Friday, March 16, 2018

The Fiery Preacher From Peoria

     As I was in the shower, I began to think about writing a new blog. As I pondered what to write on, I felt lead ("God In The Shower") that I should write about the church service I attended last Sunday. I was visiting my hometown in Peoria, and attended a church called Riverside Community Church. I first went to this church during Christmas Eve after strongly feeling that God was leading me to go. The pastor is an older, kindly, unassuming looking man, with a British accent, who if you asked someone "describe what your perfect grandfather would look like," it would be him. What I am trying to say is that you would not expect the words he preaches to come out of him.

     After that first service in December, I left church with a fire that I hadn't had in a while. It was awesome! This church is set in the downtown area of Peoria, in the midst of the poor, downtrodden, homeless, and gangs. They are working to change lives in the name of Jesus. The day I was there, the pastor laid out the Gospel perfectly, and at the end offered people a chance to come forward and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. It looked like around 25 people accepted! I was so moved by what I witnessed that I have been watching the streaming service almost weekly now in Florida (after going to my church here).

     Anyway, last Sunday was the second time I have been to Riverside in person. The pastor preached a lot on Hell. One of my top complaints about the "church" today is that no one ever seems to preach on Hell anymore. So many churches are all about being "positive," and talking about the love of God (seeker friendly) rather than God's judgment, and the punishment that will one day come if one does not accept the payment of Jesus for one's sins.

     It was during this sermon that the pastor taught me something that seemed so obvious that I was astounded I had never seen it before in my years of reading the Bible and writing Bible Studies. (I LOVE it when that happens!) Rather than explain in my words, let me quote him (this may not be perfectly quoted).

     "When Christ bore our sins, He entered into the judgment for our sins. Christ endured Hell on the cross. The clearest revelation of Hell is given in the cross. It is what Jesus went through in these (final) 3 hours (on the cross)." He then shared 6 dimensions:

1. He is in conscious suffering.
2. He is in the blackest darkness.
3. He is surrounded by demonic powers.
4. He is bearing sin on the cross.
5. He is under the judgment of God.
6. He is separated from the love of God.
(He followed #6. saying, "There is a love of God, I could have known His love forever, but now it's beyond our reach, and we're lost forever, cut off from the love of God.")

     So, there you have it. A perfect description of Hell, suffered by Jesus on the cross. All Biblical (I give verses here: https://jesusalive.cc/ques207.htm ), and I missed it. You may have missed it too, so I share it with you. Thanks Pastor John!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

"What If...?"

     Why does God allow suffering? I discuss this here. In that study, I speak about both Christians and non-Christians. However, for this post, I want to focus on Christians.

     As I say in the study, there are many reasons why God allows (or causes: see below) Christians to suffer and face trials. Here are a few: to bring people to repentance and submission, to deepen our faith, to help us know Him in a better and more intimate way, to get us to lean on Him more, to make us stronger, to give us more joy and peace as we see Him work in our trials, to use us to help others with similar trials, and more...

     All of these things are certainly true, and we can find many examples in the Bible. However, I feel like God has shown me something regarding this. When do we most often turn to God? Isn't it when we face trials, have problems, or need something from Him? On the flip side of this, when do we least often to turn to God? Isn't it when things are going well, when we aren't sick, or when we don't really need anything?

     In 2015, I had one of the worst years of my life. My dad died, my mother was in the hospital for 30 days and almost died, my favorite aunt died, and her son (my cousin) committed suicide a few days later. My wife had shingles, I had chronic gout and was diagnosed with "fatty liver," one daughter had health issues and ended up in the E.R. 3 times, the other daughter moved over 600 miles away, another cousin was diagnosed with cancer (and died in 2016), and a few more. In the midst of these trials, I did see God work over and over, and I am forever thankful for it. These trials did do many of the positive things that I listed above.

     However, in 2017 I had perhaps the best year of my life. What a great year! My family enjoyed good health, my ministry at jesusalive.cc had substantial growth, I made some new and wonderful friendships, primarily through the two Bible studies I teach (and I was privileged to baptize 3 people in one of them), and a third day of fellowship and study with a Christian brother one to one came to pass (perhaps more on this in a future blog). In addition to these, I got to spend more time praying, studying, and sharing God's Word than perhaps at any other time in my life.

     I can say that while I did indeed draw closer to the Lord in 2015 as a result of seeing Him work through my trials, I ended 2017 feeling closer to the Lord than perhaps I ever have, even though I had few trials. Then, the thought came to me! "WHAT IF" in those times when things are going well we were to seek God, pray to Him, spend time with Him, and get into His word MORE than when we do when we are facing the bad times? 

     I often say this: "If God is in charge of all things, then one of two things must be true regarding trials, God either causes the trial we face, or He allows the trial we face" (there are examples of both in the Bible). As I mentioned above, the point of many of these trials is to draw us closer to Him in some way. However, if we would draw closer to Him, and seek Him as much (or more) in the good times as in the bad, isn't it possible that God may not need to use as many trials to get our attention? Just a thought...

My Thorn In The Flesh?

      For years, since I have become a Christian, I have prayed for God to "crush all pride" in me, to keep me humble. The Bible h...