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So how do you know if God directly speaks to you?

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

This is a very good question that my wife raised after my last entry, and I’m sure I don’t fully understand it yet (does anybody?)…but I’ll take a stab at it for now.

*Disclaimer: When I say “speaks to you,” I’m referring to a literal and direct form of communication. The leading of the Holy Spirit is a separate and complex issue on its own, though I do touch upon it here. 

All I can really do—since I’m limited in this kind of experience—is theorize and try to deduce truths from the scriptures and from my coursework. I’m basically using what I’ve read and observed in the Bible and trying to make reasonable assumptions for today. You can also take some of the things I wrote in my previous entry regarding demon deception and flip it around (for instance, God often tells people what they don’t want to hear or do, considering our naturally sinful flesh).

I’m going to try to limit it to three basic conclusions, and you can decide for yourself whether my reasoning is valid:

1. God speaks clearly and decisively.

If you think or feel you might have been told something from God but you’re not sure, then it wasn’t from God…at least by direct authoritative means.

When God speaks to someone on earth, whether personally (as a theophany…never directly in full glory) or through a messenger angel, the recipient of that communication is never left wondering what he or she was told. All we need to do is consult the Bible and we’ll see this demonstrated repeatedly.

A clear demonstration of this is found in 1 Samuel 3 where God is calling Samuel to be a prophet, but Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him from the other room. This shows us two things: 1) God can communicate in an audible voice with actual words; and less importantly, 2) His voice might not be as booming and distinctive as we assume (God doesn’t even need to sound the same every time; it’s not like He has a fixed set of vocal chords or anything…He probably just uses what is most effective in each situation).

Another famous example is when Paul (formerly Saul) met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Acts 9:3-6: “As [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

I think it’s clear that when a communication is truly from God, we are left with more than feelings or urges. We are left with actual words, instructions, warnings, and awe. I like what Greg Koukl (str.org) said on one of his podcasts, and I’ll paraphrase: “If you’re going to say, ‘God told me,’ then you better be prepared to say something that is on the same level of authority as the Bible and God himself.” While it may be tempting, we should never use the phrase “God told me” lightly.

Now, this is not to discount the leading of the Holy Spirit for believers, which is also important and much more frequent. Sometimes, He can lead us strongly with convictions and desires, but this would generally be used for more localized purposes such as the direction of your own life. The Spirit might be leading us on the right path or growing us to become a stronger, more faithful person. To confirm answers to prayer, we will often get support and agreement from godly brothers and sisters who are not as clouded with emotional bias and tunnel vision.

But this does not seem to be the way that God uses people to command others with bold authority. You cannot use the leading of the Holy Spirit and accurately say, “God told me to tell people…” God knows our propensity to misjudge feelings and convictions, so He uses something more concrete when history is on the line.

What about an angel/messenger of God? Well again, there is no uncertainty. When people are approached by angels, they are usually in awe and fear, and again hear direct words.

Luke 2:9-10: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Revelation 22:8: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.'”

These angelic examples bring us to the next point…

2. If your encounter was definitely supernatural, then consider whether it was truly a messenger of God or a demon.

If we encountered something supernatural, we would know it unmistakably. But is seeing a greater being necessarily a good thing? Is it a messenger of God or of Satan?

Notice how both angels responded to people’s fear and even worship. “Fear not” and “Worship God” were their reactions. They were delivering a message for God, and they did not want to intimidate or impose their superiority over people. They quickly turned away worship because they wanted all glory to go to God, not themselves.

Angels always deliver messages that are consistent with the Bible and further God’s glory, not any individual’s. Often, these messages concern a nation’s repentance or deliverance.

Contrast that with a very probable demonic encounter—one involving Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

To his credit, Muhammad actually suspected that he had been approached by a demon or even had been possessed, but he was given assurances from his wife and uncle that it was from God. This demon, posing as Gabriel, told Muhammad to recite: “In the name of thy Lord who created, Created man from a clot of blood.”

Here we have something that directly contradicts or adds to scripture. That is the first big clue. Nowhere does the Bible say we were created from a clot of blood, but rather from the dust of the ground.

Muhammad was left with great fear instead of being comforted and assured, as with angels. (Demons do not care about our well-being, but want to destroy us.) He also experienced numerous violent seizures when he would receive these visions, further supporting the fact that there was some level of possession going on. In the end, great glory wound up going to Muhammad on this earth as the revered leader of a new religion. Most prophets in the Bible, however, wound up being ridiculed, persecuted, and martyred.

3. Genuine spiritual encounters are rare today, but not impossible.

You may be thinking, “If this stuff is true, then we probably never hear directly from God!”

I would partially agree with that assessment. We still are in communication with Him through prayer and such, but the need for God to speak direct words to us is vastly reduced. The two biggest reasons for this are: 1) The Bible and 2) The Holy Spirit. God’s Word is now complete and we are given the information we need to live our lives according to His will. When a specific leading is needed, the Holy Spirit guides our lives as true believers in the right direction. The Holy Spirit came to us at Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, so functionally speaking, it’s primarily His time on earth now.

That being said, I do believe that God has more in store for us as far as communicating directly. We definitely know of at least two cases in the future when God will speak to people: the two prophets spoken of in Revelation during the Tribulation. They will receive precise instructions on what to preach and warn people about. Again, we see a clear purpose in history for doing so.

Some people—including pastors—claim that God has spoken to them and told them things. I won’t mention names, but certain big-name prophecy guys say this or at least strongly hint at it.

Yes, it’s possible that God can still speak directly to people for a greater purpose. But all it usually takes is one look at the track record of these “prophets” to dismantle their case. If they have proclaimed something in the name of God and have been wrong even ONCE, they are false plain and simple. “The rapture is coming on this date!…oh wait, nevermind, now it’s this date!” Write them off as prophets immediately, though they may still have some valid teachings to offer.

God is never wrong, and neither are His prophets if they have genuinely been chosen for that purpose.

Misinterpreting Scripture (Part 3: Hyperbole – Updated 5/25/12)

May 24, 2012 1 comment

Yes, even the Bible uses hyperbole (and metaphors, analogies, etc.). What’s the point of this, you ask? Well, to make a point clearer or to convey emotion and urgency rather than straight information.

You see it often in the Old Testament prophets whose jobs were not simply to predict the future, but to warn people of their disobedience and to snap them out of their spiritual malaise. They would use very graphic and extreme language to voice the displeasure of God. Otherwise, the Jews wouldn’t have listened with ears perked because of their stubbornness. Saying “Nation of Israel, God is not happy with you right now” simply doesn’t have the same sobering effect of comparing them to “whores” (essentially cheating on God with other false gods).

Jesus uses hyperbole as well. Consider this passage from Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Now, as we saw in Part 2, let’s ABC (assume basic competence) here. Nobody could have possibly thought this was actually telling us to hate our own parents in the traditional sense. Heck, honoring our parents is even one of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:12)! Not only that, but Jesus himself affirms this command in Matthew 15:4.

So what is Jesus saying here? Well, first of all, the word translated as “hate” does not mean to have an intense feeling of dislike as we might assume. In Greek, it means something closer to loving something much less. (There’s a lot of subtle meaning that English apparently doesn’t have that Hebrew and Greek do. This is one of the lingering negative effects of man’s rebellion at the Tower of Babel, I suppose…dealing with translation issues.) For our purposes, “hate” is still a close-enough translation, hyperbole considered.

Basically, if we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, He must come clearly first. If parents are to be honored, as is emphasized multiple times throughout the Bible, but we must “hate” them in following Jesus, how much more must we relegate the lesser things in our lives! Things like social status, money, or pleasure…they need to take an ever further back seat.

Practically speaking, this means that the will of God takes precedence over our parents. If we are clearly called by God to become missionaries, for example, but our parents want us to become doctors or lawyers, we must obey God and ignore our parents’ wishes in this case. If our parents are nonbelievers and want nothing to do with you because of your Christian faith, you must choose your faith over your parents’ unbelief. Better still, you should continue to try to evangelize to them.

Of course, as with everything, we must have a balanced view here. Jesus is not telling us to ignore our parents’ commands completely. We are to love and honor them whenever possible, and importantly, they are still above us in the chain of command. If this life is like a big company, our parents are still our day-to-day, immediate supervisors—but Jesus is the President and CEO. Obviously, if the CEO comes down to ask something of you personally, you do what he says.

Often, our parents’ wishes will function as confirmation of what God wants us to do IF they are continually in prayer and living their lives in accordance with God’s will. If they are worldly parents, then they can still bestow worldly wisdom and experience, which can be helpful, but such advice is ultimately hit-or-miss and contingent upon circumstances.

If you feel led by God to do something, but your godly parents are wholly opposed to it—and have good reasons as well—then God might be telling you, “I don’t know where you felt that leading from, but it certainly wasn’t from me.” If you feel that your prayers have been answered, then confirmation from reliable outside sources should also follow if it is legitimate.

*Update: Another example of hyperbole would be this famous passage:

Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

First, let’s consider this passage at its most basic level. What is Jesus saying? One of the more obvious points he’s making is that sin is very serious—in this context, especially lust. We need to take drastic measures to keep ourselves from continually sinning. Too often, we abuse God’s grace thinking, “We’re forgiven anyway, what’s the big deal?” This mentality simply cannot persist in a true believer.

Also, Jesus is telling us that sin can actually cause a person to go to hell.

Give that a second to sink in. I’m sure a number of objections are popping into your mind at this moment.

“But we’ve all sinned!”

“Sinning can’t make me go to hell if I’ve already accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior!”

I agree wholeheartedly on both counts. What I think Jesus is indicating here is that a person who perpetually sins—and is not already saved—is driving himself away from God, making the likelihood of coming to salvation more and more unlikely. If a person tries to be humble and does not engage in a very sinful lifestyle, he is naturally more receptive to the word of God. If a person is living recklessly, continually indulging in his lust (which is the primary focus of this passage, really) or pride, then they are pushing themselves away from God. Ultimately, they are driving themselves closer and closer to hell.

A person may also presume upon his salvation when he is really not there yet. Many people attend church and think themselves to be saved, but if they continue to live in sin, they are doing two things: 1) indicating that they are not being sanctified and may have not received the Holy Spirit to begin with; and 2) they are not interested in following Jesus Christ with their lives.

There are also some Bible-believing Christians who think that Christians can actually exercise their free will to such an extent as to lose their salvation. While many do not agree with this position, it would be prudent not to completely dismiss it either.

Now, is Jesus literally saying to gouge out your eyes? Maybe. If a pedophile really cannot help himself, gouging out his eyes might be what he needs in order to prevent himself from sinning and harming others. Maybe that’s the only way he can recenter his life and try to focus on God. In extreme cases, it’s possible that such measures would be worth it.

More likely, however, this passage is another example of hyperbole. Jesus is teaching a poignant truth: the extreme seriousness of sin and lust. If this passage were completely literal, there would be Christians with eye patches everywhere. I don’t think that’s what Jesus expected, but like God does in other parts of Scripture, He’s making a point we can remember. He’s shocking us to wake us up from our spiritual and moral slumber. He knows our tendency to ignore soft wording.

Arguments Concerning Homosexuality

May 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Homosexuality is a huge issue for debate in our country today, especially after President Obama became the first U.S. Commander-in-Chief in history to officially endorse gay marriage. You hear gay activists praising the president for this risky step, and then you hear those darn old conservatives decrying the collapse of society. Curiously, you also hear certain “evangelicals” chiming in, telling the rest of us how Jesus would have condoned homosexuality. What is the right position for us as Christians, and how do we answer the objections raised by the other side?

First off, I am not going to stir the pot by answering in some unpredictable way. Homosexuality is sin, period. I really don’t see how a person could believe otherwise if they consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority in their lives. Fitting in with culture is not our objective, but following God as the Lord of our lives is. Whether or not our view is popular is irrelevant. If the world around you has convinced you that homosexuality is really OK, then please check your views against the Bible. Don’t assume that just because you are grown up now that you are immune to outside influences and peer/societal pressure.

Leviticus 18:22 puts it plainly: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

This brings us to our first argument: “Yea, but that’s in the Old Testament. There’s a lot in there that we don’t follow today, such as animal sacrifices, so why should we follow such an outdated law?”

Well, the reason some of the laws are obsolete is because Jesus Christ came and died on the cross for our sins. He was a perfect, blemish-free sacrifice on our behalf, so there’s no need to continue with lesser substitutionary sacrifices. Our debt is paid if we accept Christ as our Lord and savior. We also do not need to practice other rituals to temporarily appease God in order to approach Him. We as believers are clean in His sight. But these requirements are totally separate from what’s morally right and wrong in God’s eyes, which remains unchanged (even if the penalties can differ). Plus, some of the Old Testament law really was intended only for those Jews.

The New Testament is also clear on homosexuality, so it’s not just an “Old” decree.

Romans 1:26-27 states: ” For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Likewise, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 lists “unrighteous” offenders who will not inherit the kingdom of God:  “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

As my pastor would say, “Well that’s about as far as we’re going to go in the passage today, so it’s time to ask our most important question: ‘SO WHAT?'”

It’s clear from Romans that homosexuality is dishonorable and contrary to nature. Can you name for me one dishonorable thing that is not considered a sin or offense to God? Also, sin defined at its most basic level is anything apart from the will of God. Doesn’t “contrary to nature” (or the way God intended the world to be) directly imply that homosexuality is sin? Passion for the same sex is sin; it is an error, plain and simple. No amount of modernization or “getting used to the idea” changes the will of God.

The passage in 1 Corinthians above is actually very, very loaded. First of all, if you’ll notice, three out of the first four offenses listed are related to homosexuality. Sexual immorality is defined as any lust (manifest in physical acts or even deliberate thoughts) outside of the confines of marriage, which includes incest, bestiality, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. Adultery is any sexual act or relation outside of marriage, and since marriage is defined in the Bible as between one man and one woman, homosexuality is always adultery (man-made definitions of “marriage” don’t apply here), just as polygamy is. Then, there is an explicit mention of men who practice homosexuality.  Why is the Bible so repetitive here? For the same reason it usually is: for emphasis.

You’ll also notice that other sins are listed as well, such as theft, greed, and drunkenness. This shows us that homosexuality is not alone in separating people from God, and also, this list is NOT meant to be comprehensive. Basically, any perpetual state of sin indicates that someone is damned since they are clearly not being sanctified.

The last part often gets overlooked, but is very significant: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

This basically tells us that even the earliest church had converts who were formerly thieves, swindlers…and even homosexuals. That’s right, ex-gays existed when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. So all is not lost for people who are struggling with this particular sin.

“But Jesus was all about love, and he never specifically condemned homosexuality as sin.”

Sure, if all you do is do a primitive word search, this is true. But let’s use some common sense.

Mark 7:20-23 reads: “And [Jesus] said,’What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'”

Do I really need to spell it out further? It’s true that there are a lot of specific sins that Jesus did not condemn, such as bestiality (which is also encompassed in “sexual immorality”) or tripping a running child in the mall…maybe he gave our intellect more credit than we deserve.

“Just like heterosexuality, homosexuality is a practice common to all cultures in all ages. It is, therefore, a natural orientation, something common to all civilisations (common in the animal world as well), and it has existed since the primordial beginnings of humankind. The first known record of homosexuals is that of an Egyptian male couple who lived circa 2400 BC … 24 centuries before Christ.”

By that logic, murder is acceptable as a “natural orientation” as well since it has been practiced in all of mankind since Cain and Abel. What is common or uncommon does not determine right or wrong. And no, I’m not equating murder to homosexuality, but I’m just attacking this single point of contention concerning “natural orientation.”

“Homosexuality is genetic; they were born that way. So why would God condemn gays for something they can’t help?”

First of all, the research and science behind this “born that way” conclusion is sketchy at best. While people can be born with a proclivity toward homosexuality—just as some inherit genes that make them struggle more with anger, for instance—it is not set in stone or an unavoidable fate. There are undeniable environmental factors at play, which help determine a person’s sexual orientation. For instance, homosexuality is more common in people who come from broken homes or abusive parents. (What good comes from broken homes and abusive parents anyway? Is homosexuality the lone exception?) If a boy grew up without a strong father figure in the home to help him define his masculinity, he is significantly more likely to become homosexual, and so on…

The bottom line is that homosexuality is NOT comparable to uncontrollable factors such as ethnicity. There are many “ex-gays” around. I know of no ex-Blacks or ex-Asians.

All people, including homosexuals and Christians, are called to fight their sinful desires and urges rather than succumbing to them fully. You could argue that heterosexual men “naturally” want to get in bed with any attractive woman that they see, but why don’t they? Because they learn to control themselves and they also know that there are consequences to their actions. They learn to suppress these desires until they have them under control. A poor person may feel a stronger urge to mug passerbys on the street, and we may even empathize with them, but that doesn’t somehow make it acceptable behavior.

What is natural for a person is not prescriptive behavior. Oftentimes, it is destructive and unhealthy for both the individual and for society.

This is the same kind of mentality that excuses overeating and obesity. Just because people are born with certain genes doesn’t mean that they should just give up all self-control and eat as much as they “feel” like. They may have to work harder than the rest of us, but it’s a worthwhile fight.

“How can homosexuality be a sin if it’s not really hurting anybody? I can understand murder and theft, but why sexual orientation, which is a private, personal preference and nothing more?”

I’ll start with the theological answer, which is that sexual sins are the only sins that God mentions as being against one’s own body.

1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

This is not necessarily talking about harming our own bodies physically, since overeating or self-injury would also accomplish this. This is talking about defiling our bodies morally and spiritually, as we are supposed to be temples for the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not our own; God owns us, which is of course an unpopular concept in our secular world.

By living a homosexual lifestyle, people are defiling the temple that God desires to dwell inside. There is a reason why active homosexuals cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and that is because God’s holiness cannot coexist with uncleanliness.

Something needs to be clarified at this point, however. It is true that active homosexuals cannot attain salvation, but that goes for all other sins as well. The bottom line is that a continual state of rebellion against God indicates that we are not truly born again to begin with. If we remain slaves to sin, that is a clear sign that we have yet to receive the Holy Spirit. People who say they are born-again Christians yet continue to lie, steal, cheat, murder…without repentance, improvement, and a noticeable turning away from their old lifestyles are highly suspect.

In the same way, active homosexuals cannot be born-again if they continue living in their sin without a genuine conviction and effort to change their lives. Lack of remorse for sin and rebellion indicates that our hearts are not in the right place; we are still lost. Homosexuality is arguably more dangerous than other specific sins because it is such a pervasive part of a person’s life. It is an entire lifestyle and way of thinking rather than isolated mistakes.

Now, as for whether or not homosexuality harms anyone, there are two points to consider.

First, homosexuality is not as happy-go-lucky and “gay” as we are programmed to think. As a whole, homosexuals have higher levels of promiscuity (and more broken hearts), depression, and suicide. And it’s not all society’s fault. Many ex-gays confess to having struggled with constant feelings of private guilt and enslavement, but they tried to ignore their consciences.

Homosexuals also have significantly shorter expected lifespans. They are highly susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. In short, they are potentially harming themselves and their partners in the process of living this lifestyle. Furthermore, even secular research shows the benefits of having a stable familial structure in the house: a father and a mother. Without these dual roles and gender balance, a child is missing out on certain areas of development, whether obvious or not.

Second, the standard for sin (as mentioned earlier) is NOT whether or not it harms someone directly. It is simply a departure from God’s will, as homosexuality clearly is.

Leviticus 18:22 tells us that homosexuality is an abomination, and it happens to be couched between two other abhorrent sins: child sacrifices and bestiality. Let’s discuss the latter.

Imagine a person who has been hurt by his peers many times in his life, and he decides one day that he hates humankind. He starts to develop a relationship with a farm animal, who has always appreciated him and loves him. He decides to “marry” this animal and consummate the relationship. (This is not quite as outlandish as you may think: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-12-02/news/27083045_1_pet-dog-wedding-honey.)

Neither the man nor the animal seem to mind very much, and somehow neither one develops any illnesses. No harm, no foul, right?

Doesn’t something deep down inside of you morally object to this union? No one is being “hurt” directly, but somehow we instinctively know that this relationship is wrong. It is not just wrong because they cannot procreate and populate the earth. We know it at a more fundamental level. Practicality is not the measure by which we judge this situation. The moral code that God implanted in all of us is setting off alarms.

Now, imagine that somehow, this sort of union starts to become more and more common in the world, perhaps because the human population has largely died off due to war and famine. It starts out taboo, but increasingly, people get used to the idea and sight of these relationships. Maybe they even make a hit TV show about it. Eventually, it becomes lawful and we’re told not to judge these people who have a natural desire for animals. We become calloused and forget why it was wrong in the first place. The “alarms” grow more and more muffled until it is practically inaudible to us.

Does this change the truth? Has wrong suddenly turned into right? No, of course not. The problem would be with us in this situation, not with the original moral law.

I realize this is almost a ridiculous example, and I would concede that bestiality seems to be a step deeper in perversion, but the basic idea is the same. It’s really just a matter of degrees. All it takes is a gradual accumulation of compromises and concessions, and given enough time, the moral fabric of society starts to tear in a big way. It’s like entropy.

If there is a God of the universe who declares truth and moral right, then those things are constant no matter what the tides of culture dictate.

“Obama cites the ‘Golden Rule’ as grounds for legalizing same-sex marriage.”

Wow, talk about completely botching biblical interpretation. President Obama is referring to Matthew 7:12 where Jesus is telling us to treat others as we would like to be treated. In other words, if we were thirsty and would want people to give us water, then we should likewise offer water to someone in thirst. We should be mindful and thoughtful toward other people, treating them with love. And supposedly, if we would want to get married, we should allow homosexuals to get married to each other.

But Jesus is telling us to do good, not legalize wrong. This passage is not telling us to overlook sin and condone the very things that God calls an “abomination.” Legalizing gay marriage is effectively saying that homosexual relations are OK, and why in the world would Jesus give us a “rule” to disobey his other rules? This is just dumb, I’m sorry, and it serves as a great example of how having a Harvard education and high IQ does nothing to help in spiritual matters if you are sufficiently blinded by the world or pride.

If I were a thief, I would want the employees of a bank to ignore me as I snuck out with piles of money in my bag, but that doesn’t mean they should; nor should I if the roles were reversed. If I had committed a murder, I would want the cops to understand that the victim made me really, really mad and then let me go…but they wouldn’t and shouldn’t.

You get the point.

The bottom line is that homosexuality is clearly a sin, and living an active homosexual lifestyle without repentance will lead to damnation. It is not necessarily “worse” than other sins, which can also spell doom for a person, but it is especially dangerous due to its sexual nature and pervasiveness in a person’s daily life.

There is definitely hope, as demonstrated by the many people who have turned away from this sin and have come to Christ. Yes, some of the struggles may remain, just as all believers continue to fight against their old nature to varying degrees. (Never underestimate the power of Satan’s deception or the human capability to rationalize anything under the sun.) But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will continue in the process of sanctification until we receive our glorified bodies, apart from the struggles of the flesh.

We in the church need to show love to homosexuals around us by praying for them and being kind to them as a brother or sister in need. But showing “love” is not ignoring their paths to destruction and giving them false hope. You wouldn’t “love” someone by allowing them to destroy themselves, but rather tactfully—and firmly—pointing them in the right direction. Rebuke may be necessary, and we need to be careful not to do it in a hateful and judgmental way.

Good Friday special (Shroud of Turin, dealing with skeptics’ comments)

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, today is Good Friday and it’s always a good time to pause and reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us. It’s so easy to forget and move on with our daily routines–especially for those of us who work. Regrettably, the story of Jesus’ death on the cross has been told and retold so many times that we’ve grown calloused to it. In a couple of days, every pastor will be preaching about something Easter-related, so I’m going to take a slightly different approach.

…what if the Shroud of Turin is real?

Yes, THAT shroud—the one that I grew up learning in my History/Civics class was a fake because carbon dating had proved it to be from the Middle Ages. Why am I bringing this up now? Because it’s Easter time and because of this interesting article that presents a lot of interesting scientific (and logical) reasons the shroud could be genuine:

http://www.christianpost.com/news/is-there-scientific-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-72677/

For those of you who are too busy to read it—and I urge you to read it anyway…your life isn’t THAT busy!—here are a few of the salient points:

– The carbon dating done on it in 1988 is invalid because it took a small corner sample, which apparently was rewoven into the shroud in the Middle Ages (probably to patch up some damage).
– The human anatomy depicted on the shroud is 100% correct. As the article states (and as my wife and I learned recently on our tour at the National Gallery of Art), not even the best artists in the Middle Ages knew how to accurately depict the human form yet.
– The image seems to have been burned on, which could have happened in a burst of radiation when Jesus went from his mortal body to glorified body.
– The image shows that Jesus was nailed through the wrists. Back then, everyone thought Jesus had been nailed through the palms of his hands. Today, we know from science that it would have to be the wrists to support his weight. Also, the Greek word used for “hand” can also be used to include the wrist.

I’d need to look into it further, but if this is true, it’s an amazing (re-)discovery. Not only would it add to the already hefty evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, but we can take the image to be in his actual likeness. It would be nice to know what he actually looked like.

Now, I normally don’t read the comments in CP articles because that place seems overrun with know-it-all atheists and such (and lately, they just annoy me), but I couldn’t help myself.

Here are some sample comments with my thoughts on them:

One thing all Christian fail to address, is that they have absolutely no evidence that it was their god that did all the creating of the universe. Oh sure, they make this claim, loud and stridently, but they can not offer any evidence to back up their claim that it was Jesus’s father who did the work. And no the Bible can not be used, because of the circular reasoning fallacy that would be involved.

So let’s start with the fact that an infinite universe cannot exist and that nothing pops up from nothing…coupled with the astronomically small (actually, “mathematically impossible”) odds that all of the conditions and constants could support life…the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, which logically points to unimaginable power and intelligence behind it all…

Then there is the Bible, which tells us that our God created everything we see (and don’t see). Compared to any other religion or text out there, we are the only ones that have history, archaeology, and even science/logic backing us up on any significant level. Seems like our God is the best candidate to me, unless you want to just posit infinite universes and other nonsense.

These are all to be ignored? What exactly is “evidence” to skeptics like these? Would a signature blazoned in the sky saying, “I made all of this. Sincerely, God (the Judeo-Christian one)” be the only thing to suffice? What could possibly qualify as “evidence” for the creation of the universe? There is always going to be an element of faith involved. Take the leap for goodness sake. By this logic, how does this commenter ever believe anything or anyone?

Not only does the author fail epically to provide real evidence but he also makes claims that do not point to the reality of Jesus being who he was claimed to be. There are far too many plot holes in this story to be credible. For me, it’s pretty hard to believe what was written down, edited hundreds of years later and pushed by obvious politicians as gospel. Given the Old Testament is utter nonsense and evil and given the only reason people are still yelling about Christianity is owing to the sword and the Totalitarian evil of the Catholic church, I’m going to put my money on the “no way is this true” section.

Ah again, the “E” word. What evidence would you like? I suppose they could take a chunk of the shroud that clearly hasn’t been rewoven—say, directly from the center of the face—to make sure the carbon dating is legitimate. Would that make you happy? And the point of the article was not to talk about who Jesus claimed to be. There are no “plot holes”—articles are supposed to cover specific topics, not take up hundreds of pages to discuss something that could fill the shelves of the largest library.

And what “evidence” (I can use that word, too) do you have that the Bible was “edited hundreds of years later and pushed by obvious politicians as gospel”? From everything I’ve researched, the Bible has stood intact amazingly well through the test of time, though we do find little things here and there to correct (for instance, as our understanding of ancient languages becomes more sophisticated).

The “Old Testament is utter nonsense and evil”? By whose estimation, yours? It’s funny how atheists cry “evidence, evidence” from the top of the mountains, but then they present none of their own. All they do is parrot catchy lines of argument or cite some great and noble SCIENTIST (all together now: ooooooooh) to back up their claims. Never mind that scientists are never fully in agreement and are proved to be incorrect all the time.

One of these days, I think I want to make a laundry list of things skeptics/scientists/historians USED to say was wrong about the Bible, only to be proved wrong later. The Bible holds up—sorry to burst your bubble. It doesn’t matter though, as soon as the Bible proves to be right on some issue, skeptics will just move right along to the next issue. If they run out of things to “poke holes” at, they’ll just come right around in a circle and forget what has already been resolved. Trust me, it happens all the time.

Science this, science that. Let us all bow and worship.

OK, maybe I made that one up, but it’s basically paraphrasing the typical posts of people (e.g., Ben Faeth).

Side note: Is it just me, or do atheists all seem to have the same basic looks on their faces? Something about their eyes and demeanor…maybe I’m just seeing things.

But on a serious note, I will address one of his more specific posts:

In the realm of science, eye witness testimony is the worst kind of evidence, if you can even call it evidence. Humans are terrible record keeping devices are prone to misinterpretations, forgetfulness, and out right delusional behavior. We don’t believe people whom say that they met aliens or seen big foot, because there is no actual evidence to back them up. And to make matters worse, these so called 500 eyewitnesses are never identified or explain themselves in their own words. The 500 eyewitness claims claim from Paul, who admits himself that he wasn’t there. It’s hearsay based on hearsay without any supporting evidence.

In some ways, what Ben is saying is true. Eyewitness testimony can be sketchy at best. The difference with the New Testament, though, is that it was not one or two people caught up in a frantic, life-threatening situation (which can distort our memory for sure). It was hundreds of people seeing something unexpected over a period of 40 days. It wasn’t hectic, it wasn’t sudden, it was prolonged and personal. So this criticism of eyewitness testimony doesn’t apply here.

And why would Paul—or how could he—name all 500 witnesses? Would he just happen to know everyone’s name by heart? What would even be the point of writing this down? If you were writing a letter to a large group of people—say, a church congregation—would you start out by listing every member/recipient by name first?

“Dear church of Ephesus, I am writing to you my dear brothers: Tyrone, Scott, Hector, Julio, James, Lionel, Bob (the short one), Bob (the scruffy bearded one), John, Ulysses…[489 names here]…and who could forget little Timmy? Anyhow, I am writing to tell you…”

Sure, you don’t HAVE to believe Paul when he says 500 witnesses were there. That’s secondary anyway. But believing him sure does help explain the rapid, unprecedented spread of Christianity throughout the world in the face of enormous persecution, martyrdom, and even heavy Jewish theological opposition. They did not spread their religion with military conquest in the early church. Also, why would the other 500 witnesses “explain themselves in their own words”? First of all, most of them probably couldn’t write, and even if they could, why would they? The church already had the writings of Paul, and those 500 witnesses didn’t have apostolic authority. Maybe their families and friends would be interested in reading what they said, but that’s about it. For most people, they were satisfied with what the few chosen by God officially recorded.

To hear atheists’ line of reasoning, you don’t have to believe in anything that scientists don’t proclaim as absolute truth. In fact, let’s just say that nothing before modern science is real since it can’t REALLY be authenticated anyway. Alexander the Great? Never existed. The first historical records of him showed up way too late. Ben Faeth? Fake person. The picture is generated by Photoshop, and the account was made with false information. Hey, until I see him face-to-face and/or scientists publish peer-reviewed scholarly articles about his existence, there’s no real reason for me to believe it’s a real guy typing up these comments, right?

Are you guys starting to understand why I’m pretty much done dealing with skeptics? What’s the point? Sure, a deluge of undeniable evidence could possibly lead them to believe, but where is their heart? At the bottom of things, they don’t want there to be a God who is ultimately sovereign and in control. His glory is the purpose of this world, not ours, which is unsavory to some. So if they had all the proof in the world, that only makes them more accountable for their refusal of Him. Their punishment would be that much greater. Ignorance could no longer be any mitigating factor.

Wow, this post came out a lot more aggressive-sounding than I expected. Oh well haha. It’s my blog, and frankly, I get enough of proper writing these days with all of my seminary papers and even technical writing at my job. Here, I can sometimes just vent or do a brain dump. I hope that’s OK!

Prophecy is tough! Harold Camping finally repents and apologizes

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, you have to at least give the guy credit for (finally) owning up to his mistakes. I really thought he was going to hold fast to his false convictions until the end…

http://www.christianpost.com/news/family-radio-founder-harold-camping-repents-apologizes-for-false-teachings-59819/

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed when studying prophecy, it’s that coming to any certain conclusions is tough. I guess that’s how God constructed it so that while watchful believers would see prophecies come true and believe more firmly, the rest of world would not deliberately try to thwart His plans. Believers should also continue to live dutifully in this world (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) and not sit around counting down or anything…as tempting as that can be. As long as God is our primary purpose in life, we aren’t called to stand on rooftops holding up signs reading: “Come take us away, Jesus!”

We are to study these things and prepare spiritually (and perhaps take some practical measures as well), but we are not to date-set or tell people precisely how things will come to pass. For instance, we may know that there will soon be one world currency, utilized through the “mark of the beast,” but we shouldn’t boldly proclaim the nitty-gritty details. We don’t know if it will be a “666” blazoned across people’s foreheads (most assuredly not) or some microchip implanted in people’s hands. It could be something else that we don’t know of yet. Speculating is fine as long as we don’t push one possible way as the only way.

The ultimate example of prophetic difficulties, of course, is Jesus Christ himself. He was prophesied numerous times in the Old Testament, and the Jewish people thought they had a firm grasp of what to expect. For instance, the Jews were sure that the Son of Man coming on the clouds to reign in Daniel 7:13-14 showed their Messiah as an all-powerful ruler on earth. The 12 disciples themselves thought they were following this very man who would rise to the very top and stay there forever.

They were right…more or less. Jesus is certainly that “Son of Man” in Daniel 7. However, there was a wrinkle that no one really expected. They didn’t expect that Jesus would first be the suffering servant depicted in the Old Testament—see, for example, Isaiah 53 (they used to think that servant was symbolic for Israel, which actually doesn’t make a lot of sense if you read it with our present knowledge). So when Jesus was crucified and killed, the disciples were shocked and in disarray. They were so sure that Jesus would be a conquering hero, not a slain lamb. Only after seeing Jesus risen, post-crucifixion, did the disciples finally get it: Jesus would return as ruler of the world at his SECOND coming, after Daniel’s 70th prophetic week (see Daniel 9:24-27). Some of Jesus’ teachings, such as Matthew 24, only came into focus after the disciple’s shifted their expectations and were able to mold their ideas to the truth. Atheists, on the other hand, seem to fix their truths firm, and if something doesn’t conform to their thinking (or immediately “make sense”), they throw it out…but I digress. 

I think a lot of present-day prophecy is like this. We come to conclusions, only to realize after the fact that there is something we didn’t take into consideration: an extra wrinkle or layer beyond the surface…

Don’t get me wrong, some signs are pretty blatant. While we need to be careful to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions—which I have admittedly done in the past somewhat—that doesn’t mean we should stop being watchful. Please don’t take the opposite extreme of living your life as the world does, thinking that nothing can be known or expected (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6). Take in what you hear with a grain of salt. Use discernment and prayerfully consider things. Sometimes our best efforts may not be good enough, but hopefully we’ll at least come close.

Why there was no fall Rapture

October 3, 2011 2 comments

A few months ago, September seemed like it was shaping up to be a very important month. Now, it’s October, and not much has changed. What happened? Let’s dig in a little bit…

Israel and Palestine are still a ways off from a peace/sharing agreement.

We all knew that Palestine was going to submit its bid for statehood at the UN, which would end up splitting up Israel’s land (including Jerusalem…a big no-no in God’s eyes). We also heard about a rash of diplomatic efforts leading up to the general assembly, so it seemed possible that both sides could reach some sort of agreement. Both sides had something to lose, something to gain.

Instead, there seems to be a new deadline for a peace agreement between the two peoples: December 2012. Knowing the middle east, even that date might not mean much. Further delays are certainly possible. But that’s the latest information we have so far, and you can bet that they’re not going to rush to get peace talks finished far in advance. They will probably take as long as they can.

Remember that the peace agreement that starts the final seven-year period (Daniel’s “70th week”) must include some provision to share the holy grounds so that Israel can start rebuilding their temple.

Comet Elenin was a dud.

NASA told us that it was small and that it was pretty much fizzled out, but it still seemed possible. “Maybe there was something they didn’t account for.” It seemed that it got destroyed in transit. Whatever the case, there were no major earthquakes or natural disasters that seemed to correlate with the past alignments (Earth-Elenin-Sun). The coincidental timing around Rosh Hashanah ended up being just that: coincidental.

Rosh Hashanah and the “woman in the sky”

Considering that four of God’s redemptive acts matched up with the first four Jewish feasts, it seemed logical that the next major act of God would land at the same time as the fifth feast, Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of Trumpets. In fact, Jesus’ second coming is often described as being accompanied with the sound of a trumpet.

To further add to the number of “coincidences” coming together, people talked about Revelation 12’s sign in the stars (if this is even a correct interpretation of the passage) happening this year during Rosh Hashanah. This doesn’t seem to happen often, so people started wondering if this was also significant.

Looking back, there are two major problems here:

1) I am still convinced that the next major redemptive move by God will happen during Rosh Hashanah (not sure which year, of course). But who’s to say that it has to be pre-Tribulation Rapture? Jesus’ second coming after the Great Tribulation (some people call it “post-trib rapture”) seems more probable as I study scripture and prophecy.

With a pre-trib view, the Rapture would probably fall during Rosh Hashanah (the fifth feast). The sixth feast, Yom Kippur, could represent the Tribulation, while the seventh and final feast could be either the millenial kingdom or the new heaven and new earth.

With a post-trib view, the second coming of Jesus Christ—which happens at the end of the Great Tribulation—could happen during Rosh Hashanah. Then, the millenial kingdom would be established, after which there is one final uprising from Satan and people on earth. This could be on Yom Kippur. Finally, when Satan is forever defeated and the new heaven/earth is established forever, that could be the seventh and final feast.

2) If you take Revelation to be chronological overall, which I do, the “woman clothed with the sun” sign this year didn’t really make sense. Why would something that appears in chapter 12 take place now? As I understand it, chapter 11 or so is the halfway point of the seven years, so the woman sign should be approximately 3.5 years after the peace agreement.

Here’s a breakdown of what time period the chapters might represent:

Chapter 1: The past

Chapters 2-3: The present (e.g., American Christianity—and others like it—may be represented by the church of Laodicea)

Chapters 4-5: Some people think the Rapture takes place here, while others think these chapters simply show God and the angels preparing for what’s to come.

Chapter 6-19: The seven-year period, also known as the Tribulation (though really, the “Great” Tribulation is probably only the last 3.5 years).

Chapter 20: After Jesus is victorious, the millenial kingdom is established.

Chapter 21: New heaven and new earth

By the way, the next time this sign in the sky will coincide with Rosh Hashanah? 2017, though it’s not even certain whether this is significant. There’s nothing in the Bible to indicate that this takes place during the Feast of Trumpets.

“This generation will not pass away”

While it’s true that fig trees are sometimes a metaphor for Israel in certain parts of the Bible (e.g., Jeremiah 24), it’s not clear that this applies to the Olivet Discourse, as found in passages like Matthew 24:34. Judging from the structure of the language, it’s not even apparent that Jesus is including the fig tree as part of His end time prophecies. It could simply be an analogy of watching for signs. Therefore, it’s not on solid ground to assume any sort of 70-year window after Israel was established as a nation in 1948.

So when will it happen?

Date setting is probably just a recipe for disappointment (or from the outside, mockery), so it’s imperative that we not get too attached to any particular timeframe. I need to keep myself in check as well! Personally, I’m kind of happy that it didn’t happen already. I want to do so much more for God’s kingdom before I leave, and if it had happened, I wouldn’t have much to show for my life. Perhaps more people can be saved during the wait.

It is important to be spiritually ready at all times and to keep an eye on current events. The only thing we can watch for, really, is the peace agreement. Whether that will indeed take place next year in December (I will refrain from drawing any connections with the whole Mayan calendar/2012 theory) is impossible to determine.

What is clear, however, is that things seem to be accelerating at a rapid rate. Various economies and governments are crumbling before our eyes, and everything seems to be moving toward a world government. Certain nations, like China, have already suggested that we move to one world currency. We have the technology in place to implement a worldwide tracking and commerce system. Peace seems somewhat possible between Israel and Palestine, and groups are ready to rebuild the Jewish temple.

The table is set, we’re just waiting for the steak.

Why not wait to be saved? What’s the rush?

July 5, 2011 5 comments

In the previous few posts, I’ve talked about how different it is to be a true believer of Christ. For almost all practical purposes, it sounds a lot more difficult than the prevalent “say the prayer” plan, so I can understand how it would be a turn-off to some. Even believers might ask, “Who’s going to be interested in Christianity if it’s this hard?” Of course, how easy or difficult something is has no bearing on this issue. Truth is truth regardless of whether we like it or hate it.

So let’s accept that being a true believer results in drastic changes in that person’s life, and that their life will become much more disciplined and restrictive in some sense. What’s the rush, then? Why not wait until we near the end of our lives so that we can have all the fun we want now?

Right off the bat, we need to establish a simple truth: there IS such a thing as a genuine “death bed conversion.” People can be truly saved as they near death, even if they don’t have any time or opportunity to demonstrate the fruit we’ve mentioned. This is because salvation truly is by the Holy Spirit, and not by works. Of course, we may not be able to tell if all of them are true because there’s no way for examining or demonstrating the faith. Perhaps the best-known last-minute conversion is the thief on the cross, to whom Jesus promises, “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43b)

Now, let’s examine some reasons for urgency. Why should we want to become a follower of Jesus Christ as soon as possible?

1. We don’t know how much time we have left.

This is something we all know…”yea yea, we could get hit by a truck tomorrow.” But I think it’s a little more complex than we think. Let’s examine it from a number of angles.

First, even though we might know about our mortality in our heads, in our hearts, most of us assume that we are going to live until a ripe old age. Hardly anyone honestly expects to die anytime soon. But what if you really did get into a car accident and died tomorrow (or tonight)? Even if there is less than a 1% chance that on a given day you will pass away, are you really willing to risk your eternal destiny on that chance? If you keep pushing off your search for truth, you’re not getting any closer to being saved. Those small percentages are eventually going to catch up to you, and you may never get the chance to consider matters of faith consciously on a nice hospital bed somewhere.

Second, there is the very real possibility of Rapture during our lifetimes. I know people have been saying that for a long time, and kooks will claim to know the exact dates (and invariably will prove to be false), but what if it does really happen soon? Things really are starting to come together.

There will be many people who won’t be ready in time, and as a result, they will face great hardship and danger during the time of tribulation. It would be far easier to accept Jesus before this all happens and be assured of heaven immediately. Plus, the Bible makes it clear that after some initial surge of interest in faith, most of the world will fall away and be doomed (and possibly subjected to God’s full wrath, not measured justice). No one can be sure that they will be one of the few who makes it through with their souls intact.

Finally, it’s not all about us. If you decide to wait until your death bed before you consider accepting Christ, what about your loved ones? What about your parents and children? You may find salvation, but you won’t have a chance to tell anyone you love about this saving grace. Your parents may be closed-minded to random strangers with smiles on their faces, but they may be willing to consider what you have to say (or see the evidence of change in your life). Same goes for your friends or spouse. Waiting could be the most selfish thing you end up doing in your life, even if you can’t see it yet.

2. Salvation is not purely a decision of our will.

Let’s say that you could somehow know with 100% certainty that you will die at the ripe old age of 90. Fine. So that gives you more than 89 years to live your way, and then before your 90th birthday, you can just accept Christ then, right? Sorry folks, this is usually very wrong. This is a very dangerous and risky road to travel.

If it were completely up to our willpower or a simple spoken decision, this last-minute strategy could partially work. But the problem is, the more we live our own way, fuel our pride, and reject the gospel throughout our lives, the harder it is for us to come to God. You’re basically distancing yourself from Him with every step, thought, and action. You’re putting up a wall between yourself and God brick by brick, and expecting it to be easy to get to the other side on a moment’s notice. Things simply don’t work this way, and God cares enough to warn us directly.

Ephesians 4:17-19 says: “17So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18being darkened in their understandingexcluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”

Reversing a lifetime of rejecting the gospel is not an easy process. It’s easier to repair a heart of short-term, mild neglect than it is to fix decades of indulgence and excess. People who live by the flesh are decreasing their chances of ever coming around by hardening their hearts and becoming callous. When the end of the road is coming, they will be unable to see the error in their ways. A dying man with a pragmatic mind who hedges and claims to accept Christ “just in case” has not acquired a saving faith.

Consider the thief on the cross. It’s amazing how much theology is packed into such a short space.

Luke 23:39-43: “39One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Notice what the second criminal displayed to find his way to true salvation. He feared God, realized his own sinfulness, and knew he fully deserved death. Then, hanging on that cross, he knew there was absolutely nothing he could do to earn his own salvation. No good works, no rituals, or even an independent decision of his own. He knew that Jesus was the only way, and it is up to Christ himself to allow us in or not. This was not an act of his own volition! It was a desperate plea with the right understanding, and God’s grace showed favor to this man.

3. True belief in Christ leads to an abundant life.

It’s a flat-out myth that true Christians have lives to be pitied. “Ignorance is bliss,” others suppose. What they don’t know is how much purpose and fulfillment believers can have that makes their earthly lives better immediately. A true believer would never, in a million years, trade his joy in the Lord for that Ferrari or a vibrant sex life with beautiful people. Even persecuted Christians or martyrs consider it joy and an honor to suffer for Christ.

The so-called restrictions or hardships we encounter can become a pleasure. James 1:2-4 says: “2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Sure, the teachings of the Bible may be painful to follow sometimes, but it produces greater rewards that are both immediately experienced and enjoyed in the long term. With the Holy Spirit’s help, it doesn’t always feel as hard as you might expect anyway.

Since this may sound far-fetched or even masochistic to some, consider these two analogies.

Some people love working out at the gym regularly. Others can’t even begin to comprehend why or how. Those who are active and fit will tell you that even though it’s hard, sweaty, and sometimes painful, they love doing it. The short-term “joy” is the rush of endorphins, filling them with relief or even a slight euphoria. The long-term pleasure comes from the clean and healthy way your body feels. No pain, no gain. Life is just better overall, and it’s worth the price of gym membership and sacrifice to achieve that kind of fulfillment. That hour on the couch or the chocolate cake, while appealing, are worth giving up.

Another analogy for our relationship with Christ is a healthy, happy marriage. There may be swinging bachelors out there who urge you not to get married, not to take on that ball and chain. “Say goodbye to your freedom,” they might say. Why would you give up your ability to do whatever you want? Stay up as late as you want, play video games all night, or sleep around with whomever you want? To some people, it’s impossible to see the appeal of a “restrictive,” monogamous, and committed relationship.

People who are happily married know all too well the cost they paid, but the reward is great enough to justify it all. Giving up “freedom” and a “fun” lifestyle is rewarded with a different level of happiness. What once seemed so appealing as a single person becomes dull or even repulsive to your eyes.

The same is true of entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sometimes it seems to make no sense to give up the appealing world around us. The cost of entry may seem unattractively high, but the longer you wait, the more you miss out on what true satisfaction is on this earth.

4. The kingdom could always use more workers, and it’s our privilege to take part.

God is doing work in this world, and He chooses to use us to do some of it. Wouldn’t you want to contribute and be a part of the movement?

Imagine if everyone had this last-minute mentality. Who would be spreading the message of the gospel to people? Who would be the one coming to your hospital bed to instruct you and pray with you? I, for one, don’t want to be a leech that benefits from the work of others. I want to do my part, and I think deep down, most of us feel this way also. The good news is, God always has room for more workers, more soldiers.

5. God promises eternal rewards for the faithful.

OK, so the last one wasn’t really a “what’s in it for me?” reason, per se, but this one is.

God promises rewards for those who do his work and are faithful. Sometimes, the reward can manifest during our lives here on earth, but every time, we are assured to receive eternal rewards in heaven. (By the time you enter into a relationship with God, you may not need much extra motivation anyway.)

Matthew 5:11-12 says: “11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 6:20: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;”

What are these rewards that God promises? The Bible doesn’t say specifically, but my guess is that if God is the one rewarding us, it’s something we would enjoy. Granted, we’re not going to be lacking or covetous when we’re in heaven, but again, if God is giving it out, I want it. It’s eternity we’re talking about here. It’d be wise for us to plan ahead and make the ultimate investment while we still can. Like any good investment, the end result will be better the earlier we get started.

Conclusion

This post was just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it’ll get some people thinking about treating their salvation with more urgency. There is literally nothing to gain by waiting, and there is everything in store for those who take the plunge. Finding Christ can sometimes happen overnight, but it may also take months (or even years). It’s safer to get started NOW, don’t you think? Don’t be like the virgins in the parable who aren’t prepared and are locked out from the feast. Don’t prepare too late.

If there are things you are afraid of losing or giving up, let me assure you that no true believer regrets the trade after it happens. No one ends up saying, “I’ve found Jesus, but I sure wish I could go back to my old ways again.” Besides, depending on what you’re holding onto, there’s no guarantee that God will ask you to give it up completely anyway. Perhaps He will refine it for his glory, or just push it down on the priority ladder. Maybe you will have to give it up. Either way, you won’t be sorry.