thoughts on hell

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

Revelation 20:14

Hell is the place or state we choose apart from God’s grace in Christ. It is beyond my comprehension, and I really don’t want to dwell on it. But it is sobering. We get what we chose in this life in the end maybe so to speak, in spades. We either choose the light God gives us, or recede back more and more into the darkness, our own as well as that of this world.

I don’t see it as a physical lake of fire, but as something that is tormenting us more and more, as we live life apart from God.

Whether or not hell is forever (I think from the Bible it is, but you can make a case that it might be temporary either in annihilation at a certain point, or actual purification, though I think myself the latter is more far fetched), and I hope not myself, people receive what they deserve.

I like C.S. Lewis’s view of it as something we choose for ourselves in this life carried on into the next life. Humans were made for relationship with God and with each other. But sin separates us from God and from others. So in the eternal state we keep moving further and further on the track we chose in this life.

It is hell to live apart from God on our own. If we make our own light or depend on another light other than that of the gospel, then we’re indeed in for great deception. Jesus said that if the light in us is darkness, then that darkness is great.

Hell is living apart from God and God’s good will. Even as Christians we can live in a kind of hell when we seek to live life on our own, or unwittingly give into either self-deception or satanic deception. That’s a far cry from living in God’s grace in Christ in which we trust and obey and depend on God to see us through.

It’s a big subject, just a few scattered thoughts here. God grant us to rest in Christ. God took hell for us in himself at the cross, so that we never have to experience a shred of it here (though we still do at least from time to time), and none in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

rejecting lies

Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

Isaiah 44:20

If there’s one thing that’s harder to get rid of than anything else, maybe it’s any lie that’s accepted for whatever reason. Often we know better, that what we’re accepting is at least questionable, or if you would analyze it, not bringing out all the best in us. And as one would well expect, lies are often subtle. They come with truth, sometimes half truths, or with good along with the fatal flaw.

In Scripture as in the passage above, idolatry is tied to the lie, anything that takes the place of God in our lives. The appeal is to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, as old as the first sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).We are caught up and carried away by something that we as Christians ought to have no part in. Again, on the face of it, it may seem innocent, or at least have justification. The result of idolatry is exactly what is stated above: feeding on what is not good with a deluded heart.

Left to ourselves we’re helpless. We need God’s grace in Christ, otherwise we’re likely to replace one lie with another. Instead we need to repent, when we’re willing and ready to be humbled, rather than remain in our own pride. In and through Jesus.

 

theology for real life

The book of Job is a good case in point of how all of Scripture (the Bible) is meant for real life. No one is likely to be affected much by how many angels can dance on a pin, something allegedly, Christian theologians were contemplating in the past. It’s not like we have to look for only what seems relevant and ignore the rest. We need to prayerfully consider just what God might be saying to us through everything, especially through the words found in Scripture.

I like our church’s statement of faith, because it’s not simply about knowing or confessing something. It is about applying truth to life, or letting Scripture critique and change us.

The danger in all of this is that we want quick, pat answers. We think the Bible is written for us to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. Not. Scripture, God’s word is meant to shape us according to God’s will, which means conformity to Christ.

I am blessed too to work for a solid evangelical ministry which has the motto:

The mission of Our Daily Bread Ministries is to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.

We have to beware of piling in information which we’re not applying. According to James, that is a sure recipe for self-deception. We can think we’re doing well and in the clear just because of what we know. But what we’re given to know is meant to be applied, every single bit of it. We may not know how, but we should be in prayer over it. God’s word has some effect on us, whether we always get it or not. But our goal should be to listen and learn for faith and life. What we believe is meant to impact how we live. And how we live can either confirm or undermine what we believe. The two go together.

This isn’t easy. It’s not like, here it is, plain and simple, so do it. Yes and no. Because although that’s the clear path, it’s beset with challenges to our faith, so that either our roots will have to go deeper in search of God’s wisdom, or we’ll more or less give up, shrivel and die. To live in between is to remain unsettled and eventually sets us up for failure, because it won’t work (James 1:6-8).

So we have to set our sight on one thing: God and God’s will in Jesus in this life. Everything else is secondary and subsidiary to that. In and through Jesus.

continuing in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

It seems like what Paul is telling Timothy here is not to take his faith for granted, but to continue in it, and specifically in Scripture itself.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’m not sure what one has to go on, but there are a number of voices out there advocating something different, either a wholesale abandonment of the faith, or more likely, a modification of it, which can amount to the same thing in the end. Paul warns Timothy in both 1 and 2 Timothy of the same dangers during that time.

There’s nothing wrong with wide reading, and becoming acquainted with others’ thinking, in fact that’s good in its place. Paul himself was well acquainted with the various views of his time. But we need to remain well grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus, found in Scripture. And to do that, we can’t just pay lip service to it. We have to continue in it for ourselves.

Yes, Paul and Timothy were leaders in the church, but they weren’t doing what other Christians didn’t need to do themselves. They were to set the example in their faith and life for other Christians to follow, of course from their following of Christ tethered to Scripture and to life. They were gifted to do that, but that’s in large part what their ministry was about.

So these words by extension are for us, too. We’re to continue on in Scripture, in the gospel, in Christ. Grounded in that, so that we won’t be carried away by voices which sound compelling to others. In and through Jesus.

 

being the light we are in Jesus in the darkness

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

I think we’re in a dark spot in world history myself. But the darkness is actually palpable or at least present in any era. In fact, when it seems the most light is when it can actually be the most dark.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Matthew 6:23b

Paul tells us essentially the same thing, of course in a different context and with a different pastoral concern:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

All of that to say, no matter what era we live, we have to realize that only in the Lord are we light. And the rest is darkness. The darkness may seem light, perhaps as in reminiscing on “the good old days.” But that can especially be dangerous in that the reality is more subtle. When the Antichrist finally comes, won’t it be in the guise of light, like Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light, and his servants, who masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)? We must beware of embracing darkness in any form.

Our light is in Christ, what we’re to let shine before the world. Not that no good can come out of the world in God’s working. But only in Christ are we light, and we’re to let that light shine before others with our good works, just as Jesus told us (first quote above).

In this way we fight against the darkness so prevalent. We speak the truth in love, and above all, seek to live it out in love, the truth of God in Jesus.

This may seem counter what we think or have practiced. We must beware lest we get caught up into the darkness ourselves. Instead, we must simply live out what we already are, in and through Jesus.

the danger of the tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3:1-12

Proverbs makes it clear that words can both heal and harm. James counsels restraint in what we say, the need to metaphorically bridle, or keep a tight rein on the tongue (James 1:26). We little understand the damage our words can do. The devil is not only in the details, but the results which can be devastating. And it seems that the human tongue is much more prone to bad, even evil than it is to good. And like James and the rest of scripture points out, this is indeed deceptive. After all we’re speaking our hearts, and that’s the problem, just as Jesus pointed out:

…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:18-19

On a more hopeful note, Jesus also said:

 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6:45

And James does get to that (3:13-18). But first we must settle in well on the fact and reality that our heart, and the thoughts which come from it are often helpful to no one. Heart in the New Testament, by the way, and in scripture includes thoughts and disposition. We certainly need to fill our hearts with good things. And God is at work to change our hearts to become more and more Christian, like Christ, and to be increasingly attuned to what’s good, and sensitive to what’s not. But again, we have to hone in on the truth that there’s a certain proneness in ourselves toward what ends up being destructive, along with a certain deception inherent in that, and with awful, hellish consequences. James minces no words on this, and considering the rest of the letter, does lend more words to the subject than what one might expect, with supporting words dotted here and there elsewhere.

When we have even a yellow flag up in our minds about a certain subject, we should at least stop, and consider. Red lights, no, even if someone ought to say something. Maybe it’s not we ourselves. Perhaps someone will be gifted by God to help as needed in a situation, but we may not have the call and gift that goes with that to do so. It is best on those occasions to simply pray, not only for what troubles us, but for ourselves, and our response to that. James would say that we should at least be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to anger (James 1). That we should speak words that are helpful to the hearer. And if there’s a needed word on a hard subject, we must look for wisdom from God and God’s word for ourselves first. Maybe after we’ve taken it in well for ourselves, God might be able to use us to help others. But it will mainly be through our lives. The point James gets to next.

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

pure religion

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Religion and relationship in scripture actually go together. From the time when people started to invoke or call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), right up to the present time when we gather in buildings, and partake of Holy Communion, we participate in a kind of religious service led by someone with a liturgy all its own, even if not liturgical in its emphasis. And we’re told in the Old/First Testament that to know God means to help those in need, perhaps getting more precisely in line with the point James is making here:

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

Jeremiah 22:15-17

James echoes something of both the Old Testament wisdom, and here, of the prophets. To know God is to begin to know something of the heart of God. And God’s heart goes out to the poor and displaced. Those who profess to know and worship God must begin to have the same heart for others. Otherwise their profession of faith is empty. Specifically here in caring for widows and orphans in their distress, which can include and group in the same category today.

James, as he does in this short letter, especially in our chapter 3, really focuses on the tongue, our speech, and learning to hold it in check. If anyone considers themselves religious, James says, but fails to keep a tight rein on their tongue, their religion is suspect at best, in fact in God’s eyes, worthless. And they deceive themselves. We often can say all the right things, but fail to follow through with action. And James will get to that in this letter. But that’s not the point here. Rather it’s about a loose tongue which more often than not is quite destructive. And the rest of the letter, particularly chapter 3 informs what James is referring to here.

We should be known as Christians for what we do in helping those in need, not in what we’re saying, particularly when it comes to issues which can end up being critical and disrespectful of others. And make no mistake, such speech can be right on the tip of our tongues. That’s why James says here that we’re to keep a tight rein on our tongues. We have to bridle as in controlling our tongues, and not let them have their way in words which ultimately will be helpful to no one. And even deceptive to us, perhaps in the sense of putting us on the wrong track when we think we’re in the right, though often we should know better.

And to keep ourselves from being unstained or unpolluted by the world. We have to be aware and beware in this regard. We need to develop a humble ability to see through what the world holds dear, mostly by developing a stronger commitment to keep a single eye and heart on what God holds as important for us, individually and together. In and through Jesus.

hearing (reading) and doing

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

One of our biggest challenges as believers in Christ (James 2:1) is put  God’s word into practice. As those who are born from above, we naturally love God’s instruction. And that means that we’ll want to obey it, and will be unhappy, or at least unfulfilled when we don’t. James calls this a deception, actually a self-deception, when we hear or read God’s word, yet don’t put it into practice.

It seems like the fallacy here is to know, but fail to do. We somehow think knowing is enough. To hear and read God’s word is important; we do need to pay close attention to it, just as James says in the passage above. But for James that means, not only to hear it, but do it.

Of course in order to do, we must know what to do. So a certain kind of knowledge precedes doing. We have to be careful here, especially in an age when knowledge seems to be just about everything. It’s not enough to know God’s will. It’s evidently easy to be deceived into thinking that’s enough. At the same time, we need to be in the process of reading and meditating on all of scripture. And basic before that, humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us (James 1:21).

And after this, after the passage quoted above, James gives us a word to apply:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

idolatry in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me.Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:1-6

Idolatry is everywhere. Some might think of it as something of a bygone era, when people used to make images representing gods, and bow down and worship the god of the image. But idolatry essentially is anything in our hearts we put before God, either in being devoted to it, or trusting in it. Anything, period, even things which in themselves in their right place are good. But also things which are either questionable, or not good.

Idolatry always exacts a steep price, and devastating consequences. Although much of it might be subtle enough to cover a lifetime, yet with some less than desirable fruit along the way.

I wonder myself. What do I put in the place of God? What can easily become an idol to me? Do I think that if I had enough money, I would be okay? Hopefully I am not under that illusion, knowing that some of the most empty people in the world are driven by money, and will scuttle truth and righteousness to make more of it. Knowing scripture and life. And yet those kinds of idols can still make their appeal to us.

Idolatry. It’s something to think and pray about, asking for God’s discernment to uncover where we’re most prone to it. We’re to have no other gods before us, but the one true God. And as Jesus told us, we’re to worship God in spirit, in the Spirit, and in truth, because the Father seeks such worshipers, and because God is spirit. God alone deserves our worship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

And in the process of wanting to learn what worship of God is, and wanting to put it into practice, we need to become aware of any idols we may have set up in our hearts. Things so close to heart that they are a part of us. But if idols, in an unhealthy way. And again, most of what we make into idols, in their proper place and in God’s intent, are good. But not all of them. Maybe some of them, at least for us, we need to get rid of forever. Or let go of for at least a time.

And it’s not enough to get rid of idols, if we don’t replace that with the worship of God. So that our practices of faith characterize our lives, who we are from day to day, and hour to hour. Something I frankly am not sensitive enough to, myself. And want to grow much in, in and through Jesus.