Evil Is Evident; Hell Is Authentic; Prepare or Perish.

This title is not stated as a threat or with any glee.  It is written with trembling knees, a heart full of prayer and sincere desire that anyone reading it may find Life and NOT perish.  The title is simply the statement of three facts which I will address in three blogs.  Though Jesus spoke much more about the Kingdom of Heaven, we would be remiss if we skipped these subjects that He and the Bible address.

Fairy Tales
2021-03-27 WickedSome would like us to believe in fairy tales; happily ever after endings without consequences for wrong behavior.  Or at least, let’s provide some context which makes wrong choices understandable and tolerable since the villain had it so rough.  So Wicked becomes a Disney retelling of Sleeping Beauty that makes Maleficent an unfortunate victim of her circumstances.  Romulans actually are nice guys, just with slightly different means of expressing the same values as Federation members.  Natasha Romanoff (or Black Widow) had a rough childhood; fortunately, she falls in love with a good guy and joins the Avengers.  Severus Snape, the epitome of evil with black cape, boots and a penchant for scaring Potter’s goodniks, turns out to be working for Dumbledore all along.  Another black-robed villain, Darth Vader is given reasons for his turn to the dark side.  And the Terminator turns out to be a misunderstood robot who just needed reprogramming.  Don’t we all?

So in this alternate universe Hitler would be mistreated by his dad and abused by a Jewish teacher.  Stalin was a nice kid who just got involved with the wrong crowd, and Pol Pot was very poor and had to steal food to survive as a child.

Unfortunately, alternate “universes” do not exist (with no apologies to Stephen Hawking).  By definition, universe means ”the totality of known or supposed objects throughout space; the cosmos.”  There cannot be another “universe” that contains that totality; that is an absurdity for which there is not a grain of evidence except in the minds of Star Trek viewers like Hawking.

Not Innocent, Only Incompetent
2021-03-27 Not Innocent Just IncompetentWe are the product of choices we make throughout life, beginning with infancy when we want the blocks the other baby has.  Shortly after most children master “Mama,” most also learn “Mine!”  Children are not innocent; they are simply incompetent.  Given the power, the mass of them would eliminate any opposition with a flick of Potter’s wand and simply kill anyone that prevents them from getting their way.

You and I were like that!  We had to be taught that there were better things than getting our own way all the time.  Most of those lessons were learnt through experience, the best teacher, but hardly the kindest.

In The Great Divorce, C.S.Lewis illustrates these choices among those who refuse Heaven because of what they want.  From the dishonest intellectual to a greedy materialist; from a religious hypocrite to a self-deprecating egomaniac; from a mother who preferred to drag her child into hell rather than forfeit control to a tragedian who loved his own misery rather than accept joy that was offered.  “Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven.” (Milton)

There are those who will choose their own way rather than God’s way even at the pain of death.  And from their choices will come every kind of evil from murdering unborn children to killing the elderly who no longer “contribute to society” to justifying what once were considered perverse lifestyles.  Like Lewis’ Ghosts they will couch their evil in beautiful sounding words like Social Security, Affordable Care, For The People, Toleration or Government Protection, but what they really want is selfish aggrandizement, physical comfort, control of others and power for themselves.

Can’t We All Just Be Nice?
2021-03-27 House on FireEvil is real and it does not go away just because we try to be “nice” to each other.  Real love is much harsher than the pablum pop psychology puts out today.  If a neighbor’s house is on fire, would we be “nice” and say, “Let’s not upset him; wait till it’s convenient to tell him?”  NO, the “loving thing” to do would be to bang on his door, disturb his “peace,” and warn him to get to safety!  So it is that if we fail to warn people of the reality of evil and its consequences, we are simply “nice neighbors” who do not care if our acquaintances die.

Trying to be nice to some people is like appeasement of Hitler just prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.  There was a madness sweeping Europe and the Fuhrer was simply its pawn.  This does not excuse him of the war’s atrocities, but remember he was as deceived as those he was deceiving (See 2 Timothy 3:12-13), an evil-doer going from bad to worse.

Paul had this to say to his protégé pastoring in Ephesus:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,  who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

And again some time later:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

Children of the Day
2021-03-27 Children Of The DayWe are called to be light in a darkening world, salt to a rotting, tasteless culture (Matthew 5:13-16).  The times will become darker yet, as political leaders lie more, as religious conviction becomes labeled “Hate Speech,” as bureaucratic alignments for economic and national interests bring together enemies of Israel, as whole societies call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:8-30)

However, though evil is real and becomes more evident, we are called “to walk in the Light, even as He is in the light.” (1 John 1:5-9)  We must stand distinctly apart from liars and deceivers who say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13-15)  And we pray for the deceived that they may see the Truth (Ephesians 4:18-19)

The Children of the Day recorded this song back in 1979 based on 1 Thessalonians 5:5-9.
When your heart is dark and empty and new shadows start to fall;
When cluttered fears and sin are the writing on your wall;
Your confusion and your doubts are always lurking left and right,
Don’t try to drive the darkness out; you just turn on the light.

We’re the children of the light, and we’re the children of the day.
We need not always stumble in an ever darkening way.
Though the darkness will close in around with shadows everywhere,
Still Jesus Christ is in our life, the Light of the world is there.

Next week, , I will discuss what Jesus and the Apostles taught about hell.  It’s not pretty.

My Most Important Blog EVER

2021-01-30 News AnchorNews hits us faster than we can absorb it.  This began with television reporting back in the 60s and 70s of the last century.  The joke about our level of engagement came with a news anchor announcing, with a bright smile, “10 killed in hit-and-run on Broadway, film at 11.”

We are saturated 24/7, 1,440 minutes per day, with available information any time we look at our watches, phones or computers, most of which is unrelated to our daily lives, very little about which we can do anything, and most without consequence for any length of time, only lasting until the next broadcast or posting on social media.

But there IS something that matters, something integrally related to your life, something over which you have complete control, something that will last for all eternity: 
What will you do about the claims of Jesus, called the Christ? 

Jesus is the focal point of history, changing for over half the world the way we count the days of our lives ever since shortly after He walked on earth.  And He made some pretty audacious claims, so auspicious that I capitalize pronouns when I refer to Him.  Nothing particularly holy about capitalization, but simply to reflect that He is higher, better, greater (every positive superlative of which you can think) than any other human, past, present or future.

To understand who Jesus claimed to be one must read His biographies, which we call the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the first four books of the New Testament. (Many online sources are available and each one can be read in your native language in less than an hour; my favorite source is at Biblegateway.com where you can see if your language is listed.)

Even those who do not trust Him as what He claimed to be admit something unusual happened after He left the world, something that transformed His followers from meek and frightened, politically disenfranchised jellyfish to robust and daring defenders of what they had experienced.  What they experienced is recorded in Matthew 28, John 16 and 20, and Acts 1 and 2.  And all but one of them died rather than recant; only John survived to old age, but that was in exile on a prison island.

These disciples who had deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, are next seen hiding in quiet rooms, afraid the High Priest, Sanhedrin or Roman authorities might be coming after them next.  Their political aspirations were dead, their leader had been crucified and the Jewish leaders had ensured that none of the disciples could steal His body.  They were confused and dismayed that the One they expected to lead Israel to international prominence, even over the Roman Empire, was dead and buried in a Roman-guarded sealed tomb.  How much worse could it get!?

But rather than getting worse, some women went to the grave in which Jesus was buried and found it empty, encountering angels who declared, He is not here, for He has risen!”  Mary Magdalene, hardly an archetype of integrity, did not believe the angels and came at first to announce to the disciples, who were cowering in their chamber, that the tomb was empty.  Two of the disciples, Peter and John, ran to the tomb to see for themselves and also found it empty.   But then Jesus met Mary Magdalene in the garden where His tomb was and showed her that He was alive!  A couple of others returned from Emmaeus and said they had seen Jesus alive!

In all of these encounters, the ones who knew Jesus best resisted the stories and did not understand the Old Testament scriptures and refused to believe tales of seeing Jesus.  They still could not think of the things He had taught them about His death!  It was just too much for a rational brain to take in . . . until He appeared to them in a locked room.  (They were still afraid and could not sort through the events that were happening faster than the Fall of the Berlin Wall in modern times.)   But when Jesus appeared to them, He showed them His wounds from the crucifixion and they finally believed.

So what did He claim about Himself? 
That He is the bread of life that came down from Heaven.
That He is the light of the world.
That He is the good shepherd.
That He is the resurrection and life.
That He is teacher and Lord.
That He is the way, the truth and the life.
That He is the true vine.
That He is not from this earth.
That He is King of the Jews.
That He is The I Am!  This is arguably His most significant claim to be God, as He claimed to be one with Father, the I AM.

2021-01-30 I AM

This short blog does not allow nearly adequate space for me to show you from the Bible all that it teaches of who Jesus is, but you are all intelligent and capable learned people.  Hey, you access a computer and blog! 😉  So do not take my word alone for this.  Read the Gospels and discover for yourself if you can trust this Jesus to be what He claimed to be.  What will you do?  You MUST do something, either admit these to be true or reject them to be false.  There is no middle ground.

If you believe, the next step is to receive HimJohn 1:12 says, “To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.”  Picture you came to my home and I offered to feed you dinner.  You could believe I was going to provide a meal; you could thank me for it; we could sit at the table together and talk about the food in front of us . . . but if you did not reach out and take the food, you would leave my home as empty as when you came.

So, first, reach out in your heart and mind to Jesus.  He is God and knows what is in your heart and thoughts even before you say it.  So invite Him to come and live in you.  Admit you are a sinner and have not let Him rule your life yet.  Turn away (repent) from your self-guided life and tell Jesus that you will trust Him to lead the rest of your life.  Do not worry that you are not perfect, or that you do not understand all this yet.  Simply trust Him that He will come live in you and begin to work in you to perform His will.  There are no special formulas for praying.  Just talk to Him as you would your own earthly father.

Secondly, if you decide to do this, the next step is to begin reading the Bible.  It is His directive to us, an ultimate guide for life and practice.  Do not be intimidated by the size (it is actually a library collection of small books; just take one at a time.)  There are numerous Bible-reading “plans” you can access, but just read!

Thirdly, if you talked with Jesus to invite Him to live in you, you have begun to pray.  Keep it up.  Again, there are lots of books and helps for praying, but remember, it does not take any special language.  Plus, as you get to know Jesus better (not just know about Him, but know HIM), you will find prayer is not just you talking to God.  In times of His choosing, He will talk to you!  Although the value of prayer cannot be measured by its volume, it can safely be said that prayer is valueless if you do not pray.  Make time to pray.

Lastly, God does not call “Lone Ranger Christians.”  Find a community of people who are seeking and experiencing the Presence of God.  Some will be phony; some will be misguided or misinformed; some will be manipulative; some will be dishonest; but you need them as much as they need you.  And as you pray and read the Bible, you will grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Certainly, there is no requirement or expectation for you to contact me regarding your Journey into Faith, but if you want to contact me, please feel free to email me at capost3k@gmail.com.  No question is off limits.

Finally, let me assure you from many years of Bible study and examination of world religions from Atheism to Zoroastrianism, from Buddhism to Hinduism to Islam to Jainism, there is no intellectual reason for rejecting the claims of Jesus.  There is no text more authentically relayed to our generation than the Bible.  There is no way to get to know who God is, other than through the God-Man, Jesus.

Guest Blog: The Night Before and After Christmas

The Night after Christmas, It Was Still Dark
How the story of the shepherds changes our view of suffering.
by Jeff Peabody – November 27, 2020 – Good reading in Christianity Today.

The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour is believed to sit atop the site where “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8).  Two churches claim to mark the spot of the angelic visitation.  But that is just geography.  This year I find myself less interested in the where of the fields because I am more concerned with the when — the “at night” Luke briefly mentions.  The shepherds’ experience of darkness, both before and after their trip to the manger, holds special relevance for a Christmas arriving in the waning hours of 2020.

It has been a pretty dark year.  In the midst of already dire global conditions, the pandemic has plunged the world into what has seemed like an endless metaphorical nighttime.  It calls to mind when God brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, describing it to Moses as “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21).  Once again, something palpable seems to have blanketed the world with all the unknowns, fears, and uncertainties nightfall brings.  And as with most nights, we are weary.

Merry Christmas, right?

Maybe the sentiment is not as incongruous as it feels. Maybe the season of joy is right at home in these conditions. “Advent always begins in the dark,” writes Fleming Rutledge.

For most of my years as a pastor, it has felt as though I have been shepherding at night, in the dark.  No grand visions.  No mapped-out growth strategy.  I have prayed regularly for the light-up-the-sky kind of illumination realized by the Bethlehem shepherds.  Just show me what to do, God, and I will do it.  But my eyes have never been able to focus very far ahead.

That blindness became amplified by all that happened this year, like moving from twilight to midnight.  Suddenly, I could not see two steps in front of me.  Staring into a camera week after week to deliver sermons, I could not even see the flock, let alone the fields.  Each new crisis in the world begged for a response I did not have.  Big decisions and future planning became increasingly difficult, even as the need for them intensified.

The Old Testament book of Joel recounts a disastrous pestilence that wreaked havoc on God’s people.  It brought widespread, horrific destruction. In reflecting on those events, Eugene Peterson observed, “There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual.”

The virus we are facing may be novel, but the distress we are experiencing is not.  The preexisting darkness has simply grown thicker, making it more difficult to move.  But immobility is not always bad.  When we cannot go anywhere, we are left with sitting and waiting. And if we are still for any length of time, we are more likely to notice what we would have missed otherwise.

Such as those two little words: “at night.”

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.  “The shepherds returned,” Luke says, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).  After everything they saw, they returned to the place they had started.  In other words, they went back to that dark night.

All the brilliant, phosphorescent glory that lit up the entire sky did not end their experience of darkness.  It was still there, waiting for them on the far side of the manger.  And that was to be expected.  The angels had not visited the shepherds to bring a miraculous halt to the rotation of the earth.  They were not there to banish the night.  Glory displayed for one purpose only: to provide the irresistible prompt to seek out Jesus.  A flash of light showed the way to a greater light.

This, I have realized, is where I have often gotten hung up.  I have been praying for a light that will eradicate the dark altogether and get me out of it. I am looking — aching, at times — for clear, confident revelation that will end my confusion for good.  I have been waiting for God to solve life for me.  But honestly, that is more escapism than seeking God’s leading.  And that is not why he gives us light.  He shines his beams of revelation to show us the path to Jesus, the light of the world.

We can learn to reframe our questions from “Lord, when will this darkness be over?” to “What is pointing me toward Christ?” As we do, we may find there is significantly more light in the room than we realized.

The angel’s message began with the reassurance that there was no need to be afraid because God’s rescue plan was in motion.  It encompassed everything (offering joy for all people) and missed nothing (down to the details of how Jesus was bundled).  God’s grasp of history and his utter command of the situation were fully evident.  The birth of Christ happened before the angels arrived, during the unlit hours of the night.  The angelic announcement may have shattered the gloom with its brightness, but the miraculous arrival of Jesus occurred much like his resurrection: “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

God is at work before we see him, absolutely unhindered.  Our blindness is not His.  “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” the psalmist says (Psalm 139:12).  He is not intimidated by all the unknowns of night that stop us in our tracks.

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness.  There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.

Up until then, no one had ever lived in a world where the Son of God had dwelt among us as a fellow human being.  Prior to the Incarnation, God had not fully revealed himself.  As the shepherds sat out in those fields, they were living in a world that could see no more than the outlines of God’s redemption plan.  The veil had not been torn yet.

But then, as Isaiah predicted, a light dawned on the people sitting in that pre-manger darkness.  The birth of Christ changed everything.  Suddenly, there was physical evidence of spiritual action.  The hopes of endless ages were no longer abstract wishes.  They were about to be fulfilled within the lifespan of a real live person.

It was the reality of Jesus — not the light of the angels — that stuck with the shepherds.  As glorious as the heavenly choir had looked and sounded out in the field, it paled in comparison to the staggering truth the Christ child embodied.  Even as they were filled with wonder, the shepherds were given only the smallest glimpse of what was coming.  Their understanding was limited to whatever promise they could imagine from a newborn baby.  They did not know he would literally calm storms.  They did not see him heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the crowds.  They knew nothing of the Cross, let alone the Resurrection.  God did not show them the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the inclusion of the nations, or how the gospel would advance tirelessly around the globe for the next 2,000 years.  Yet the shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Sometimes we act as though what we are going through is pre-manger darkness.  When God seems silent, when we are bewildered by our inability to figure out a way forward, we make up a greater void than is truly there.  Because in truth, a staggering amount of light has been shed on Jesus since the shepherds.  History continues to provide both evidence and explanation.

I do not mean to minimize or trivialize anyone’s “dark night of the soul.”  When you are in one, it is painful and disorienting, often to the point of despair.  But as believers, our darkness is always post-manger.  Our darkness is forever against the backdrop of the light of Christ.  What has been shown of him cannot be unrevealed.  And Jesus never leaves our side through each season of darkness.  It is those who love us best who stay with us through our worst.  You know love is real when it shows up in the middle of the night.

Someday, morning will come.  Night never lasts forever.  In the meantime, we have Immanuel, God right here with us.  And that means we can return to the dark again and again, rejoicing and praising God for the light we have and the One who loves us enough to remain.  We can heed the angel’s call to not be afraid of this present darkness or any other.  The one born to us that night is still good news of great joy.

Jeff Peabody is a writer and lead pastor of New Day Church in Northeast Tacoma, Washington.

Angels We Have Hear On High – Pentatonix