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What Christmas Has To Do With Hell

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December, 1997

A florist got the messages mixed up on the orders he sent out. A woman received flowers sent by her husband who was at a business meeting in Florida. She was puzzled to read on the card, “My deepest sympathy.”

But she was not nearly as surprised as the woman whose husband had just passed away. Her card read, “Hotter here than I expected. Wish you were here, too!”

We probably joke about hell because it is so uncomfortable to face squarely. I confess that it is one of the most difficult teachings in all the Bible. I would much rather set it aside or disbelieve it, but I cannot. Since Jesus taught it so plainly, I can’t claim to follow him and at the same time reject his teaching about hell. Frankly, it is no joking matter!

Jesus taught a lot about hell. Here I can only touch on some of what he taught. He said that it is better to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand or foot, if they cause you to stumble, than to be cast into hell, which he described as a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48). It is a place of “outer darkness” where there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He called it a place of “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:41, 46). In his graphic parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man in hell is described as being “in torment.” He wishes that someone might “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame” (Luke 16:23, 24).

These descriptions are enough to show that Jesus did not picture hell as a wild party, a fun place to cavort with other sinners, as many jokes commonly portray it. He warned people of its agony in the most frightening terms. If Jesus knew what he was talking about, you want to avoid hell at all possible costs!

Many people think, “Yes, there is a hell and it is a terrible place. But I don’t need to worry about going there, because I’m a basically good person. The only ones who will go to hell are the mass murderers, child molesters, and that sort.”

Think again! Jesus indicated that if a man mentally lusts after a woman, he is in danger of his whole body being thrown into hell (Matt. 5:28-30)! If you are angry with someone, you are guilty of murder in God’s sight and are “guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22). In other words, according to Jesus, we’re all in big, big trouble! We all are guilty enough many times over to be cast into hell.

By now maybe you’re wondering, “What does any of this have to do with Christmas?” Everything! Let me explain.

When Jesus was born, the angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11). Have you ever thought about what it means that Jesus is called the Savior? What is he saving people from? Answer: God’s judgment, which is hell.

Savior is a radical word. People who just need a little moral uplift don’t need a Savior. People who are pretty good folks, but just need a little guidance, don’t need a Savior. The only people who need a Savior are those in desperate straits. If you are lost at sea in a small boat in a violent storm, you don’t need a little guidance. You need the Coast Guard to save you! You will perish if someone does not intervene. And if they do save you, you are overwhelmed with great joy!

In light of that, think about how Jesus described his mission: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). If you’re lost in sin, under God’s just condemnation because you have broken his holy laws, then the message of Christmas is “good news of a great joy”: The Savior has come! If you receive him, you are saved from God’s judgment. That’s the only way to have a truly merry Christmas.

Related Topics: Character of God, Christmas, Christology, Hell, Soteriology (Salvation)

Christ’s Resurrection Is The Foundation Of Christianity

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It’s fascinating when engineers strategically place explosives and then set them off so that an old skyscraper collapses into a heap of rubble. With the Christian faith, you only have to set the explosives at one point: Blow up the resurrection of Jesus and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

That’s what the apostle Paul said. If you can blow up this one thing, you totally destroy Christianity. That foundation is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith also is vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).

What evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus? Books have been written on this, so I can only be sketchy. First, there was the fact of the empty tomb. If Jesus’ tomb had not been empty, when the disciples began proclaiming his resurrection from the dead, their enemies would have simply marched to the tomb, produced the body, and the disciples would have been laughed out of town.

There are several ways to account for the empty tomb. Jesus’ enemies could have stolen the body. But they had no motive to do so. It was to their advantage to leave the body where it was, which is why they had Pilate post the Roman guard and seal the tomb.

Another possibility is that the Roman guards stole the body. But again, they had no motive to do so. They weren’t concerned about this Jewish religious trial. The Jewish leaders, who were scrambling for ways to explain away the resurrection, didn’t accuse the soldiers of taking the body or allowing it to be stolen.

A third possibility is that the disciples stole the body. The Jewish leaders actually promoted this theory by bribing the Roman guards (Matt. 28:11-15). But there are many reasons the disciples could not have moved Jesus’ body. The tomb was secured by the Roman guard. The stone was large and heavy and could not have been moved without cooperation from the guards. The guards would not have risked their lives to allow the body to be stolen, even for a bribe. If the disciples had bribed the guards and stolen the body, they would not later have suffered beatings, imprisonment and even death to preach Jesus’ resurrection.

A second major evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is his many post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. These happened in varied circumstances to many different people. J. N. D. Anderson, formerly Professor of Oriental Laws and Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, wrote, “The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But, so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position” (Christianity Today [3/29/68], p. 5). He goes on to give several solid reasons for his assertions.

A third evidence is the changed lives of the many different witnesses. None of them were expecting a resurrection, in spite of Jesus’ repeated predictions of such. They were confused, frightened, and depressed after the crucifixion. At the first reports of the resurrection from the women who saw Jesus, the disciples were skeptical. But they all became convinced witnesses to the point that they boldly proclaimed Christ to the very audience that had crucified him. Many endured persecution and martyrdom. What could account for such dramatic change, if not the fact that they had seen the risen Jesus Christ?

A fourth evidence (and my list is far from exhaustive) is the unique person of Jesus Christ. Study the Gospel accounts of who Jesus was, what he taught, the miracles he performed, and the prophecies he fulfilled. As C. S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, no mere man, let alone a great religious teacher, could have said and done the things that Jesus did. The only options, said Lewis, are that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all. Although formerly an atheist, Lewis became convinced of the third option.

If you’ve never done so, Easter would be a good time to go to a church that proclaims Christ’s resurrection. Read the Gospels. Carefully weigh the evidence. Your conclusion may, as it did with the apostles and as it has done with many millions since, dramatically change your life.

Related Topics: Devotionals, Easter, Resurrection

Companions By Covenant

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February, 1998

When I was in seminary, I knew a man who married a woman he did not know. He had met her once and did not find anything objectionable. Since his parents and her parents had arranged the marriage, he agreed to it. In India, where this couple was from, that’s the way it’s often done. Before you knock their system, think about the results of ours! A quarter of a century later, they’re still happily married, by the way.

In our system, most marriages, even Christian ones, are built on a foundation of romantic love and strong sexual attraction (and often involvement). All too often, after a few months or years with all the pressures of daily life, the romance has long gone, sex is infrequent and not too exciting, and other problems have escalated. About then someone new comes along who seems romantically interesting and sexy. So the marriage dissolves and the partners try again with someone else. The missing or weak element in this system is lifelong covenant commitment.

The Bible brings together two crucial ingredients for satisfying marriage: covenant and companionship (see Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14). These elements are implicit in the original marriage in the Garden of Eden, where it is said that the wife was a helper suitable for (or, corresponding to) the man and that the man would cleave to his wife and that the two would become one flesh. They were companions joined together by lifelong covenant. The covenant is the foundation on which the companionship develops, the fence by which it is protected.

In the New Testament, Paul explains that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. God’s gracious covenant is the basis for our relationship with Him. It assures us that He will not cast us off if we fall short or displease Him. The covenant is what holds the relationship together even when feelings may not be strong.

I’m not advocating covenant commitment without romance in marriage. That would be a drab situation. I am arguing that the covenant commitment is the basis for working on romance and companionship in marriage. The covenant is the glue that holds it together while the feelings fluctuate, as inevitably they will. The biblical command is not, “Men, marry your lovers,” but rather, “Husbands, love the woman you married.” The love is worked out on the foundation of the covenant.

This means that if a married couple says, “We don’t love each other any more,” the biblical response is, “Start working on it.” You are joined together by covenant before God for life. In that context, you can work at loving your covenant companion. Like a fire on a cold winter night, love must be tended and fed to keep burning.

A few years ago, Robertson McQuilkin resigned as President of Columbia Bible College and Seminary after 22 years there. His reason? To care for his wife, Muriel, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He could have put her in an institution, and many of his trusted, godly friends urged him to do this. But when it came time to make the decision, he was firm in his resolve to stand by his wife, even though it meant giving up his career and ministry. “She is such a delight to me. I don’t have to care for her, I get to,” he said. He explained further, “It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, ‘in sickness and in health … till death do us part’? This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.”

Dr. McQuilkin was startled by the response to his announcement to resign. Husbands and wives renewed their marriage vows, pastors told the story to their congregations. It was a mystery to him until an oncologist friend, who lives constantly with dying people, explained, “Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women” (Christianity Today, October 8, 1990, pp. 39, 40).

In February we observe Valentine’s Day, which is all about romance. Maybe we need to think instead about love--biblical love, covenant love. After all, covenant love is God’s love. In our marriages, it must be the cake. Romance is the icing.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Covenant, Cultural Issues, Devotionals, Love, Marriage

Some Thoughts On Consensus Leadership And Decision-Making

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Description:

Consensus leadership refers to the process in a local church by which the elders make decisions by seeking the mind of the Lord, not by “voting their own mind.” The mind of the Lord will be revealed by an uncoerced unanimity among the elders, reached after thorough, biblically-based discussion and prayer. In some decisions, individual elders may not be in full agreement, but they may not have such strong disagreement as to prevent the group from taking action. But if an elder disagrees strongly or has a strong hesitation, either on biblical grounds or based on an inner sense that a decision is not from the Lord, then the rest of the elders should recognize his disagreement or hesitation as a check from the Lord and should withhold action. Then they must work through the matter with further discussion, prayer, and seeking of God’s will through His Word.

The key is corporate sensitivity to the Lord as He reveals His will to fellow elders. The Lord promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.” (Ps. 32:8-9.)

Our human tendency is to be too quick to act and not to labor in prayer and waiting upon the Lord. The vote system enables and encourages a body of leaders to bypass the arduous process of prayer and submission to the Lord and to one another. While the consensus system is much more cumbersome and time consuming, it provides the Lord the check that He wants on our human wisdom and self-will. It forces self-willed brothers to face their stubbornness and to submit to others. It requires difficult matters to be submitted to the corporate wisdom of all of the elders. If the 12 spies had operated on this basis, perhaps they would have reconsidered the viewpoint of Joshua and Caleb. The minority had God’s viewpoint; the majority had a wrong perspective. As far as I know, this is the only biblical example of decision-making by vote, and it did not result in the group knowing the mind of the Lord.

A split within the leadership will be magnified throughout the ranks of the church, as members choose sides. However, a unanimous decision by a group of spiritually mature men, reached after open discussion based on God’s Word and prayer, while not infallible, will carry a lot of weight and will not be challenged lightly. It will promote unity in the church (see 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 4:2-3).

Assumptions:

  1. Christ is the Head of His church and He administers His church through a plurality of spiritually mature men who depend upon the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
  2. The elders are spiritually mature, sensitive men who approximate the qualifications specified in 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1. Especially, a man must not be self-willed (Titus 1:7), or he could thwart the entire process by always insisting on his own way. This is a potential weakness of the consensus system.
  3. God has one will for His church. The Holy Spirit who indwells each elder in the one body will not lead His church in two directions at the same time (see possible exceptions below).
  4. We are interdependent, not independent, in the body of Christ. Together we have God’s wisdom, but we must learn to submit to one another and to learn from one another. (See Acts 15:1-29 for the principle in action in the early church.)

Possible Biblical Exceptions:

Concerning the principle that God has one will for a local church and that He will not lead His church in two directions at the same time: Does the split between Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36-41) invalidate this principle? Paul and Barnabas did not seem to submit to one another and reach a point of consensus before taking action. Rather, Paul chose Silas and went his way, while Barnabas chose Mark and went his way. Although the text is silent on the matter, neither man seems to have submitted the situation to the elders in Antioch for their decision.

It seems to me that they should have done so. Perhaps the elders would have agreed that Paul and Barnabas should part ways amicably, being called to different types of ministry at this point. The church seems to have sided with Paul, since he and Silas were “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord” before they departed (Acts 15:40), but there is no such word concerning Barnabas and Mark, who pretty much pass off the biblical record at this point. On the other hand, years later Paul affirmed the ministry both of Barnabas and of Mark (1 Cor. 9:6; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11), which may show that he admitted the wisdom of Barnabas’ approach in being patient with Mark after his failure on the first journey. In my opinion, the sharpness of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas could have been softened if they had both submitted their quarrel to the elders, who had then sought the mind of the Lord.

Although there is disagreement among commentators on the following point, I believe that Acts 21 is another negative example where Paul should have submitted himself to what the Lord was revealing to others in the church, but he insisted on his own view. Acts 21:4 indicates that the believers kept telling Paul “through the Spirit” not to set foot in Jerusalem. This corporate testimony was further reinforced by the prophecy of the godly Agabus, Luke, and the church at Caesarea (probably including Philip’s prophetess daughters, v. 9), but Paul resisted their counsel (vv. 8-14). While God sovereignly superintended the situation, in that He used Paul’s imprisonment finally to get him to Rome, thus working things together for good, who can say what fruitful ministry Paul could have had if he had not been imprisoned in Caesarea for those two years? I argue that he should have submitted to the unanimous testimony of the brothers (who, the text specifically states, were speaking through the Spirit).

Application in Difficult Situations:

What do we do, practically speaking, if we reach an impasse, where one elder (or a minority of elders) feels very strongly in one direction, but the rest of the elders (the majority) disagree, and a decision must be made? Is there ever a time when we can move ahead in spite of the objections of one man (or a minority), or does any single dissenter (or minority) have complete veto power (a major criticism of consensus decision-making)?

Frankly, I’m not sure the Scriptures give us absolute guidelines for such situations. Normally, consensus can be reached by waiting on the Lord and discussing matters openly, from a biblical perspective. So we’re talking here about the rare exception. What do we do?

Any time we override a godly man’s strong, biblically-based (in his mind), prayerfully determined opinion, we really have to seek the Lord and examine our hearts with extra care. Prayer and fasting would not be inappropriate at such times. The fact that such a one disagrees ought to be a red flag that tells us that we are navigating dangerous waters. Caution is in order.

It may be that God is calling the man to a different work (as with Paul and Barnabas), so that we must agree to disagree. It may be that he is right, and time will prove him right; but we have to learn the hard way, and he has to patiently go along with us until such time as his viewpoint is vindicated. During such time, he must be careful not to rally church support for his point of view, and then to say, “I told you so,” when his view is proved correct. Of course, his view may be proved wrong, in which case he must humbly acknowledge his error, and the others must be careful not to put him down. No system of decision-making is foolproof because we all are fallen men who are in process. We must be gracious and forgiving to one another as we work together. In no case should we, as elders, force one of our members to go along publicly with an action that violates his conscience before the Lord.

Of course, if more than one dissenter is against the majority view, it raises the level of caution and the likelihood that we do not have the Lord’s mind on a matter (unless men are playing politics by building factions). In such cases, I would almost always rather default to not proceeding with a course of action than to risk erring by overriding the minority opinion. The only case where I would feel comfortable overriding the minority would be if there were some convincing evidence that they were deceived, biased, acting against Scripture, or self-willed. In such cases, there may be a need for disciplining the elder(s) in question and removing him (them) from office.

This system of corporate decision-making rests heavily on the assumption that each elder is a spiritually mature man of God, who knows the Word of God. A self-willed man like Diotrephes (3 John 9-10) will create major problems. If there is such a man among the elders (even if it is one of the pastoral staff), the other men must have the spiritual courage to confront him (Gal. 6:1) and, if necessary, remove him from office. Church politics, back-room maneuvering, gossip, and power plays are all built on the flesh. Godly consensus leadership takes place when men submit their wills to Christ as Head of His church, when they rely on the Holy Spirit through the Word, and when they are “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and seek to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10). “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom. 12:16). As we follow these biblical principles, Christ will be glorified in our midst as the rightful Lord of His church.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors

A Review of "Debating Calvinism" (Multnomah Publishers, 2004), by Dave Hunt & James White

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Someone gave me a coffee mug for Christmas that has a picture of John Calvin and a quote from the great Reformer: “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”

Please allow me to bark! James White does an admirable job of defending the truth in his part of Debating Calvinism, but Dave Hunt throws out so many errors in his sections that White can only pick the most flagrant ones to respond to. The sad thing is that those who are not well-read on Calvin will not spot Hunt’s many blatant doctrinal errors and his vicious misrepresentations of Calvin’s character and writings. Thus they may be tainted and miss the treasures that await the believer in the writings of Calvin and other Reformed writers (like the Puritans). I have read thousands of pages of Calvin’s writings, plus numerous biographies and works about Calvinism. On that basis and because of my personal correspondence with Hunt, I can categorically state that he is deliberately slandering the man and his teaching. I have told Hunt this directly and asked him to examine the facts, but he refuses to do so.

Throughout the book, White offers sound biblical exegesis of key passages, while Hunt responds with dozens of irrelevant verses, revealing that he does not understand the position he is attacking. He frequently stands verses on their heads, making them say the opposite of what they really say (John 6:44, for example). When he can’t do that, because it is so obvious what the verse says (as with Acts 13:48), Hunt says that it can’t mean the obvious because it would go against all the verses on the Bible about free will! But he never explains why Luke wrote it that way. He repeatedly accuses Calvinists of things that Calvinists themselves do not believe. For example, in spite of White’s clear correction, Hunt says that Calvinists deny that people have a will! Many more examples could easily be cited to show that Hunt simply misunderstands what Calvinism teaches.

But there are substantive differences between Hunt’s view of God and the biblical (Calvinistic) view. Hunt effectively robs God of His sovereignty (although he would deny this). He turns divine election into human election by insisting that it means that God foresaw who would believe and chose them. This means, of course, that God devised His eternal plan of salvation based upon what man would do, not upon His purpose and choice, as Scripture so plainly affirms (Rom. 9:11-18). Hunt dismisses White’s careful explanation of the Greek word for “foreknowledge,” and then accuses Calvinists of denying God’s omniscience! Amazing! Hunt’s view also undermines God’s grace, because it makes grace depend on something God foresaw that we would do, not on His unconditional favor (Rom. 11:6). Hunt asserts that all men can believe apart from God granting faith as a gift.

Hunt has the audacity to state, “It is not loving—period—for God to damn for eternity anyone He could save” (p. 260, italics his). In other words, if God has the ability to save a sinner, but He doesn’t do it, He is unloving. The only conclusion, then, is that God is impotent to save anyone without that person’s cooperation, which is what Hunt actually teaches! Strangely, Hunt is blind to the fact that his charge against God is precisely the one that Paul anticipates and answers when he presents the doctrine of God’s sovereign election, namely, “If God loved Jacob and hated Esau apart from anything that they did, then God is not fair” (Rom. 9:14). Hunt’s attempted dodge, that Romans 9 is about nations, not individuals, doesn’t solve his problem. Even if we grant the point (which is untrue), okay, so God granted the way of salvation to the Jews and shut out the Edomites. How does this make things fair for the Edomites (not to mention the Chinese, Africans, Indians, Australians, etc., etc.)?

Hunt repeatedly accuses Calvinists of making God the author of evil because we affirm that He ordains everything according to His sovereign purpose (Eph. 1:11). Hunt never explains an alternative, except that God permits (not ordains) evil. Calvin cited Augustine, who effectively answered this: “[Y]et he does not unwillingly permit it, but willingly; nor would he, being good, allow evil to be done, unless being also almighty he could make good even out of evil” (Institutes, I:XVIII:3). If God permitted evil unwillingly, you have moved into dualism (with an evil power at least equal to God), which is Zoroastrian, not Christian. But Hunt doesn’t bother explaining his view.

Hunt’s main problem is that he refuses to submit to God’s revelation of truth. He wants it all to be logical. But there are other difficult doctrines in the Bible that do not fit human logic, for example, the Trinity, and the two natures of Christ in one person. We can’t figure them out; we must submit to what God has declared, maintaining the fine balance of Scripture. The same is true of His sovereignty and man’s responsibility. They are both true. But God’s sovereignty prevails (Phil. 2:12-13). The crucial question is, who gets the glory in our salvation? Does God alone get the glory because salvation is all from Him, or does He share it with us because we decided on our own, apart from God, to believe in Christ? White’s view glorifies God. Hunt’s view shares God’s glory with the sinful, rebellious creature. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in theology to figure out which view is right!

Related Topics: Book Review, Election, Predestination

Elijah And The Pastors’ Conference

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(A fictional story about a minister who embraced the modern psychobabble culture and abandoned God’s Word.)

As he eased his BMW along the freeway in the crowded morning traffic, Dr. David Shaw reflected on the stunning success of his ministry. Just fifteen years before he had been the pastor of a struggling little church that wasn’t growing. And Dave had a nagging feeling that somehow his message wasn’t quite what people needed.

Then he had stumbled onto the idea that had made him famous. Although he had never told anyone, he had seen it in a women’s magazine while he was waiting to get his hair cut. The author was a successful young woman who had broken free from a restrictive religious upbringing. She had always felt put down as a child. But then a college professor had told her that she saw great potential in her if she would just believe in herself and act with more self-confidence. It had worked wonders for her!

The words had jumped off the page at him – Believe in herself! As Dave had thought about it, he realized that he was perpetuating the kind of thing that the woman had grown up under – negative preaching that always confronted people with their sinfulness. No wonder people weren’t flocking to hear him preach!

As he reflected further he had to admit that he didn’t really like what he preached. He had grown up under it, too. As a dutiful son, he had gone into the pastorate to do what was supposed to be done. But his approach didn’t seem to be working.

At first it didn’t gel. But then he hit on his theme: “Believe in You Ministries!” He got it from John 14:1, where Jesus told his disciples, “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” Dave had thought, “God wants us not only to believe in Him and in Jesus, but to believe in ourselves, too, because He believes in us enough to die for us.”

So he began a subtle shift in his approach. He started preaching on passages that were more uplifting. People had great potential if they would just recognize it and start believing in God and in themselves. “God doesn’t want you dumping on yourself! That’s where true success begins.”

A few disgruntled old timers left the church, but a lot of new young families began coming. Finally, the church was growing! It felt good to succeed for a change.

Then Dave had written the article for Living Faith magazine. He never dreamed how it would hit a nerve. Dozens of positive responses flooded the magazine. And, to his surprise, an editor at Reader’s Digest had seen it and wanted to run a condensed version!

From there things had snowballed. A leading Christian publisher approached him for a book contract. The book was an immediate best-seller, even in secular bookstores. A nationwide Christian television network invited him to come to several talk shows and then offered him his own show. People started flooding into his church, so that the church had to buy new property and build a 5,000 seat auditorium. The rest was history.

Dave jolted back to the present as he pulled into the crowded church parking lot. Two thousand ministers from all over the world had gathered for his “Believe in You” leadership seminar. Dave pulled into his reserved parking spot, adjusted his tie and went in the side door to avoid the crowded main entrance.

Before he could check in with his secretary, two nationally prominent pastors stopped him to shake his hand and exchange greetings. They each had brought their entire church staff and were raving about how the conference had liberated their ministries.

Twenty minutes later Dave was seated on the stage waiting to deliver his final challenge. Dave scanned the audience. There were many young American pastors, of course, including quite a few women. Also there were about twenty African pastors who had come on the scholarships Dave had been able to provide through a wealthy donor. A good number of pastors from the Far East sat together in another section.

Dave’s executive associate introduced him. As he approached the podium and the applause died down, out of the corner of his eye Dave saw him stand up just before he heard him. A radical-looking guy with a beard was on his feet, shouting to everyone in the auditorium!

“How can you claim to be a Christian minister and never preach against sin? How can you claim to follow Jesus and never talk about hell and judgment? How can everyone here endorse this man’s ministry when he has deviated so far from the Word of God?”

Dave froze for a brief moment. By the time he had hit the switch under the podium signaling the ushers, they were already headed for this Looney Tune. It took them a minute – that seemed like an hour – to get him out of the auditorium, while he continued to shout his anathemas.

Dave could feel the tension in the audience. He tugged at his collar and joked, “I assure you that he was not a planned part of the conference!” Laughter rippled across the expansive room and died down. “I think he must have taken a wrong turn from the fundamentalist conference on the other side of town!” They roared.

Dave relaxed. He knew they were still on his side. He launched into his final message, “Who is Adequate? You Are!” based on 2 Corinthians 2:16. From their radiant faces and the enthusiastic responses afterward, he knew that the conference had been a success in spite of the crazy guy with the beard.

A couple of hours later as Dave pulled out of the parking lot he thought, “I wonder who that nut was, anyway? Probably thought he was Elijah or something.” Then it hit him: He was probably just a struggling, frustrated pastor like he himself had been fifteen years before. “Poor guy! He must really be churning inside to get up in public and do a dumb thing like that. He’ll never build a growing church if he doesn’t change.”

Dave popped a CD into the slot and enjoyed the soothing sounds as he thought, “It’s great to enjoy God’s blessing on my ministry after years of being where that poor guy is!” Then he whispered out loud, “Lord, help him to see the light!”

“For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians. 11:14-15, NASB)

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors, Teaching the Bible

Enjoying Your Kids While You Can

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(WORLD, 6/14/97, under title, “Quantity quality time”)

A couple of years ago, around the time of her sixteenth birthday, my middle daughter said to me, “Dad, do you remember how you used to take each of us somewhere special for our birthday, just time alone with you?” I remembered, of course. Not every year, but on three or four of the kids’ birthdays, I had set aside a Saturday, or sometimes a Friday night through Saturday night, where just that child and I would do something together.

She continued, “Well, do you think that for my birthday we could go down to Sedona and look through some art galleries, since you and I both like doing that? And, maybe we could take a hike, too?”

“Sure,” I said, “that sounds like fun!” And, just a few Saturdays later we were able to do just that.

That daughter graduates from high school this year. My oldest is half-way through college. My youngest, a son, is rapidly approaching driving age. I often wonder, “Where did those years go when I had young children?”

I do not regret for a minute that when my kids were young, even though I am a busy pastor, I was home most evenings to play with them, read them a story, and help tuck them into bed. I’m glad that every summer we have taken a family vacation together--nothing expensive, but just time together, camping, seeing God’s beautiful creation. It’s gone by too quickly, but we share some warm memories that bind us together.

One of the most important things you can do for your children is to give them your time and to enjoy being with them. Kids aren’t dumb--they sense when you feel like they’re a bother. They also sense when you genuinely like them and enjoy their company. You communicate your attitude toward them, in part, by little gestures: a warm smile, eye contact, a gentle nudge or hug, a shared laugh.

Just putting down what you’re doing for a minute and giving them your undivided attention says, “You are important to me and I want to hear what you have to say.” Even though what they want at the moment may not be an important issue, if you express a welcome response, it can open the way for communicating at other times on more important things, such as spiritual values and character issues. Influence is imparted through time together, genuinely enjoying their company.

I see so many parents, even in Christian families, and especially dads, who destroy their relationships with their kids by being perpetual­ly angry. Their only communica­tion toward them seems to be the high-decibel rhetorical question: “How many times do I have to tell you ...!!!” Or, their anger burns through with sarcastic remarks, name-calling, and put-downs: “Hey, stupid, use your head!” Sometimes they just shake their heads in disgust, communi­cating non-verbally, but unmistakably, to the child, “You’re an idiot!” I’ve seen people in public places talk to their children in ways that wouldn’t be appropriate for correcting your dog. Then, when the kids rebel as teenagers, the parents shrug their shoulders and say weakly, “It’s just a normal phase they have to go through!”

The Bible commands us to put off such rotten speech, and instead use words that build up others. It tells us to put off anger and to be kind and tender toward one another (Eph. 4:29, 31-32). It specifically tells fathers not to provoke their children to anger, but rather to nurture them in the training and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

In other words, we parents need to confront and deal with our own anger before God if we want to rear our children properly. The only way to do that is to trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord (Acts 16:31), confess your every sin to God (1 John 1:9), and continually submit all of your thoughts, words, and deeds to His lordship (Gal. 5:15-26).

“Dad, do you remember when ...?” Yes, of course, I remember. But the significant thing is that she still remembers and that she still wants to spend a day with dad. And as her dad, I truly enjoy spending a day with her! Take some time today, this week, this month, to enjoy your kids while you can. And, treat them kindly. They’re God’s special gifts, entrusted to your care for a few short years.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting

Why Good Men Fail As Fathers

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I’d like you to accompany me as we study the corpse of a father who failed. What you learn may help you save the lives of your children and grandchildren.

You’ll find the cadaver in 1 Samuel 2-4.

Name: Eli.

Occupation: High priest in Israel.

Description: Overweight.

Age at death: 98

Cause of death: Broken neck suffered when fainting and falling off chair after hearing bad news.

A Good Man

Please observe that our subject had many excellent character qualities.

Note his morality. In his long life you will not find any record of terrible sin. He did not drink, steal, lie or swear. He never divorced his wife, committed adultery, or abused his children.

Observe his kind treatment of the boy Samuel. Eli knew that Samuel would be his replacement as spiritual leader of Israel. Yet there is no trace of jealousy. Instead, when Samuel revealed God’s judgment against Eli, Eli responded quietly and submissively: “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes” (1 Samuel 3:18).

Furthermore, it is clear that the old man had a deep love for the ark of God, which symbolized God’s presence. When the ark was carried into battle, Eli’s heart feared for it (see 1 Samuel 4:13). And when he heard of the capture of the ark of God, he fell off his seat, broke his neck and died (see verse 18). Right to his death, this man was deeply concerned about the things of God.

A Colossal Failure

Yet Eli failed miserably both as a father and as a priest. He knew God, and yet God pronounced judgment upon him and his descendants (see 1 Samuel 2:27-36; 3:14). Why?

Two clues point us to the answer. The first is in 1 Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” Eli despised the Lord.

The second clue is in verse 35: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest.” Eli was unfaithful as a priest. So how did Eli despise the Lord? How was Eli unfaithful as a priest? Both questions find their answer in a common malady: Eli was a passive father.

A Passive Father

Speaking of Eli, God said, “I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13). In 1 Samuel 2:29, Eli not only tolerated his sons’ sin, but also participated in it by eating the portion of the sacrifices intended for the Lord.

But didn’t Eli correct his sons? Not really. In effect he said, “Now boys, you shouldn’t do these things. People are talking!” (see verses 23-25). Too little, too late!

A good man? Yes, very good. But he did not have enough backbone to stand up to his sons and say, “We aren’t going to tolerate your sin around here.”

It applies today: Passivity as a father toward the things of God will damage you and your family. So that there will be no confusion, let me explain what I mean by “passivity.”

What is “Passive”?

First, passivity means having religion without reality. Eli was immersed in religion. He worked at the tabernacle – he lived there! But the reality of walking with God was not present in Eli’s life.

Eli was tolerant of personal and family sin but harsh on the sins of others. When Eli thought that Hannah was drunk at the door of the tabernacle, he scolded her (see 1:12-17). But when his own sons were committing adultery at the door of the tabernacle, it wasn’t until the worshipers started complaining that Eli came out with his feeble, “Now boys, you shouldn’t do that” (see 2:22-25).

And as for the sons’ corrupt practice of confiscating the sacrifices and eating the best parts (which should have been offered to the Lord), Eli knew he shouldn’t eat those choice pieces, but he loved prime rib (see verse 29)!

Any time a person grows soft on obedience to the Word of God, you know that he’s just playing the religion game. When you are not obeying God, you have lost reality.

Nothing corrupts children more than to see a parent who has the form of religion but who lacks reality with God. Kids know when you are putting on the pious act.

Second, passivity means shirking responsibility for shepherding your family. Eli’s boys were grown men. Perhaps Eli shrugged his shoulders and protested, “What can I do?” But God held him accountable. Instead of drifting with the evil currents of his day, he should have taken the helm and said, “Our family is going to be distinct!” But he let his family drift. Chances are he had acted the same way when the boys were younger.

Men, if you do not assume responsibility for shepherding your own family, God will hold you accountable! If that scares you, it should!

We’ve got to buck the trend. Pastor Charles Swindoll asked a Christian counselor, “What is the number one problem you face?” Without hesitation, the counselor shot back, “Passive males!”

What Should I Do?

Maybe you’re thinking, I’d like to shepherd my family, but I don’t know how. What do I do?

Walk in personal reality with God – don’t play the religion game. And don’t shirk your responsibilities.

Beyond that, our text suggests four aspects of shepherding your family.

First, lead your children to personal faith in Christ. Eli’s sons, “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12, NASB). You cannot just let your children grow up neutral so that they can decide for themselves about God. They’re growing up in a world that is hostile to God.

Second, teach your children God’s ways. Eli failed to impart to his sons a respect for God’s ways, including the sacrifices and offerings (see 2:13, 27-29). So they disobeyed God and disregarded the rebukes of God’s people (see 2:16).

God’s ways are the principles revealed in His Word. For example, your children need to know that disobedience has consequences. They need to learn the importance of prayer and Bible reading by seeing those things modeled as a way of life in the home. We live to serve others, not indulge ourselves. Our lives are governed by God’s Word.

Third, to shepherd your family you must teach your children to reverence God and the things of God (see 2:16, 17, 29, 30). I never want my children to hear me joking about God or His Word. At the same time, I do want them to know that a Christian home is a fun and happy place to live.

Finally, correct your children when they need it. Eli was in his 90s, so his boys were probably in their 40s or 50s, at least. Parents can’t correct their adult children as if they were first graders, but that doesn’t mean you must be passive. Proverbs 29:17 says, “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul” (NASB).

Perhaps you’ve seen yourself in this postmortem of a passive father. Perhaps you think it’s too late now. Your children may be grown and gone. But, by God’s grace, it’s not too late to seek God’s forgiveness and actively to seek to influence your children – and even grandchildren – from this moment on.

Will you choose to follow the Lord fervently and actively? Then we will not need to gather around your corpse, as we have with Eli’s, and ask, “Why did this good man fail?”

Reprinted by permission from Steven J. Cole, originally printed Confident Living, @ 1988 by the Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Christian Life, Failure, Fathers, Men's Articles, Parenting

What American Families Need Most

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Arizona Daily Sun, June 19, 1998

Nausea, grief, anger, fear—these were some of my feelings a few weeks ago when I heard about yet another student who took a gun to school and opened fire. I fear because I’m a parent: What if it happens at my son’s school? What can we do to halt this frightening trend?

Obviously the problem is linked to the overall moral decay of our society. Kids who get no moral training or example at home are exposed to filth and violence on television, in movies, and in rock music. Most kids have easy access to the Internet, where over 300 new pornographic sites are added every day. Garbage in, garbage out. Coupled with this is the frustrating leniency of our judicial system that often treats violent criminals as if they were the victims.

Many are advocating political solutions: tougher penalties on violent criminals, returning the Bible and prayer to public schools, teaching morality (not “values clarification”) in our schools, boycotting the supporters and purveyors of smut on TV, passing laws to protect and promote traditional family values, etc. While there is some merit in many of these approaches, the reality is that the ACLU and others who promote immorality under the banner of “freedom” will try to block every such attempt to stop the moral skid.

So what, if anything, can we as parents do? I believe that the solution begins in our homes. Rather than pointing our finger at the corruption of the society or system out there, we need to face squarely our own failures. All of these delinquent children grew up in homes where, to a great extent, the parents were delinquent. I am not absolving the kids of responsibility for their own wrongs. They are accountable to God for what they have done. But invariably these children have grown up in homes where the parents did not set the example of godly living and did not properly train the children to love and fear God. If my teenager rebels, rather than offering the lame excuse, “I did the best I could,” I need to examine my own life and make some needed changes.

Every parent should ask himself or herself, “Have I genuinely repented of my sins and trusted in Jesus Christ to reconcile me to God? Do I truly know God and walk in personal reality with Him each day? Do I spend consistent time alone with God in His Word and prayer? Are my attitudes, my words, and my behavior toward my family pleasing in God’s sight? When I sin against my family, do I humbly ask their forgiveness and seek to change?” We must be able to say with the apostle Paul, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

The late Senate Chaplain, Richard Halverson, once spoke to several hundred men at a church’s men’s dinner. He asked the men how many believed in prayer in the public schools. Almost every hand went up. Then he asked, “How many of you pray daily with your children in your home?” Only a few raised their hands. As James Baldwin has observed, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

In addition to my example, I need to spend adequate time with my kids for godly values to be seen, heard, and felt. In 1994, Bo Jackson announced his retirement from baseball. His reason? His then six-year-old son had asked his mother why his father was never home. When he didn’t get a satisfactory answer, he asked her if his father had another family somewhere else. “If that isn’t enough for any man to make up his mind, then he isn’t a man,” said Jackson. “And he isn’t a father.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. in child psychology to figure it out. If your kids spend hours with the TV and with their friends, but they only see you occasionally in passing, which will influence them the most? I’m often surprised at how few families consistently eat dinner together (with the TV off) and how few families take regular vacations together. No time together, no influence imparted. It’s not a quick fix for the massive problems infecting our society. But if it doesn’t start with us in our homes, everything else is just a Band-Aid on the cancer.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Cultural Issues, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting, Pastors

Of Football And Love

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February, 1993

With football season behind us (that high church holy day, Superbowl Sunday, is now past) and Valentine’s Day just ahead (as I write), maybe it’s a good time to put in a word for marriage, especially to husbands coming out of “football hibernation” (that period of winter when husbands’ bodily functions slow down as they sit for months in front of the tube watching game after game). Some of you wives may need to read this to your husband if he’s forgotten how during the football season.

The combination of football and marriage reminds me of a true story I read in Reader’s Digest. A woman married for 34 years to a coach said that she had learned that a ball game always has top priority. But one particularly frustrating day she burst out, “Frank, you’d miss my funeral to go to a ball game!”

Very calmly her husband the coach replied, “Roberta, what ever made you think I’d schedule your funeral on the day of a game?”

A marriage is a lot like a new diet or exercise program—easy and even fun to begin, but difficult to hang in over the long haul. As humorist Sam Levenson puts it, “Love at first sight is easy to understand. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle.”

But I think it’s not so much a miracle as it is the result of taking marriage off autopilot and giving it our energy and attention. God’s Word says as much when it commands us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

Several things arrest my attention in this verse. First, it’s directed to me (the husband), not to my wife. I think that as American men we tend to think of love and romance as women’s stuff. But the Bible plops it squarely in our laps as men. We are to be the lovers.

Second, it’s commanded, not just a helpful hint for whenever I get in the mood to try it. That means that to be obedient to Christ, I must concentrate on what it means to love my wife as He loves His church. As Tim Stafford has pointed out, “Nowhere does the Bible say that love is the basis for marriage; marriage is the basis for love. Paul’s command is ‘Husbands, love your wives’ rather than ‘Men, marry your lovers’” (Christianity Today [1/16/87], p. 22). If love in a marriage has grown cold, it is precisely in that marriage that it must be revived.

Third, I look in vain for any command that says, “Husbands, get your wives to submit to you.” The command to me says nothing about getting my wife to do anything! It does confront me with the ongoing responsibility of loving my wife.

Fourth, it’s an impossible command in that Christ’s love for the church is a never-attainable standard. But that doesn’t mean that I should give up. Rather, I must keep working at it. The suggestions that follow are directed at myself first, as well as at each husband in the church:

* Make time to be together. Cut out some of the busyness of your life and carve out time to talk, take a walk, or do something fun together. Shortly after taking over as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, someone asked Ray Perkins if his wife objected to his 18-hour workdays. His reply: “I don’t know. I don’t see her that much.” But as someone else pointed out, “Not many men get to be 65 and say, ‘I sure wish I’d spent more time on my business.’”

* Don’t disparage the small talk. As men, we tend to make light of the “unimportant” details of life and focus on the “big” stuff. But it’s important just to ask, “How did your day go?” and then to give my focused attention as she tells me (rather than saying, “Uh, huh” as I read the paper). Simone Signoret made a profound observation: “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” Make sure you don’t discount the threads of daily small talk.

* I need to love my wife in ways that make her feel loved, not in ways that I think ought to make her feel loved. I may think that working hard to earn a good living shows her that I love her; but she wants my time and attention more than anything else. To make her feel loved, I need to do what makes her feel loved, not what I think ought to make her feel loved.

* I need to check my tongue. Are my words kind, encouraging, and accepting or sarcastic, critical, and angry? Do I tell her often that I love her? Do I respond to her anger toward me with a counter-attack or with a blessing (1 Pet. 3:8-9)?

* Am I giving spiritual leadership to her and the family? The Bible consistently directs commands for spiritual leadership to the husband and father. A lot of men feel inadequate here, since their wives know more about the Bible than they do. But how can you lead unless you start? Your own times with the Lord must be the foundation. Pray for your wife and children. Then, lead the family in Bible reading and prayer as consistently as possible. Talk with your wife about the things of the Lord, being vulnerable to admit your own struggles. Read a book on the spiritual life with her and discuss it.

So how about giving your marriage a check up? Not many guys hit 65 and say, “I sure wish I’d spent more time watching football!” (or whatever your particular time-consumer may be). But quite a few wish they’d spent a bit more time working on their marriage.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Devotionals, Marriage, Men's Articles

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