Is Hell Temporal or Everlasting?

by Pastor Keith Surland

A growing movement in the church today believes that the traditional doctrine of hell is wrong. Their beliefs may be summarized as follows:

  1. The Bible does not teach that there is endless perdition in hell; neither the Greek language nor the early church taught or held such a view.
  2. The Catholic Church taught the concept of hell to hold the laity captive to clergy.
  3. The translators of Scripture followed erroneous traditions on certain passages.

These charges need to be answered honestly from the Scriptures, taking into consideration the Greek New Testament and the theology contained therein.

The most accurate and reliable lexicon of the New Testament in the academic world is Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. This exhaustive work looks at the language synchronically and diachronically, considering the era of the language in question and the original sources in the Greek language. There is no Strong’s numbering system. It is for a well-versed scholar who reads the Hellenistic tongue and understands the nature of lexicography. This work considers the noun cases and their impact on a word, as well as the syntactical environment in which a word may occur. For example, various entries are given for the word “spoudazo,” which indicates that this word has more than one meaning. “Hurry” or “be earnest” are some of the fields of meaning, but the context must decide which way the word is to be translated.

Adventists and those who hold to a universal reconciliation theology suggest that the Greek noun “aion” and the adjective “aeonian” mean “age” and “age-related,” that the two words do not denote “eternity” or “eternal.” Those who hold this view conveniently leave out the most noted and scholarly works in the field and instead follow works that are secondary sources, written by non-experts in the field, or considered to be antiquated sources. They do not consult the exhaustive works in the field of literature since these works do not favor this opinion.

The grammarian and the lexicographer must be unbiased and let the science in the given field guide them accordingly. Those who hold that “aion” and “aeonian” are incapable of expressing the concept of eternity are simply ignoring the exhaustive works in the field. I would like to consult these works.

Aeonian

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature — Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich

For the adjective “aeonian” the following is given: “eternal, without beginning, without or end” (p. 28). The entries are backed up with many references to the New Testament and also Patristic Greek, the LXX, the inscriptions, and papyri writings.

My own observation is that “aeonian” can be used of something perpetual in terms of this world. “Everlasting” is qualified by the use of the word in context. In English, we will use the word “everlasting” in terms of a marriage, a criminal’s life sentence, or the duration of a physical life. In such contexts, we understand what is meant by the use of the term. Thus, in Luke 16:9 the idea of the habitation (literally, “everlasting tents”) is ongoing.

Words are qualified by context. Moreover, in the nature of lexica, words have fields of meaning and do not have an invariant meaning. This will be pointed out in detail shortly.

Greek-English Lexicon — Liddell and Scott

This massive work is a far broader lexicon, going beyond the LXX and the Hellenistic language of the New Testament. It includes the classical Greek with over 2,000 pages for just the treatment of the lexica of the era, not including the index. This work notes the following for “aeonian”: “lasting for an age, perpetual, eternal” (p. 45).

Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. 1 — Robertson

A.T. Robertson taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was a Greek scholar of world renown. To the layperson, Robertson left his Word Studies series. For the scholar, Robertson left the 1,456-page A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, which is a grammar for the advanced student and scholar. Upon the grammar’s first publication, scholars all over the world devoured the book, including even Europe where the horribleness of the First World War did not dampen their enthusiasm for the work. Having read this massive tome six times through in the past 20 years, I can also attest that Robertson’s grammar is so well-written and thorough that it felt as though Robertson were one of my professors even though he died in 1934.

Robertson deserves to be heard on any aspect of the koine since he wore out 12 Greek New Testaments in his lifetime and devoted his whole life to the study. His great work is still used in seminaries today.

In his Word Pictures that was a gift for non-Greek-readers, all might benefit. In his commentary on Matthew 18:8, he wrote the following concerning the word “aeonian” on page 147:

The word means ageless, without beginning or end as of God (Romans 16:26), without beginning as in Romans 16:25, without end as here and often. The effort to make it mean “aeonian” fire will make it mean “aeonian” life also. If the punishment is limited, ipso facto the life is shortened.

Robertson points out that there is “aeonian” or everlasting fire, everlasting punishment, and everlasting life. A reading of the passages with a Greek concordance backs up the above with abundant references.

Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint — Lust, Eynikel, and Hauspie

In this two-volume set, each word in the LXX is defined along with relevant references. This is a work for scholars but is accessible to the non-Greek reader. They note that the meanings for “aeonian” include “without beginning or end, eternal, everlasting” (p. 14).

A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament — Abbott-Smith

“Age long, eternal, of that which is without beginning (Romans 16:25, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2), of that which is without end” (p. 15)

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains — Louw and Nida

Scholars such as Eugene Nida and Johannes P. Louw have brought to attention groundbreaking work in the area of lexical semantics. They bring a linguistic approach to the study of lexicography. In their lexicon of the Greek New Testament, they arrange words by sematic domains. For “aeonian” they note, “Pertaining to an unlimited duration of time-‘eternal.’” They properly translate “blétheini eis to pyr to aiónion” in Matthew 18:8 as “be thrown into eternal fire” and “tou acóniou theou” in Romans 16:26 as “of eternal God” (vol. 1, p. 642).

Many today are writing books that challenge the typical translations of “aion” and “aeonian.” Since those who write such books or articles often do not read Greek fluently or know little about the Greek as a language, they confuse the words “aion” and “aeonian” and lump them together as if they are the same word. They are cognate to one another but are not the same word. One is a substantive, and the other an adjective. I will continue now with the different word aion.

Aion

The noun “aion” has a large field of meaning, unlike the narrower “aeonian.” Depending on the context, this noun can mean “age, era, universe, world system.” When used in lexical units with certain prepositions it can mean “long ago,” “since all-time,” and similar phrases (Nida and Low, Vol 2., p. 7). Various grammars and lexicons point out that the idiomatic expression of the word “aion” and the preposition “eis.” For example, Raymond Summers, in his Essentials of New Testament Greek, properly pointed out that “eis ton aeona” means “forever and ever” (p. 76). I translated every occurrence in the New Testament of this prepositional phrase and found his contention correct. The idiom conveys “eternity” or in some contexts “perpetuity.” The idiom that occurs is translated “forever and ever” in the following passages:

  • Mark 3:29; 11:14
  • Luke 1:33, 55
  • John 4:14; 6:51, 58; 8:35, 51, 53; 10:28; 11:26; 12:34; 13:8; 14:16
  • Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 16:27
  • 1 Corinthians 8:13
  • 2 Corinthians 9:9; 11:31
  • Galatians 1:5
  • Ephesians 3:21
  • Philippians 4:20
  • 1 Timothy 1:17
  • 2 Timothy 4:18
  • Hebrews 1:8; 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21, 24, 28; 13:8, 21
  • 1 Peter 1:25; 4:11; 5:11
  • 2 Peter 3:18
  • 1 John 2:17
  • 2 John 1:2
  • Jude 1:13, 25
  • Revelation 1:6, 18; 4:9, 10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 14:11; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5

This exhaustive list it illustrates the interface between lexica (“age”) and syntax (the transitive nature of “eis” and the accusative of extent). Thus, as can be seen in the references, the idiom illustrates the nature of language. It is folly to treat words in isolation and to ignore a language’s idioms. Imagine if someone treated our lexical units in isolation, “Cut it out.” We understand the phrase idiomatically as “stop it.” Another example is the phrase “he got his fingers burned,” meaning that he got into trouble.

When we see “aion” used in the lexical unit in the references above, we see the idiomatic expression for “eternity.” Revelation 22:5 uses this idiom in the doxology of praise to God, “to Him be the glory and the might forever and ever.” We are told the redeemed shall “reign forever and ever.” In a similar fashion, we are told that the smoke of the torment of the wicked ascends forever and ever. Satan will be tormented forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). “Aion” must be looked at in light of any limiting Greek genitive, any prepositional phrase in which it might occur, and any lexical unit as witnessed above.

It is the untrained in Biblical languages who treat words in isolation, with one invariant meaning. This charge cannot be laid at the feet of translators. Embarrassingly, it is the untrained in Biblical languages who mix the words “aeonian” and “aion” as if they were the same word. One book I have read treats the two words as if they were one and forces the meaning of “aion” onto “aeonian.” That book’s author admitted to me that he did not know Greek, yet a large portion of his arguments were about Greek.

Lexicographical Analysis

Contrary to what scholars in this field articulate, there are those who write on the subject of eternal damnation or hell and contend that the Greek language cannot or does not have a lexeme to express the concept of eternity or perpetuity. This is an idea to which a Greek philosopher who used the language and dealt with concept of eternity would not agree. The New Testament is a book that deals with the concept of eternity, and to say that a book like the New Testament has no lexical stock to express the concept of eternity is unsubstantiated. To say that the word means only “X” is the error of the root and etymology fallacy. To say that aeonian means “age-related” and nothing else is to fall into the error of invariant meaning for words. Even the word “theos” needs to be qualified by context. Words have fields of meaning, which can be witnessed by the lexical range of words. Words too must be analyzed with words of association, especially any limiting genitives. If you take the word “flame,” you can have all kinds of ideas, but limiting genitives can open the identity more sharply the word. For example, a “flame of fire” more sharply defines the word flame. On the other hand, “flame of passion” gives a different notion. Therefore, simply looking up words with a concordance without noting the syntactical environment in which a word occurs is simply not being responsible. Some in the Christian community follow this tendency with words that occur in the Bible. At the very least, this should show us that we need to be cautious and not assume an invariant meaning of a word.

Scholars today correctly look at a word’s lexeme synchronically, meaning within the era of a particular time (in this case, the 1st century). I will develop this thought in some detail shortly. For now, the charge that Greek lexicons or our understanding of Greek is flavored by later theologies developed in church history must be examined. We know a great deal of the lexeme and syntax of Ancient Greek. Enough is known to conclude that classical Greek is not like koine. Classical Greek uses fewer prepositions, more hypotactic structure, and longer sentences; koine has more prepositions; more paratactic structure, less subordination, rarer use of the optative mood, and shorter sentences. We know Greek from the time of Linear B, before Homer and the classical period. The knowledge we have long predates the composition of the New Testament in koine. Thus, we can diachronically view the language but synchronically exegete the Hellenistic New Testament. Our knowledge of the New Testament language has witnesses from the pre-Homer era to the development of the koine. We know the totality of the Hellenistic tongue as a living language through diachronic analysis. That is why the Iliad has long been translated.

We also have the benefit of the LXX. Many of the Hebraisms in the New Testament come from not only the Semitic authors but also the LXX and its influence on the koine. Therefore, the earlier Semitic tongue did impact the Koine of the New Testament. Again, our knowledge of New Testament koine is enhanced from the earlier understanding of the Hellenistic tongue.

Prior the discovery of the papyri we had little comparison for words that appeared rarely in the New Testament (but perhaps more frequently elsewhere in the 1st century). The trash heaps of Egypt revealed wills, personal letters, business documents, and other forms of day-to-day writings to show us the living language that the Apostles knew and read. Therefore, we have the full fabric of the ancient idiom, which allows us to understand better the lexeme and language of that day.

This shows the embarrassing naivety of those who say that our understating of the Greek New Testament has been flavored by men and their traditions in the centuries after the apostles. There are so many scholars who have studied the Hellenistic tongue for both secular and sacred reasons who know that language from the two perspectives, diachronic and synchronic. They would find such a notion that ancient Greek would be influenced by succeeding generations as amusing.

Anachronisms abound in untrained Christian circles. The root fallacy abounds in defining words by etymology, but it is not as if these errors were not flagged.

As D. A. Carson said in his book, Exegetical Fallacies, the pulpits and the Christian community are guilty of the sin of creating anachronisms, and this is even true of many well-known Bible teachers and preachers of our time. How many times have we heard that the word idiot comes from the Greek word “idios,” dynamite from “dunamis,” or prototype from “protos”? But these modern words have nothing at all to do with their ancient roots. It is unfortunate that the Christian community in their ignorance gives a hearing to this uninformed thinking regarding lexica, and it is in this state that Universalists and Adventists make their argument that “aeonian” simply means “age-related” and nothing more.

All languages move in only one direction—forwards and not backwards—and followsw the analytic tendency. Therefore, we are not to press modern meanings into the ancient time. It would be impossible for New Testament authors to have imagined the power of dynamite when using the word “dynamis.”To answer any questions about the meaning of words or anything related to language, we look at the ancient tongue. There is a plethora of documents in the ancient language for us to read. One can understand the feature of lexeme in the ancient tongue by looking at the language itself. This requires reading the language and not merely looking up words in isolation—which is not reading at all. Syntax and context are the basis to understanding, and they enable us to read the ancient language smoothly and broadly. Etymology and the root fallacy is clearly not the way to derive meaning.

Most English-speaking people are not even aware of the etymology of their own language, and we should not assume the ancients were any different. The very fact that so many Greek words depart from their roots and etymology is evidenced by the multitude of meanings for some Greek words. A non-Greek-reader can discover the meaning of a word by tracing a particular Greek word through the New Testament, which will show the many different definitions a word can have. This would prove the fallacious nature of believing in an invariant meaning for any Greek word. Indeed, this is also true of English and Hebrew, and I suppose of many other languages.

Widely reading a language and seeing how a word develops is of great benefit in understanding the various fields of meaning. For the Greek word “logos,” the translation of “word” does not exhaustively fill every range of use. So what of “aeonian”? The literature of those who make such unsound claims of an invariant meaning of “aeonian” such as “pertaining to age” is not even consistent with the rest of the lexical stock of the New Testament. Moreover, ancient Greek philosophers had the words in their lexical stock to refer both to the concepts of things everlasting or eternity. No one disputes a temporal referent in “aeoinian” (e.g., Luke 16:9,10), but it is entirely erroneous to say that it only has one meaning and could not express the concept of something that is everlasting, which it does in so many texts (as in the nature of God, the nature of life, and the nature of God’s execution of divine wrath). My own reading through the Greek New Testament has shown that the majority of passages refer to the idea of “everlasting” or “eternal” (from the perspective of what lies ahead and not focusing on the inception of something). In fact, a paucity of texts refer to something that is not eternal or everlasting. Thus we do not have the following:

  • Age-related redemption (Hebrews 9:12)
  • Age-related glory (2 Corinthians 4:17)
  • Age-related covenant (Hebrews 13:20)
  • Age-related God (Romans 16:26)
  • Age-related Spirit (Hebrews 9:14)
  • Age-related fire (Matthew 25:41)

The Greek New Testament, which embraced a lexeme for an everlasting notion, can and does declare those things that are everlasting, including the New Covenant, the eternal God, and eternal life and damnation. To insist on an invariant meaning for “aeonian” is very inconsistent of Adventists and Universalists. Our English Bibles would look very different if we approached other words the same way.

If the New Testament were translated in an archaic fashion of ultra-literalness or followed etymology slavishly, we would have a comical translation. Take the case of the Greek word “ekballo.” Its etymology consists of two words—the preposition “ek” which means “out of” and “ballo” which means “to cast.” Thus, it literally means “to throw out.” Yet, if one were to follow etymology, we would see the Good Samaritan “throwing out two denarius” (Luke 10:35). We would have Jesus literally throwing out the oxen and sheep (John 2:15). Could you see Him picking up an ox and casting it out? In 1 Corinthians 4:21, we have Paul coming to the Corinthian believers “in a rod.”

In Acts 19:32, 39, and 40, we have the common Greek word “ekklesia,” which is often translated “church.” We often hear of the church being called the “called-out ones” because of etymology, and yet this verse shows the fallacious nature of etymology. The “ekklesia” in these verses was a riotous mob of people who, for the majority, did not even understand why they gathered in the first place. Why not call the riotous mob (or “ekklesia”) the called-out ones? Therefore, to hold to an invariant meaning of Greek words proves to be comical.

Universalists and Adventists alike do not apply the root meaning in the rest of their English Bible. Yet here they are inconsistent. Such inconsistency is born not as a result of scientific analysis but rather of ignorance on the nature of language. We can look further at erroneous translations if we hold to an invariant meaning—“The one who has the Son has age-related life; the one who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 John 5:12) and “that you might know you have age-related life” (1 John 5:13).

Adventist and Universalist lock themselves into one invariant meaning of a Greek word; this is not from a diachronic approach but of a biased one. In this, they are not consistent with other words that have fields of meaning. The conjunction “that” is so flexible that it has a multitude of meanings. It can express a result, purpose, indirect discourse, subject, object, appositive, or clauses–to name a few. The same is true with the Greek word “hina,” which functions in all these capacities depending on the context and sentence structure. The common word “logos” can mean “talk, history, proposal, matter, thought, account, or opinion and reason” depending on the context. Thus, words can have ranges of meaning and not an invariant meaning. The same is true of “aion,” which is often confused by some with the word “aeonian.”

Analogical Language

The Bible is full of illustrations and analogical language. Jesus was a master of illustration in His teachings. Because of the fluid and somewhat elastic nature of words, it is the context that must anchor a word’s meaning. Thus, to use a phrase like “this house will last forever” means that it will be around for several generations to come, perhaps even centuries.

Relative to something everlasting, the word “forever” in this life naturally by definition does not mean something that is endless. On the other hand, when we are talking about eternity and the infinity that encompasses eternity, the term “forever” means something that is endless. Naturally, when we use terms such as “perpetuity” or “everlasting,” anything that is analogous to it by definition naturally has an end in this world.

No analogous language or anything analogical will be endless in our world, but when a referent is used concerning infinity, our analogies in this temporal world break down since everything in this world is temporal and has an end.  Thus “everlasting” in this world and “everlasting” in infinity are not comparable and are in reality two different things. Everything has a termination in this time-oriented age, but in infinity there is no terminus. In that dimension “everlasting” means “everlasting.”

Using this principle, the term in “inextinguishable fire” as an analogy to anything in this life will be temporary, but the term “inextinguishable fire” in infinity means something that is entirely endless.

I have noted that some authors who believe in a termination of hell fail to understand this limitation of analogous language. It is never wise to press any analogy to exhaustion. Everlasting in this age and life and everlasting in eternity are two different things.

Jesus, for example, referred to the fires of Gehenna (Mark 9:43–48). He referred to something that was local, containing ongoing fire that was inextinguishable (“asbestos”). Naturally, the local Gehenna’s fires would go out eventually. Anything that Jesus would use as an earthly analogy would cease naturally one day. This is true of the very earth and heavens that now exist. They shall perish one day (Hebrews 1:10–11), which means that any analogy of an ongoing flame in this life will have a temporal limit. But “asbestos” fire (or, “inextinguishable” fire) that concerns eternity is another matter. Jesus’ point in using an earthly analogy was to convey a central truth. The first-century person would have seen the local Gehenna continually burning in their lifetime, and they would have gotten the point about an ongoing burning in hell.

Fundamental to believing that hell is not everlasting is an argument of philosophy, not of empirical analysis. Their doubts did not grow out of doubts in the translation but rather from the seemingly inexplicable notion that a loving God could condemn a person forever. They then must attack the notion of the translation that contradicts their theology. It was not the translation itself that made them doubt however, but the hard nature of the teaching, which admittedly is frightening.

Extended Application

As to the rest of Scriptural teaching, what is the next victim of this doubt? “The trinity does not make sense; it is a fallacious teaching of the church.” Will we set aside the belief in the triune God because it does not accord with our understanding? How do you know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society are wrong about John 1:1? We can defend against their beliefs because of our knowledge of the Greek as a living language with conventions of communication. The same spirit that moved Charles T. Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, also provokes those who do not hold to endless torment. Russell did not start with the question, “Is John 1:1 translated correctly?” Rather, he said he could not accept the trinity.

Thus, he then attacked the translation. Satan works by deception, and he twists the Scripture to attack truth. Sound linguistics or any scholarly discipline did not start the argument; rather a philosophy did since the truth was so painful to take. A good thesis is not written to prove one’s opinion but rather to prove or unearth the truth. Universalists did not start with a query for truth but rather with defeating the teaching of endless judgement. Their quest never included any sense of objectivity. Rather, from the beginning, it was birthed with an aim to destroy an important doctrine that the Bible teaches.

I found that today’s books are being written “to defend the character of God.” They are built on premises such as, “God is not vindictive, unlike what those who hold to tradition make Him out to be.” Thus, books are being written which proclaim that the Bible does not teach eternal retribution. Such authors must first attack the translations. They admit that, if “aeonian” means “eternal’ or “everlasting” in Matthew 25:46 concerning “life,” then one would be forced to say that the same adjective means “eternal punishment” by parallel. The irony is that it is not Greek scholars who are saying that “aeonian” does not mean “eternal,” but those who find the doctrine of eternal retribution repugnant. They then, without knowing Greek, make the arguments from Greek. One such author, with whom I had dialogue, uses a lot of name-throwing in his book. He will use the name of a respected authority and has him as a backing source of support. The subtlety is that he would have the reader think that the certain authority supports his position. I find that this writer conveniently leaves out the most authoritative lexicons for secondary sources or sources that are antiquated.

There are many passages that can be used in the English, which would cause any reader to conclude that the Bible teaches everlasting damnation. If those who hold to a grand reconciliation theory are correct, then the Greek scholars are wrong. The translators—from those who translated the LXX to those in the present time—are wrong, but the Bible itself would be wrong. For example, to follow this line of thinking, John 3:36 would be wrong in that people will see life. In another case, John 3:3 would be moot because Satan and the demons would go to heaven. But none of this can be.

Those who hold to a universal reconciliation theory cannot accept or account for the “herem” passages of the Bible. (“Herem” is a Hebrew word which is used to describe something or someone devoted to destruction by the Lord.) The herem passages are not consistent with the kind of love in which Universalists believe. Kill infants? Kill the animals? (Joshua 6:21, 1 Samuel 15:1–3). The common apologetic is that it was to contain the spread of sin, but that is not pertinent in killing an animal or baby.

Those who do not follow the Bible’s teaching on everlasting perdition of the lost maintain that love is the chief perfection of God. God exists however in His perfectionism without composite, which means for example that one cannot separate God’s love from His justice or His power from His grace. He is completely holy, powerful, just, and love at the same time. He is immutable, meaning that none of His perfections ever were, are, or will be ingressive. Ontologically, He is all these perfections eternally at the same time. We see these perfections through His executions of those perfections in the eternal life He gives and the eternal damnation of the wicked.

Fundamental to the controversy on the everlasting nature of hell is the nature of God Himself. Is it such a stumbling block for those who do not accept the Bible’s teaching on everlasting hell that they cannot worship God? If we have to redefine God’s wrath and the vindictive nature that grows out of His moral justness, then do we have the same God?

There is much in the counsels of God that we do not understand (Romans 11:33–36), but we cannot attack the declarations of God simply because they do not make sense to us or are not palatable to us. We must accept many of the declarations of God by faith, and it is here too that we must trust God to do that which is right even though His moral rightness might lead to a hangman’s gallows. In all things, we must remember that God is holy and we are not. His ways are just. If we do not embrace His love, we will face His just wrath.

You Are What You Eat

Edwards-Carl-1If your parents were anything like mine, you were forced to eat things at dinner that you didn’t like. I can remember much crying and pleading my case to prove I didn’t need broccoli, spinach, lima beans (I hate lima beans), carrots, and the list goes on. I can remember the specific phrase, “You are what you eat.” I hated when my parents would say that because I knew it was true, but I still wanted junk food. I could not wait to be an adult! I thought when I was an adult I wouldn’t have to heed the advice of anyone else. All I really wanted was to make my own decisions. Reality finally hit. As an adult, I now choose to eat things that are healthy to sustain a long life. For all those years, my parents bugged me about a healthy diet to ensure a healthy lifestyle. I am now grateful for that.

You are what you eat.

During my sophomore year of college, we had to write a few modern day parables. I thought it was a silly project, and I remember “fluffing” the assignment. A few weeks ago, I came across some of these parables. One of them was called Fuel. Overlooking all of the grammatical and spelling errors, I realized it was something I needed at that moment. The parable compared us as believers to a vehicle. Like cars or trucks need fuel to “go,” we need fuel (God’s Word) to “go.” Really cheesy, right? I agree, but we need God’s Word to function properly.

You are what you eat.

In a culture where an unhealthy lifestyle is thrusting its way into our lives, we need to be properly fed and fueled. The Bible was given to us for that reason—to feed and fuel.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

I know that I am susceptible to the world’s lies and distractions. Daily I should be seeking after God and the promises found in His Word. The last few weeks in youth group, we have been learning about the importance of daily devotions. Devotions are the discipline of meeting with God regularly to get to know Him, learn about His unfailing character, move us to live a life that glorifies Him, convict us of sin, and learn how to make disciples for His kingdom.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

Thinking about eating healthy does not make you a healthy person. Watching exercise videos does not make you skinny. You aren’t a healthy person until you practice these habits, and they become a part of your daily routine. Thinking about reading your Bible doesn’t make you a spiritually healthy person. Create a discipline in your life where you meet with God regularly to be fed and fueled. Allow the words in the Bible to come alive to you!

You are what you eat!

The Things We Believe

Pastor Marvin ThumbmailHave you ever received one of these kinds of emails?

“Twenty angels are in your world. Ten of them are sleeping, nine are playing, one is reading this message. Please read…. Not joking…..God has seen you struggling with something. God says it’s over. A blessing is coming your way. If you believe in God, send this message on, please don’t ignore it, you are being tested. God is going to fix two BIG things tonight in your favor. If you believe in God, drop everything and pass it on. Tomorrow will be the best day ever. Send this to ten friends, including me, if I don’t get it back, I guess I’m not one of them. As soon as you get five replies, someone you love will quietly surprise you.”

I didn’t make this one up; I received it from a friend yesterday.

The thoughts I have about this kind of thing are varied. Does my friend really believe this? How many other people saw this? Do they believe it? Who started this? Why did they start it? Do they believe it, or is this just something they thought would encourage others? These are just the general questions, but what about questions more germane to the email? Do people believe they have twenty angels in their world? If so, how do you know ten are sleeping, nine are playing, and one is reading the email?

I think what’s most troubling to me is there are probably some people who see this and buy into it without any attempt to test its validity. Once they’re ensnared by its claims, they begin to live according to it. So they build an expectation about tomorrow—“the best day ever.”

This is why truth is so important. Unfortunately our culture is fighting truth. Our culture tends to be more concerned with what makes us feel good, or chasing things we like, than determining truth. Most of our economy and politics are rooted in our base desire to “get what we want.” And yet, we all know, it’s not good for us to get everything we want.

In John 8:32, Jesus said something that is often quoted, even among non-Christians. “The truth will set you free.” We may have some argument about what is true and what is not, but one thing is unmistakable: if you take hold of truth, it will set you free. Of course we have to ask, set you free from what? Set you free from the false thing you’re holding onto. Doesn’t that make sense? It can’t be good for you to believe a lie, so believing the truth will set you free from the lie.

What’s really interesting about this quote from Jesus is the context in which He said it. The full context is found in verses 31 and 32: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” Jesus was making an exclusive claim about Himself when He said this. In John 14:6 we see Him doing the same when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Truth is, whether you believe it or not, Jesus is the only way to heaven. I didn’t make the rules, God did. I’m simply here to say, Jesus made a specific claim: He is the truth, and He’s the only way to heaven. Now you have only three possibilities: 1) Jesus was lying, 2) Jesus was crazy, or 3) Jesus was telling the truth. Do you want to be set free by the truth? Jesus is the truth, and He can set you free.

 

Happy New Year

Pastor Wally ThumbnailHappy New Year.  Has anyone really explained the meaning of this phrase?  What exactly does it mean to you?  For the average American it may mean peace, health, prosperity, good times, all things well, etc.  We know this to be true because some people say, “I can’t wait until this year is over because 2012 was not a very good year for our family. It was not a happy year.” How was your 2012?  Was it a happy year for you?  Was it a good year for you?  How do you measure such things? How should a Christian measure the success of a year—whether it was a happy year or not?

First, we must remember that we don’t see how God sees.  He has celestial eyes that are able to see the past, present, and future all in one glance.  He sees how the past has led to the present and how the future helps define the present. Unfortunately, far too often we measure the present by the present. I am having a bad day. I am having a bad week. I am having an unhappy year. All of these conclusions are not measured by how the past led to the day, week, or year. Rarely taken into consideration is how the future may cause the present to seem less dreadful.  Scripture makes it clear that His ways are far above our ways, and His thoughts far above our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9).  We need to avoid drawing conclusions by looking at the present. Allow Him time to show you His plans, which are always good (Rom 8:28).

Second, we must remember that He has been consistently faithful in our past. This does not mean everything has happened just the way we may have wanted it to happen, nor does it mean we understand the past.  If we allow ourselves to truly evaluate the past in light of our Savior, then we will conclude with Jeremiah that great is His faithfulness, and His mercies are renewed every morning (Lam 3:22-23).  Because our vision is limited by our depravity, we tend to forget that He has neither forsaken nor abandoned us. He has been faithful and always will be. We can trust the future because He has been faithful to us in the past.

Third, we must remember this is not all there is.  I’m not sure what 2013 will bring.  Maybe the Lord will return this year.  Maybe one of us will go home due to an unexpected death.  Maybe, from an earthly view, the new year will be anything but happy.  Regardless of what 2013 brings, we can have confidence knowing our loving Savior has gone to prepare a place for us, and it is going to be good.  Just imagine our favorite restaurant on steroids, or the joys of earth without sin and without pain. Imagine worship with no limit of His glory. 

Maybe we don’t need to wish anyone “Happy New Year” at all.  Maybe we just need to remind everyone that 2013 is going to be amazing; amazing because He was in 2012 and will be in 2014.  So He can’t be anything but amazing in 2013. I can’t wait to see our Savior high and lifted up for His glory in the coming year.  Let’s delight in Him as He does all things well.

Lessons from Year One

Edwards-Carl-1My first year at MABC has been absolutely amazing! Mary and I are so thankful that God has brought us to serve at MABC. The last eleven months have held lots of triumphs, but also a few sorrows. I have learned so much through these, as some would say, seasons of ministry.

I recently read a book where the writer settled on Proverbs 20:8-12. I have read this passage many times, but had never marinated in it. Proverbs 20:8-12 says, A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes. Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’? Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord. Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright. The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.”

A lesson I learned from this passage is to regularly evaluate my motives and check my heart. Weekly, and sometimes daily, I ask myself, “Why do I do what I do?” and “What do I count as success?” As I evaluate my heart, my prayer is to serve for the cause of Christ and promote His name.  As I look deeper, my prayer is to consider lives changed by Christ to be true success.

Though sometimes, I battle the desire to self-promote. Being young, I’m tempted to prove myself to everyone. I want to show that I am capable of being entrusted with much. I also tend to find myself relishing the praise I receive when an event goes well or someone likes my teaching. Now there is nothing wrong with receiving praise. What I do with that praise is what I wrestle with. My commitment is to regularly evaluate my motives, check my heart, and thwart the pull of self-promotion. I strive to serve in a ministry that is lined up with the will of God. I don’t want to get in the way of what God is doing.

I am reminded of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” No one likes to be in a place of submission, but ten chapters later, Christ models true submission by washing His disciples’ feet. As I enter the New Year, I plan to use the next few weeks to look for ways to make Christ greater and myself less.

Defusing Bombs

Stress is part and parcel of our jobs. A person who works at McDonalds feels the stress of the lunch hour rush, while doctors feel the stress of the long lists of patients to attend. Yet I believe the job of the brave specialists called in to disable live bombs has to be one of the most stressful jobs. One wrong move and the bomb will explode, leaving death in its path.

We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are called on from time-to-time to disable bombs. Paul writes,

Brothers, if a person is overtaken in any trespass, you the spiritual ones must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself lest you also become tempted (Galatians 6:1).

If I am to be any good at disabling spiritual bombs, I must be in a place of spiritual sobriety. Spiritual ones, a person who is walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25), are called to do this work. The person who needs the help of the spiritual one is the person “overtaken” in a sin. According to the Greek, a person overtaken in sin refers to a person who falls into some act. He is taken (passive voice) by some outside force. This outside force stems from the lust of one’s own heart and is some particular thing that draws the person. The person who is overtaken is overcome by his lust or temptation. We can argue that it is the person’s fault for not walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), or we can argue that the person gave in since he did not make any provision to avoid certain temptations. Nevertheless, the person was overtaken by the temptation in his weakness. What are we to do in such a case? Are we to abandon the person who sinned and remind him that this is his fault for falling in the first place?

To pass by the person who sinned is not a viable option. I have to be in a place in my life where I am sensitive and obeying the Spirit. I am commanded to restore the believer who is overtaken in sin. Now contrary to what is commonly said, the imperative “restore” is not a medical term, but rather the word means to “mend, put in order.”  When a person is overtaken by sin and needs help, we need to be there to put the person back in order. Sin ruins things, and we need to restore the repentant sinner. Often restoration takes time. Accountability must be established to keep them from falling again. Yet, the person who restores must be very careful. In the nature of spiritual warfare, the person who restores may be tempted with the same iniquity that overtook the brother who sinned, or even tempted by a different sin that can leave one on the receiving end of restoration.  Restoration is to be done with gentleness and humility, not with condemnation and judgment (Gal 6:1).

In restoring a person who sinned, you and I are to bear the burden that has overtaken the weaker believer (Gal 6:2) and in this regard, you and I are like Christ.  One possible roadblock to restoration is a wrong attitude on my part.  If, for example, I am disgusted with the sin and the person who has done the sin, then I may refuse to restore them. Ignoring the person is not an option. It is natural to not like sin. In fact, we should hate sin. But let us use our indignation for something positive. We should hate the sin that has brought down our brother and hurt the testimony of Christ. We should put our energy into righting that which sin has wronged.

I have not fully covered Paul’s entire discussion on this topic (v 3-5), but I would like, in closing, to consider a few items:

  1. We need to walk with the Lord so He can use us to restore a repentant believer.
  2. We need to be willing to help that person and not pass them up in disgust.
  3. We need to be humble while restoring, knowing that we stand by the grace of Christ

If we consider these three things, we can be used to defuse a bomb in someone’s life and divert disaster and hurt.

 

Thanksgiving: An Attitude

It’s that time of year again—Thanksgiving. Most of us will spend time with family, eat way too much food, watch some football, and then go back to our lives. In addition, we’ll talk about the importance of being thankful. We’ve heard that line for many years, haven’t we? We’ll probably look at passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:18. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We’ll also probably talk about how good we have it, but when Thanksgiving is over, we’ll quickly forget.

So why are we not thankful all year long? Why is this such a struggle? We know how naturally selfish we are. Scripture abounds with examples of this problem. Just a cursory reading of the Bible will make this point clear. But is it really that bad?

I had two independent conversations with people this week. Both centered around the same topic: food. We all agreed that the attitude people have toward food in this country is concerning. We seem to think that every time we sit down to eat we must have some kind of new experience or enchanting event. It used to be that people ate because they were hungry and they needed fuel to keep them going. As a child I remember regularly having a pot of boiled cabbage for dinner, and if the finances were going well we got a few hotdogs cut-up in the pot. It wasn’t a lot, but it fed us. We didn’t know how little it was until we got older and were able to afford more. We never went hungry, but sandwiches were a regular part of eating. Spam wasn’t uncommon in my house. Yummy! Going to get a hamburger from a fast-food restaurant was an absolute treat. Now eating out is the norm. It’s also the norm for people to complain if they can’t afford cable or a smart phone.

I used to travel quite extensively for work. To see the abject poverty of other nations was blinding. I knew I didn’t have a lot growing up compared to many others in America, but now I recognize I’m rich. There’s something about comparing that either makes you grateful or greedy. When you compare yourself to those who have little, you tend to feel like a king. When you compare yourself to those who have more, you tend to act like a churlish child. Israel would have loved all the options we have today to give us comfort during travel. Israel had to settle with walking, manna, and quail. Can you imagine eating chicken and bread, three meals a day, every day of the week? Some of us would end up in a mental hospital over such a thing. We can’t even handle a few meals at a retreat center for a couple of days. We, as Christians, should know better.

So how do we fix this? It may be that it will be fixed by default. As we look at the history of this rich nation, we’re recognizing that the wealth may be nearing the end. Then what? Will we complain against God for having so little? I can’t help but think we will since we’re complaining in our wealth today.

This is an attitude problem more than anything else. We need to guard our hearts with thanksgiving. When we thank God for all we have, it protects our hearts and attitudes against complaining. Will you thank Him in all circumstances? God has given us more than any nation in the history of mankind. Will you be grateful? It’s yours to decide.

They Grow Up Too Quickly

During the past year I have had the privilege of writing another book. This time my theme is parenting. I can clearly say that I have enjoyed each and every stage of the parenting process. The early years were so amazing with fun childish surprises and wrestling on the living room floor. As the children grown older, we were able to enjoy a variety of sports starting as early as elementary school. We watched from side lines as they kicked balls across fields or dribbled down courts. Oh to have those years back, but they are gone and all we have are the memories.

Now we are in a parenting stage that we do not enjoy; the kids have all grown up. Now this does not mean we are no longer parents, but the role has certainly changed as they have gone on to college and careers. Oh to have them back under our roof, but time marches on.

This blog is not about our family, but about a principle that we have learned through the parenting process; they grow up too quickly. Some of you may be just beginning the parenting journey. Diapers, ear infections, crying, and a host of other early morning surprises can raise your stress level to a feverish pitch. How often have parents said they wish those years were over?  Now I don’t want to minimize the struggles of those early years, but let me be very clear, they grow up too quickly.

You bring them home from the hospital with so many goals and dreams, and before you know it, they are on their own. Why?  They grow up too quickly.

Scripture reminds us that we are to redeem the time. This means that we are to make the most of every opportunity. I can assure you I did not do this in my parenting, so I want to encourage you to not make my mistakes. Let me offer a few suggestions as you watch your children growing up too quickly:

  1. Pray for them daily.
  2. Be very involved in their lives—all of it. They won’t remember the hours you worked or played without them, but they will remember the hours you spent with them.
  3. Hug and kiss them and tell them you love them daily.
  4. Video tape as much as you can. One day you will be sitting all alone with only a video to bring back the memories. It is worth the time.
  5. Get their heart before they break yours. Children have a way of getting to our hearts, both good and bad. Get their hearts early for God and watch them grow up to be a great blessing.

You will still miss them, but you will miss them with a smile on your heart because you know they love you and love the Lord. I hope you will “heart” parenting as much as we have. And keep in mind, they grow up too quickly.

Embrace the Process

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11)

I have done a lot of waiting in my short life. You see, I grew up with two sisters and life was tough being out numbered. I had to wait for the bathroom, wait on them to leave the house, and even wait for them when we were at the mall. God was definitely preparing me for my wife because I have had to continue to practice the discipline of waiting the six years we have been together. Waiting isn’t something we like to do very often. We live in a society where dinner can be ready in five minutes, you can instantly stream football games on your cell phone, and no one mails letters anymore unless it is a bill. We don’t like to wait.

Two years ago and even during the last few weeks, I have found myself in one of those waiting seasons. We all go through these seasons. For you it may be singleness, illness, a job search, or maybe you are in a financial waiting season. I am not sure where you are but my encouragement for you is to embrace the process. Show patience through the crazy times of waiting. I was reminded of patience and preparation while watching the 1984 film, Karate Kid. In the movie, Daniel becomes angry and frustrated with Mr. Miyagi thinking he was assigned meaningless tasks for weeks, but all the while he was learning the foundations of karate. I think we get like this sometimes, angry at God because of the waiting season we are in, and all along God is preparing us for something. Embrace the process.  Read James 5:7-11

James 5:7-11 talks about a farmer waiting to yield fruit and for the rains to come. We are challenged to be patient like the farmer because in due season the rains will come and the ground will bear fruit. Looking at verse 11 we are reminded of Job and his suffering, but God brought Job out of that season with an abundance of fruit. One of the toughest things for us to do in a waiting season is to look back at how God has proven Himself to us. I encourage you to remember how He has shown Himself faithful; it will be one of the most rewarding things in your faith journey with Christ. Embrace the process.

God taught me true patience in one of the simplest acts. Almost every day I am reminded to be still and wait. As you know I am a lot taller (larger) than Mary, and we share a vehicle. When I drive, I need to have the seat all the way back, and when Mary drives she needs to have the seat moved closer to the front. If I were to get in the car after she drove, I would not be able to fit behind the wheel. This next piece of the story is when God began to open my eyes to waiting. In my car is a small lever that, when pushed, can move the seat forward or backwards. As I push this lever to make the seat go back (which moves extremely slowly), I am reminded to be patient. I remember becoming angry having to wait for the slow-moving seat to get to the right position, but now I embrace the process and ask myself, “What is God preparing me for?”

I don’t know what season you are in right now, but I challenge you to embrace the process and allow God to mold you during this time of waiting.

To Vote or Not to Vote

Have you heard someone say, “I don’t know if I should vote or not”? Then you hear statements like, “I just don’t think it will matter” or “I don’t know what to do.” I have to admit, I’ve yet to hear a sufficient reason to not vote. I know it can be confusing. I know it can seem irrelevant because “it’s just one vote.” But I want to encourage you with something. People around the world would give all they have to be able to elect their leaders. In addition, many Americans have given their lives so we can have this great freedom. Choosing to forgo your vote should be unconscionable for every American.

If you don’t know where to place your vote then educate yourself. It’s not too late. You have approximately one month to get to know the politicians and policies you’ll face in the voting booth. If you don’t know where to start, come talk to me. I’ll be glad to help you sort it out. You can start by listening to the sermon I preached 10/7/2012 at www.mabcmd.org.

I think the most concerning thing I’ve faced on this issue are the number of Christians who have bought into this “separation of church and state” myth. Space won’t permit me to cover everything in this blog, but I’ll share a few items that are important for the Christian to know.

First, God has commanded us to be under the authority of our government. Titus 3:1 says, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.” The government has not commanded us to vote, but our government expects us to vote. Who would govern if no one voted?

Second, we need good leaders—godly leaders. If you don’t vote for the godliest person, you leave others to vote in the ungodly candidates. Your failure to vote results in a positive vote for the wrong person or policy. You need to see your vote as an opportunity to accomplish God’s will, because God wants righteousness to prevail. First Timothy 6:11 says, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

Third, the first amendment makes it clear that all Americans have the right to practice their own religion. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Those are the very first words to the very first amendment. Congress expected everyone to practice their own religion, and they had no concept of a person withholding his vote for a candidate just because of genuine belief in a religion. Christians ought to vote just like non-Christians. Your desire to serve God has absolutely no bearing on your right to be involved in politics and to vote for your preferred candidate. It falls into the same category as your freedom of speech, freedom of press, or freedom to assemble.

My fellow Christians, go to the voting booth on Tuesday, November 6, and make your choice. You’ve been given a great freedom and heavy responsibility. Take it seriously.