Being a Tough Christian

I was amazed recently to hear an interview with a man who is considered by many to be “the toughest man in the world.” The man’s name is David Goggins, who is described by Wikipedia as “retired Navy SEAL and former USAF Tactical Air Control Party member who served in Iraq and Afghanistan… ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete and world record holder for the most pull-ups done in 24 hours.”

I was impressed with Goggins’ description of the first time he had run a 100 mile race. He did this with no marathon training whatsoever. He was not even a runner.

He describes sitting down at one point and being unable to stand back up, so that he had to use the restroom on himself right where he sat. He describes the small bones in his feet being broken, kidney failure, severe shin fractures, and tendon inflammation so severe that he had to tape his entire lower legs into what were essentially giant, unflexing pegs for the last 20 or 30 miles of the race. He describes exactly the kind of intense pain that you would expect from someone who is running 100 miles without ever having trained as a runner before.

As I heard this tale, I had to question whether I was truly aware of my own ability for mental toughness. I thought of 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Maybe when you read this passage, you think it means that God will give you a fairly easy and obvious way out of any temptation you might face. Maybe we want to believe that the paths through our trials will be simply a matter of trusting God and it will all be over in a jiffy.

But all that the text says is that He “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” And apparently, human beings are able to endure tremendous suffering and difficulty.

We are told that He, “with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” This is a sure promise from the LORD. But bear in mind that humans have endured all kinds of long, painful situations such as being prisoners of war or being trapped for days or weeks under rubble before finally finding a way of escape.

You might or might not be physically able to run 100 miles, even if you truly gave it your all. But the temptations you face, with the LORD’s help, you can overcome if you refuse to give up. But do not expect it to be easy.

We will need to draw on the LORD for tremendous strength if we are to bear the tragedies and the ailments that are sure to come our way.

“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:13)

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

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Scriptures and Thoughts on Hell

What does “hell” mean?

Hebrew:
Sheol – synonym of pit or abyss. A monster that is never satisfied (Proverbs 1:12, 30:16). Underworld (place to which people descend at death). Does not consistently carry a specific connotation of punishment or reward.

Greek:
Hades – properly, the “unseen place,” referring to the (invisible) realm in which all the dead reside, i.e. the present dwelling place of all the departed (deceased). Does not consistently carry a specific connotation of punishment or reward.

Tartarus – only occurs in 2 Peter 2:4, referring either to the negative side of Hades or to the eternal abode of the wicked.

Ge’enna – appears 12 times, all but once spoken by Jesus. Loan word from the Hebrew meaning “the valley of (Ben) Hinnom,” an actual valley associated with idol worship and child sacrifice.

            Hell is a place of fire:
(Matthew 5:22) “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

(James 3:6) And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

(Reveltion 21:8) But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Is there a difference between hades and hell?

The KJV translated hades as hell and gehenna as the Valley of Hinnom. Since that time, scholarship and critical reading of the text reveals that Hades is a more general term, like Sheol, while Gehenna is a specific term for the eternal abode of the wicked.

(Revelation 20:13-15) And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

(Acts 2:27) For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.

Is hell forever?

(Matthew 25:46) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Revelation 14:11) And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

(Daniel 12:2) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Do people experience eternal conscious suffering in hell?
See above references on hell being eternal.  Hell is also a place of conscious suffering:

(Matthew 13:50) And throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Luke 16:23) And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

(Revelation 20:10) And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Relevant passages for the “annihilationism” discussion:

(Matthew 10:28) And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 7:13)“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

(2 Pet. 3:7) “by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

(Hebrews 10:39) But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

(2 Pet. 3:9) “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,”

(John 10:28) “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

(1 Tim. 6:15-16) “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.”

(2 Timothy 1:10) “Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”

(1 Corinthians 15:52-53).” “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality

(Matthew 25:46) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Jude 7) Sodom and Gomorrah “are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

(Isaiah 66:24) “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

(Isaiah 34:9-10) “Its streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch. It will not be quenched night or day; Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever.”

Is Satan in charge of hell?

(2 Peter 2:4) God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;

 (Matthew 25:41) “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

(Revelation 19:20) And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

(Revelation 20:10) And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Do we talk enough about hell?

Could there be an excessive emphasis? Could there be an under-emphasis?

(Ezekiel 3) watchman principle

(Luke 12:5) But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

(Matthew 23:33) You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

(Mark 9:43-48) And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

(Hebrews 10:26-31) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”d and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”e 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Why will God send people to hell? How could He do something like that?

(Romans 6:23) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Galatians 6:8) For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

(John 3:16-18) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

(Ezekiel 18:23) Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’

(2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

(Matthew 10:28) And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 25:41) “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

(Matthew 13:41-42) The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(2 Peter 2:1-10) protecting His people from harm.

(Matthew 3:12) His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

(Matthew 13:49-50) So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Matthew 7:13)“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

Other Discussion Questions:
Are you afraid of hell daily? Why or why not?
Is it appropriate to scare young children by teaching them about hell?

Living with Passion

A few years ago I read “Miracle in the Andes,” written by Nando Parrado, one of the 16 passengers who would ultimately survive a plane crash and 72 days of isolation in the Andes Mountains at high altitude. After two months stranded, Parrado and another man named Roberto Canessa trekked ten days through the mountains to ultimately find help.

The most moving part of Parrado’s account, which I will never forget, is the feeling he had very early into that ten day trek, when he finally got to the top of a high ridge, expecting to find Chile, and salvation, on the other side. Instead, there was nothing but more mountains as far as the eye could see.

All of the anxiety, the anticipation, the crushing weight of responsibility for the other passengers, and the desperate hope for the preservation of his life, was lifted from Parrado’s shoulders, and he describes an immense feeling of joy and relief. Parrado says that in that moment, he became certain that he would die in the Andes, and in that certainty he found a peace and a freedom.

Of course, Parrado was wrong. He went on to find help. But that feeling of peace never left him. He describes living each day to the fullest, with complete gratitude for the time that he has. In Parrado’s case, the old adage is true, life can only be truly and fully lived in view of death.

Another account of a terrible situation that has affected me deeply is a talk online by Journalist Sebastian Junger that seeks to understand “Why Veterans Miss War.” Junger personally spent time in heavy combat, and describes the paradoxical, but common scenario in which a soldier comes home from war, only to find him or her self longing to go back. His conclusion is that the connection of brotherhood felt by men in combat is a force of incredible power, and is so unequaled by the petty connections that dominate modern society.

Both of these accounts, and so many others like them that are based on true events, emphasize to us the reality that sometimes the most dramatic circumstances draw out from us something very deep and powerful. Deep within ourselves, men and women long to be a part of a cause that matters, to have an important reason to get up in the morning, and to feel the full depth and weight of a life lived to the fullest.

Contrast that with much of what goes on in the Lord’s church today.

Friends, the Bible tells us that we are at war (Ephesians 6:10-17). The Bible tells us that we have an adversary who stalks around like a lion eating people (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible tells us that we have the opportunity to save souls from death (James 5:20). The Bible tells us that we will suffer and be reviled (1 Peter 4:12-14), and hated my all (Mark 13:13), as we strive for a prize that far outweighs our afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Do the problems of social or economic or political injustice that fill so many with passion not have their root in the necessity for the hearts of the world to find and savor Jesus Christ? Do the family problems that tear lives apart and leave so many so deeply and tragically wounded not fall under the authority of the Divine Author of the family itself?

Is there not a war raging in your heart over whether life is even worth living, and if so, what it is worth living for? Is the world not full of suffering that God calls us to address? Do you actually believe even a fraction of what you say about how much of the world is lost and truly hell bound?

Jesus came that we might live life and live it to the fullest (John 10:10).

If God in Christ is not drawing out from deep within us the strivings of hearts that are truly living and fighting with passion, it is not because He has not issued a call to arms. It is only because of our pathetic, hypocritical apathy.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

In Mark 15, it is recorded that Jesus cried out from the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the same thing that David cried in the 22nd psalm:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

The people around Jesus had no idea what He was talking about. They were ignorant of the Psalm and ignorant of Jesus’ true identity and the true depth and meaning of His suffering. “Behold, he is calling Elijah,” they concluded, “let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

At the moment of Jesus’ greatest loneliness, he was surrounded by clueless sinners who speculated about Elijah and wagged their heads as He gave Himself up on behalf of their eternal souls.

David continued in his psalm:
“I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

And later,
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.”

Then the Psalm takes an unexpected turn.

“You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

What happened in David’s heart that made him trust in God even when no one understood him and God Himself seemed far away? Did God speak to Him with an audible voice? Did God touch his heart in a reassuring way? Did David find somewhere deep in his heart the assurance that he could trust the LORD no matter what? Did David come back and write this part of the psalm after things got better?

I don’t know. But I pray that you and I can have a psalm like David’s.

I believe that Jesus was referencing all of Psalm 22 when He quoted that one line from the cross. At that moment, He may have felt only the first verse, but He testified to the truth of the whole. That is the hope that we cling to in our darkest and loneliest times.

 

God’s Victory is Near

For as long as there has been pain and suffering, we have been struggling to understand why. How can a loving God allow injustice and tragedy to happen?

When Job asked God these questions, God gave no short, simple answer. He did not give Job a stone tablet with a brief explanation, nor has He given us this bulletin article to suddenly answer all of our questions.

God’s answer was a series of over 60 questions that contrasted Job’s smallness with God’s bigness, and Job’s limited knowledge with God’s infinite wisdom.

Perhaps God was telling Job that man can no more understand the problem of suffering than he can understand how to create a universe out of nothing.

It is not a comprehensive answer, but there is something that we must remember: this world lies under the power of the devil.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1-2)

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Something else that we do know is that the devil’s reign is temporary and will come to an end.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31)

In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He is not slow to fulfill His promises, but is patiently waiting for more to repent. (2 Peter 3:9) Even so, we long for the day when His victory will be swift.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

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Jesus did not Promise to Make Us Comfortable

There is much about the Christian life that makes it rewarding.

We receive riches:
Paul told the Corinthians that they had “become rich” and had “become kings” because of what Christ had done for them (1 Corinthians 4:8).
The Romans were told that God is “abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12).
The gentiles in Ephesus were told of “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
The Philippians were told that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

We receive abundant life:
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

We receive salvation:
Peter told his readers that they were “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

We receive more than we give up:
Jesus told his followers, “there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

But there are some things that we are not guaranteed, even as God’s children.

We are not guaranteed that life will be comfortable. Rather, we can expect:
Various trials.” (James 1:2)
Many tribulations.” (Acts 14:22)
Tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “peril,” and “sword.” (Romans 8:35)
The hatred of the world. (Mark 13:13)
Insults, persecutions, and all kinds of false accusations. (Matthew 5:11)
Unjust suffering. (1 Peter 2:19)
Thorns in the flesh. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
The fiery darts of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16)
Imprisonment. (Revelation 2:10)

By an accident of history and geography, we live in a land where the physical persecution of Christians is exceptionally rare. But this does not mean that the Christian life will be comfortable for us.

He has given us great riches in Christ. He has given us an opportunity for new and abundant life. He has offered us salvation. He has given us more than we could ever give back.

But He has not promised to make us “comfortable.” Will we not step out of our comfort zones, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the needy, and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

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God Acknowledges Our Suffering

To be human means to be capable of suffering.

Those who have experienced chronic pain, clinical depression, or serious illnesses of any sort are all too familiar with this fact. In many cases, the sufferer is surrounded by individuals who are not so familiar with suffering and whose best advice seems just about useless if not upsetting.

The scriptures don’t offer magical incantations or curt advice. The Bible does, however, acknowledge the situation. If you’re like me, you appreciate it when your sacrifices or difficulties are at least acknowledged rather than undermined or ignored.

God acknowledges that people suffer bitterly.

Elijah prayed earnestly to God that he might die right then and there. (1st Kings 19:3-5)

David drenched his pillow with tears as he cried at night. (Psalm 6:6-7)

Job spends the entire 26 verses of Job chapter 3 cursing the day he was born. He asks:

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest.”

God could have left these accounts out of His word if He had wanted to ignore the reality of our pain.

God’s word also acknowledges that cheap advice is frustrating and doesn’t work. The book of Job contains almost 30 chapters of Job’s friends providing useless and accusatory suggestions instead of gently supporting him. At the end of the book, Job’s friends are asking him to pray for them because of their foolishness.

Paul, whose suffering included numerous severe beatings, lashings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and physical ailments (2 Corinthians 11:23-29, Galatians 4:13) did not offer any cute little pieces of advice, but he did give us some hope to hold onto:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Corinthians 8:18)

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