When faith and reality merge


"Rocky" has been one of my favorite movies for a long time.  In it is the story of someone who overcomes impossible odds and achieves his dreams.  But, what about reality; do people really achieve their dreams?  The real life Sylvester Stallone did and if he could-so can we!!!  This is not just "talk"; dreams do come true. I know, because my dreams have come true.  When I first began going out with my girlfriend, there was plenty of reasons why we would never marry.  Family, friends and circumstances were all against us.  We had only $2, no job, no place to live and opposition from both families when we were married.  May, we will be wed 45 years.  Anything can happen; you just need to believe and keep on believing while you do something about it.  Consider these passages from the Bible...

Genesis, Chapter 15

 1 After these things Yahweh’s word came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” 

  2  Abram said, “Lord Yahweh, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”  3 Abram said, “Behold, to me you have given no seed: and, behold, one born in my house is my heir.” 

  4  Behold, Yahweh’s word came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir.”  5 Yahweh brought him outside, and said, “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” He said to Abram, “So will your seed be.”  6 He believed in Yahweh; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.  


Revelation, Chapter 2

 8  “To the angel of the assembly in Smyrna write: 

“The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life says these things: 

  9  “I know your works, oppression, and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.   10  Don’t be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have oppression for ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life.   11  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He who overcomes won’t be harmed by the second death. 

What do an old man who is told he will have descendants and Christians of the first century have in common? Faith, the essence of belief in the impossible becoming real.  Think you can do something but have obstacles- believe and live your dreams as though they have already come to pass.  They will happen.  And if your life turns out differently than you planned- adapt and believe in yourself.  Both Rocky and the real life Sylvester Stallone did and they are an encouragement to us all.  Are you a Christian and life is difficult? Remember both Abram and the church at Symrna and realize that God has a plan for YOU.  And that plan is a blessing, not only to you, but to the whole wide world.  One more thing-- your blessings are not just in the here and now-- they will last FOREVER!!!!  

Bible Reading, Feb. 22

Feb. 22
Exodus 3
Exo 3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to God's mountain, to Horeb.
Exo 3:2 The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
Exo 3:3 Moses said, "I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt."
Exo 3:4 When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, "Moses! Moses!" He said, "Here I am."
Exo 3:5 He said, "Don't come close. Take your sandals off of your feet, for the place you are standing on is holy ground."
Exo 3:6 Moreover he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look at God.
Exo 3:7 Yahweh said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.
Exo 3:8 I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
Exo 3:9 Now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me. Moreover I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.
Exo 3:10 Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."
Exo 3:11 Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
Exo 3:12 He said, "Certainly I will be with you. This will be the token to you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."
Exo 3:13 Moses said to God, "Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and tell them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you;' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' What should I tell them?"
Exo 3:14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM," and he said, "You shall tell the children of Israel this: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "
Exo 3:15 God said moreover to Moses, "You shall tell the children of Israel this, 'Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations.
Exo 3:16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and tell them, 'Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt;
Exo 3:17 and I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey." '
Exo 3:18 They will listen to your voice, and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall tell him, 'Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us go three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Yahweh, our God.'
Exo 3:19 I know that the king of Egypt won't give you permission to go, no, not by a mighty hand.
Exo 3:20 I will put forth my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in its midst, and after that he will let you go.
Exo 3:21 I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and it will happen that when you go, you shall not go empty-handed.
Exo 3:22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her who visits her house, jewels of silver, jewels of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons, and on your daughters. You shall despoil the Egyptians.

Feb. 22, 23
Matthew 27

Mat 27:1 Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
Mat 27:2 and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pontius Pilate, the governor.
Mat 27:3 Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
Mat 27:4 saying, "I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? You see to it."
Mat 27:5 He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself.
Mat 27:6 The chief priests took the pieces of silver, and said, "It's not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood."
Mat 27:7 They took counsel, and bought the potter's field with them, to bury strangers in.
Mat 27:8 Therefore that field was called "The Field of Blood" to this day.
Mat 27:9 Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, "They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him upon whom a price had been set, whom some of the children of Israel priced,
Mat 27:10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."
Mat 27:11 Now Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said to him, "So you say."
Mat 27:12 When he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
Mat 27:13 Then Pilate said to him, "Don't you hear how many things they testify against you?"
Mat 27:14 He gave him no answer, not even one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.
Mat 27:15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the multitude one prisoner, whom they desired.
Mat 27:16 They had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
Mat 27:17 When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?"
Mat 27:18 For he knew that because of envy they had delivered him up.
Mat 27:19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."
Mat 27:20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
Mat 27:21 But the governor answered them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They said, "Barabbas!"
Mat 27:22 Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do to Jesus, who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let him be crucified!"
Mat 27:23 But the governor said, "Why? What evil has he done?" But they cried out exceedingly, saying, "Let him be crucified!"
Mat 27:24 So when Pilate saw that nothing was being gained, but rather that a disturbance was starting, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. You see to it."
Mat 27:25 All the people answered, "May his blood be on us, and on our children!"
Mat 27:26 Then he released to them Barabbas, but Jesus he flogged and delivered to be crucified.
Mat 27:27 Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium, and gathered the whole garrison together against him.
Mat 27:28 They stripped him, and put a scarlet robe on him.
Mat 27:29 They braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and a reed in his right hand; and they kneeled down before him, and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"
Mat 27:30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.
Mat 27:31 When they had mocked him, they took the robe off of him, and put his clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.
Mat 27:32 As they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name, and they compelled him to go with them, that he might carry his cross.
Mat 27:33 They came to a place called "Golgotha," that is to say, "The place of a skull."
Mat 27:34 They gave him sour wine to drink mixed with gall. When he had tasted it, he would not drink.
Mat 27:35 When they had crucified him, they divided his clothing among them, casting lots,
Mat 27:36 and they sat and watched him there.
Mat 27:37 They set up over his head the accusation against him written, "THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Mat 27:38 Then there were two robbers crucified with him, one on his right hand and one on the left.
Mat 27:39 Those who passed by blasphemed him, wagging their heads,
Mat 27:40 and saying, "You who destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!"
Mat 27:41 Likewise the chief priests also mocking, with the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders, said,
Mat 27:42 "He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.
Mat 27:43 He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now, if he wants him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' "
Mat 27:44 The robbers also who were crucified with him cast on him the same reproach.
Mat 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
Mat 27:46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?" That is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mat 27:47 Some of them who stood there, when they heard it, said, "This man is calling Elijah."
Mat 27:48 Immediately one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him a drink.
Mat 27:49 The rest said, "Let him be. Let's see whether Elijah comes to save him."
Mat 27:50 Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.
Mat 27:51 Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split.
Mat 27:52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;
Mat 27:53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many.
Mat 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things that were done, feared exceedingly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God."
Mat 27:55 Many women were there watching from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, serving him.
Mat 27:56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Mat 27:57 When evening had come, a rich man from Arimathaea, named Joseph, who himself was also Jesus' disciple came.
Mat 27:58 This man went to Pilate, and asked for Jesus' body. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given up.
Mat 27:59 Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
Mat 27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut out in the rock, and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed.
Mat 27:61 Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
Mat 27:62 Now on the next day, which was the day after the Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together to Pilate,
Mat 27:63 saying, "Sir, we remember what that deceiver said while he was still alive: 'After three days I will rise again.'
Mat 27:64 Command therefore that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest perhaps his disciples come at night and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He is risen from the dead;' and the last deception will be worse than the first."
Mat 27:65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard. Go, make it as secure as you can."
Mat 27:66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone.



The scene took place in the board room where top executives were meeting with the CEO of the company. Portfolios were placed in front of each of the men at the table followed by the serving of coffee. When the CEO raised his mug to take a drink, the board room erupted in laughter. Their attention had been drawn to the incredibly ugly mug that he held in his hand. Normally, in the past, he drank from an elegant bronze-colored mug with gold trim on the rim and handle. However, this mug was an ugly brown with yellow painted on the rim and on the crooked, misshaped handle. The mug itself was barely cylindrical, its rim drooped on one side, and its base was unstable.
The CEO gently set the mug down and with a serious look on his face scanned the table. The room went silent with the fear that they had offended him. He opened his mouth and began telling the story behind the ugly mug.
It was the week before Father's Day, and at his son's elementary school the children were making ceramic gifts to give to their dads. His son, with great care, made this mug for his dad to replace the elegant bronze mug that he had accidentally broken. He painted it with brown coloring and trimmed it with yellow on its rim and handle to resemble the original. After glazing, the teacher fired the students' creations and returned them to the young artisans. Before wrapping them, each student was allowed to present their creative handiwork before the class as a "show and tell" project. When this little boy's turn came, the class broke out in laughter and criticisms, making fun of his ugly mug. Gulping tears away, he began to tell how much he loved his dad and wanted to replace the one that he had accidentally broken.
On Father's Day morning, the little boy's dad opened his son's present and accepted it with praise and a big embrace, telling him "I love you and I love this mug. It's the most beautiful mug I have ever been given." His little son looked up at him, beaming with joy and said, "I love you too, daddy. I made it especially for you." At that glorious moment, the little boy forgot how his classmates had laughed at him and the gift that he had so lovingly made with his own hands.
Ever since that day, the CEO had kept that mug on his desk as a reminder of the son that he loved. It was a token of a bond that only a father and his son could know.
As the CEO ended his story there was the glimmer of tears in his eyes as he said, "Every time I look at this mug, I don't see a mug. I see my little boy looking up at me with a big smile on his face and I hear him say, "I love you too, daddy. I made it especially for you."
This little story reminds me of the parable that Jesus told about the prodigal son, which in turn reminds me about the lives of every one of us. The prodigal son "...gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal (wasteful) living." (Lk. 15:13) At some point in life we have all gone on that journey that leads far away from our heavenly Father and wasted that clean soul that we came into this world with.
In Jesus' parable, this runaway son "came to himself" (vs. 17) and returned home confessing that "I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son." (vs. 21) But listen to the unexpected response of his father; "When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." (vs. 20) Then he threw a great party to celebrate his return.
The prodigal son describes all of us. Paul told his Corinthian brethren, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:9-11) In spite of the self-inflicted damages of sin, they had been "sanctified", set apart as being special, by God.
All who have made that journey back home has been "redeemed" (bought back) "with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. 1:18-19), unlike us who have dirtied our garments in the pig pen of life.
Our return to the Father is a giving up of our old self. It is a giving up of our will in favor of His. Of this feeble sacrifice Paul said, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." (Rom. 12:1) Notice that it is by God's mercy that He accepts us back, and that, even though we have defiled ourselves in this same body, we can surrender it back to Him to be used for His purpose, and this is "acceptable to God."
Paul recognized how badly he had messed up his life and how unworthy he was before the Lord. "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." (1 Tim. 1:15-16) Paul is the great example and "pattern" by which we can all compare our past, with the knowledge that no matter how badly we have messed up our lives and no matter how unworthy we are to present ourselves before the Father, His longsuffering, His mercy, and His love for us still waits for the return of His children. This is the hope that is extended to those who claim that they have sinned too grievously for God to forgive them.
Even though we bear the marks of the damages of sin, the Father heals our wounds with the blood of His Son and accepts us back. And while the world may only remember our checkered past and laugh at the faith that moves us to serve our Redeemer, our Father lovingly accepts our little living sacrifice. Herein are David's words so appropriate: "To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me. "Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindness, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness' sake, O Lord." (Psm. 25:1-2, 6-7)

- Gary V. Womack - December 2004

Visions, Images and Hell by Jim McGuiggan

Visions, Images and Hell

Everyone admits it; even those that do it admit it in some place or other. It’s dangerous to build foundational or major doctrines on visions and images. The more far-reaching the doctrine, the nearer we think it to be to the centre of the Christian faith the more carefully we should proceed. A plain and unvarnished biblical statement by some speaker of authority gives us more confidence in the correctness of our understanding than, say, having to choose between various possibilities. The meaning of a parable might appear to be straightforward but there may be more than one reasonable understanding of some important elements in the parable and more than one reasonable view of the parable’s central purpose.
I believe this should make us cautious about holding the view, on the basis of a text from the Apocalypse, that "hell" is eternal conscious torture inflicted by God on the finally impenitent. I mean a text such as Revelation 14:11. Let me illustrate what I mean about the use of a vision or a narrative made out of images.
Take Ezekiel 9:1-11. The prophet is in captivity (1:1) along with many other Jewish exiles. While in his house (8:1) he receives a vision from the Lord, which runs through 11:25. The vision concerns the fall of Jerusalem because of its corruption and I’m jumping into a central section of the vision (9:1-11). In terms of the vision the penitent righteous are to be marked out as exempt from the coming judgement (9:3-4) and everyone else is to be left unmarked and they are to be destroyed utterly (9:5-7).
That would seem straightforward enough—none of the penitent are to die and every last one of those not marked as repentant are to be slain. That is what Ezekiel saw and heard. If the vision had been fulfilled as given no unrighteous person would have survived and no righteous person would have died.
The judgement certainly fell on Jerusalem as the vision had declared but it wasn’t fulfilled in keeping with the terms of the vision. Ezekiel 21:1-4 has God speaking his mind and saying, "Son of man set your face against Jerusalem...’This is what the Lord says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its scabbard and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north’."
This (essentially) prose explanation of what he will do runs contrary to the vision of 9:1-11. In that vision the righteous do not die! In that vision all the unrighteous die. But as 21:1-4 tells us, when God brought the Babylonian armies, righteous people died along with the unrighteous. And what's more, in Ezekiel 14:21-23 we’re told that unrighteous people lived beyond the judgement. But in the vision of 9:1-11 the unrighteous were to be utterly destroyed in the judgement.
So is this material hopelessly contradictory? Of course not! But we must allow visions or images to serve their own point rather than ours. Whatever the 9:1-11 vision wishes to say we are not to receive it as a literal description of what was to follow unless we have other interpretative grounds for doing so. I judge that the vision of 9:1-11 is meant to speak of the severity and specificity of God’s anger against the sin of the nation. There are only two classes in Jerusalem, you notice. If you’re righteous you are exempt from the sword. If you’re unrighteous you die by the sword and in both cases it is because God wills it. He is against sin and supports righteousness. (Note how Christ says something similar in Matthew 24:41 of the judgement on Jerusalem via the Romans. Two women will be sitting at the hand-mill, grinding (therefore, probably friends) and one is taken away in the judgement and the other is left. [The one "taken" is the unrighteous and not some alleged "raptured" righteous—see 24:39, which makes it clear that "taken away" is judgement and not rescue.]
The point I wish to make is this: visions and imagery should not be used to found major doctrine on. Imbedded in the images and visions are truths, of course, but it is just too easy to say, "That’s what it says he saw therefore that is literally what will happen." I mean to say something more, God enabling, in this direction.
Now, just a few remarks on Revelation 14:11. This is perhaps the main text used to support the doctrine that "hell" is eternal conscious torture inflicted by God on the finally impenitent. I purpose to return to it but let me make a few concluding remarks to this piece.
Even if we were to agree that the imagery in this text is that of ceaseless torture inflicted on the worshipers of the beast (and writers like Edward Fudge and Ralph G Bowles give solid grounds for disputing that reading)—even if we were to agree to that, it wouldn’t follow that that is what these worshipers were to endure. Revelation 14:11 certainly says what it says, that’s not in dispute. Should we take the imagery as the literal truth about the future of the worshipers in view in this text?
Isaiah 66:22-24 contrasts the future of the people of God with the fate of the enemies of God in the new heaven and earth. Should we believe that God’s enemies are eternally corpses fed on by deathless maggots or an unceasing supply of them, while the corpses lie smouldering in a fire? Whatever Isaiah 66 has in mind, are we to receive it as truth to be fulfilled literally? For a little more click here
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy for allowing me to post from his website, The Abiding Word.com.

Vision, Images and Hell 2 by Jim McGuiggan

Vision, Images and Hell 2

I want to drive home the point that we must be careful so that we don’t ground major doctrines on texts that won’t support their weight. The "traditional" view of hell is that it is eternal and ceaseless torture inflicted by God on the finally impenitent. A major text used to support this view is Revelation 14:11. Revelation 14:9-11 is the declaration of judgement that is to come on the worshipers of the beast and the picture associated with that judgement is sulphurous fire, smoke that ascends for ever and agony that allows no rest. All of this is said to occur in the presence of the Lamb and the holy angels.
It doesn’t seem to matter that throughout the book battles are described that aren’t literally battles, that plagues are described that aren’t literally fulfilled, that losses are sustained that aren’t literally sustained. When it comes to 14:11 we’re told it will happen as described. (Of course we begin to qualify that when we notice that the text, if taken as it sits, would locate "hell" in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.)
I’m satisfied that Revelation 14:9-11 isn’t able to support the traditional view. We should take seriously 1:1,3 and 22:6,10, along with the description of the plagues and the different descriptions of the wars and the judgements. If we did, I think we would conclude that Revelation is a pictorial proclamation of the victory of God over the Dragon as it was played out in the church’s war with the Roman empire. (See Daniel 7 and the discussion of the 4th beast.)
The book is about the dismantling of the Roman world and it is saturated with God’s acts of "uncreation". The plagues (following the Exodus dismantling of the Egyptian world) are acts of "uncreation". Instead of blessing, God brings cursing and attacks the Roman skies and seas and trees and rivers. This is customary biblical speech when God judges nations for their evil. Former judgements and prophetic figures and events are called on to describe (not literally) the nature of the judgement that will fall on the current tyrant and his followers.
In Isaiah 34 the prophet speaks of Edom in particular, though she well represents any enemy of Israel. When other oppressors took a rest Edom, Israel’s brother, continued to attack and humiliate her so God finally steps in. Edom’s destruction as a kingdom is described in three different ways and all three come under the heading of "uncreation". In the first scene Edom’s heavens and earth are attacked, deluged with blood and dismantled (34:4). Genesis 1 is undone. Everyone knows this didn’t (couldn’t) literally occur or we wouldn’t be here.
The second scene is a lake of fire. God turns Edom’s land into bitumen and torches it (34:8-10). Had we flown over Edom as it’s described here, we would have seen nothing but black smoke rising into the sky though every now and then through the smoke we would have seen the entire country as one big lake of fire. Had we seen any people in the middle of that they would have been writhing in agony--tormented. The fire doesn’t go out and the smoke forever rises into the air. (There are no prizes for recalling the Sodom and Gomorrah destruction as the model. Do see Jude 7, though the NIV rendering is misleading.)
The third scene is one of desolation, Edom is a wilderness where the wild animals live (34:11-17). As Brueggemann and others have taught us, wilderness is the enduring witness to curse and is "uncreation" exemplified (contrary to Genesis 1).
The point I want to make is that here is a prophetic judgement on Edom described in three "contradictory" ways and not one of them is to be understood literally. Had the heavens been rolled up there’d be no earth. Had the land become a lake of fire no animals could have lived there.
It makes no sense to say, "That’s how it’s pictured therefore that’s how it happened." No one would say that, of course. We wouldn’t say it because everyone would see it as nonsense. The book of Revelation is filled with OT prophetic images of "uncreation" and lakes of fire—judgement language. I’m sure it’s a mistake to acknowledge that almost all of Revelation’s images are to be understood non-literally while clinging to one verse—actually a part of that one verse—to base the doctrine of eternal conscious torture on.
Read Isaiah 34 for yourself. If that judgement could take place (and it did!) without a literal fulfilment maybe Revelation 14:9-11 isn’t to be understood literally.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to Brother Ed Healy for allowing me to post from his website, The Abiding Word.com.

Too bad to be true by Jim McGuiggan

Too bad to be true

I’ve said repeatedly that faith and non-belief come to very few of us after prolonged and serious wrestling with intellectual difficulties. Click here. I suppose in practice that it doesn’t matter much how either comes to us [that needs qualified and developed in we wish to get an accurate view of Christian faith]. But when you read what some non-believers say brought them to or supports them in their unbelief you realise that much of it has nothing to do with logic or reason. [I’ve insisted the same is true about the faith of Christians.] Non-believers watch Christians descend into near despair at the death of a loved one that’s in Christ and they conclude that such Christians really don’t believe what they profess. Hmmm. True or false, that doesn’t have much to do with the truth or error of the Christian faith. It might be an appropriate indictment of some professed believers or a somewhat insensitive observation about a Christian immature in his or her faith and devastated by a loss uniquely felt by them.
It doesn’t take long to see that non-believers can be as self-centred and individualistic in their faith as any believer. It is a rare thing to hear them speak of the cosmic ramifications of unbelief. It’s usually talk about what their faith (non-faith) means to them. They admire beauty with more awareness, they bear the burden of heartache without external help, they seize the day and live more intensely, they’re happier because they plunge into pleasure more freely. They talk about their faith (non-faith) in the same way many believers do—it’s all about how it affects me. I don’t say that all self-reference can be faulted—not at all. But a little of it goes a long way and we (well, I for one) tend to think that where it is a fault it’s mainly Christians that are at fault. But in truth I know better.
And permeating so much non-believing speech is the sense that the non-believers take the higher moral and more truly human road. They have to be braver to bear devastating loss. They are more sensitive to the joys and pleasures and beauties of life. They have to have the courage to establish their own moral standards and the inner strength to keep faith with them. They’re less likely to be murderers because, as one person put it, they have only one life "to get it right." ["To get it right"—as if there was a right way to get it for which one should aim. Non-belief has no rational grounds for such thinking.]
But, you see, I don’t judge that all that is arrogance or swagger (though I believe non-believers are well capable of that). I think that for most non-believers it just isn’t possible for them to accept an existence without purpose and goodness. So they distance themselves from sheer rationalism and draw moral conclusions that must find their basis elsewhere than in unbelief.
It’s interesting that it’s the thinking non-believers that dismiss all talk of good and bad. Former atheist Anthony Flew refused to comment on the moral nature of the Nazi behaviour. He simply said that he didn’t believe people should be used as furnace materials. But he refused any attempt to justify his view. [And yet, in the area of speech and literature, he was a hard worker for social justice.] Bertrand Russell said that moral standards could only be what each individual decided. He genuinely (I judge) lamented that he had no rational grounds to condemn as immoral the horrors being perpetrated in the world. Walter Kaufmann said we should try hard not to call anything immoral. Lord Chichester-Hardy admitted the soil out of which his moral outlook grew was not his unbelief but the Hebrew-Christian shaping of society. H.J Blackham said that the greatest argument against his unbelief was its pointlessness. "It’s too bad to be true," he said. Jean Paul Sartre said the only world consistent with an atheistic view is an amoral one. No wrong or right!
I can easily see that societal existence would require laws saying what behaviour will or will not be acceptable but as the legal profession will remind us, there’s a huge chasm between legality and morality. In such a world there can be no praise for what we call "virtue" or blame for what we call "immorality". Prudence and pragmatics may dictate our policies but a worldview that can’t condemn Stalin’s manufacturing of famines takes some believing.
Non-believers still speak of "bad guys" and still lament that they won’t be "punished". When we hear speech like this we realise that non-belief has left the building and a human heart that longs for justice is searching. 
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to Bro. Ed Healy for allowing me to post from his website, The Abibing Word.com.

Matthew: Moved By Compassion (9:35-38) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                     Moved By Compassion (9:35-38)


1. A major problem regarding evangelism today is the lack of 
   a. Many Christians seem to lack the motivation to teach others
      1) Years go by, and little is done to share the gospel
      2) Rather than being troubled by this fact, many just attain a
         state of complacency
   b. Yet motivation is "the steam that drives the train"
      1) With proper motivation, a Christian will seek to save the lost
      2) Even if they don't know how, they will not rest until they are
         doing something that might lead others to Christ
2. What motivated Jesus to save the lost?
   a. What prompted Him to come to this earth?
   b. What propelled Him to go from city to city with the gospel of the
   c. What moved Him to endure the shame and pain of dying on the

3. Several factors could be listed...
   a. His strong sense of purpose (to do His Father's will) - Jn 6:38
   b. The Father's love (which He wanted to share) - Jn 15:9; 17:26
   c. The potential condemnation those He sought to save (of which He
      warned) - Mt 10:28
   d. The joy set before Him (helping Him to endure the cross) - He 12:
   -- Each of these factors can help motivate us as well

4. But there was one factor which is mentioned in the text for our 
   study today...
   a. Our text is Mt 9:35-38, in which we read of the on-going ministry
      of Jesus
   b. Notice verse 36, "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved
      with compassion for them..."

[Compassion for the lost...could the lack thereof explain why many
Christians do not actively seek to save others?  To help answer that
question, let's first take a closer look at...]


      1. As mentioned on numerous occasions
         a. In our text - Mt 9:36
         b. Prior to feeding the five thousand - Mt 14:14
         c. Prior to feeding the four thousand - Mt 15:32
         d. Toward various individuals
            1) A leper - Mk 1:40-41
            2) A demon-possessed man - Mk 5:1-20 (cf. verse 19)
            3) The widow of Nain who had lost her son - Lk 7:11-15
            4) The two blind men - Mt 20:30-34
      2. He was moved with compassion when He saw people:
         a. Weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd
         b. Suffering from diseases, demon possession, and hunger

      1. To heal the sick and demon-possessed, raise the dead, and feed
         the hungry
      2. To personally teach those in need of a Shepherd - cf. Mk 6:34
      3. To call upon His disciples to pray for more laborers - Mt 9:
      4. To send out His disciples as laborers - Mt 10:1-7

[Jesus was truly "Moved By Compassion" for the lost.  Thus motivated,
He did what He could to meet their needs, especially their need for
salvation!  Now let's a few moments to consider...]


      1. Are we moved when we see...
         a. Multitudes of people who are without Christ?
         b. Individuals who are lost in sin?
      2. Can we say we have compassion for the lost, if we've made...
         a. No effort to teach someone the gospel?
         b. Little effort to even get to know those who are lost?
      3. What have you done in the past year for the lost?
         a. The answer to this question reveals much about our 
         b. Are you pleased with the answer?
      1. Does our inactivity suggest a lack of compassion?
         a. Is it evident that we have not been as concerned for the
            lost as we should be?
         b. What can we do to develop compassion?
      2. Compassion for lost souls can be developed by...
         a. Letting God teach us how to love - 1Th 4:9; 1Jn 3:16-17
            1) God teaches us through the example of His Son
            2) By frequent contemplation of God's love for us, the more
               we will love others!
            -- Thus the Word of God is essential for developing 
         b. Spending time around people
            1) To love people, we need to get to know them
               a) As stated by Will Rogers, "I never met a man I did 
                  not like"
               b) The more we come to know people, the more likely we
                  become concerned about their well being
            2) We need to beware of becoming isolated from people
               a) Certain technological advances can be a hindrance to
                  getting out and being with people (e.g., television,
                  air conditioning, computers)
               b) Remember, Jesus was often moved by compassion when
                  among the "multitudes" and "individuals"

      1. To do whatever we can do...
         a. Such as teach others - cf. Mk 6:34
         b. Unable to teach?  Then compassion should move us to:
            1) Learn to teach others - cf. He 5:12; 1Pe 3:15
            2) Make arrangements for others to be taught
               a) As Philip did for Nathaniel - Jn 1:45-46
               b) As Cornelius did for family and friends - Ac 10:24,33
      2. To seek to involve others in saving the lost...
         a. By praying that the Lord will send more laborers - Mt 9:38
            1) This is something everyone can do
            2) Even if we can't yet teach, we can pray! - 2Th 3:1
         b. By sending out others to teach - Mt 10:1,5-7
            1) Jesus did more than teach and pray, He trained and sent
               out His disciples
            2) We can be involved with sending out others also
               a) Encouraging the training of those willing to teach
               b) Supporting financially those who go out to teach 
                  - Php 4:15-16; 3Jn 5-8


1. Without compassion for the lost, there is no "steam"...
   a. We may have the knowledge and the opportunity to teach others
   b. But like a train on a track with no steam, we will just sit there
   -- Is that what we have been doing regarding evangelism?  Could it
      be we are lacking the "steam" necessary for evangelism?

2. With compassion for the lost, we will not rest until we are doing
   a. It may not be the same thing as others, but it will be something
   b. If we don't know how or what to do, compassion will motivate us
      to keep looking, studying, etc., until we find something to do
   -- For as the "steam" builds, we will not be satisfied until we
      begin moving and releasing the steam, just as Jeremiah said:

   "Then I said, `I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore
   in His name.' But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could
   not." (Jer 20:9)

May the example of our Lord Jesus, the true Word of God, whose 
compassion moved Him to save us, burn in our hearts until we too are
"Moved By Compassion"!

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

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Matthew: The Call Of Matthew (9:9-13) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                      The Call Of Matthew (9:9-13)


1. Who is a suitable prospect...
   a. For the kingdom of God?
   b. For becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ?

2. Who among your neighbors, friends, etc., do you think are most
   likely to receive the gospel?
   a. Those who are devout, religious, and respectable?
   b. Or those who may be ungodly, irreligious, and socially 

3. If any passage ought to give us caution against pre-judging suitable
   prospects for the gospel...
   a. It should be Mt 9:9-13
   b. In which we read of "The Call Of Matthew"

[In this passage we learn lessons by way of precept and example 
regarding discipleship and the mind of Christ that we do well to 
remember.  Let's begin by turning our attention to...]


      1. His name was also Levi - cf. Mt 9:9; Lk 5:27
      2. Mark mentions him as the son of Alphaeus - Mk 2:14
         a. Note that another apostle, James, was also named the son of
            Alphaeus - Mt 10:3
         b. This has led some to think they were half-brothers, but
            many doubt this
      1. His occupation was one of collecting taxes for Rome
      2. The term "publican" describes this position, filled by Jews
         contracted by the Romans to collect taxes from their brethren
      3. As such, they were highly despised and equated with sinners
         - cf. Mt 9:11; 18:17

      1. Perhaps to the amazement of many, Jesus tells him to "Follow 
         Me" - Mt 9:9a
         a. This was a call to become His disciple - cf. Mt 4:18-22
         b. Contrary to what may have been the expectations of many,
            Jesus saw something in Matthew that made him a suitable
      2. Matthew demonstrates that Jesus' estimation of him is not 
         a. He accepts the call of Jesus:  "he arose and followed Him"
            - Mt 9:9b
         b. Just as Peter, Andrew, James and John had done earlier
      3. Of course, this same tax collector, despised by his Jewish
         a. Became one of the twelve apostles - Mt 10:1-4
         b. Wrote this gospel of Matthew attempting to save his own
            brethren in the flesh!

[That such a despised tax collector could be a useful disciple to Jesus
becomes apparent even more as we read next about...]


      1. Matthew threw a feast in honor of his new Master - Mt 9:10
         a. But then..."many tax collectors and sinners came"
         b. Who "sat down with Him and His disciples"
      2. As host, Matthew undoubtedly invited and permitted his ungodly
         friends to sit and mingle with the Lord and His disciples!
      -- Didn't Matthew know what social customs he was violating?  Of
         course, but he had already learned a lesson that was about to
         be taught to others
      1. This religious sect of the Jews are shocked - Mt 9:11
         a. The Pharisees were separatists (the name means "separated
         b. They were strict observers of the traditions of the elders,
            especially when it came to ceremonial cleanness - Mk 7:3
      2. They wonder why Jesus would eat with tax collectors and 
         sinners (the latter likely including prostitutes)
         a. They inquire of Jesus' disciples
         b. Likely they did so standing outside, as the disciples
            themselves went in an out, for it is unlikely the Pharisees
            would dare go into such a gathering of sinners!

      1. An explanation for why it is proper for Him to mingle with
         sinners - Mt 9:12-13
         a. It is the sick, not those who are well, who need the care
            of a physician
         b. So it sinners, not the righteous, who need Someone calling
            them to repentance
      2. A rebuke for what was lacking in their own lives - Mt 9:13
         a. Sacrifice without mercy means nothing, as taught in Hos 6:6
         b. Implying that their religious devotion lacked the quality
            of mercy, or they would not have so despised sinners in
            need of salvation

[In the call of Matthew followed by the feast at his house, Jesus by
precept and example taught important lessons concerning evangelism and
discipleship. To elaborate, let me share...]


      1. Don't think one is ever too wicked to become a disciple of
         a. Either yourself or someone else
         b. Few could surpass Paul for the sins of which he was guilty,
            yet the Lord saved him - cf. 1Ti 1:12-16
      2. Jesus sees people, not for what they are, but for what they
         can become
         a. As in the case of Simon, whom He called Cephas (Peter) 
            - cf. Jn 1:40-42
         b. Peter did not live up to his name (a rock), until several
            years of growth as a disciple
      3. We must never forget...
         a. Jesus died to save sinners
         b. No Christian is perfect, only forgiven
         c. A saint is a sinner who keeps on trying
         d. Churches grow out of weakness, not strength
            1) I.e., willing to accept weak, imperfect members, helping
               to them grow
            2) A church never grows by turning away weak people
         e. What Jesus said to the Pharisees:  "...tax collectors and
            harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" - Mt 21:31
      1. It is true that we must be separate - cf. 2Co 6:14-17
         a. We cannot have fellowship with sin
         b. We cannot engage in the wicked deeds of others
      2. But we must not isolate ourselves - cf. 1Co 5:9-12
         a. We may withdraw from an erring brother, true
         b. But we cannot withdraw from those in the world
      3. While not of the world, we have been sent into world - Jn 17:
         a. To be the salt of the earth, we must mingle with the meat 
            - Mt 5:13
         b. To be the light of the world, we must shine in the darkness
            - Mt 5:14-16
      -- While we must be concerned about the influence of the wrong
         kind of friends (1Co 15:33), we must be willing to reach out
         to those who are lost!

      1. We cannot receive forgiveness if we are not merciful - Mt 6:
      2. We will be judged by a standard with no mercy if we are not
         merciful - Jm 2:12-13
      3. Religion (sacrifice) without mercy is not pleasing to God!


1. In "The Call Of Matthew", Jesus demonstrated the transforming power
   of the gospel...
   a. Able to take a despised tax collector and turn him into a beloved
   b. Able to appeal to social outcasts, providing love and hope for a
      new life

2. By the feast at his house, Matthew demonstrated the transforming
   power of the gospel...
   a. Turning one who likely had been motivated by greed into a 
      gracious host
   b. Making one who may have formerly reveled in the evil conduct of
      his friends, now concerned about their spiritual well-being

If upon honest reflection of this passage we see ourselves more like
the Pharisees than Jesus or his new-found disciple, may the words of
Jesus move us to repent of our self-righteousness:

   "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who
   are sick. But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy and
   not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but
   sinners, to repentance." (Mt 9:12-13)

Are you in need of the spiritual healing provided by the Great 

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

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