The Holy Spirit should make a difference in our lives

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“Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again say that they they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, out sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”

– Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009), 32-33.

Book Review: Erasing Hell

Yesterday I received Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle in the mail. I read it that same evening. I was, to be honest, riveted by their response to Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. With deep and respectable humility, Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle seek to faithfully and honestly confront both their assumptions about hell and what the Bible says about hell. The result is a book that very carefully examines the historical context of Jesus’ words about hell and what His followers said about this difficult topic in the rest of the New Testament.

What I appreciate most about this book is that the authors are emphatic about the fact that this is not a pedantic, scholarly, hair-splitting debate about a doctrine; hell is something we Christians can’t afford to be wrong about. If we claim there is no hell, and we’re wrong, then we’re sending people to a place we’ve convinced them doesn’t exist! Over and over, perhaps in every chapter, the authors remind the reader that we’re not just splitting doctrinal hairs here, we’re talking about the eternal destiny of people–some of whom we know and love.

Thus, with a profound appreciation for the weight of this topic, Chan and Sprinkle look at the key passages surrounding hell to arrive at a faithful conclusion–regardless of whether or not their initial assumptions are proven right or they win the argument. And, the authors openly admit that they don’t want there to be a hell; a sentiment I believe we can all agree with. But, like the authors say, our disliking of hell doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality.

There are two sections of the book that are perhaps the most valuable. First, in Chapter 5: What Does This Have to Do with Me?, the authors point out that many of the warnings Jesus issued about hell were to religious people. Jesus warned that “many” people would come to Him and say that they had done great things in His name, but He would reply “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt 7:23). This isn’t a warning to atheists, vegans, Muslim extremists, or _____________ (insert your favorite stereotypical villain here). It’s a warning to people who genuinely think they’re following God!

Second, and what resounded with me the most, is in Chapter 6: “What If God…?” where the authors remind us that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours that the difference is like the Heavens and the earth! The point being that it’s incredibly arrogant of us to think we can pass judgment on we think how God should run things. Is it possible that God has a more mature and developed sense of justice than we do? Here are some quotes that I found particularly thought-provoking:

  • “We must come to a place where we can let God be God. We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people.” (Pg. 131)
  • “Let’s not think that spending a bit of time meditating on the mysteries of the universe places us on a level that allows us to call God into question.” (Pg. 133-134)
  • “The fact is, Scripture is filled with divine actions that don’t fit our human standards of logic or morality. But they don’t need to, because we are the clay and He is the Potter. We need to stop trying to domesticate God or confine Him to tidy categories and compartments that reflect our human sentiments rather than His inexplicable ways.” (Pg. 135)
  • “It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption [the cross], even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for clay to do.” (Pg. 136)
Overall, I found this to be a very challenging and humbling book. I highly recommend it, especially if you’ve read Love Wins. You can’t walk away from Erasing Hell without being compelled to share the message of hope and salvation with everyone you meet. Because, like the authors repeatedly state, this is an area where we can’t afford to be wrong!

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Complete Fulfillment in the words of Timothy Keller

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You may say, “I see that Christianity might be just the thing for people who have had collapses in their lives. But what if I don’t fail in my career and what if I have a great family?” As Augustine said, if there is a God who created you, then the deepest chambers of your soul simply cannot be filled up by anything less. That is how great the human soul is. If Jesus is the Creator-Lord, then by definition nothing could satisfy you like he can, even if you are successful. Even the most successful careers and families cannot give the significance, security, and affirmation that the author of glory and love can.

Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something is becomes “lord of your life,” whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.

– Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism(Riverhead Books: New York, 2008), 179.

You need a Nathan

One of my favorite blogs—The Resurgence—recently posted an entry called You Flat Out Won’t Make It Without These Two. I thought it was very practical, very insightful, and very challenging. Please take a moment to read it:

Jonathans and Nathans

The challenging part is to make sure that I’m open to Nathans. We would all probably claim that we want to have Nathans in our lives, but I doubt that’s the case. While in the Air Force, I’ve often encountered leaders who claimed they had an “open door policy” and if you ever needed to bring anything to their attention then they would be open to it. Yet, it was sometimes the case that when I took them up on their offer, even slightly, they didn’t respond well.
I’ve seen the same with myself and other Christian brothers. We claim we want that Proverbs 27:17 experience of “iron sharpening iron” but we don’t really consider what that might look like. We don’t consider the fact that we might actually get called on foolish or sinful behavior! I remember when I first became a Christian and got confronted about some foolish behavior. I really liked a girl named April and we were studying alone in my dorm room. Out of nowhere, my pastor called me; turns out that God had prompted him to. He told me I needed to be more careful, that it was unwise to spend time alone, in my dorm room, with a girl I was attracted to. He was right and I knew it, but I secretly resented him for months.
Truthfully, at that point I was too immature to appreciate how much he was trying to love me. He was trying to be a Nathan to me and I failed to submit to his authority or even appreciate the courage and integrity he demonstrated by confronting me about an area in my life that was not “above reproach” (Col 1:22). I realize now that my reaction to his confrontation  was prideful and rebellious and I’m still ashamed of how I responded. I was a fool (Pr 12:15; 15:12, 32; 19:20; 23:9; 29:1 and many others).
In fact, in the last year or so, this is an area where I’ve deliberately tried to grow and God has blessed me with at least one Nathan who I know isn’t afraid to speak hard truth into my life. It’s been a tremendous blessing and, by the grace of God, has challenged me to grow in several areas. I’m grateful for our relationship and truly appreciate his honest words.
But the point of sharing this is to challenge you to consider if you want a Nathan in your life. Are you willing to be confronted in areas where you’re immature or need to grow? Are you willing to be held accountable? In our individualistic culture, this is not a popular idea. We believe that no one has the right to tell us what to do; “you’re not the boss of me!” We’re a very rebellious culture and I think it’s cost us dearly.
It’s wise to actively, humbly seek council from others and to actually listen to their advice (Pr 17:10; 19:20; 27:9). It will require humility and a willingness to be honest with others. It will require the integrity to actually repent when you’re confronted about unwise or sinful patterns in your life. And it means you’ll need someone to love you enough to put up with you if you respond like a jerk…like I did. I pray that God will bless us all with wisdom, humility, and a Nathan!