedom…and these words above talk specifically about freedom in Christ…the fact that Jesus Christ purchased our freedom on the cross. And that freedom echos throughout all of creation, especially in those prisons without keys. Prisons of loneliness, despair, addiction. Prisons of guilt, shame, and remorse.
Do you feel it? Do you feel the freedom that Christ gives you? Is it palpable to you? Do you know…really know…what it means to live in freedom? Can you hear freedom ringing down through the ages from that hill called Calvary? Do you let the whole world know about the freedom…the real freedom…that comes from Jesus Christ? What is YOUR hallelujah anthem of the free? Has the cross of Jesus Christ stamped “pardon” on your very soul?
To live in freedom. I fear that not many of us who call ourselves Christians really know what that is like. I fear that for too many of us, living in freedom is a second-class existence devoid of any real joy, peace, or contentment. For many of us, Christian living is a lot like walking through a mine field. We tread very carefully, fearful that the next step we take may be our last…that our lives will blow up with the next footprint. We are afraid that one misstep will shatter what little peace and security we’ve managed to corral for ourselves. We see God just waiting for us to mess up so He can boot us out.
Freedom in Christ is when God clears the mine field. We can romp and play in the field with joy, security, and gladness because nothing…NOTHING…NOTHING can take away our joy (John 16).
Gloria Gaither said the following in writing about the background of this song, “…never has a document of freedom (Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence) had the power to alter the course of history and change human lives like the declaration bearing the bloodstained brand of the Cross. And this seal is burned not on a piece of paper but on the very souls of all who were enslaved by sin. The document is a simple invitation: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

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Act Five: The Church — The Vocation Shared

Act Five: The Church — The Vocation Shared

 As we continue on with our examination of the Bible in the form of a six Act play, this week we now come to the fifth Act of our story. This act is very important to us, not just because of the role it plays in the overall story, but also because this is the part that you and I currently live in, if we choose to do so. I am calling the sixth act, “The Church: The Vocation Shared,” which indicates to us the role the church now has in God’s greater story. The church takes up the original creation vocation, not in full, as Christ has done, but in anticipation of someday sharing the completed human vocation with Christ for all eternity. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

It may be true, because of present circumstances, that this is one of the more misunderstood parts of the Biblical story. Depending on how you were raised and what kind of experiences you’ve had, people generally have a love or hate relationship with the Church. If you grew up in a church and your experiences were largely good and supportive, it is very likely you think highly of Church. If, on the other hand, you were hurt by someone in the Church, it is quite likely you feel ambivalence or hostility toward it; especially if you perceive, and correctly so, that those in the Church should be like Christ. Still others may have observed the Church from the outside and not feel particularly strong one way or the other. But before we talk about what the Church’s role is supposed to be in our own modern context, let’s take a moment to examine from scripture how the church originated.

The story of the origination of the Church is found in Acts chapter two and takes place 50 days after the death of Christ. You may recall that Jesus was crucified during the Jewish festival known as Passover, but the beginning of the Church takes places during the festival of Pentecost, which was a Jewish celebration of the giving of the law. During these festivals it was common for Jews from all over the ancient world to travel to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to worship at the temple. In the wisdom of God, it was during one of these festivals that the news about Jesus was first preached by the apostles.

In a strange and fantastic event, Acts 2 tells us the story of how the apostles were filled with God’s Holy Spirit and began to preach about Jesus to all those who had gathered in Jerusalem from various places. Each of the people was able to hear the message in their own language as the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to preach to them in their native tongue. The main speaker that day, however, was Peter, and he preached about the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. When the people heard the message they were convicted in their hearts that Jesus really was God’s Son and that something terribly wrong had been done to him. When they asked Peter what they should do in response to his sermon he gave them a very simple answer: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

The Bible tells us that about three thousand people responded to Peter’s call that day and were baptized into Christ. But in the next few verses of the same chapter, we are then told what these people did who had repented and were baptized—they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, they gathered together in fellowship and to share meals, and they prayed. (Acts 2:42) It was as simple as that. There were other signs that something different was taking place. All those who were baptized decided to share everything in common. People began selling some of their goods to gather a fund to see to it that everyone in their community had their needs met. There was obviously a pervasive sense of hope and love as people shared their lives with one another. In short, what you saw were a people who had been “redeemed” from sin. No longer were anger, contempt, lust, manipulation, and other such things the defining characteristics of their community; now it was faith, hope, and love. At root, this is who the church is; they are a people who have been redeemed by Christ, and who now anticipate what will one day be true holistically. They do this primarily through worship, and by gathering together to learn how to put on the character of Christ.

In my experience there are often two mistakes that are made about the Church. The first mistake is to believe that the Church is a body of people who are perfect. One only has to reflect on their own personal experience with people who are Christians to know this is not true. Unfortunately, this fact is often used against Christians as they become very easy targets for the charge of hypocrisy. Certainly, hypocrisy has always been a problem among those who profess to attain to a higher way of life, and we all know someone for whom the title is very appropriate. But it is also important to understand that the Bible never claims that Christians (or the Church) will be perfect. As a matter of fact, if you read the letters of the New Testament that come after the book of Acts, you will find letters that are written to churches that are having all sorts of moral problems. Whether it be racial tensions (Jew/Gentile), sexual immorality, or issues of jealousy and anger, the first Christians had to struggle to overcome sinful habits.

There is a simple reason why this is true. Inside the Church itself there are many different people, each of whom is at a different place on the spiritual journey. Some, thank God, are very far advanced and their character is consistently expressed in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on. But not everyone in the church has achieved this quality of character. Even though God promises in Acts 2:38 that the gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the many blessings of our relationship with Christ, that does not mean that a new character is immediately given to us by God. For some, a dramatic change may be experienced at conversion, but for most the process of releasing old ways of thinking and acting takes a lot of time, as well as grace provided by God. That is why when you walk into any church building you will find things that both inspire you and disappoint you. The Christian life is a learning process and every church is filled with people at different stages of learning.

But having said that, there is also another mistake made that is often portrayed on bumper stickers. You may recall seeing the phrase, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven”? In one sense, this is absolutely true. No person can be in right relationship with God based on their own perfection of life; it is always based on forgiveness. But the sentiment that goes along with this bumper sticker slogan is often misguided. A common attitude in the modern Church says that because we are forgiven by God’s grace then no effort toward growth is necessary. This is not true. While the teaching of the Bible is clearly against earning, it is not the least bit opposed to effort. The Christian life is a dual process of God providing grace so that people can change, and people implementing that grace through their own learning, diligence and hard work. The end result is meant to be a change in character that allows a person to very naturally carry out the teachings of Jesus.

So the Church was never meant to be perfect, but it is to have a qualitatively different life than those who do not seek God. All of this is in anticipation of our future role with Christ which will once and for all bring the full human vocation to fruition under God.

 

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