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Posts Tagged ‘Love of God’

A blogger, whose 16-year-old daughter recently lost a young friend to suicide, commented, “I asked God to help me understand why they [who take their lives] go to Hell. I am no one to question God, but I need an answer. I can’t find one—yet.”

Although the Bible doesn’t use the word “suicide,” it provides four incidents of individuals taking their lives—I Sam. 31:4-5; II Sam. 17:23; I Kings 16:18; and Matt. 27:5.

However, the Bible does not address the eternal future of those who commit suicide, nor does it specifically prohibit or condemn the act.

What the Bible provides are inferences regarding the high value of the human life. These include Acts 16: 27-28 where Paul stops his prison guard from killing himself, and such verses as:

Do not murder.” –Exodus 20:13

For we are not our own master when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.” –Rom. 14:7-9

Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” –I Cor. 6:19-20

No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.” –Eph. 5:30

Along with the grief and emotional devastation experienced by family and friends when their loved one commits suicide, there is usually a variety of difficult and troubling questions, including the one about hell.

As someone who lost a family member to suicide, and knows of two Christian leaders who ended their own lives, I have found hope and encouragement about their eternal future from Scripture, though I am careful to not apply this to all suicides.

First, these were suicides that occurred while these individuals were suffering from chronic and debilitating bouts of sadness, pain, and depression. The causes ranged from life-shattering events, medication problems, illnesses, diseases, and severe mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Such bouts sometimes lasted for years and were so severe that the individuals lost hope and finally gave up on life.

Second, I don’t believe that they were rational or in their right minds when they ended their lives. They were in mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown and bankruptcy—totally crushed in their inner beings—and in such a state, Jesus’ pronouncement of blessings can be applied to them when he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Matt. 5:3-4 (New International Version, NIV)

Based on these verses, I believe that the kingdom of God is a gift of grace, mercy, hope, and comfort to those who are destitute in spirit and who mourn from within the depths of their despair—even to those of his children who commit suicide.

Third, Scripture assures us that our salvation in Jesus Christ can never be broken or taken away from us:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high in the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Rom. 8: 35, 37-39

And what of those who never acknowledged or accepted God or Jesus Christ into their lives before their suicides? There is no such assurance of their place in his heavenly kingdom or that they will be comforted.

Still, there is the possibility that some of them might have cried out to God from within their death throes. Might God, in his compassion, grace, love, and mercy have forgiven them?

I believe he might have, for just as he expressed through Jesus his compassion, forgiveness, and healing for the sick, the crippled in body and mind, the tormented, and sinners—even the dying thief on the cross—so he might have had compassion and forgiveness for such ones who realized their need for him at the last moment.

And I believe that we might be surprised to see who will be—and who won’t be—in his kingdom on Judgment Day (Matt. 25:31-46).

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All Bible references are from the New Living Translation (NLT), except the noted NIV reference.

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This week I was reminded vividly of that question from Romans 8:35, for as I logged on to my daily newsgathering site, I came across a video link that chilled me to the core: Tunisian Muslims beheading a Christian convert from Islam.

The video aired on “Egypt Today” and showed a masked Muslim slicing off the head of a young man who had refused to renounce his Christian faith and return to Islam.

The video evoked in me two pertinent questions posed in Romans 8:35:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (New International Version, NIV)

The Apostle Paul answers these questions in verses 37 to 39:

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries for tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

“No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (New Living Translation, NLT)

It is this kind of understanding of Christ’s love and assurance that seems to be reflected in the face of this young Christian—an expression of serenity, his lips moving in silent prayer—even as the blade is put to his neck.

This is not the only recent incident of Christians being persecuted for their faith. Just this week, an Iranian court sentenced to death a pastor, Youcef Naadarkhani, for the crime of apostasy—forsaking Islam to become a Christian.

And in Egypt, over 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled the country as a result of growing discrimination, violence, and sometimes, deadly attacks to their homes, churches, and persons.

We are hearing and reading reports of numerous incidents around the world of people being persecuted and killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ, especially when they convert to Christianity in largely Muslim or Hindi regions, or in atheistic countries such as China or North Korea.

A Google search of “persecutions of Christians today” recently turned up 25,900,000 results—articles, reports, statistics of Christians who have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and killed for their Christian faith.

Lest we think that religious persecution only happens “in those countries” or “over there,” and could not happen in the U.S., the truth is that there are subtle forms of persecution being carried out in our American society—such as censoring religious expression, discrimination, bullying, hostility, and hatred towards people of various religions, including Christianity.

American society has become so secularized and is in such a moral decline, that expressing one’s views based on biblical principles will increasingly bring a backlash of ridicule, abuse, isolation, or retaliation—whether one is in the field of education, sports, politics, entertainment, business, or other areas of life.

In some cases that backlash will be aimed at hurting the offender financially—in denial of promotion, loss of job, blacklisting in one’s industry or career, or in the boycotting of one’s business.

How willing are we to stand firm in our commitment to Jesus Christ in the face of such hostility and persecution? Are we willing to hold true to our Christian values even if it means that our job, career, business, or livelihood would suffer?

And would we, like the young Tunisian Christian, be willing to die for our Christian faith?

Most of us will never have to literally die for our faith, but if we are faithful to our Lord we will encounter opposition from society. To us, Jesus says:

“God blesses you when you are mocked and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted too.” (Matthew 5:11-12, NLT)

And the Apostle Peter, writing to the first century Christians who were being tortured and killed by the Romans, encouraged them with these words:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (I Peter 4: 12-16 NLT)

May we be strengthened and protected in our walk and witness for Jesus Christ, whose name we bear.

And may we always remember to pray for the brothers and sisters in the faith who are being persecuted daily around the world.

Grace, peace, joy, and love to you in the name of our risen Lord.

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One day, years ago, I was trying to teach my six-year-old daughter Nicole to swim, but she was reluctant to venture into the water. She was sitting by the edge of the pool and I was encouraging her to dive in and swim towards me as I stood three yards away from her. “No,” she said, “I’m afraid I might drown.”

“Honey, I’m here. I won’t let you drown,” I said.

“No, I’m afraid!”

“Trust me, honey, I love you and I’d never let you drown. Just dive in and swim to me. I won’t leave you.”

As I pleaded with her to trust me, I thought of how that scene reflected similar situations in which we fail to trust God when he calls us to leave our comfort zones and venture out with him.

Looking back at that incident in the pool, I am reminded of others who were afraid to respond to God’s call to action:

  • Moses—reluctant to leave behind the safety of his shepherd life in the backcountry of Midian to answer God’s call to go back to Egypt and confront the mighty pharoah with God’s command to free the Israelites (Exodus 3 & 4)
  • The ten scouts—who didn’t trust God to lead them into the promised land of Canaan, thus causing the Israelites to waste 40 years in the wilderness before finally being allowed to enter Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14)
  • Jonah—who ran away from God and the mission to preach to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1 & 2)
  • The rich young ruler—who was afraid and unwilling to give up the comfort of his wealthy lifestyle to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23)
  • Young John Mark—who abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13; 15:36-38)

Probably all of us have found ourselves in similar positions where we’ve been afraid to venture out of our comfort zones to answer God’s call to serve. A friend once confessed to me that he avoided having personal quiet times and Bible meditations because he was afraid that in one of those reflective moments he might hear God calling him to serve in some strange foreign country.

And a woman I know eventually divorced her husband after he gave up his lucrative and fast-paced career as a New York advertising executive to enter the ministry and pastor a small church. She was afraid and unwilling to leave her big city life and adapt to being the wife of a small town pastor.

Whatever the nature of God’s invitation to each of us to serve him, it undoubtedly creates some anxiety or fear in us, for it often means leaving our accustomed safe environments and habits, and venturing into the unfamiliar and unknown.

Even if we’re simply being called to talk to our neighbor across the fence about Jesus, volunteer on skidrow, visit kids in the juvenile detention center, or lead a small group, our initial reaction is usually to find an excuse to not do it.

But God never forces us to do it—whatever It might be in each of our lives—but like an earthly father teaching his young daughter or son to swim or ride a bike, he encourages us to trust him for our needs, our safety, and our future, and assures us of his love and his best interest for us.

And God assures us, as he did the Jewish exiles in Babylon, “I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, New Living Translation)

King David marveled at the extent of God’s plan for our lives, for he realized that it meant God’s favor, love, strength, protection, and guidance even before our moment of conception in our mothers’ wombs and throughout the rest of our life’s journey. He wrote:

  • “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139: 16, NLT)
  • “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me when to stop and rest.” (Ps. 139: 2, NLT)
  • “If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell in the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” (Ps. 139: 9-10, NLT)
  • “The Lord will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.” (Ps. 138: 8, NLT)

And the apostle John also understood the struggle between our love for God and our fears, for he reminded us:

  • “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect….Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and shows that his love has not been perfected in us.” (1 John 4: 16, 17a, 18, NLT)

But lest we think that this love is some kind of sentimental or emotional feeling, John also warned us in his Gospel that there is only one test of our love for God—obedience. He recounted some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he left them, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14: 15, NLT)

And knowing that the disciples—and we, his followers—would sometimes find obeying to be difficult, Jesus added, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” (Jn. 14: 16-17)

Not only does the Holy Spirit lead us into all truth and empower us to cope with the task of spreading the truth of his Kingdom, Jesus also gives us a gift through the Holy Spirit: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (Jn. 14: 27, NLT)

This peace does not mean there is an absence of trouble or conflict. More importantly, it is a peace that comes from knowing that God provides us with all that we need for our highest good, a peace of confident assurance in any circumstance, one in which we fear nothing in the present or the future because we are eternally secure in God’s love and plan!

And in addition to this remarkable indwelling peace, Jesus guarantees us joy that overflows: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (Jn. 15: 9-11, NLT)

May this knowledge of what a wonderful and loving God we serve embolden us to leave the safety of our comfort zones and dive into whatever waters of service that God might be calling us to swim with him, for it is only as we dare to swim out into the unknown with God can we experience his amazing peace and overflowing joy that passes understanding.

So how did Nicole do? Yes, she took the plunge and learned to swim that day!

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