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Question: I've always struggled with my question to you. I have never really asked anyone with any kind of authority on this particular subject. I've always wondered and hope with all my heart that the answer to my question is yes. Do animals go to Heaven? I know that the Bible refers to the white horse in several places. My Grandmother, a devoted woman of God, told me they do not go to Heaven. If the answer IS no, how will I truly be happy in Heaven without my beloved pets and friends?

Answer: A wonderful, intelligent question, and one that many have wrestled with. As I mentioned in my private email to you, I was quite amazed that your question should arrive just a matter of days after I had received some new and significant light on this topic.

Like all animal lovers, I too hope the answer is "yes." Yet, there are no crystal clear Scriptures to definitively make this case. Or are there? I have recently been convinced that a particular Scripture, Psalm 104:24-33 , leans us strongly in that direction:"O Lord...All the earth is full of Your creatures...They all look to You to give them their food at the proper time...When You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth."

"Renewing the face of the earth," in biblical context, always seems to connect with the next life. At face value, this Psalm might read: "Animals die and they return to the dust. But then, when You send Your Spirit, they are recreated as You renew the face of the earth." I am aware there are other ways to interpret this passage ( and I won't take the time here to go into them all, but would be glad to keep the conversation or call me), but the more I study it, the more it seems to suggest a place for animals in God's Kingdom after their death. Doesn't Romans 8 also talk about all creation (the term means all that God has created, clearly including animals) longing for the renewal of the earth (8:29-31). What this exactly means, we do not fully know (and we would be presumptuous to claim that we do). I do not believe it means that animals experience salvation as we do. But as they're God's creation, they in a sense will (in the language of Romans 8) find their longing fulfilled in eternity. Passages like Isaiah 65 are intriguing in this respect: "Behold, I will create new heavens and earth...Be glad and rejoice in that which I will create...The wolf and the lamb will feed together" (17, 18. 25). Clearly, this might be referring to a millennium, a transition time between this life and the next, but other passages, such as the ones in Revelation you have noticed, clearly place an animal directly in heaven: "I saw heaven standing open, and I saw before me there a white horse." (19:11).

I believe I may understand why your grandmother said what she did, and if by her statement she only meant to clarify that heaven is primarily designed for redeemed humans, and that animals do not experience (or do they need to) salvation by accepting Christ, surely we can agree. And some have made too much of this issue and its defense. But just maybe Romans 8:21 is applicable in ways we have rarely imagined: "In the end, the whole of created life will be rescued and have its share in the magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God." Read this verse prayerfully and carefully, as it is intentional about highlighting two points: that the complete liberty of salvation and heaven is ultimately for the children of God, and that there seems to be a place (literally) for all renewed creation to "share in that liberty."

I would not make a new or cardinal doctrine, and require Christians believe that "animals go to heaven." But I would challenge us to consider the articulate words of Rev. Charles Schmitt:" The importance of this issue (of animals and eternity) is not only providing a bit of comfort to those who feel pain at the loss of a pet, but to celebrate the awesome and complete triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary... While the primary focus in the future resurrection will be on the children of God, the glory of Jesus' great victory will also spill over into all His creation." (from an article in Foundational Teachings, Fall 1999 entitled "Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?" and visit

As far as wondering how one can be "truly happy in heaven without beloved pets and friends," I believe that since heaven is far beyond all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), we literally can't imagine it yet, but we know by the Word's authority that we will be completely happy, even though we now know (and grieve in this life) that not every one of our friends will make it (though clearly all are invited, and can make it if they simply accept Christ as in John 1:12). Somehow in His sovereignty, God will enable heaven to be a place and realm where there is absolutely no sadness or grieving (Rev 21:4), even though beloved ones will not all be there. (It occurs to me that perhaps some of your grandmother's concern was that many people who would suggest that animals will be in heaven are universalists, who by extension believe that every human will be there as well, regardless of what they did or did not do with Jesus. I cannot read the Word that way). Surely the presence and power of Jesus will be so amazing that we don't remember the pain of earthly life or the pain of noticing in our heavenly life who is not with us ("In the new heaven...the former things will not be remembered" (Isaiah 65:17). This is the glorious good news, and a minor subset if this good news is that God seems to imply that there will be a place and position for all His good creation in the recreated order. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, wanted to believe there would be animals in heaven primarily because he was hoping to be reunited with his faithful horse whom he had ridden thousands of miles as he spread the good news. But he also knew intuitively that even if that would not be the case, that it would not matter or be called to his remembrance , so glorious will be the love and salvation of Jesus, the One who in His loving creation crafted some incredible works of art besides us, the crown of creation (going to the zoo to me is an exhilaratingly worshipful experience!).

So as you have noticed, I'm leaning towards a yes, a qualified yes to your question; and a definite yes to being so thankful that you honored and trusted me with a good, heartfelt and appropriate question. Blessings! And forgive the joke:

A man came to his Methodist pastor and asked him to do a funeral for his dog. The pastor compassionately but firmly responded that that was something that he could not do. The man then said, "I'll give you $1000!" to which the pastor replied, "Why didn't you tell me all along your dog was a Methodist!?"

As much as you love your animals, could it be that God loves them more? And loves you far more than you love your pets, love your children, or love Him? How good He is. And how we look forward, and long for the renewal of all creation. All humans who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior will be there! And in some way we can't yet begin to begin to grasp until that Day arrives, the rest of creation has been prophesied to be there as well. Hallelujah!

Question: What is the basic difference between Christianity and other religions?

Answer: There is a fundamental difference, and it may sound shocking: Christianity is NOT a religion! That is, if we define religion as humans reaching up in an attempt to worship God. Christianity is the opposite: God reaching down to humans to establish a relationship. No other major faith system even claims to offer what Christianity delivers: salvation that is not based on how good we humans are or how many good deeds we do. Salvation in Christianity is based on receiving the free grace-gift of Jesus Christ. Knowing that we are saved has nothing at all to do with how good we are, but how good He is! Notice we don't sing "Amazing Deeds," but "Amazing Grace?" Have you received this awesome gift? (see Ephesians 2:8-10)

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Question: When I pray for forgiveness, do I need to pray for each specific sin (i.e. telling a lie, being impatient , acting rude, etc.), or can I ask for forgiveness in a more sweeping, general way (i.e. for missing the mark, in my thoughts, words and behavior, that God has set for me; for not allowing Him to be in complete control of everything in my life; for not living how He has commanded me to, etc.)? Or can I do either, as long as I am sincere and have a contrite heart? I feel like if I have to remember every specific thing, I'd spend my entire life making that list, but I do want to make sure I clear out everything with God.

Answer: Wonderful question, and one of my favorites. For the sake of this discussion, let's call the view that each specific sin should be specifically prayed about, view "A"; and the model that would suggest that general, sweeping prayer is sufficient we'll coin view "B." Whenever you have a case like this where there are Scriptures that support both views, the answer must ultimately be that there is truth in both scenarios. In fact I would agree with your statement that you can do "either one, as long as you are sincere and have a contrite heart." If a person truly is sincere and contrite, I think God will be free to let them know which model they are to follow in a particular situation. Of course, if you know about a specific sin (such as being rude to the clerk) it is always safer and appropriate to confess it the second it comes to mind. And I would think that is precisely why the Holy Spirit brought it to mind, so you could simply, once and for all, confess it. However if the memory that keeps coming to mind is of a sin that has already been confessed (or one that you committed before accepting Christ, maybe), your reaction should instead be "I'm not going to let that memory keep me from the reality that that sin has already been forgiven and forgotten in heaven!!" So never let it be said that I don't recommend confessing unconfessed sins that come to mind, but know that when I emphasize that, at the same time I issue the equally significant challenge (and maybe more crucial for sensitive Christians such as you probably are) to believe that all our sins have been dealt with already, and we should carry on in the bold certainty and hilarious freedom that is grace.

A pastor had a woman in his church who said Jesus appeared to her at night and answered her questions. He was a bit skeptical, but of course wanted to know if the appearances were legitimate. So he challenged the woman by saying, "Next time He appears to you, ask Him what was the sin that I committed while in seminary.'' The next Sunday the pastor saw the woman, and asked expectantly, "Well, did Jesus appear to you?" "Yes, He did." "And did you ask Him what was the sin I committed in seminary?" "Yes", she said. A bit fearful, but curious, he asked, "What did He say?" The woman looked squarely and confidently at her pastor and replied, "He said, 'I forgot'!"

With that, the pastor believed that this parishioner's conversations with Jesus were for real! You see, in a sense there is one thing the Lord "cannot" do. If you are a born again Christian, he cannot remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25, check it out!). However, we humans cannot forget as God forgets, but we need to ask for the faith to believe the radical implications of this Scripture and at live with the liberating knowledge that our sins are not only forgiven but forgotten.

The good news is that in Jesus Christ, if we are in Him, EVERY SIN WE HAVE COMMITTED OR WILL COMMIT IN THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEEN FORGIVEN!! Reread that last sentence again, if you reread anything in this column!! See Ephesians 1:7:"In Him we ALREADY HAVE the forgiveness of sins.." And 1 John 2:12: "Your sins HAVE been forgiven." Like any Scriptures which place the keynote on grace, these can be abused. This, as Paul would say, is not a license to be lazy, or to sin. On the contrary, if you are contrite, you will naturally sin less (As the saying goes, "As Christians, we are not sinless, but we should sin less"). So though I am aware of the danger of preaching the radical idea that we may not need to ask forgiveness for every single sin in our past (and future), I am close to preaching that we indeed don't, at least in the way we usually understand it. Maybe I am wanting to make a distinction between the need to ask forgiveness for every single sin of our past and present, and simply confessing that which has already been forgiven in Christ. I don't think we need to take Model A to the extreme of "spending the rest of our lives doing nothing but confessing sins". We need to spend the rest of our lives sharing the good news of forgiveness of sins with others!

By the way, another and related distinction many have found quite helpful is to contrast the Holy Spirit's conviction with the devil's condemnation. The Spirit does not condemn, and the devil does not convict. Conviction is about a specific sin (Exactly like the examples you gave: something specific with place, time and name, and something that is clearly a sin) and offers hope. Condemnation is more general and generic (the feeling that you are worthless or a bad person, or that you probably sinned terribly yesterday but nothing specific comes to mind. I owe this illustration to Elton Gilliam, though I am not sure it is original with him.

So I want to put it in context when I offer my advice which is what we might call model C ( The "either A or B, as long as I'm sincere and contrite"). Model A should be followed if you indeed have specific situations in mind that are clearly sin and have not been previously confessed (Sometimes I think God says, "Why do you bring that up again? I distinctly remember forgetting that!") And model B is a good model if no specifics come to mind, and we don't get caught up in the trap of beating ourselves up unnecessarily... Jesus was already beaten up for our sins once! And since He's forgotten them, we might as well, too.

Interestingly enough, the same exact Scripture has been used as the "proof text" for both model A and B. It's I John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins.." Model A interprets that as the need to live a life of continuing and ongoing confession of sins that the Spirit brings to the mind of a Christian. Model B interprets the verse as addressed evangelistically as an invitation to become a Christian, and thus receive the once-for-all forgiveness of all past, present and future sins that is found in faith in Christ. Although you have noticed I am leaning towards model B if properly understood, and even though I believe versions of both these interpretations of the 1 John Scripture are correct, I don believe 1 John1 :9 is the verse to back up Model B. The letter of 1 John seems to be written to those who have accepted Christ, and thus the message would be to "keep on confessing ." So with the caution that we should confess specific sins, no need to spend your life doing only that (That, ironically, would be a sin!) Maybe what we are doing is merely agreeing with God (that is exactly what the word "confess" means) not only that we have sinned, but that our sins have in essence already been forgiven by the completed work of Christ on the cross. Romans 4:7 clearly is addressing those who have come to know Christ once and for all, not those struggling whether they have asked forgiveness enough, when it says "Blessed is the one whose sins are forgiven." Dare to believe your past, present and future sins have been forgiven. As specific sins come up, clearly agree with God that they are sin, and then agree to agree with the Lord that you will carry on with all that He has for you. Whatever that is, you can enter into it with the certainty that Jesus has spoken to you those same shocking and freeing words He spoke to those in the gospels: "Son or daughter, your sins are forgiven!". And remember the classic words of Corrie Ten Boom, who was fond of saying, "God has said clearly that your sins are cast into the sea, as far as the east is from the west. And that means there is a sign posted there: 'NO FISHING!' " . Hallelujah!

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Question: In your estimation, what is the unpardonable sin? Is it one specific sin, or is it different for everybody? I know someone worried they have committed it.

Answer: A good, heavy and quite controversial question. However, I think it is easily answered. Many people spend time guessing what "the" unpardonable sin might be: mass murder, cursing God, etc. As always, we need to consider Scriptures in context. Both times Jesus uses the phrase "unpardonable sin," (Matthew 12:23 and Mark 3:29), the immediate situation He is addressing is the people saying He worked miracles by the power of the devil. Therefore, in a nutshell, I believe the unpardonable sin is to be so completely hardened against Christ, and acceptance of Christ, that you not only have no interest in Him, but consistently believe that He was an instrument of the devil. Do you know many people who fall into that category? I don't either. As a pastor, I occasionally hear from a believer worried they have committed the unpardonable sin. I believe I can look such a person in the eye, and say with authority, "No, you haven't!" I think that if a person, no matter how depraved, still has any fraction of interest in Jesus (even ambivalent or negative interest), they are not crossed what Hugh Ross calls the "blasphemy threshold" of the unpardonable sin. In short, if you're worried about it, I sure don't think you've committed it. A reprobate would not worry about it. I certainly understand and appreciate the weight of guilt of someone who may have broken commandments against murder and adultery, for example. But Christ has certainly forgiven these sins and others. This is not license to sin, but a reminder that there is forgiveness for every sin covered by Jesus.

Another way to answer your first question is the unpardonable sin is to die without receiving Christ. Though Christ gives everyone a chance, if one does not accept Him in this life, their sin is unpardoned. Hope this is a helpful. It's such a serious question, and I pray to do it justice.

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Question: I want to know about LUCK. Are some people lucky or luckier than others? Is there such a thing as luck? Are some people paying just for their forefathers' past sins? For me, I've always felt I've had good luck. Things have most always gone good for me. Even when it's not my way, it doesn't seem that bad to me. Maybe it's just my way of looking at times. I know others who seem to have bad luck most all the time. Is there more to this or is it my faith? What do you think?

Answer: You are the lucky winner whose question gets posted this week! OK, I'm just kidding, so I can answer the question. Actually, the word luck is not found in the Bible or in our faith tradition. We believe in a much more profound concept: grace. This word means "undeserved favor." Any time something good happens to us it's grace Do you know the line from Amy Grant's "Hope Set High": "If there's anything good that happens in life, it's from Jesus."

However, we need to be careful judging people's character or faith by how "lucky" or graced they seem to be. The Bible is very clear that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people (Check out the book of Proverbs). There is no justice, fairness or pattern in who seems to get the "luckiest" in this life. (However, the Lord is clear that there will be in the next life). It all seems pretty random, and this is partly due to the fact that life must be somewhat that way. Your attitude seems extremely healthy in that regard. You don't seem to want to blame God when "lucky" things don't happen. Phillip Yancey, in his helpful book, "Disappointment With God," makes the excellent point that "God is not life." That is, it is life that's not fair to us, not God. Don't blame God for what life deals us. Because God loved us enough to create us with free will, He by definition had to create a world where things (cancer, whatever) happen that are not fair. But remember Job's faith: "Even if God slays me, I'll trust him".

So, it seems dangerous to use the term luck (Uh oh, what do we do with "pot lucks" (:...) It is close to the Hindu concept of karma. No, I don't believe that some people are just doomed to pay for the sins of their forefathers (remember Jesus: "it wasn't the sins of this man's forefathers that caused this")...and that's why they are 'unlucky". (However, I do believe that sometime we are called to repent of the sins of our forefathers, and as we do so, we can be spiritually freer...see Exodus 20:4 and especially Nehemiah 1: 6-8. And go to Neil Anderson's website to learn more about this.)

Because we're not God (thank God), we'll never know why in this life "unlucky" things happen. So it's good to submit to God's sovereignty and admit that "God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:35, which by the way, is a quite misunderstood Scripture. We usually interpret the rain as a symbol of bad or "unlucky' things ("Into every life some rain must fall," etc.), but in Israel, rain was a deep spiritual sign of blessing (as farmers well know). So this verse actually means GOOD things happen to just and unjust.) Amy Grant was right. And of course, so was James in Scripture: "Every good and perfect gift is from above." Often we ask" Why me?" when something bad happens. Ideally, we should ask "Why not me?" when something bad happens, and "Why me?" when anything good happens; knowing that if any of us got what we deserved, we'd wind up in hell. (And even that would be grace in the sense that it's better than we deserve!!! But God doesn't "treat us as our sins deserve if we are in Jesus!) So thank God for amazing grace. That seems to be your secret to a healthy attitude. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were a lucky person. Actually, and far better than that, you are exceptionally "graced." And in a lot of ways how graced we are is up to us...and how much we respond to God's free and absolutely amazing grace!

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Question: If God said "Do not murder," how come He told the people in the OT to kill their sheep and animals for a sacrifice?

Answer: I don't claim to know the exact answer, but much of it has to do with the precise word used in Exodus 20:13, the verse you quoted. You have quoted the New International Version (a very good translation), but you have noticed that most times you hear this commandment quoted or translated it is phrased "Do not Kill." "Murder" is the most accurate translation. There are seven words in the Hebrew in which the Old Testament was written. The one chosen for the Scripture under discussion ("rasah") is a very specific word which means not just any killing, but intentional killing of humans in a non-war situation. So when God allows killing of animals for sacrificial purposes, another word for "Kill" is used (Gen 9:6). Unfortunately, some translations use the same English word and do not define as narrowly and appropriately as the NIV does. I often tell the joke, "I know a little Greek and a little Hebrew: One runs a restaurant, and the other owns a deli." Bad joke, but it alludes to the importance of realizing that the Bible was not originally written in English at all. And if we can't study the original languages, it is sure helpful to use a good study Bible (such as the NIV Study Bible. which I highly recommend, and can be purchased at a discount here.

I am aware that the killing of animals raises its own problem (and that's another "Ask pastor" column!), but the short answer to that clearly has to do with God preparing His people for the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb. I don't think the point was to cheapen the life of animals, but to emphasize the ultimate value of human life, and to allow us to more easily receive the saving sacrifice of Christ.

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Question: Is it true Jesus wants us to be perfect? If so, what does that mean, and how do we do it?

Answer: Isn't it amazing the kind of commands that are actually in the Scriptures? The verse you refer to is Matthew 5:48, in which Jesus actually commands, "Be perfect, therefore. as your Heavenly Father is perfect." Wow! Should we all give up now?? Any of you who know me, know I'm not perfect; and if you know yourselves, you know you're not either. at least in the way we usually define it. Doesn't it seem that only God is perfect, and if we were perfect, we'd--by definition-- be God? Can't be! The answer to these tough Scriptures is ALWAYS in the CONTEXT. Lets look at three levels of context around this initially troubling verse. First of all, in the context of all of Scripture, we know He can't mean we're to be perfect in the sense that we are God, or gods. You know the old line, "There is a God, and you're not it!" The second layer of context which helps us here involves the verses that immediately precede 5:48. Note the "therefore" in verse 48. When you see a "therefore" in Scripture, always ask what it's "there for." (: In this case the therefore clearly connects to Jesus asking us to love our enemies. So if we love our enemies, in God's eyes, we are perfect. Is that an impossible ideal? God NEVER commands anything He won't supply the power to live out. Finally, the third level of context is the other gospels. Whenever there is a confusing statement in the gospels, one of the first places to run for help is to the other gospels, especially if there is a parallel to the saying or story. In this case there is, and an exceptionally helpful one. In Luke 6:36, where you would expect Jesus to say "Be perfect," He instead says, "Be merciful." Obviously, the Holy Spirit is helping us enter into God's dictionary. He clearly defines perfection as being compassionate. And you can do that (by the Spirit's enabling) , otherwise Jesus wouldn't have commanded it.

In summary, the "perfection" Jesus asks for, even commands, is that deep inner relationship with Him in which you consistently and compassionately love your enemies. If we never applied the principle of context, we might feel helpless and hopeless about what Jesus means. Now that we know, let's be about living it out!

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Question: I have become quite concerned about some of the movements today, such as Brownsville, so much so that I have ordered Hank Hannegraph's book, "Counterfeit Revival. Your opinion?

Answer: A vital and crucial question for the times we live in. Let me say that I greatly appreciate Hank Hannegraph's ministry of exposing cults and defending biblical Christianity. He is articulate and a much-needed expert. We must maneuver the contemporary church and culture with the Spirit's discernment. Having said that, I truly believe that he has gone too far in the book you mentioned. For one, he makes several mistakes and seems to intentionally quote out of context. This is documented in several other books, including the appendix to "Let No One Deceive You" by Michael Brown. In a spirit of love, Brown, who is a PhD, highlights several errors in Hannegraph's accusations (one tiny example: on page 241, he says flat out "Jesus did not heal Sarah Lilliman." Wow, for one, who is he to say that Jesus did not do something.) Hannegraph offers no sources or documentation; just assumes that healings don't happen in our age and/or any minister who suggests they do is demonically deceived. (Hannegraph for many years believed that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, including healing, may be operative today. He has since changed his mind and denounced that teaching. I have no problem with him believing that, and I believe that the severity of my concern is not based on the fact that I disagree with him on that particular theological issue, but that anyone on the other side he seems to believe not only deceived, but an intentional deceiver.) If he had called Lilliman's family, like Michael Brown did for his book, he would hear from the source that she was still in fact healed, and that they flatly denied Hannegraph's claim. Hannegraph seems to have a bias against any supernatural healing in this current age, so he's almost forced to believe that any such healings are false or demonic.) Mostly, though, Hannegraph's tone is so sweeping and condemning. To actually name several names and call them "Counterfeit Revivalists" seems a very dangerous statement. Hannegraph says not one thing positive about well-respected and balanced teachers such as Francis McNutt, or even Bill McCartney of Promise Keepers, apparently believing McCartney is a counterfeit along with his pastor James Ryle, whom he says perpetuates "hoaxes"! I do not agree with everything said by any of the people he slams, but to clearly accuse them of intentional counterfeiting is not a judgment call I would like to make, nor do I believe it is correct. This is particularly scary to me when I see that the "unpardonable sin" according to Jesus (scroll down to find my complete commentary on this topic from a previous question) is to look at ministry that Jesus is doing and claim that it is counterfeit and demonic!!! I am not accusing Hannegraph of that at all, but the spirit behind his lines is disturbing. That Hannegraph uses acronyms like FLESH and APES as chapter titles outlines seems unnecessarily inflammatory. But I won't judge Hannegraph for that, or I'll wind up in the same trap I worry about him falling into!!!!

Hannegraph does not mention (except on page 244 where he says we don't need to go to Brownsville or any other place in revival for a quick fix, I agree) , or slam Brownsville (On Father's Day 1995, at a church in Brownsville, a suburb of Pensacola, Florida, experienced an unexpected "revival" which has become so famous, that it has continued since then, with services nearly every night of the week, and people coming from all over the world to attend. Hannegraph never mentions or accuses the leaders associated with the Brownsville Revival. I am aware, however, that he has made critical comments about it on his radio show and in his magazine. But listen to this, though Hannegraph has been critical, he was invited by the Brownsville School of Ministry to speak at their chapel ! He accepted and received a standing ovation. This display of Christian unity really blesses me. Though Hannegraph and Brownsville may well have disagreements, both "sides" were quoted publicly that they were thrilled to be brothers and sisters in Christ and were honored to be in ministry together. Perhaps Hannegraph does not critique Brownsville in the book at all because he's aware that it's less flashy, and shall we say "fleshy" than many of the other movements of today. I have attended services at Brownsville several evenings, in addition to Sunday morning, and saw nothing offensive, and I get the sense that it anything offensive or questionable would've occurred, the pastor and the elders would have confronted it on the spot. What do I mean by "questionable "? Well, unfortunately the Brownsville Revival has gotten lumped with other movements in which the primary emphasis seems to be on unusual manifestations, even roaring like a lion, etc.. This is not the case at Brownsville. However when dramatic things happened, people weeping over their sin, being overcome during prayer, etc., I witnessed it handled extremely well and biblically. And as you surely know, these are the exact type of manifestations that have happened in several historic revivals, especially the Wesley revival of early Methodism. The other facet of Brownsville that thrills me is that the emphasis is not on a quick fix, feeling good, or manifestations, but salvation for the lost (a salvation invitation is the PRIMARY focus of Brownsville evangelist Steve Hill's revival services), and repentance and holiness for the believer. Our youth pastor and I were at the Brownsville Revival in May and we found it profoundly touching, well-shepherded and biblical. Though there are always extremes when genuine revival breaks out, these should never call us to throw the baby out with the baptismal water, or condemn the entire movement as counterfeit.

So please read Hannegraph carefully, and please read Michael Brown's book, or others who respond to it and critique it carefully. Mostly, read the Bible, for discernment. And obviously if possible, experience Brownsville Revival for yourself, and prayerfully ask what is or is not going on. Don't take anyone's word ...Hannegraph's or mine. I personally believe it is an imperfect (like anything else in this world), but historic and authentic revival movement initiated by the Holy Spirit, such as our continent and century has hardly seen. It should be judged not just by its theology, but its practice, and primarily by its fruit. I know a friend who was so transformed by God at the Revival that I almost literally did not recognize him. He was humbled, broken and deepened. I too have been deeply moved and ministered to by some amazing...and extremely gentle) altar prayer workers at Brownsville.

If its of God, let's bless it. If anything is unbiblical in it, let's deal with it. But I cannot believe that it, or many of the other ministries Hannegraph mentions (though I too disagree violently with some facets of some of them) are intentionally counterfeit. Revival is a strong personal interest and passion of mine. I have done quite a bit of research, and have experienced revival. I would, and Pastor Craig would, be glad to talk more with any one regarding questions and concerns our webpage readers have. I greatly appreciated this question; sorry I got so longwinded.

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Question: I thought your sermon was so right on and spoke to my heart as only God's Word can do. I walked away believing that I need only to seek His Kingdom. Just how I go about that is my question. I think it's through prayer. I think it's through the reading, studying and practicing of His Word. When I go about my day, however, my mind will wander off and slip into fear or frustration or whatever. That is when I take my eyes off Him and find myself seeking what I think is the best for myself or my loved ones. I want whatever it is God wants. Period! So, how do I keep my eyes on Him and first seek His Kingdom?

Answer: OK, here's the sequel to that sermon! I think you are right on. If there is a "simple answer" to what it means to seek God, it is twofold, and it's the same two items you mentioned: prayer and reading the Word. But as you have noted so well, during the day, we wind up seeking other things. That's where John 15:7 comes in ("If you abide in Jesus {that is, prayer}, and Jesus' words abide in you {that is, Bible study}, ask whatever you wish..") and we learn the secret of consistently abiding with Jesus, no matter what we are doing; and in a sense always praying and reading the Bible even when we are not in "prayer time" or near a Bible. How do we do that? The Bible calls us to "unceasing prayer", so that like Brother Lawrence discovered, one can be just as much in a God-seeking mode "whether you are in church or washing the dishes (see his book, "Practicing the Presence of God"). And if we "hide the Word in our heart" as Psalm 119 commands, and memorize it, we can take it with us into our day, and "read" it from our memory even when we're at the gas station, or doing something equally "unspiritual." There's got to be a way to "take the prayer closet with you" into your day. I think it's simply praying and reading the Bible each day, not as a ritual, in such a way that every word you pray and read is "God" or "Jesus", and it carries through your day's events. Once God spoke to my spirit almost audibly, and said, "You need two things: passion and discipline.. The passion will get you through the time you don't have much discipline, and the discipline will get you through the times you don't have much passion."

Some perhaps surprising tips on how to seek God:
1. Intentionally do something you know is impossible unless God is with you. (This is seeking God because it's stepping into the supernatural.)
2. Declare that you will lead someone to Jesus within a week, and do it. (This is seeking God, because what is God seeking? The lost).
3. Find a marginalized, poor, or otherwise disadvantaged or outcast type of person and bless them. (This is seeking God because THE place Jesus promised you would find Him is in the "least of you did it unto them, you did it unto me.." By the way, I would add to the list, finding a Jewish person and blessing them. A careful reading of the "least of these" Scripture, and its broader context I think reveals that "my brothers" means "Jewish people.").
4. Fast: if it is medically appropriate for you to fast, do so! Jesus commands it, and I believe it is often the ONLY way to reveal what controls us (that is, which false gods we are seeking), and to determine how to seek only God in light of what you learn. The longer the fast, the more you learn. I recommend a 2-3 day juice fast. Then work up to 5-7 days. It will change your life. You WILL seek God more fully on the other side of it, if that is your desire!

In conclusion, I must emphasize that seeking God must be possible and necessary, or God wouldn't have commanded it. Don't give up! "You will find me," He says, "when you seek Me with all your heart.

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Question: What creates daily faithfulness with God? Does passion precede, follow, or coincide with it? Is frustration the result of conviction or perfectionism? Do you think we hinder the work of God in our lives through our own workings, or does He take that in stride?

Answer: It is not usually the norm for God to speak to us in such a way that we can say "God told me...and I quote...." But I think I can quote God telling me, "You need two things...passion and discipline. The passion will get you through the times when you don't have the discipline; and the discipline will get you through the times you don't have the passion." So, in response to your question about whether passion precedes, follows or coincides with faithfulness (which might be defined as discipline, as in my "quote from God"), I'd say the answer is YES (: ! That is, all of the above. Depending on the circumstances, passion can sometimes precede, sometimes follow, sometimes coincide with faithfulness. And sometimes it may not show up at all! ( Two great books on this: Larry Wood's "Truly Ourselves/Truly the Spirit's" and the much more scholarly "Clinical Theology" by Frank Lake). But maybe the ultimate bottom line is that we are called to be faithful, whether or not we "feel" the passion (or feel anything). Sometimes it's sheer will, determination and discipline to live out our faith, even when we are passionless and feel God has forsaken us.

What creates daily faithfulness with God? One could submit that discipline, passion, prayer, etc. do. And they do in a sense. But I think the deepest answer is "God does." We are not inherently and intrinsically faithful. It's only as Holy Spirit works through us that we can even be faithful. Ephesians 2:8-10 can be translated "saved by grace through faithfulness, and even this faithfulness is a gift of God." God is the creator, and He creates out of nothing. And that's exactly what He finds in my spirit. So He creates daily faithfulness in us. 1 Thess 5: 24 says, "God who calls you is faithful (we are not), and He (not we) will do it." Yet we obviously have a part to play. As God gives us grace , we are to obey John 15:7: "As we abide in Jesus, and His words abide in us.." So abide, read the Word (His words in us), pray (we abide in Him). But only as God creates His faithfulness in us can we be people who abide in daily faithfulness.

Is frustration the result of conviction or perfectionism? It depends on what you mean by frustration. I like to distinguish the Holy Spirit and the devil this way (based on a teaching by Elton Gillam): The Holy Spirit convicts in specifics in a way that is hopeful. In contrast, the evil one condemns (not convicts) in general generics (not specifics) in a way that feels hopeless. For example, the Holy Spirit will convict you that you were rude to such and such a person at 4:OO yesterday (specifics). Though this is convicting, it is not condemning, and He provides you hope about resolving it. The devil, though, condemns in a vague way. Did you ever have a vague sense of shame, worthlessness, malaise or frustration wash over you, but not related to any specific sin; more in a way that you feel like a bad and hopeless person. That is the telltale sign of the evil one. So if the frustration is condemnation, it is a result of a (literally) demonic perfectionism (I highly recommend David Seamand's books on healing from perfectionism). Appropriate, Holy Spirited frustration with your spiritual life would be hopeful about ways to grow, even if you HAVE blown it big time.

Do we hinder God's working with our own, or does He take this in stride. In a sense, we always (when left to ourselves) hinder God's working with our own. He doesn't necessarily take it in stride, but He does offer loving discipline, and a HOPEFUL, NON-CONDEMNING midcourse correction if we listen, and He is so sovereign that He uses even our mistakes, stupidities and sins, and turns them around for good (Romans 8:28). This is not a license for spiritual laziness, but a clamant call to realize how sovereign our Sovereign is. I also think we underestimate how "abiding," faithful and holy God can make us. Not that we ever "arrive" in this life, but check out the amazing promises of John 15:7, or the command of Matthew 5:48 .

Life in Christ can be a delicate balance. We can be too hard on ourselves, or too easy on ourselves. If we pray for purity of heart, and for the Spirit to balance us, God will indeed pour out more provision than we had imagined in our wildest prayers (Eph. 3:20) This generation has yet to see what a band of consistently deep and faithful-due-to-God's-faithfulness disciples for Jesus look like. John Wesley threw down the challenge over two hundred years ago: "Give me a hundred who love nothing but God and fear nothing but sin, and such alone will shake the kingdom of hell, and set up the Kingdom of God on earth." As long as we realize it is only through His power and provision (though through us) that the Kingdom is set up, we are indeed "set up" to see an unprecedented move of holiness among God's people. You can be among that number! He who calls you is faithful, and HE will do it.

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Question: How can I connect what I feel inside to be true about God with what I hear others saying is true, when they don't match up? Should I deny the understanding & relationship I've developed about God in favor of other concepts which are tightly held by friends & family members, but seem strange & untrue to me? Can I be a Christian by picking & choosing among the ideas that circulate within the various Christ-based religions, assembling something that feels believable 100%, or must I take the totality of the dogma of one sect believing many parts to be untrue? I'm looking for a way in. Any suggestions? Also, how can I deal with the concepts that seem false? Disregard them, or fake belief? Faking belief seems dishonest.

Answer: Wow! Great, thoughtful questions. Ultimately, we have to base everything on Scripture. Since I don't know what particular group or groups you have in mind, I don't know whether everything in their particular doctrine is solid and biblical or not. Either way, God's revealed Word (the Bible that is; be wary of any group offering another book as Scriptural or near-Scriptural) is the only ultimate litmus test for you or your family and friends. I would hesitate to say that one can "pick and choose" among the various branches of Christianity, constructing something which "feels 100% believable." There may well be some things in authentic Christianity that don't seem believable to some, but are in fact essential, such as the physical resurrection of Jesus. The Word says without this foundational belief our entire faith is in vain. However, if what we "find believable" squares with what Scripture emphasizes, that model will work.

Don't believe anything either because loved ones (or even I) believe it, or you tend to believe it , but believe it because, in the words the bumper sticker, "God said it; I believe it; That settles it."

In response to the question about needing to believe the dogma of one sect in totality, I doubt that that is necessary. For example, I see no problem belonging to tradition with a slightly different teaching on communion than your personal view, for example (as long as the tradition offers you latitude in this area).

I am glad you are "looking for a way in." I agree that faking belief seems dishonest. But there is a principle I think is biblical, honest and helpful. Some call it "act as if it were true." My suggestion would be to make a list of the basics of biblical Christianity (go straight to the New Testament, or a book like Paul Little's "Know What you Believe" , John Stott's "Basic Christianity, " or C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," and whether or not you believe it all, live your life for ten days "as if it were true." I don't know anyone who has taken this challenge who has not eventually agreed that Christ and His Word (not necessarily a particular denomination or expression of Christianity) are "the real thing" and found their "way in" in a way that was honest and didn't violate their own conscience and integrity. Start with an honest prayer something like, "Lord Jesus, I'm not even sure what I believe or if I believe in You the way these books describe, but if You are there, come into my life, and for then next ten days, help me to live and pray as if You were Who You say You are, and I covenant to make an honest decision at the end of that time."

If there are indeed particular doctrines that do seem false,. and they are not core issues such as Jesus being God, The Bible being God's Word, and Christ as the way to the Father, I would say tentatively put them aside and pray for discernment. I am so thankful for your refreshing questions. And know God is in love with you, and wanting to reveal Himself in a new way. I think Truth is self-authenticating. Above all, pray that God the Holy Spirit would show you what is essential and of Him, regardless of what anyone, including I, say. Would you keep in touch?"

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Question: A practical question on prayer: I experience times of distraction--thinking about things I need to do, for example, as I'm praying. Is there any help for me?

Answer: Yes, indeed. There better be! If not, there's no help for any of us. For the only people to have visited the experience you describe are human beings who have tried to pray! Great question, and I believe there is some practical help. Let me start with two suggestions that may sound contradictory, but prayerfully try one and/or both.

First, placing a notepad beside your place of prayer can give you quick access to write down all those things you have to do, either so you don't forget them, or so as to symbolically get them off your mind so they don't distract.

A second thought. Don't always be quick to assume that those thoughts are distractions. Maybe they are precisely the things you need to be praying about! So instead of letting them "get in the way," pray them! Anything that comes to mind is fodder for prayer. especially if it is someone you are reminded that you should call (pray for them immediately, and you'll find God will use the phone call in ways He might not have if you haven't prayed). Even if the "distracting thoughts are indeed demonically-inspired distraction, the joke will be on the devil if instead of letting it hinder your prayer time, you let it bless and instruct it. That is, pray for those things; the laundry that needs to be done, the errand you need to run. And how about this? Did you ever kneel to pray and then hear an airplane or kids playing, and it frustrates your concentration? A valid way to respond might well be to pray your mind could shut those noises out. But what a terrific call to prayer: pray for the people and pilot of that airplane (to be safe, to know Jesus, etc). Pray for the children (maybe no one else will)! Apparent distractions can be fun challenges to prayer and God just might save souls and situations because of them!

Some final thoughts to put all this in context: One of my mottos is "pray before you pray." If before we move into a time of prayer, we pray that we would be focused and unhindered: that we would be effective and Spirit-guided; that the Holy Spirit would actually pray through us (see the amazing promise of Romans 8:26: even though "we don't know how to pray" (join the club), we can allow "the Spirit to intercede for us." ) It is in light of this verse that C. S. Lewis could call prayer "God talking to Himself." God initiates and inspires prayer, and when we are praying as God the Spirit leads, God is in essence speaking through us, and He is praying to Himself through us. And as we abide in this deep place of prayer, every prayer will not only be focused, but answered, and answered yes (because it was God's prayer, it is God's will). John 15:7: "As you abide in Jesus, and Jesus' words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be answered."

So before you pray, pray. Pray that the One who invented prayer would pray through you, and that as you pray you would have the mind of Christ, the will of God, and the words of the Spirit. Notice that the whole Trinity is so in love with you that each Person has a vested interest in seeing that you are not unnecessarily distracted from praying God's purposes into being. It is a high, holy and humbling calling to pray. No wonder God has not left us to "do it ourselves." No wonder His enemy and ours attempts to distract and derail us. Do not let him! Since prayer is spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:10-20, especially 18-19) we can and must pray that the blood and power of Jesus would keep us tuned-in.

By the way, a helpful structure to prayer that keeps us not only focused but in line with God's will is the Lord's Prayer. Jesus said, "When you pray, pray like this.." He didn't just mean that we should pray that exact prayer, but that this particular prayer is a model for all prayer. For example, begin prayer with calling God Father, realizing He is in heaven, declaring that His name is hallowed, etc., before moving into asking for daily bread (finances, provision, etc). This pattern for prayer is so helpful in response to your question. And it's because No One less than Jesus knew we would need a framework from which to pray.

In closing, Elton Gillam recommends we ask three questions before we move into prayer; questions that call us into focus and what he calls "praying ground": 1. Do I know Jesus in a personal way? 2. Is there any unconfessed sin in my life? 3. Am I filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit? If you can pass this threefold test, you are ready to discover the riches of a prayer life that may occasionally feel scattered and distracted and may sometimes feel a rote exercise (By the way, if you ever feel that your prayers don't get past the ceiling? They don't have to, if God is right there with you!) but that most of the time will feel more effective and Spirit-streamlined than you can imagine... and even more importantly, will change the world and allow God's prayers to be answered around the world.

Let's pray!

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Question: A friend of mine could really benefit on your advice regarding which is the best Bible translation. My friend has a hard time really believing that any other version than the King James is kosher. What do you recommend?

Answer: If I had to pick just one translation, as if you could have only one, it would probably be the New International Version (N.I.V.). But I think the ideal situation would be to have both the N.I.V. and the New American Standard (N.A.S.) literally hand in hand. Let me explain why. The N. I. V. is perhaps the best example of what we call a "dynamic equivalence" translation, which signifies a translation which may not follow the literal word order or words of the Greek, but seeks the closest exact equivalent in the language to be translated to. Obviously, the Word is meant to be understood (and thus obeyed) in the language of the reader, and that is precisely what the NIV does so well. But to get a sense and feel for what the Greek literally said, or the flow of the Greek word and sentence structure, the New American Standard, a more literal translation, is helpful. I totally agree with the eminently helpful chapter 2 in Fee and Stuart's classic "How to Read the Bible for all its Worth" that the ideal situation calls for using the NIV as your primary translation, while much of the time comparing the New American Standard. Thus we emphasize and hopefully internalize not just what the Word says, but what it means.

Though the NIV is somewhat "looser" than the NAS, I do not mean to send the impression that it is a paraphrase (or more liberal). It is not. The Living Bible was the classic paraphrase, written by John Taylor for his children. It was wonderful in getting the ideas of Scripture across, but shouldn't have been used without standard translations for comparison. Why do I speak of the popular Living Bible in the past tense? Because after years of work it has been completely revised as a translation, and indeed it is now called the New Living Translation (no longer a paraphrase). Several of the best evangelical Bible scholars of the world compared the Greek with the Living Bible text, and crafted an incredibly faithful translation that is so accessible that it reads (or feels) almost like a paraphrase, but does not sacrifice integrity with the original Greek. This is an outstanding and remarkable achievement, and though it has not reached the popularity standard of the NIV, the NLT approaches the excellence of the NIV in some areas, and perhaps surpasses it others. We should also mention Eugene Petersen's The Message Bible. This new and popular Bible is widely understood to be a paraphrase, and though in a sense that's what it may be, what it most fundamentally and in an unprecedented way is a version that captures like no other the earthy feel of the original Koine Greek. Koine was an everyday, non- technical branch of Greek that God chose the New Testament to be written in. So to some, TMB sounds too familiar, colloquial, and almost blasphemous in its earthiness. But one cannot emphasize enough that that is EXACTLY how the Koine sounds, feels, and "smells." So the Message is extremely important to familiarize yourself with. Though in my opinion, it is slightly weakened by a few too many overly-clever "Petersenisms," it is a vital glimpse into the colorful emotion and gut-wrenching honesty of the Greek. Everyone should wrestle with TMB. Buy it!

This raises the King James question. Let me start by stating that the KJV is a fine translation, but obviously no one speaks Shakespearean English anymore. So some KJV phrases are so hard to understand as to seriously impair understanding. And some phrases in contemporary English mean the exact opposite of what they did in King James days! So note that reading the KJV in modern America ironically defeats the noble and appropriate purpose behind it's intent: to have a contemporary translation in the language of the day! So this version can be misleading in two ways. First, in suggesting that the Bible is to be cased in some high-class cultured and stilted language (the Greek knows nothing of "these" and "thous"), when as we have just suggested the opposite is true. It was written in "raw" language to be understood by all people. Secondly, language and meaning have changed so much that modern readers can sometimes find the KJV incomprehensible, or derive opposite meanings than intended. There is much more that could be said about King James, but I'm clearly not here to bash it. I can understand, and am sensitive to the concerns of many who grew up with it as the only version. It would indeed seem heretical to suggest other Bibles are more appropriate or faithful. But as any evangelical scholar will inform, the KJV is based on Greek texts that are not quite as accurate (or original) as those used for the other versions we've mentioned. See "The King James Version Debate" ,a significant and necessary contribution by D.A. Carson. All this is definitely not enough to cause me to discourage one from using King James. KJV can be very useful, and a real blessing. But as we have proposed, it would seem essential to prayerfully study the Bible in the way it was in intended to be: in faithful, understandable contemporary...and by that I sure don't mean that newer is by definition intrinsically better...versions which do not budge from a view of God-breathed, divinely inspired Scripture.

Before I wrap up, two other recommended books: "So Many Versions" by Sakae Kubo, and "The Accuracy of the NIV' by Kenneth Barker. The first title is self-explanatory, the second book is a practical defense against those who claim the NIV is not all its cracked up to be.

In summary, I suggest the NIV as your primary Bible, but with NAS (or perhaps NLT, or though we didn't talk about it, the New Revised Standard), close at hand. And then for insight into the feel and intent of the Greek, supplement your devotional diet with The Message. Or to change the metaphor, let God use the Message to jump-start your faith and obedience with shocking and profound insights into the truth of God's Word. There you have it. This is not a dogmatic prescription; as other translations are worthy. But this mix I believe would give you the best handle on hearing what the Spirit is saying to us today, and living it out in such a way as to be confident disciples who don't just study and read the Word, but do it. to the glory of the One who graced it to us to start with. Isn't that what we all want?

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Question: I was doing my devotions yesterday, and came across one that really caught me off guard because I had always been taught different. I wanted to get your take on it. The verse it used is Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves." Well, I had firstly heard it translated as "do not tattoo graven images on your body", but even then, the verses surrounding this one are things like "Do not cut your not touch a pig fruit off a tree for its first 3 years." So what I am wondering is why this one verse is taken as still holding true today, and then the rest of the verses aren't. Also, the devotional writer said that tattoos and body piercing were a form of personal mutilation. I personally disagree because I have a tattoo and a body piercing, and I would not say that I did either as a form of mutilation. What do you think? Have we just forgotten these verses cause we want to secularize God, or have these old testament laws changed, minus the 10 commandments of course. I'd like to know your take on:

  1. Why do you think people get tattoos/body piercing?
  2. Do you think that it's a form of mutilation?
  3. Do you think that God looks down on this...why?
  4. If yes to #3, what should people do who have already done this?
  5. Do you think it's a generational thing...especially body piercing.

Answer: Probably the best translation of Leviticus 19:28 is the NIV as you have quoted. Most of the purpose of all these OT laws were to call Israel to a life of holiness that was not conformed to the pagan practices around them and pure. note the emphasis on not mixing clothes, etc,. as a symbol of that unity of purpose). One of these practices was cutting or disfiguring (a rough equivalent of tattooing) your body as a way of atoning for the dead (a clearly pagan and I might note modern Mormon principle) getting the attention of whatever god you were praying to. A classic example of this is the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18:28. If a modern person has cut or tattooed themselves as a means of manipulating a deity *(including the Christian God) then that would indeed be sin. Since you are clearly not doing that, I would place a body piercing (clearly to me not the same as self-mutilation) and/or a tattoo under the area of freedom gives to each New Covenant believer to choose if they desire to participate or not. For some it might be sin, but the sin would be in the motive (to invoke a deity or to intentionally offend or blaspheme), not necessarily in the piercing or tattoo itself. Clearly, St Paul asks us, also, to be sensitive to not offending a brother or sister who does not sense the same liberty you do. So in some cases and places, discretion, or at least a lack of flaunting, would be appropriate. A note on tattoos: another reason they were forbidden in OT law is because it would be assumed in may case if a picture of a deity were involved, it would not be the God of Israel. So by extension, a modern tattoo picturing or naming a counterfeit god would likewise be dangerous and open demonic inroads.

And of course as you have noted so well, when is the last time you have heard anyone. even the most conservative Christian. claim that some of the mandates from this same chapter are directly applicable today: the beard (cutting your beard a certain way was also a pagan ritual of the day) and fruit regulations, for example. You have picked up on the two streams of OT law, which scholars often call "ceremonial law" and "moral law." As you have suggested, the 10 Commandments fall clearly under basic an intrinsic moral law, while the more ceremonially, or culturally-conditioned items (such as piercing, tattoo, fruit, beard) are not law that were ever meant to be lived out by people of another day and culture. or better yet, of a new Covenant. Didn't Jesus summarize even the 10 Commandments into the 2 Commands to love God and neighbor?

Of course many would suggest that this leaves an open door to ignore OT laws against homosexuality, for example. One cannot biblically make this case, as sexuality is fundamentally moral, or better yet, based on creation, as opposed to culture or tradition,. And besides, this behavior is clearly spoken against in the NT (1 Cor 6:9). Tattoos, piercing, fruit and beards are not.

  1. I can't make a blanket statement about why people get tattoos or piercing. Some may do it just because they like the way they look; some to attract attention, some to fly in the face of tradition, some because they desire to witness to Christ. Maybe a large percentage of younger kids who do it, do it as an attempt to rebel or react against their parents generation, but I could never make a blanket judgment.
  2. I don't see piercing as necessarily a form of mutilation generally speaking, though for some it may indeed be an intentional or unintentional way of doing the equivalent. Some may do it as a manifestation of low self-esteem or a self-hatred, but certainly not all.
  3. I think God has a lot more important things to worry about or look down upon.
  4. If an individual has a tattoo that is directly satanic or their conscience will not leave them alone after becoming enlightened or becoming a Christian, they have and should take steps to remove them. However, as this is not always possible , I can't believe God is not all that hung up on it. In a previous church, no one less than my associate pastor had tattoos he was sorry he had received. He was embarrassed by them,. and knew they might offend some Christians, but as they were not satanic, he did not feel pressure to have them removed at all costs. And let me state again, I have no intrinsic problem with tattoos in and of themselves, especially on persons such as yourself, whom I know and trust to follow the Spirit's guidelines for you as an individual. I wouldn't see the need to remove them unless you were so clearly convicted,. In itself, I'm guessing the tattoo is neutral, the way I read the Bible.
  5. For some it may well be a generational thing; even the contemporary equivalent of something someone who grew up in the forties did that is now completely inoffensive in our current century and culture. But as this trend crosses generations, it is also bigger than that.

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Question: This weekend I happened to stumble on a Bible verse that I had never heard anybody speak on: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Paul has just been telling the church of Corinth to have nothing to do with one of their church members who was married to his own mother (how sick is that!). Anyway, then he goes on to say that he doesn't want us judging those that don't know Christ, and he doesn't want us pulling away from them. He seems to sternly "rebuke" that thought. We are to have contact, and be friends with nonchristians. It's the Christians that are blatantly not walking with God that we should disassociate ourselves from. On the one hand, I'm happy about this. Yes, I get to hang out with non-Christians, sinners, whatever, and know that it is a biblical thing. But what about a friend who has been walking with Christ and is in major sin? Do I plain reject them, just when they need me most to kick their butt? I don't know. Thoughts are welcome!

Answer: Let me begin by answering the crucial question you pose at the end of your letter, and then I'll angle back into your question again by dealing with some of the great insights you raised earlier, and some of the very overlooked, even shockingly ignored Scriptures that relate and inform. No, you do NOT "just plain reject a friend who has been walking with Christ, but is in major sin, just when they need (you) most to kick their butt." I don't think one can make a scriptural case for "just plain rejecting" a Christian friend, even if we do, in love, "just plain reject" their sin and their rebelliousness. You wouldn't really love your friend if 1)you didn't continue to be friends 2)you didn't call him/her to deal with their sin.

When Paul asks that the Corinthians not "associate" with sexually immoral people, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards or swindlers, two grammatical question must be wrestled with. First of all, it would seem rare or (technically) impossible from Paul's perspective that a true Christian could actually BE, by nature, a sexually immoral person, an idolater, etc. I know we as true believers do fall into sins of sexual immorality, greed, and the others mentioned. sometimes severely so. But we do not consistently live there; we are not by nature a "pure" greedy person, for example...we are not consistently,100 percent, without any remorse, greedy 24 hours a day. If that were the case we would not be Christians by the Bible's own definition. A key passage for grasping this is found just a few verses ahead of the scripture you raised. I Corinthians 6:9-11: "Don't you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God." Now he does NOT say that a Christian who has fallen into one or more of these sins, even in a major way, will not make it to heaven. He does not say that an act of adultery, for example, will keep a believer out of the Kingdom. And when one remember Jesus equating lust with adultery, none of us could make it into the Kingdom on such a basis! Anyway, after listing these sinful lifestyles, Paul goes on: "And that is what some of you WERE!." Note: they are NOT those persons or lifestyles anymore. Fundamental to Paul's theology, is that believers are no longer sinners, adulterers, homosexuals, etc BY NATURE, even if we fall into some of these sins. We are not fundamentally... by nature... sinners anymore: on the contrary we are, according to v. 11, "washed, sanctified and justified." We are now to be considered "saints." Now hang on a minute, I hear that objection coming. The problem is that we have greatly misunderstood what the Bible means by "saint." One does not have to be dead or Catholic, or perfect to be a saint. One only has to be a biblically-defined Christian. And that means that we have a new nature, given us by Christ! If you really wonder if you are a saint, consider that Paul even calls those far less than perfect Christians in First and Second, excuse me. Corinthians ( 1 Cor 1:2; 2:1), saints!

And don't read me as soft on sin. I sincerely believe we saints sin in thought, word and deed. I am simply making the case that the Word treats us as " saints who sometimes sin,", not "sinners who are sometimes saints.". It's just that God nowhere calls us sinners by nature anymore; "sinner" is a word used exclusively for those intentionally outside Christ and the church. That doesn't make us perfect, but it does make us perfectly forgiven. That doesn't make "them" terrible; on the contrary, they are terribly in need of Christ. This is not simply semantics, and is no small matter. It is in fact, THE interpretive key to understanding who and Whose we are. The entire message of Paul, and in essence the entire New Testament, can be microcosmically summarized as "Become what you already are." That is, actualize, act on, and act out all that Christ and the new identity and power He has already imparted and implanted in you have given you. Check out two amazing and life-changing Scriptures: Philippians 3:14, " Let us live up to what we have already attained" and 2 Peter 1:3, "We have already been given everything we need for life and godliness." If we only had these two verses and no others, and we grappled and grasped all that they implied, we would be far less impotent spiritually as individuals and churches. On this topic, and as good practical and prophetic help on how to prayerfully apply these tremendous truths, I recommend many of the available books by Neil Anderson.

Back to the original Scripture and context. We must also ask what does "associate" mean (1 Cor, 5:, 9 and 11)? Does it imply no contact whatsoever? No. The Greek word used literally denotes something like "mix together." It may indeed mean temporary "banning" from the gathered church, but then only if the sin is serious, and seriously not dealt with by the "saint" so accused, and even then only as a last resort as a means of "handing him over to Satan" (study carefully the two Scriptures were this fascinating phrase is used and prescribed: 1 Cor 5:5 and 1 Tim 1:20) with the intent that tough love might be the "butt-kicking" that eventually kicks them back to Christ and the fullness of Christ's fellowship. Note that in 2 Thess. 3:14, "disassociating" from gossips, which I read in the context of Scripture and early church history as disassociating them from the gathered church, not from individual relationships, is only after a second chance and as a last resort, and with the intent of restoration.

However, I do not want to sound as if I am condoning intentional sin. As St. Paul would protest, "May it never be!" . But I deeply believe Jesus and Paul modeled for us a lifestyle of seeking restoration, and return of the prodigal. However, those who continue defiantly in what you call " major sin" leave us, (and God, by the way, to a limited extent) with no option but to move into a tough love position of even withdrawing from them, so as we are not corrupted or deceived (obviously, this is not possible for God), and so that they are pushed toward restoration through tasting the futility of being "handed over to Satan." And the tenor of Corinthians is clear: some who call themselves believers in all honesty not only flirt with, but live with flagrant sin. The challenge here, to adapt the cliché we usually use to a slightly different form in light of our earlier discussion, "love the SAINT, and not the sin."

As a kind of aside to you personally (the one who asked this fine question), because of the person you and I are both aware of, we both know the terrible and inappropriate "judgment" that has fallen on him. This is a tragic example of how NOT to judge fellow believers. The word "prejudice" literally means to pre-judge; that is judge before you have all the information. We are of course, in Corinthians and in Jesus (By the way, Why do we usually only hear the first half of Jesus' quote: "Do not judge..", when He finished the thought with.."...except in the same measure you are willing to be judged yourself.{Matt. 7:1}) called to "judge" fellow Christians, but only from a prayerful, careful and mercy-based motivation. "Mercy," James offers in 2:13 of the book by his name, "triumphs over judgment." This perfect and delicate balance of confronting believers in sin is caught by Jesus who says both "Neither do I condemn you" as well as "Go and sin no more."

So in conclusion, Paul would assume that your theoretical (?) "Christian who is blatantly not walking with God" would be a rarity, and in its purest form , impossible. But because many who have made sincere commitments to Jesus seem to somehow fall into not only the more "ordinary" and "expected" ditches of sin, but into willful and bold sin, we must, like Jesus, love them enough to pursue them, "kick their butt" and maybe even trust God, ourselves and them enough to let them go, ideally only for a season (because God says that's the duration of sin's pleasures anyway) of heartbreaking (for us, God and them) heart-searching which will call them back into the fullness of all Jesus has to offer.

I agree with you, though obviously much of the organized church seems to have a hard time believing and practicing it, that we are to naturally and intentionally "hang out" with "sinners." Who would argue that Jesus did not? And we are to refrain from judging them. That doesn't necessitate that we do all the things they do, or we don't express our concerns for the wholeness in this life, and security in the next. But we are to unconditionally love, just as the Unconditional Lover first loved us. How else will they come to know this Love who loves us enough to call and make us saints, and (to risk what some might term a sacrilegious phrase attributed to Jesus. sorry) love us enough to "kick our butts" as needed?

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Question: Do you know anything about Thomas Keating and the Centering Prayer? Is it associated with the New Age movement? I believe it this was started in San Francisco so I thought you might have some info.

Answer: Thomas Keating has authored several books dealing with centering prayer, but the definitive one is "Open Mind, Open Heart," which I read in preparation for answering your good question. He is a Catholic priest and monk based in Colorado, so I am not sure he has any direct connection to San Francisco. I appreciate many things about his model of prayer, and I also have some concerns.

Centering prayer at its best is designed to be a way of focusing so one can move deeper into a time of what Keating calls "contemplative prayer." It is a way of freeing oneself from distractions so one can pray more attentively and move beyond ritual or superficial praying into a vital, surrendered, relationship with Christ. (p.50) As a general approach to prayer, it is not anything new or original, and has been around for centuries. Keating's version of centering prayer. though, has four guidelines, quoted below from p. 139:

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within.
  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within.
  3. When you become aware of thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.
  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

Defined biblically and carefully, this might be a very appropriate way of praying. Who does not want to "consent to God"? Oh, how we need to focus and to prepare for deeper seasons of prayer, so that, with Paul, we "pray unceasingly" (1 Thess 5:17). But if the "sacred word" becomes a mantra or a magic ritual, I am quite concerned. Most of his suggested words are good: he suggests God, Father, Lord, Abba. These are great, biblical names of God to dwell on and use in prayer, but if we wind up just repeating them, it may ironically lead to the very "vain repetition" (Matthew 6:7) Jesus warned about. But again, who has not been at a loss for words, only to find themselves simply praying the names of God in a way that is fulfilling, focusing and effective. I cannot agree with his suggestion that "Mother" is an appropriate prayer-name for God.

Keating also suggests this type of prayer "does not require thinking" (37, 92), and we "should not reflect on what we are doing" (87). I can understand that true prayer is beyond thoughts, and that if we are constantly thinking about how we are praying, we are not fully praying, but no one less than Paul encourages us to pray with our mind AND our spirit (1 Cor.14:15). Major red flags here. To pray undiscerning could open us up to subjective or demonic influences. We could wind up in the idolatry of experience very quickly.

My biggest concern with the book were quotes such as on page 104: "one's being is transformed into Christ'. Wow! I would rather become like Christ, and be transformed into His image and likeness. But to become Christ?! Yes, to answer your question, this part of his book seems clearly New Age. and worse. Then on page 127:"The fundamental goodness of human nature. is capable of becoming transformed into Christ and defied."... and "God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing." It is of little consolation that he clarifies that we are not God, because he clearly states that we become Christ and are deified. I understand that he may mean only what the Bible means in that we are called into union with God as in John 17, and are "participants in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), but the Bible would nowhere allow that we become "deified". So Keating for all his wisdom does us a terrible disservice, and I truly believe he will be accountable to God (James 3:1 is sobering!) for potentially leading others significantly astray here.

It could be possible be that by "transformed into Christ," Keating does not mean becoming Christ, but moving deeper into Christ as we are transformed Fine. But if so, the least Keating could do is use more careful language without potentially heretical interpretations. I would love to get Keating's explanations and definitions here (so if you are reading, email us!). "Deification," in theological language. or even in Webster's Dictionary which I reference here can mean either "the absorption of the soul into God" or "to make a god of". Those are two very different things!!!! In the broader context of the book, he does not make a big deal about deification at all, let alone in this quite heretical second sense, and many helpful and profound insights are made.

Oh, and I cannot agree with him about the "fundamental goodness of human nature." Though God loves us and values us, we are so fallen BY NATURE that God Himself makes a blanket statement: "there is not one who is good. not one" (Romans 3:12).

So, in conclusion, Keating's Centering Prayer, though in large part biblically based, has some New Age components and applications, yes. But if we draw from the best of his suggestions, we can be helped to become more intentional and centered on Christ and prayer. It's just that the flaws in the book are so potentially dangerous that it is hard to submit to his overall teaching. I am all for centering, and being transformed, but not into Christ...BY Christ, my Center, and the only One who can keep me centered.

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Question: Here is a tough question I have struggled with. Maybe no one else does. Some groups have their women wear their hair covered or in a bun. Why don't most denominations do that, since it is mentioned in the Bible?

Answer: Don't worry! Plenty of other thinking Christians have wrestled with this question, though obviously very few seem to believe that the apparently clear word of 1 Corinthians 11: 5 ("Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head') is to be applied to our contemporary situation. It raises the deeper question of how do we know which instructions to the churches (prohibitions against homosexuality, against women speaking in church, tongues must be interpreted, greet each other with a holy kiss, etc) are directly applicable today, and how do we navigate that discernment in a way that is not picking and choosing according to our preferences and idolatries? Clearly even most fundamentalists, who hold that the Bible is God's perfect Word and decidedly applicable today, do not live out some of the above teachings, or at least apply them literally in our modern culture. What to do?

I am a strong evangelical, believing that The Bible is God's infallible and inspired Word, and is meant to be obeyed in this day and age. But since I am a pastor in a tradition that does not require head coverings for women, I have obviously found another way to interpret the Scripture in question than the direct literal application to our church today. Yet it is precisely because I uphold the absolute authority, accuracy, and God-breathed nature of the Scripture that I must insist that if there are dramatic differences in our culture vs. Paul's, we must ask ourselves what is the modern equivalent of a certain prohibition. This is not at all to imply a softening of our view of Scriptural authority. On the contrary, it is to honor the authority and timelessness of God's Word. So in cases like this, we dig deeper than face value to the PRINCIPLE that was foundational to the teaching. I am aware this practice, when misdirected, is dangerous, and has been used to defend homosexual practice, for example. This case cannot be made, though, as biblical sexuality norms are based in CREATION (and are thus permanent and binding), not culture. The Scripture under discussion is a perfect example.

In that context, here is what I believe is the answer to your immediate question. And I answer it with the very helpful insights of my friend Brian Dodd, whose book The Problem of Paul is an outstanding guide to sorting out these issues:

"Why don't we apply this teaching in our culture? Paul's teaching relates to an issue of etiquette and propriety in Corinthian sensitivity about women's hair that we do not face in our culture. Praying with uncovered heads in Paul's day would have offended sensibilities, similar to a woman serving communion in a mini-skirt would today. When we travel across the bridge of culture, we realize that Paul lived in a world where a women's uncovered head was sexually suggestive, the closest parallel for us being skimpy clothing."

So back to our discussion about discerning the PRINCIPLE. "The claim I am making," Dodd continues, "is not 'Paul was wrong--women do not need to cover their hair,' but rather 'Paul was right on the principle of mutual consideration and sexual propriety. and he applied this correctly in his cultural setting.' " I believe that is exactly why we shouldn't let women (or men, for that matter) pray or prophesy in a public setting in an outfit clearly seen as radically provocative sexually.

I can honor and appreciate the traditions that apply this prohibition literally, because such practice usually comes out of a desire to be faithful to God. But I would call to mind that St.Paul, though he has been accused of being sexist, had a woman-honoring view of the place of females in prayer and prophesy. His agenda was not to be sexist; just the opposite. This is a case where Paul's argument and principle ( the unchanging and unalterable decrees of Scripture), are to be applied in a way appropriate to the day and church in which the Bible was written, and in the day and church of today. Because we desire to be that obedient, we must prayer-wrestle with these and other Scriptures, and ask how we are called to live them out; to make their words flesh. Two other books that are exceptionally helpful here are "Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women" by Willard Swartly, and "The First Epistle to the Corinthians" by Gordon Fee. Not to imply that one must own the three modern books I have mentioned to have the tools to discern how to interpret the Bible's specific and confusing principles. I believe the Holy Spirit, as He responds to our prayers that He would lead us into all truth; and the collective God-seeking of the Christian community (such as this webpage is designed to be), will enable and empower us to obey God's Word as He intended it to be obeyed, without compromise and without confusion. I am honored to be part of that task!.

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Question: Lately, I have learned more about what the Bible says about when we die, and I was surprised. If it is just a sleep we go into I was not very happy about that at first. I thought we would be with Jesus and maybe others we knew right off the bat. Then I figured it's all about trusting God yet one more time, and knowing He's got it figured out for the best of us and much better than I could come up with. Can you give me some clarity on this, or tell me what to check out? Don't I sound like a little kid? Guess that's a good thing though. Anyway I think you are the greatest pastor I have ever met and I continue to pray for you every day.

Answer: Thanks so much for your support and prayers. I am not the greatest pastor that I have ever met! But hey, you are right: it is ALWAYS "about trusting God, and knowing He's got it figured out." And of course, childlike faith is Jesus' own definition of faith. But we do have some help in reconciling what at first would seem to be contradictory views of what happens when we die. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 sounds like we have to wait until our resurrection to be with Christ, yet Philippians 1:21-23 suggests that to die is be with Him. It doesn't say "To be resurrected is to be with Christ." The first-mentioned Scripture should be seen in light of the first.

The Greek grammatical construction of Philippians 1:23, as well as the overall context of the New Testament does to me promise that the moment we die we are with the Lord. But the Thessalonians passage suggests that at that point our body is not yet "there" yet, in a certain way; even if "we" (our spirit or awareness ) are!.. The ultimate answer may have something to with the timelines. we can surely be fully present with Jesus, before we obtain our new resurrection bodies. But mostly I think we need to remember how beyond time God is. Even if there is a waiting period after death (which could not be a "purgatory" as commonly defined), we wouldn't be aware of it; time would pass in what the Bible calls "the twinkling of an eye" and "a thousand years like a day". So far all practical purposes, we are absolutely with Jesus upon "waking" (notice Paul and Jesus refer to death as "sleep") from death. However God works it out metaphysically, that's His business. (I know two things: There is a God, and I'm not Him.) Our business is to heed the claimant call that "it is appointed to us once to die, and then immediately the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27)and be ready to "pass the test" by having accepted Christ in this life, so that we might be accepted by Him in the next.

We should also remember that Thessalonians was written, in part, to answer some questions those in Thessalonica apparently had about the Second Coming: Had it already come? If not, how should we live in the interim? What about those who have died before it has come?"

This framing of the questions behind the book helps in at least a couple of ways. One, their questions were not our modern Western questions about how God sorts out the time and space matters (they trusted in that department). And secondly, it is this last question which obviously relates to our generation in a profound way: we all have loved ones who have died "in the Lord" before the Second Coming. I have heard too many funerals which focused on the promise of bodily resurrection at some future date, to the exclusion of the other promise: that to die is to be ushered into being "with Him." How we needed to be pastorally comforted by the Spirit of God, who promises us BOTH. But we need not fear a long and lonely waiting room, or that our departed believing friends are lost in some limbo or holding tank. We are told, and should therefore believe and be comforted by the fact that they are in a most enviable position: They, even more than we who walk with Christ "here", are with Christ "there." Wow, what a great hope; which we can't even stretch our imaginations and prayers around. Whether or not the departed Christians are now experiencing the fullness of all that heaven will eventually be (post-Second Coming) is a "dead issue" (pardon the pun) for them. They are with Christ, and feeling no pain, or troubling theological questions and doubts about the metaphysics and schedule of it all. If they don't yet "have" their fully glorified and resurrected body (But who is to say God can't work time "backwards" for those in eternity?), I don' think they are feeling left out. They are with the King! No wonder Paul was torn!

Having said all that, some closing related challenges that are not meant to shake your faith, but to stir it up to examine what the Bible really says: Does it appear that anyone is in hell RIGHT NOW (Sure, some will be there LATER, but how about now, before the events of the Second Coming?)? What do the Scriptures teach (Or not teach) about marriage in heaven, relationships, and the "seeing" of departed loved ones in heaven? Have fun with these, but remember the bottom lines of 1 Thess. 4 and Philippians 1. No wonder we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Jesus is Hope!

You may have heard the joke about the pastor who had left the office to pray, and when someone called for him, his secretary said, without thinking of how we usually interpret the phrase, "Oh, he's gone to be with the Lord." Enjoy being with Jesus in this life, as well as in the next...

Here, there, or in the air!

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Question: "Did Judas make it to heaven?"

Answer: Scripture seems clear that Judas did not make it to heaven. Acts: 1:20 states euphemistically that he" went to his own place." Jesus' prayer in John 17:12 is all the more clear and chilling: "None has been lost except the one doomed to damnation in fulfillment of Scripture." I don't think there is any doubt, considering the content and context of this Scripture, that Judas did not enter into a state of salvation.

This can be a troubling concept in that it might appear that God predestined Judas to betray Jesus and to be condemned, knowing that Jesus' death would accomplish our salvation, but cost Judas his. In what sense was Judas "doomed to damnation" in fulfillment of Scripture? Which Scriptures are intended here? Obvious possible Scriptures would include, though not be limited to, Psalm 41:9 ("even my close friend, whom I trusted, and shared my bread, has betrayed me"; Psalm 69:25 ("May the place of God's enemies be deserted; no one to fill their tent"); and especially Psalm 109:1-13 (verses 6-8: 'let the evil man be found guilty, and another take his place of leadership" seem to be fulfilled in Acts 1:23-26 with the choosing of Matthias). But was Judas damned "just'" to help accomplish our salvation.? I think not. He, like all of us, faced his own choice, and it would seem he was never a true and converted follower of Jesus, even though he was a "member of the church." Note, for example, he never even called Jesus "Lord" (though Jesus clarifies elsewhere that that in itself is not a sign of salvation). His highest recorded title for Jesus was "Rabbi' (Matt 26:25). So Judas is not in heaven for the same reason that anyone not saved is not there: he never fully and internally surrendered to and accepted Christ, which according to John 1:12, is the only prerequisite for entrance into heaven. Of course, Judas had a unique role to play in the plan of salvation, and just because God knew that from days of old, doesn't mean Judas was just a helpless puppet. He had a chance and a choice. And he clearly made a choice not to choose Christ, and that was his damnation, not 'just' his betrayal of Jesus (If we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works, how can we be lost merely by a "work", as bad as it is?). In fact, any who do not accept Christ, by default if not be design, betray him. (Fuller Seminary's Ray Anderson has written "The Gospel According to Judas", which is centered around the question "Could Judas have been forgiven?". This fascinating book was triggered when the author saw "Judas, come home! All is forgiven!" scrawled against a public restroom mirror. Buy it online here. (Search for author Ray Anderson.)

One last thought. Note that the phrase used in John 17:12 about Judas, "son of perdition'" (translated above as "the one doomed to damnation'" is only used one other place in scripture, and that is in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 of the anti-Christ (Anyone who betrays Christ is a small "a" antichrist, who is acting in the image of the ultimate Anti-Christ). There is a clear connection between Judas choosing not to truly accept Christ which led to his "possession" by the devil. Check John 13:7: "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him." By choosing to not accept Christ, and thus betray him, we become vulnerable to, and actually invite, the Enemy to use us; as is clearly the case in some amazing crucial scriptures for believers to study so that they do not give place to the devil (even though it will not lead to their damnation): Ephesians 4:26-27; 2 Corinthians 2:9-19; 1Corinthians 7:5, and James 3:15-16).

Left to ourselves, there is something within all of us that wants to betray Jesus. But thank God for salvation that infuses us with the ability to embrace and honor Him; wanting to, and delighting to do, His will instead (Psalm 40:8, John 15:7) The ultimate tragedy is that Judas, though he kissed Jesus and apparently named his Name, never came to embrace Him as Lord, thus finding his own name named in eternity.

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