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Following Jesus can be a treacherous path of trying to change the world, as we see it, and running straight into the truth that we are, indeed, the one with the problem.  We need deliverance from:

  • … Our belief that it is up to us to change people.
  • … Our judgmental and legalistic ways.

Think about this:

In the beginning of Luke 19 – the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus.

(Raise your hand if you just started to sing “Zaccheaus was a wee little man, a wee little man, a wee little man was he!”)

Jesus is in Jericho and a crowd has gathered. The crooked tax collector Zaccheaus was there. He can’t see over the crowd so he climbs up a tree to see Jesus. In the middle of that crowd – which likely would have included more than a fair share of holy or influential or important or preferred or religious people – Jesus heads right for that tree and calls out to that guy – the one who is a social and religious outcast, ridiculously perched up in the branches – to come on down because Jesus wants to go to that guy’s house for supper.

Huh?   How do I explain that to my religious friends?

I mean, honestly.

  • Jesus always picks the wrong guy.

Of course, everyone in the crowd gets quite indignant, muttering among themselves about how Jesus is now the guest of a sinner. Not only did the guy betray his religion, Zacchaeus has betrayed his people, his nation, colluding with the powers that be for his own gain and oppressing the very people who were supposed to be his people.

Or how about the story of the town harlot of Samaria?   The infamous, “Woman at the Well”?  (John 4:1-42)  The longest conversation recorded of Jesus and one person was with this woman who had five husbands, and was with a guy she wasn’t married too when Jesus approached her.

There is our Jesus, sitting by a well…in forbidden Samaria.

Does anyone else see the humor in this story?

The town slut, (or Ho, Hussy, Loose, Sinner, etc. (as she would be called today) approaches Him.

Breaking the Christian rules with humility, grace and mercy

Image: Katie Bulmer

What?

Isn’t she hopeless and an embarrassment? And openly living in sin, (deep breath)!

Plus, Jesus, as a Jew, was not even supposed to be in Samaria, let alone talk to a woman, for heaven’s sake!!

That woman!!

We hate that woman!  Don’t we?  We can’t be seen talking to her.

  • Isn’t that breaking the rules?

Imagine if Jesus was in our world right now in the flesh,  and he heads right over to someone who cooperated with and benefitted from oppression of innocent people, someone who had traded integrity for political power, someone we distrust, someone who we feel is dangerous, someone who stole from people in a socially acceptable and governmentally blessed way, someone who took the very religious or national identity that we cherished and basically stomped all over it for his own gain.

I can think of a few already, but I won’t mention names.

Ugh. We hate that guy.

Don’t we?   I mean aren’t we supposed to keep ourselves clean by dissing those who are not living up to our standards as we interpret them?

Would we be murmuring and complaining and wondering about this Teacher who apparently had missed the important parts of the very Law he claims to teach.

Never mind He really came to fulfill the law Himself.

We don’t hang around with people like that, Jesus.  (Insert whine)

Don’t you know? Good people wouldn’t be caught dead with a man like that.

Just like we don’t hang around with women who are caught in the act of adultery, or fornication, and….

  • We don’t hang around with Samaritans,
  • We don’t hang around with powerless children,
  • We don’t hang around with women who have a bad reputation,
  • We don’t hang around with beggars or the poor or the oppressed or the criminal or the possessed or the socially marginalized or the ones who aren’t allowed to come to church with the good religious people, never!

Get it together, Jesus.

And, hey, news flash, we certainly don’t go to the personal home of a corrupt politician for a bite to eat or the apartment of the town prostitute for a cup of tea.

But Jesus does it anyway.

Jesus seems not to care about our who-is-in and who-is-out line in the sand. He doesn’t seem to care about what we think about all the wrong folks hanging around with him.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law but while also revealing the Love behind the Law, and the inadequacy of it, he came to replace the real love of a real God for their people.

Jesus came because God so loved the world.  After all, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in the book of John, it was because God so loved the world that Jesus came to us.

Jesus came, not to condemn the world but to save the world.

…Including the guy we would rather see condemned, to be honest.

How can we miss this?

Now take note of this fact:  because of an encounter with Jesus, Zaccheaus turns around gives half of everything away. He is so moved by Jesus, he vows to pay back anyone he has cheated four times the amount he stole.

The Samaritan woman?

Oh, she just became the first woman evangelist telling the whole town about Jesus.

Extravagant repentance.

Wild, reckless love for a man who was like no one they ever met.

They both were not just fulfilling the letter of the Law, they were repenting into the heart of Love Himself.

Looks like the presence of Jesus transforms everyone…even those of us who think we have it all together.

  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Zaccheaus was lost, Jesus sought him out, and in this moment of repentance – which was so much more than just money or position – he’s reoriented to the Kingdom of God.   The woman at the well discovered that her bucket could only be filled with Jesus, not a multitude of lost men.

Now that is something to get excited about!

  • Think of the word “today” in that passage. Jesus says “Today I must stay at your house” and then later “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The time is now.

We’d rather another day, another house, another time, another kind of sinner.  Don’t bother us with the now.

But today is the day for the wrong guy…or the wrong woman.

It’s perhaps telling, where we see ourselves in that story.

Are we the crowd, resentful and muttering because we think THAT PERSON shouldn’t be included because they aren’t righteous enough or holy enough or good enough or acceptable enough or just enough?

  • Do we have a long list of people we’d probably be pretty mad to see Jesus hanging out with in our world? Do we begrudge seeing Jesus head right to a certain house with a certain person?

We have our sort of people we want to keep out.

Sure, we’re okay with this kind of sinner being included –but not that kind.

But over and over, Jesus picks the wrong person in our eyes.

He even picks you, and me!

Or perhaps we see ourselves more in the one who everyone else wants to keep out.

 “Today, today, today, I’m coming to your house.

And all we can do is receive Jesus with such joy and relief.

And our own sin – everything that damages us and damages our relationship with God and damages our relationships with one another – is over!

We stop putting God into a box of our own self righteous rules and let Him do what He came to do.

…Love on all of us and see lives transformed.

So we turn everything in our lives upside down and inside out to be with Jesus, to be Him extended to everyone…not just those we think won’t contaminate us.

…To cooperate in making all things right, today.

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Why is there so much evil and corruption in the world? Why do children need to be taught to behave, whereas disobedience and naughtiness come rather naturally? What exactly is sin, where does it come from, and how does it relate to our view of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ?

While this topic of sin is no longer fashionable to voice, the world needs to understand its plight before it comes to believe in the wonders of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. On this program the hosts will discuss these questions and more as they begin a new four-part series on the doctrine of Original Sin on the White Horse Inn.

Original Sin“Sin is rebellion against God. If we start talking about sin as ‘I’m not fulfilling my potential or something like that,’ we’re already starting off wrong. We need to ask how sin relates to God if sin is rebellion against God. There’s ways that the Bible has talked about this; sin is about missing the mark of God’s law.

“God is holy and the way that the Bible depicts sin is there’s guilt that comes with our rebellion, there’s corruption that comes with that, but it also talks about sin as folly. So talking about original sin actually helps describe to us our present reality.” – Justin Holcomb

Term to Learn:

Original Sin

6.2 Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

6.3 They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free.

6.4 From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. (1689 London Baptist Confession, chap. 6, Sections 2–4)

(This podcast is by White Horse Inn. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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We have a lot of questions from parents of prodigals, and those parents want to walk wisely. Dennis, a father, writes in: “Pastor John, thank you for this podcast. I have a 16-year-old prodigal son who has left our home and walked away from Christ. I struggle to know whether I should generously financially support him in the world, like the father in the prodigal son story. Or, unlike what it seems Eli should have done, should I take a more strict position in relation to my rebelling son? The prodigal was given his inheritance, blew it on lewd living, and returned home in repentance. Eli’s sons were wicked, lived in all sorts of sin unchecked and unrepented of, and they died for it. Abundant grace or strict restraint? What should the father of a prodigal do especially in regards to finances?”

I love the way he has already thought a lot about this and thought about it from the Scriptures. Frankly, I wish I had precise and clear answers, but let me say what I do have, and maybe the Lord will use it in some way.

One of the things that makes a relationship with a prodigal so difficult and complex is the interplay between passages of the Bible concerning church discipline and passages concerning parenting. One of the hard church discipline issues is that, on the one hand, we have a call, for example, not even to eat with someone who is a professing believer and living in immorality (1 Corinthians 5:11). And on the other hand, normal expectations of what godly parenting is might make that kind of guideline very difficult to carry through. And there are many other kinds of ambiguities as we try to sort through the special role of a parent in the life of a child who will not submit to his parents’ authority any longer or doesn’t believe any longer in what the parents believe.Should a Christian parent give their rebellious child money?

So, with regard to financial help for a prodigal, I can’t see that there is just one rule that applies to every situation. It seems to me that there are so many factors that make a difference. How old is he? How serious is his sinful behavior? And what are the effects of it on others and the harmfulness of it on himself? Are there elements of respect remaining in his heart? Is there departure? Was his departure ugly rebellion or just a more honest difference of conviction? Is he eager to get on his own feet financially, or is he just aimless and simply mooching? And on and on the questions go that we have to ask.

The reason I think these questions matter is because they are the sort of thing we have to ask about all of our generosity towards others, especially those who mistreat us. I am thinking of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:38–42,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

However, as radical as those are — and I will circle back to that radicalness in just a minute — it is plain that from the Bible itself that there are structures of society, spheres of society where the Bible puts limits on those teachings. For example, in the family, children should obey their parents and parents should discipline their children rather than always turning the other cheek (Ephesians 6:14). In government, the state has the right to punish criminals rather than turning the other cheek (Romans 13:14). In schools, teachers have a right to give failing grades to students who don’t do their work. In businesses, employers have the right to see that employees fulfill their expectations in order to earn their salary; otherwise, they could lose their jobs. In the church, people can be excommunicated. But when all those spheres of life are taken into consideration, Jesus did mean something radical when he said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” and when He said, “Give to the one who begs from you.”

So, the older I get, the more inclined I am to take those commands more literally than I once tried to justify myself in not doing. I don’t think there is a simple rule that will dictate when you help a prodigal financially and when you don’t. On the one hand, you want to show the child that Jesus is your all-satisfying treasure. And any withholding of money which might be wise in any given situation is not owing to stinginess or fear or greed or insecurity. It is owing to a desire to do the child good. We want him to see that. And that would mean that parents would look for other ways to continually do good to the child.

I think that is a significant principle that, if you have to say no in one area because the child’s expectation is harmful as you see it, you try to help him see your heart is still there for him by pouring yourself out in other ways. You will continually reach out to him rather than write him off. You will continually offer yourselves even if you don’t offer your money. And that may be much more difficult. To get on a plane and go across the country might be much more difficult than wiring money. You will go out of your way to be there for the child.

And, yes, at some utterly surprising moment, you may give him a wonderful gift that is not designed to advance his sin, but lavish him with grace in the hopes that God might open his eyes. Above all, I would just say to this parent: Immerse yourself in the word of God and join hands with your spouse in continual prayer for wisdom and love and boldness and even joy while your heart is breaking. And I think God, out of that, will show you the way forward.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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If things had worked out differently, you might have found Kenny back in his hometown of Corpus Christi, dressed in a stiff suit and tie, maybe in an office with the sweet smell of leather chairs and a view of the bay. He might have been poring over legal documents, using God’s gifts of speech and debate to disrupt human trafficking as an attorney. For a long time, Kenny imagined his life looking something like that. He wanted to do something meaningful, something his dad could point to and be proud of.

But Kenny’s Heavenly Father had different plans.

The summer after Kenny’s freshman year of high school, God first revealed Himself to Kenny at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) sports camp, an organization he got involved with through his time playing baseball. Though he had attended church his entire life and heard the Gospel numerous times, the FCA camp was his first experience with the emotionally raw kind of worship that causes people to unashamedly raise their hands and voices. The Lord continued to stir Kenny’s heart and, after winning a debate tournament and learning of the realities of human trafficking, he was sure God was calling him to use his talents as an attorney.God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The following school year, Kenny moved from his small, suburban high school to an urban city and found that the FCA that he had grown to love was virtually nonexistent in his new school. Kenny got involved in the FCA leadership and, with him speaking and his friend leading worship on Wednesday nights, their numbers grew from five to 50. Revival was happening in Kenny’s new high school. Each week as he took the stage to speak, he looked at the expectant faces in the crowded gym and proudly thought, I did this. 

When Kenny started applying to college, he looked for three things: a place where he could continue to play baseball, a school known for producing attorneys, and a campus where he would have opportunities to share the Gospel. He found all of those at Southwestern University. There, he surrounded himself with Believers and, continuing in his self-righteousness, he walled off anyone or anything associated with the party culture on campus. When his entire baseball team was rushing fraternities, he refrained, thinking, That’s where the sinners go.

Eventually, Kenny started playing keys with two seniors who were leading worship on campus. The seniors, however, would be graduating soon and wanted to discuss the future of the weekly worship service with Kenny. They told him that he would have to take over or the service would come to an end. They asked him to pray about quitting baseball in order to keep it alive, but Kenny was hesitant. He had played baseball his entire life, and the sport was one of the main reasons he had chosen to attend Southwestern. He agreed to pray about it, but his pleas to God were meager, half-hearted attempts. Nonetheless, God used those prayers to incite a heart change in Kenny, and he began to despise baseball for seemingly no reason at all. His excitement for leading worship grew and grew until Kenny decided to quit baseball in order to devote his time to leading the worship service.God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The next summer, Kenny felt the conviction of the Spirit. For the first time, Kenny saw error in the way he was treating the people around him. He began to understand God’s capacity for grace and that it is extended to anyone, regardless of their sin. Kenny had built himself up for so long as the example of an ideal Christian that he had grown disconnected from the people that God seeks to know and love.

The following year, Kenny devoted himself to building relationships and genuinely getting to know the people around him. Having quit baseball, he led worship each week with full dedication. All the while, he was continuing to pursue law school with no ambition of going into ministry. In fact, in all the years of leading in high school and college, he never thought about being anything other than an attorney.

When it came time for him to take the LSAT during the summer before his senior year, Kenny felt a lot of uncertainty about pursuing law school. He began to question the ambitions he had kept for so long. However, he felt joy in his time leading worship and even thought, Why can’t I just do this?God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The most convicting affirmation of Kenny’s call to ministry came on a Sunday when he overslept for the morning service at his home church in Georgetown and found himself at a Sunday evening service at The Austin Stone Community Church. As he listened to Matt Carter describe his own call to ministry, Kenny started thinking, Law school doesn’t make me feel that way, but leading worship does. The band started to lead a song that Kenny had heard and led countless times, but, in that moment, he felt newly convicted by the lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

Over the next few years, the Lord led Kenny on a journey of faith and he is now in his second year as a worship resident at The Stone. He looks back on his ministry in high school and college, at the times when he was harboring sinful pride and self-righteousness, and is amazed at how God used him even then, a broken kid, to spread the gospel to his classmates. And, though he always wanted to make his father proud by gaining status and recognition, he recognizes how his parents are overjoyed in seeing him proclaim the glory of God instead.God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Here is a sensitive question we get not infrequently in the inbox, and this time it comes from a nameless female listener, who simply asks this: “Pastor John, is it a sin to be pregnant before marriage?” How do you go about answering such a sensitive question?

One way to reframe this question would be to ask: Are the effects of sin, sin? But when I thought that, I thought: No. Even that is not precise enough, is it? Because pregnancy before or outside of a marriage covenant may be owing to a woman’s sin or maybe owing to being sinned against, like rape. Or both. Like, if she engaged willingly and he engaged willingly, they are both sinning. She is being sinned against by a man who should take better care of her, and she is sinning by willingly participating.

But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality” — the old translation says “fornication.” And we know from 1 Corinthians 7:2 he is talking about extramarital sexual relations, because he says, “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” In other words, sexual relations belong only in the safe, holy, beautiful sanctuary of a marriage covenant between one man, one woman, while they both live.

So, the presence of a child in the womb outside marriage is either the result of being sinned against in rape or the result of sinning. Now, back to that original, reframed question. Assuming that this new mother of this unborn child did sin in having sexual relations outside the marriage covenant, is the presence of this child in her womb sinful? Is pregnancy or the child sin? she asks. The answer is: No. And let me surround that no with three observations to give some seriousness and Christ-centered hope to this mother with an unplanned pregnancy or to whoever else may be listening that way.Is Pregnancy Before Marriage a Sin?

First observation: That there would be a stigma that attaches to pregnancy outside of marriage is, I think, a good thing. We have almost entirely lost it today, because of the normalization of sexual immorality and because of putting people’s feelings above a call to holiness. But having said that, it is crucial that every Christian and every church make clear that any stigma to pregnancy outside marriage is because the pregnancy signifies previous sin, not because the pregnancy is sin. And if there has been no previous sin, say, in the case of rape, that should be handled really delicately and tenderly, but not, I think, in the church merely privately. So, I say again, appropriate stigma attaches to a previous sin as its basis and to a present pregnancy only as a possible pointer to that sin. And the reason that is important and hopeful is what follows in my second observation.

The second thing to say is that a woman’s experience of shame should also only attach to the previous sin, not the present pregnancy. One of the reasons for that is because sin can be forgiven, because of Christ. A woman can confess that sin and be cleansed of it so that the shame is overcome and taken away by the merciful cleansing grace of God. If the shame attaches to the pregnancy or the child itself, then there is no overcoming. In other words, the solution to both the stigma and the shame is in the preciousness of the forgiveness of Christ and the forgiveness of a humble community of saved sinners. And all of that assumes that the basis of the stigma and the shame, the basis of both, attaches to the proper place; namely, the previous sin, not the present pregnancy.

And here is a third observation: Sovereign grace, the sovereignty of God, makes it possible for both a pregnancy and a child — that is, the woman’s experience and the child’s experience — to be turned for good in the life of the woman and the child and the family and the church and the world. No one needs to feel, no woman needs to feel, no family needs to feel that, because the child originated in a sinful act, if it did, God cannot make this child great. He can.

So, I hope what our nameless friend feels is that it is wise and good to be serious and sober and honest about the stigma and the shame of the sin of sexual immorality, if that is the case, and that the remedy for that sin and the hope for a life of freedom and joy and peace and usefulness for mother and child and family and everybody affected should not be sought in the minimization of sin, but in the maximization of God’s grace. This grace is very, very great.

Your pregnancy is not a sin. The sin that brought the pregnancy, if it did, is no less forgivable than my sins or the sins of those in your church. Your experience of that forgiveness through repentance and faith in Jesus can become a mighty testimony to the beauty of Christ. And that child can grow up in the beauty of Christ and become great.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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If you’re a parent, what I’m about to share on BreakPoint today just might scare the heck out of you. But you need to hear it.

By Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.

Elizabeth Blunt was a talented musician and athlete who attended a Christian high school and college. Gifted in foreign languages, Beth was preparing to work in international relations, perhaps in China. But she never made it. Beth died in May of an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl—a cheap, synthetic opiate. She was not quite 23. “She never came home drunk, didn’t show signs of drug abuse,” Beth’s mother, Lisa, said. “She used to be the sweetest girl. I don’t know what happened.”

The statistics are frightening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day in the United States, an average of 78 people like Beth die of an opiate overdose, including 29 from heroin. Every year, the CDC reports, opiate overdoses kill more than 28,000 people, and heroin kills more than 10,500. That’s more than all those killed on U.S. highways.

And the problem is escalating. About 435,000 Americans in 2014 used heroin, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. That’s nearly three times the number just in 2007.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says drug and alcohol addiction is “a moral test for America,” with more than 20 million people embroiled in substance abuse problems. Only 10 percent of them are receiving treatment.

“We can never forget that the faces of substance use disorders are real people,” Murthy said while releasing a report on the problem. “Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?”

What’s behind this hellish epidemic? One factor—heroin is a very affordable high. “Heroin is … cheap and available just about everywhere,” reporter Dan Ponce of WGN-TV in Chicago says. “A $10 bag can keep someone high for a day or two. …. Drug dealers will deliver heroin right to your front door.”Saving Your Kids from Heroin Addiction

Another is the neurological effect such drugs have on the brain. The surgeon general’s report notes that repeated use changes the brain, so that it demands more to function. It’s a vicious cycle that can trap our children in addiction. And it comes straight from hell. As Screwtape said to his junior-devil colleague, Wormwood, “An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”

That describes drug abuse to a T.

So now that we’re properly scared, what can we do to protect our kids from the hellish world of illegal drugs? First, pray for and with them. Second, talk with them—frankly—not only about the risks of substances like heroin, but about the joy and purpose available in Christ, which no drug can ever match. Third, really listen to them. And fourth, if necessary, get them into treatment. Come to our website for some great resources and encouragement in the fight against this scourge.

Please know that there is hope for those who have become snared by drugs. Even in addiction, where sin increases, grace can abound even more.

Help is available for those who choose it. For example, the Indiana Dream Center provides recovering addicts with effective, God-centered treatment. Its facility for women, Marilyn’s House, helps residents gain life and job skills, spiritual development, and mentoring. “To be held accountable, they don’t go anywhere alone,” says Jessica Brooks, a former heroin addict who now directs the ministry. “We’re pretty radical. We really live how the Bible says. Jesus sent them out in twos, so we go out in twos.”

Heroin may be a taste of hell, but as this ministry and others show, there is hope—real hope—in Jesus Christ.

Visit Breakpoint.org to get further information about the many great books and other resources available there and you can link up to our social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

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Our identity is bound up in neither our wise or foolish decisions, it is bound up in His choice of us.

I was battered and beaten, bruised and befuddled. My name was being dragged through the mud on the internet. Sheep I had labored over where gnashing their teeth at me. Everywhere I turned I was confronted with accusation and approbation. By God’s grace I was reminded of where I should turn- to His Word, and to my friends. It became my habit in those days, which habit remains with me to this day, to read the Psalms, ten each day. What I found there was a curious combination. The Psalms are chock full of repentance, but they are also rather full of accusation.

“Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned” is there, cheek by jowl right beside proclamations of innocence and oppression at the hand of the wicked. I called a dear and trusted friend and asked him, “I don’t know who I am. Am I the one who needs to repent, or am I the righteous one who is being oppressed?” My friend, as is his wont, spoke wisdom when he suggested, “Maybe you’re both.” Surely as a homeschooling father, raising homeschooled children, I need to grasp this reality, and not only grasp it, but I need to teach it to my children.

The reality we face as homeschooling fathers is this- we have chosen a hard, but righteous path. So many around us have succumbed to the spirit of the age, and have handed their children over to Caesar to raise them. So many have given their children to the culture to raise them. But if you’re a Christian, than you have made sacrifices, so that you might give our children the very Word of God, day in and day out. That’s something we should be grateful for, a decision that on its face is wise. Which leads, naturally enough, to the temptation to pride. The devil is right there as we kneel in prayer, even encouraging us to pray, so long as we pray, “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men.I do family worship with my children. I teach them about courtship. And lo, my quiver is full.”

heirs of grace

Image: Chris Larson

Fathers, men like me, men who embrace the choices I’ve embraced, we are as a group, often abused, mocked and misunderstood. We are trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. And we are, like those who mock and abuse us, sinners. We have not, of course, earned God’s favor by making wise choices in raising our children. Our sacrifices do not for a moment begin to atone for our sins. We, by rights, must repent for our parenting, for our schooling, even for our repenting. We are, as my friend reminded me, both the good guys and the bad guys in the Psalms. We are the oppressed, the downtrodden, those who, with godly frustration, watch the wicked prosper. But we are also the wicked. We are the proud, the arrogant, those who take pride in our own accomplishments rather than giving thanks for the grace of God. Which brings us back to the point. Our identity is not bound up in the wise choices that we have made. Neither, however, is our identity bound up in the foolish choices we have made. Rather our identity is bound up in His choice of us. Our calling is to glory in His inheritance. What we are is neither sinners nor saints. What we are is His.

In coming to redeem us, Jesus precludes any notion that we are of this world. We are set apart, distinct, holy. But we are so not in ourselves, but only in Him. Jesus did not come to rescue the good people. The Great Physician came for the sick. The story of the Gospel is not that the prince came to rescue and marry the beautiful princess. The glory of the Gospel is that Jesus came to rescue and to marry the evil hag. We are not righteous victims being saved from others, but sinful sinners being saved from ourselves.

Which is precisely what we need to be teaching our children. They need to be taught first not to be sad that they are not like their peers. They need to be taught second not to be proud that they are not like their peers. Rather they need to be taught to be grateful that they are a part of His inheritance, that they are sinners saved by grace. The great evil of the broader culture, of the state schools, is not that they don’t allow us to teach our children the glory of being made in the image of God, rather the great evil is that they don’t allow our children to be taught that they are sinners saved by grace, and that they are by His grace being remade into the image of the Son.

We as the inheritance of Jesus bring no glory to him, and therein is the glory of the Gospel. That while He will share His glory with no other, by His grace we become the glory of His inheritance. And so I ask that you would give this inheritance to your children, that they would know that they are by grace heirs of grace, and that they and we would give thanks.

(This podcast is by R.C. Sproul Jr., discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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“When everything that you’re holding onto is ripped out of your hands, you really start to identify where your treasure is.”

Andrew Burkhart, a pastor in Moore, Oklahoma lost everything he owned in the storm of May 20, 2013. His pregnant wife and young daughter were in their house moments before the tornado struck, but got out just in time before it was destroyed. Andrew tells his story of the wreckage and realizing where his true treasure is found.a-freeing-reality

“We heard that the storms were going to be bad, but living in Oklahoma, that’s nothing that really terrifies us. We just go, ‘Ok… today is going to be a bad tornado day. We’ll just keep an eye on the weather.’

So it was just going to be business as usual for me that day. My wife had asked me if I was planning on coming home early; and I said, ‘No, I need to finish up a meeting.’ So, I was at a coffee shop wrapping up a meeting when the alarms started going off and the weather started getting crazy.

So, they evacuated us over to Home Depot. While there, we were all huddled in, watching the news. Something in my spirit seemed to be warning me that this was going to be a really bad deal. I was hit with the sensation that this was really going to be a tough day for us in our city.

My wife and our 19-month-old were at our house, and I wasn’t there. So, as a husband and a dad, knowing that a tornado was heading straight toward my home and the two most important people in my life… that was tough!

My wife didn’t want to take our daughter out and try to load her up in the car in the midst of the storm, so she was terrified to leave. But, she felt the Lord telling her, ‘You need to get out of this house now.’

So, she made a fast decision, grabbed our daughter, threw her into the car and drove as far away as possible as fast as the car would go. And, about eight minutes later, that tornado ripped through my neighborhood. If you saw my neighborhood today, you’d see that it’s completely gone. I don’t know if they would have survived had they stayed in our house. Our home is just a pile of rubble.

At this point, I didn’t know if they were safe or not. All I could do was pray and ask for God’s help.

And about 20 minutes later, my wife and my daughter walked into Home Depot!

I can’t begin to describe the joy and relief that I felt when I saw them. At that point, nothing else mattered. It was almost as if the Lord was giving me another chance to love my wife even better than I had before.

Now, it typically only takes three or four minutes to drive from Home Depot to our house, but traffic was so bad that it seemed to take forever to get back home. We actually had to park quite a ways away from our house and then walk about a mile-and-a-half before we got to our driveway. So, I carried our daughter. My wife helped when she could, but she was pregnant which made things even tougher.

As we walked around the corner onto our street, we saw Robert, one of our neighbors. We were so happy that he and his family were safe. But, he had tears in his eyes as he told us that our house was totally gone.

The first thing that my wife said to me when she found out that our house was destroyed was, ‘All those letters that we’ve written to each other are completely gone. They’re all gone.’

We started digging through the rubble of what used to be our house and the first thing that we found was our box of letters. The lid had blown off the box, but every single letter that we had ever written to one another was just sitting in the box. Some water had damaged a few of them, but that’s all.

It was like God had grace on us to take the things that really mattered to us and spare them, even though we didn’t really deserve that.

So, that was the beginning of us dealing with this new reality of everything that we had that morning… we didn’t have anymore, except for the clothes that we had on our backs. I started thinking, ‘How do I lead my family through this? How do I contact the insurance company? What’s next in all this?’

Then the tough questions hit me: ‘How do I lead our church through this? How do I take the group of people that God has placed in my care, and mobilize them to be THE CHURCH in our city right now?’

Needless to say, it’s been an exhausting learning curve. And yet, we have seen one example after another of God’s grace through this. It’s been unbelievable. Yet, it’s still true that we don’t deserve anything. We actually deserve far worse. And, the fact that God saved my wife and our two daughters and these little items that we loved… it just made us realize that we serve such a good and gracious Father.

When I think about what I have done against Him, that He would have that kind of kindness toward me is just unbelievable. When everything that you are holding onto gets ripped out of your hands, you really start to identify where your treasure is. But, if your treasure is beyond all this – beyond the sun – if your treasure is found in Jesus, then it may sting and hurt or may even be exhausting and frustrating; but, there is still a level of joy that is unexplainable.

It was a freeing reality that the events of May 20th passed through the hands of a good Father first. And, even though I don’t always understand it and it doesn’t always make sense, I know that I’m not seeing the full picture at any time. I know that life is going through the hands of a good Father and that He is actually working this out for a greater good… hopefully for the salvation of a ton of people in my city.

Now, it’s not ideal for a pastor to lose his home with the rest of the city. And, to be honest, I feel pretty helpless right now. But, God is helping me focus on exactly what I need to focus on – my wife, my family, and the church.

And THAT’S what brings life to my soul!”

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Jerrad Lopes helps every day families learn how to follow Jesus in every day life. Dad Tired is a group of guys from around the world who are taking their faith, their family, and their marriage very seriously. You can become a part of the group by going to DadTired.com and clicking on the Community tab, which will link you to our closed Facebook group.

Many of you have reached out to me after last week’s podcast, where I described the really tough times my wife and I have been going through, and dumb decisions that I’ve recently made. Thank you so much. Thank you for your kind words and prayers.

I was just telling a friend this week – all of us are struggling through our “junk”, as part of our sanctification process. In other words, God doesn’t just save us and bails on us. But, He keeps walking with us and in His grace and mercy continues to expose to us our junk in order to lead us to repentance and help make us more like Him.

I just wish I could stop messing up in front of so many people!

But, I guess it comes with the territory.

Regardless of all of my junk, God is good… all the time!

Lately, because of His goodness, he is drawing me closer and closer to Him! Amen!!

Now, I bring all this up because I think that too often, we tend to fluctuate between to false gospels…

The first tells us that our behavior is so bad that we fall into a spiral of shame and guilt – much like when Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after they disobeyed Him. Too often, we just want to hide when we feel like we don’t have our act together.

On the flipside of this, there is the lie that we tell ourselves that says: I’ve been praying regularly, I’m reading the Bible, I’ve got my act together, so now I can approach God because my behavior is better.

Both of these are false gospels.

The truth is that all of us are broken, sinful enemies of God who are desperately in need of His grace, which He earnestly gives to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has taken us as enemies and made us sons and daughters – heirs to His kingdom! Therefore, we shouldn’t be filled with shame, but know that God love us and send His Son to die for us because He knew we would blow it, and yet He STILL loves us! Also, we shouldn’t be so proud to think that because we are so amazing, that our behavior makes us right with God so that we can approach Him… it’s’ impossible for us to be pure enough to approach God… but He invites us to because He loves us, not because of how we behave.

There are no such things as good days and bad days in God’s economy. We are in need of God’s grace all the time. And He redeems us and cleanses us continually, as we humbly repent and pursue His will.

So, get this… whether you are performing at your best or at your worst, God’s view of you doesn’t change.

Switching gears just a bit, when I was in Africa last month – without cell service and many of the other luxuries that I enjoy here at home – I was able to connect with the people around me much deeper without all the distractions that I normally surround myself with. This started me wondering if we are able to daily live fully present in the moment in America.

That got me looking into a “movement” called Minimalism. It starts with looking around your home and simply de-cluttering all the non-essentials. In the U.S., we are such a consumer-based culture where we buy more and more stuff all the time. So, Minimalists strive to get rid of the things that 1) we don’t absolutely need; or 2) do not bring us joy.

As I started purging these things from my home, I discovered a refreshing sense of clarity.minimalism

This made me start to wonder if I can do this same thing beyond the stuff in my house. Could I begin to de-clutter other aspects of my life? The easy start was getting rid of unnecessary apps on my phone. Could I trim down my connections on Facebook? Could I get rid of certain music that doesn’t necessarily bring me joy or draw me closer to God? What about distractions like cable TV or home internet?

I started evaluating everything in my life and evaluating if I actually need it, or does it actually bring true joy to my life. So, I’ve now been a Minimalist for a whopping ten days and I’ve noticed much more order, not just on my phone and in my home, but in my heart and mind as well. I find myself less distracted and much more aware of God’s blessings in my life. I’ve been a better friend, husband and dad over this past week-and-a-half by simply having more time to devote to the people around me.

So, ask yourself… are there things in your life that actually distract you from being present or put barriers between you and God or your loved ones?

(This podcast is by Jerrad Lopes. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Let me tell you! If you want to see in crystal-clarity the character and the heart of God, this is it. Right here, right now, in real time, in this PODCAST.

This in a breathtaking public display for all the world to see, at which the whole world will marvel. The broken heart of our God whom Peter described as “not wanting anyone to be destroyed (a word that means to destroy fully, to bring to nothing) but (who) wants everyone to repent.”

This portrait of our God — Who persistently pursues everyone in every way, making every effort to bring every sinner to repentance — comes at very end of Olivet Discourse in Matthew 25.

Here we will see, in this parable of the end of the age, the eternal separation of committed Christ-followers from those who defiantly and unrepentantly want nothing to do with Jesus. Plus, we will see their ultimate eternal destiny in what Jesus called “the eternal fire prepared for devil and his demons.”

An unpleasant topic, to be sure. But a most important one, because we are talking about the eternal destinies of multiplied millions of people.

Specifically, what did Jesus mean by eternal fire? For whom is it intended? What happens to those goats (in contrast to His sheep) who are sadly, tragically, yet-justly cast into the eternal fire?

And of course, at the heart of this entire discussion sits this all-important and all too-common question: Does the loving God of the Bible — who defines Himself as not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent — really send people to Hell?

Allow me to set up this discussion in this way: I find it most-intriguing, and most-ironic in a most-purposeful sort of way that Jesus’ Hebrew name Yeshua, means “God Saves.” That’s right out of first chapter of the New Testament (Matthew 1:21): “Mary will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Now watch this. Only God could create this wonder of the words. This, as you are about to hear, is not coincidental.

If you take the letter “a” off of Yeshua, then you are left with Yeshu. Now, the Hebrews letters of Yeshu make up an acronym consisting of the first letters of each of the Hebrew words that make up this Biblical curse:

May his name, his memory be blotted out. (Psalm 109:13)

To our Jewish friends – including the original writers and readers of the New Testament – this would be the ultimate expression of divine punishment. That someone would be absolutely destroyed to the point where his name and even memory are blotted out of humankind’s history forever… it doesn’t get any worse than that!

Yet, this curse is embedded in Jesus’ own name! Meaning, His name “God Saves” is the very thing that God is saving us from.

Which brings us to this week’s portion of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse:

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in His presence, and He will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at His right hand and the goats at His left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show You hospitality? Or naked and give You clothing? 39 When did we ever see You sick or in prison and visit You?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.” (Matthew 25:31-41)

Now, in light of the Biblical curse described in Psalm 109, know this – a bad memory of a wicked person is eternally to be preferred to no memory at all. Because the worst punishment possible is that when the memory of someone’s name ceases to exist, it is as if that individual never existed at all.

Now, in the heart of the city of Jerusalem stands Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial.  It is not a Holocaust Museum, as we are familiar with in the United States.  It’s ongoing mission is to scour the world for European Jewry in search of Nazi records,  archives, notes, lists, photographs, diaries… anything they can find in order to document and to preserve the memory of every name of every man, woman and child who fell victim to Nazi genocide.  This makes total sense in that Yad Vashem can be translated to “a memory and a name”.  Group photos of Jewish prisoners will not suffice. They do not want the world to ever forget any individual.

You see, if the memory and the name of an individual is preserved, then it’s as if the individual is preserved.  But, if a person’s name is forgotten, it’s as if their very existence will have been obliterated from human history.

For someone’s memory to be blotted out forever is simply unthinkable – the absolute sign of divine judgment.

I bring all this up in light of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:41, 

“Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.”

Cursed ones… what is that curse? The absolute curse or sign of divine judgment – that the name of the “goats” be erased forever, as if they never existed.

Now, keep in mind where and when Jesus was sharing this parable with His disciples – on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, just days before His arrest and crucifixion. Here, at the end of what we now call Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, He is telling His friends that there will be a day when evildoers will face judgment. There is a day of reckoning coming when good will win out over evil.

That’s the point of the Olivet Discourse: ultimately evildoers will be punished, justice will reign supreme, and all the wrongs will be righted in this world of ours. This has been God’s plan all along, as we read in Isaiah 13:11,

I will punish the world for its evil,
    the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
    and will humble the pride of the ruthless.

But, here’s the problem…

Scores of people with whom I have personally crossed paths with have told me that this is the singular mental obstacle that stands in their way of becoming a committed Christ follower. In their perspective, they cannot commit themselves to following a God who is so maniacal that he skewers anyone He has not chosen over a slowly burning rotisserie over hell’s coals to suffer for all eternity (their words, not mine). Additionally, they cannot stomach the “cavalier attitude” with which pastors, teachers and evangelicals so flippantly talk about hell. Too these scores of people, this is offensive beyond words.

However, in all sincerity and with all due sensitivity to these scores of people…

Is that the Biblical picture of God that Scripture has painted?

To answer both my and their questions, let me lay out a few foundational truths:

  • Yes, I do believe in hell, or as Peter wrote, “the eternal destruction of everyone who rejects Jesus”. Also, I am not a Universalist, believing that in the end, all of mankind will be saved from hell.
  • I do believe that Jesus’ characterization of the “fire” He alluded to in Matthew 25:41 is actually eternal fire.
  • The thing about God that scares me the most is that given enough time, He will give us exactly what we want. And clearly, in this parable, what the “goats” want is absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Not now. Not ever. Not forever. And so, in His love, God will give them what they want.
  • My only agenda, as always, is to allow the Bible to speak for itself.

So, please lay aside every preconceived idea that you may have regarding what hell is like. Forget Dante’s Inferno, Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, or any fire and brimstone teachings you may have heard in the past. Simply join me in looking at what the Bible says, on its own, in order to find the answer to the question:

How did the disciples understand Jesus’ words up on the Mount of Olives at the conclusion of the Olivet Discourse when He said,

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all His angels with Him, then He will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in His presence, and He will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at His right hand and the goats at His left…

…Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.” (Matthew 25:31-41)

The disciples knew the Old Testament. They had been taught by Jesus for the past three years. For instance, He taught them Malachi’s prophesy:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” (Malachi 4:1, NIV)

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

Now if you simply couple Malachi’s words with the Biblical curse of Psalm 109:13, then they will be so consumed, even the memory of them will not remain.

Now, Malachi 4 is how the Old Testament ends. So, let’s look at how our New Testament begins, with the words of John the Baptist as he spoke about God’s judgment:

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

The wicked… the goats… the chaff… unquenchable, all consuming fire is their ultimate destiny.

But, hell and its eternal fire was not originally intended for mankind. It was prepared for the devil and his demons. So, how is it that people could end up there? Among other Biblical references, we gain understanding from Hebrews 10:26-27,

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

We are talking about someone who has heard the truth and then willfully and high-handedly rejected the truth in a final absolute act of defiance. For them, the all consuming fire awaits.

Now, of the devil and his demons, we read this:

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

But, of the wicked people (not the devil or his demons), the fire is not described as something that will torment them forever and ever, but one that will consume them completely.

Therefore, fallen angels: Tormented; wicked people: Consumed.

All this makes one wonder, how does the Bible consistently describe the eternal fire that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 25? What is it?

Fortunately, the Bible is quite clear what it is. For example, 2 Thessalonians 1:7 says,

“the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

What this (and so many other passages) reveal to us is that we are asking the wrong question. In regards to the eternal, unquenchable, blazing fire, we shouldn’t be asking “What is it?” but instead “Who is it?”

The prophet Isaiah put it this way:

The sinners in Zion are terrified;
    trembling grips the godless:
“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” (Isaiah 33:14)

The author of Hebrews wrote these clear, absolutely plain words for us:

For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)

Image: Grit in the Oyster

Image: Grit in the Oyster

Exodus and Deuteronomy also describe moments of God being described or speaking from the heart of the all-consuming fire. Consider when Moses asked to see God’s glory and God agreed to only reveal a bit of himself from behind because the glory of God’s face would consume him. No one can look into His face and live.

Yet, a day is coming when those who have chosen to reject Jesus will look upon Him fully. Those “goats” who have made it abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with Jesus, so much so that they will gnash their teeth in vile hatred at the very mention of His name

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

Did you catch that? These are people who would rather pray to a rock than to God and would rather the rock fall and crush them than to face their God.

So, what is God supposed to do? Should He force Himself on them? Drag them kicking and screaming into heaven to live with Him forever?

 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)

Yet, in Revelation 6 and Revelation 16, we read the prophetic refrain over and over again, “…they would not repent… instead they cursed God.”

And so the day is coming when they will stand before His holy, unveiled glory and face Him as the consuming fire whom He is. And with a broken heart, His eyes will become a fountain of tears (Jeremiah 9:1) and in His unconditional love for each of us, He will give them exactly what they want.

And they will be completely devoured by His eternal fire. Even the memory of their names will be erased forever as if they had never existed. This is the divine punishment from which we who love Jesus have so graciously been saved.

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