Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hell under Attack

Well, hell isn't under attack. It's the Bible's teachings about hell that are under attack. I came across the following comment on an October 15, 2015, pagan blog on death and the afterlife:

"It is, I think, the threat of Hell more than the promise of Heaven that creates anxiety among Abrahamic monotheists. It's tempting to see this as an effort by power-hungry religious leaders to control their followers through fear. Certainly that's a big part of the emphasis on Hell by conservative Christians and Muslims (if Jews threaten anyone with Hell, I've never heard it). But I categorically reject the idea of infinite punishment for finite transgressions against arbitrary rules."

Without a judgment or hell to worry about, he is really rosy about his future afterlife. He wrote about knowledge he has from past lives on earth; he is confident he will enjoy a time of rest with the gods after this life, then return for another life on earth where he will again rejoin the web of life and try to make the world a better place to live.

Before you start thinking these are only pagan arguments -- and you don't know any pagans -- these arguments to reason away the threat of hell are held by many former Christians as well as unbelievers, in our country. They fit well with our society's rejection of absolute truth and its acceptance of all kinds of different lifestyle choices.

This line of thinking includes at least three arguments:

1. Power-hungry religious leaders invented hell to control their followers through fear.

2. Hell wouldn't be just because it is infinite punishment for finite transgressions.

3. Hell wouldn't be right because it is punishment based upon the violation of arbitrary rules.

One way to deal with these arguments would be to ignore them. After all, isn't it more important to focus on God's love and heaven? Why do we have to bring up sin and judgment, death and hell? If you have a brother or sister, son or daughter, co-worker or neighbor who believes this way, wouldn't it be better to just let the topic alone and love them to death with the Good News of God's love? Wouldn't you just be driving them away by talking about sins?

As this pagan blog goes on, it exposes the danger lurking beneath this argument. Since the writer is convinced there is no hell, then the cross becomes utter foolishness. He even goes so far as describing Jesus' suffering and death on the cross as the worst case of divine child abuse.

In the blog in the coming weeks I'd like to work through each of these three lines of reasoning. But first, I'd like to give you the chance to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

What would you say to someone who gave you these three reasons as to why he rejects hell?

Is it really sharing the Gospel if you exclude Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection as our Substitute and Savior?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here and telling us about it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Helicopter Parents

Parenting is tough. It seems each generation of children is asked to grow up faster than the one before. Our kids face so many more options and temptations than we ever did. And there's always plenty of advice from parents, in-laws, and friends for kids nowadays too -- as well as plenty of criticism when they aren't quite doing it right either.

But I'm not here to give advice or criticism -- just to offer some perspective. My one and only child is now half way through the first semester of his freshman year at college. From everything I can tell, he is absolutely thriving there, and we praise God.

Looking back on the last couple of months, I'd have to say the thing that really surprises me is how quickly he grew up -- or maybe I should say, how quickly he had to grow up. Just last year we had access to his grades, and we talked to him every night. He didn't have to worry about laundry, or food, or getting himself to school. Now it's all on him. He's got a lot of decisions to make, and it's up to him to make those decisions. We even have to rely on him to tell us how he's doing academically, if he chooses to, that is.

Over the last decade Julie Lythcott-Haims, dean of freshmen at Stanford University, noticed more and more young men and women are having trouble adjusting to college. They aren't used to taking care of themselves, making their own decisions, dealing with the challenges of life. She says the problem is their helicopter parents. They constantly hover and swoop in to personally intervene every time their child faces a difficulty.

So I would encourage all the parents of younger children to step back from time to time and consider how you are helping your children prepare for that day when you will drop them off at college, or move them into that first apartment. Are you giving them the responsibilities, the freedom, the choices, and the opportunity to learn how to make decisions for themselves? Will they know how to deal with a roommate who keeps totally different hours than they do? Will they have the confidence to make necessary alterations in their class schedule? Will they be able to sidestep peer pressure and prodding to engage in questionable activities?

But there's something far more important than even these issues: their spiritual preparation. Sometimes we are so busy running them to practice and games -- or even preparing them for college and career -- that we neglect to impress on them the importance of their faith -- of staying connected to their Creator and Savior. Are you demonstrating that for them? They clearly see how important (or unimportant) your faith is to you. And they're bound to take their lead from your actions.

You're concerned about their earthly life and getting them off on the right foot, and that's the way it should be. But how much more important is their eternal destiny in heaven or hell?

Nobody said saying goodbye (for a time) to a son or daughter was going to be easy. But that doesn't mean the separation should spell calamity for him or her once they've set out on their own.

How was it when your kids left the nest to go their own way? Was there much difficulty with their newfound freedom? Did it get easier for you with successive kids leaving home? Is there anything you wish you would have known (been privy to) when you had them at home, which you discovered only later?

Tell us how things went for your kid(s) when they made their exodus. How did things go for you? You can click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Last Message from El Faro

On Thursday, October 1, Danielle Randolph, a crew member of the American container ship El Faro sent a message to her mother: "Not sure if you're following the weather at all, but there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it. Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone."

Shortly after, the 790-ft. cargo ship radioed it had lost power, then disappeared in Hurricane Joaquin -- a category 4 storm -- the kind you don't want to head into aboard a top-heavy cargo ship. After several days all Coast Guard searchers found was an oil slick, a life ring, and part of a battered lifeboat, along with one dead body in a survival suit. After a fruitless week, the Coast Guard called off its search for survivors.

I imagine over the centuries many ships were lost in hurricanes that way. They headed out from port having no clue that a monster storm was heading their way. But the El Faro captain and crew had weather satellites and hurricane hunters who fly airplanes into storms. What could have made them ignore the threat and leave port, especially when forecasts of the storm's track were all over the place, and none of the experts had a certainty where it was heading?

But waiting it out in port is tough -- for sailors -- and for you and me. Our teenage years are some of the worst for having to sit back and wait while our selfish desires for instant pleasure blaze away inside. And then going off to college is another dangerous time. That newfound freedom tempts us to throw caution to the wind and indulge in some reckless behavior and questionable decision-making.

My brothers and I hit those ages with our parents' warnings ringing in our ears. But often we had to test the waters for ourselves rather than take their word for it. Some of our friends made decisions that have affected their lives negatively ever since. A few aren't here anymore.

Now I'm older and wiser ... supposedly. Time and experience have taught me patience and the value of self-control. But there are still times I don't heed the warning signs. There are times I take risky chances I shouldn't. Our impatience and hunger for instant gratification can get us into deep trouble when we ignore the storm warnings God gives us.

I'm thinking of the Ten Commandments. Each one shines a bright spotlight on a dangerous threat to our eternal salvation. They warn us about desires and decisions that can shipwreck our faith. But sometimes those teachings seem so archaic, so distant, so irrelevant. Sometimes I just get an itch to set out from the dock and feel the exhilaration of the wind and the waves.

That's why Proverbs is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. From chapter one on, God repeatedly calls me "My son," then goes on to clearly spell out the deadly perils that go with blindly following our desires, even as He vividly unfolds the rich quality of life that is ours when we trust His loving wisdom and follow His course for our lives. When I read it, the Holy Spirit puts my life back into perspective, and restores my appreciation for the great life our Father has given me here on earth, and the glorious, thrilling future that waits for us with Him in heaven.

Waiting for God's timing in life is tough, but it's always worth the wait.

Which Bible books or passages do you find most helpful for avoiding the deadly storms of temptation?

Are there words of wisdom -- Scriptural or otherwise -- you can share that have made a difference in your life? If so, click here and let us in on your secret.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


He had only the best intentions when he went behind his daughter's back regarding his grandchildren. But his son-in-law didn't take too kindly to his interference. Now he isn't welcome in their home. For the time being his daughter still answers his phone calls. He apologizes every time, but she says they can't trust him. He's walking on egg shells -- afraid he'll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, look the wrong way, and the separation will become permanent, and he'll never see his grandchildren again.

He asked if I had any ideas. I gave some advice on how to slowly rebuild their trust. I told him to be careful what he said and how he acted the next time they spoke. Then he asked if I thought there was a chance the estrangement wouldn't end. From my experience I had to tell him there are times it doesn't. His face was downcast when he muttered, "I feel so helpless. There's nothing I can do."

I tried to help him step back and look at the bigger picture. I reminded him God is at work, trying to bring them back together. And even if his worst fears are realized, even if they never reconnect in this life, he can take comfort that God will bring perfect reconciliation between believers when life is over and we are together in heaven. With all barriers removed, we will live in perfect harmony and joy forever. I reminded him too that God is bringing people into their lives to bring them to faith.

Then he floored me: "I don't believe in God and all those things you are talking about. God had nothing to do with this. It was my fault, and I have to fix it." The pain and anguish in his voice really cut through me.

All I could do was say a quick, silent prayer; then I witnessed to him. I told him God is in the reconciliation business. That's why He sent His Son -- when we were estranged from Him by our sins, Jesus Christ came to save us, to restore our relationship with God our Father. Jesus even took our guilt and sin on Himself and suffered in our place to turn away God's wrath from all we do to offend Him.

But Jesus wasn't only reconciling us to God. He was reconciling us to each other. I reminded him that God would keep working on his daughter and son-in-law's heart. I encouraged him to pray and read the Bible.

He didn't seem to be feeling any better when we parted, which made me wonder, and pray, what more could I have said? What more should I have said?

Saying or doing something that can't be undone can have some major consequences in this world. Even with honorable intentions, things backfire -- sometimes with both barrels.

Have you been on either side of a family estrangement? What advice would you give if your friend was this father? How about if your friend was his daughter or son-in-law?

You can give us your thoughts on the matter by clicking here.