Thursday, June 30, 2016

Is Suicide an Unforgivable Sin?

"When the jailer saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, 'Don't harm yourself! We are all here!'" -- Acts 16:27-28

There’s no doubt about it: As Christians we have faith, but we also have lots of questions. Last year, I devoted several sermons at First Christian Church to answering some of the most commonly asked questions that Christians have about the Bible and Christianity. And a recent survey revealed this to be the most asked question: Is suicide an unforgivable sin?

Suicide is a difficult subject on many different levels. When a family member or friend ends his/her own life, we wonder if it’s inappropriate to even mention the word “suicide.”  And it’s difficult because family members deal with feelings of shame and guilt, wondering if it was somehow their fault.

It’s difficult because family members and friends don’t know if the person was mentally ill or did what he/she did in his/her right mind. (Studies have shown that around 90% of individuals who commit suicide struggle with some form of mental illness—most often depression—and over 50% of those who commit suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.)  And suicide is difficult because of the religious questions. Most Christians believe that suicide is a sin, and many believe that it is an unforgivable sin, leaving no hope for making it to heaven. But what does the Bible actually say?

The Bible records six different suicides: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul and his armor bearer (1 Samuel 31:4-5), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18-19) and Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5). But it may surprise you to learn that the Bible doesn’t offer us a commentary on any of these six suicides. However, we can draw some conclusions about suicide based upon what the Bible tells us about the character of these six individuals.

For example, Abimelech, Saul and Zimri were all murderers. Ahithophel and Judas were both traitors. At times Saul was said to be filled with an evil spirit, and we’re told that Satan entered Judas before he betrayed Jesus. So although Scripture does not offer a commentary on these six suicides, it’s very clear that in the Bible, suicide is associated with individuals who sinned greatly. Furthermore, it’s safe to draw the conclusion that in God’s eyes suicide is murder—self murder.

Whether we end someone else’s life or our own life, suicide is equally murder in God’s eyes because every person has been created in God’s image. Ultimately your life is not yours to take any more than someone else’s life is yours to take. You were made by God; God has numbered your days, and He is the only One who has the right to end your life. Therefore, suicide is the taking of a life created in God’s image—a life God is not through with yet.

So, is suicide a sin? Absolutely! Suicide is murder, which is a very serious sin. But is suicide an unforgivable sin? I believe the clear biblical answer is…no. Although there are verses like 1 John 3:15 and Revelation 22:14-15 that make it clear that unrepentant murderers won’t go to heaven, there are a greater number of verses that indicate that repentant murders can and will be forgiven by God.

Consider the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross who murdered Jesus. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:32-34). How about the repenting thief on the cross who, in all likelihood, was also a murderer? Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Paul and David were both murderers, but we know without a doubt that God forgave them both.

The truth is: God has forgiven many repentant murderers. So it stands to reason that God would also forgive a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ who, for reasons we may never understand, commits suicide. Is suicide disgraceful? Absolutely! But the question is: “Is God’s grace greater than suicide’s disgrace?” I believe the clear biblical answer is…yes. The only sin that we know for sure is “unforgivable” is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Since Christ provides the only true path to forgiveness and heaven, ultimately rejecting him is the only sin that will irreversibly sentence a person to hell.

Sadly, hundreds of thousands of Americans attempt suicide every single year, and 40,000 die each year as the result. That’s roughly equivalent to the populations of Adelanto and Oak Hills combined. This is an absolute tragedy! It is tragic that tens of thousands of Americans feel their lives are so hopeless that death is the only escape. But there is hope! There is always hope in Jesus Christ, because he loves you, laid down his life for you and has an amazing plan for your life.

So, if you are drowning in the depths of discouragement and hopelessness, please don’t give up on your life. Some of the greatest heroes of the Bible—including Elijah, Job, David, and Moses—all struggled with depression and thoughts of death. But every single one of them persevered and experienced God’s relief and blessing in His perfect timing. And so can you! My friend, there is hope. There is always hope in Jesus Christ. And you don’t have to go through your struggle alone. If I or our church family can be of any help to you, contact us. We are here for you. And if you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call 1 (800) SUICIDE. Counselors are available to talk with you 24/7. 
Dane Davis is the lead pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville and the author of  Holy Huldah!: Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

God Deserves Your Very Best

"In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”
– 1 Kings 6:7

In 2005 my wife and I took our first cruise together. We boarded a Royal Caribbean cruise ship at the port in Long Beach, and over the course of our four days on board, we enjoyed scenic stops at the ports of San Diego, Catalina and Ensenada. I had never been to Ensenada before, so my wife and I decided to catch a bus and visit La Bufadora, the famous blowhole located about 40 minutes up the Ensenada coast.

After a harrowing bus ride, we arrived and marveled at the natural beauty of La Bufadora. But the excursion to Ensenada included an added bonus: The walkway between the blowhole and the parking lot was lined with dozens of Mexican vendors selling authentic Mexican food, trinkets and souvenirs. Our oldest daughter was three years old at the time, so after visiting several storefronts my wife and I decided to buy her the perfect souvenir, a small Mexican guitar. It was bright pink, and the gentleman who sold it to us painted our daughter’s name on it for us. We were so pleased with our purchase. But you can imagine my horror when, later that day, I turned the guitar over and noticed a small sticker printed with these three heartbreaking words: “Made in China.”

If you and I had been in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and were able to turn over the LORD’s temple and give its undercarriage a thorough inspection, I guarantee you that there wouldn’t have been a “Made in China” sticker underneath it. King Solomon saw to it that the temple in Jerusalem was the most beautiful and masterfully-crafted building in the history of Israel. No effort or expense was spared. You see, he believed that if he was going to build a temple for God, God deserved his very best. Do you hold to and live out this same conviction?

As we explore 1 Kings 5-7, it’s very clear that Solomon didn’t cut corners when building the temple. He constructed the foundation and walls out of the very best quarried stone. He lined the floors and walls with the very best wood planks. He covered the wood planks with the very best gold. And he employed the very best contractors, craftsmen, artists and foremen to transform the temple’s two-dimensional blueprints into a three-dimensional masterpiece.

And in verse 7 of 1 Kings 6, we read these surprising words: “No hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” Evidently, King Solomon believed that, out of reverence for God and His temple, the construction workers must remain as quiet as possible while building the temple.

As a result, every perfectly sculpted stone was sculpted offsite. Every meticulously trimmed cedar plank was cut to size offsite. Every carving, every furnishing, and every square inch of gold overlay was somehow prepared and installed without the use of a single iron hammer, chisel or saw onsite. To say that this “no-iron-tool” stipulation made the construction project challenging would be a gross understatement. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Solomon gave God his very best, and he did so because he believed that the splendor of the temple should reflect the splendor of the LORD. God was very great; therefore, His temple in Jerusalem must be very great.

Solomon understood how important it is to give God our very best even when nobody else notices, even when no one else cares. And once again I ask you, “Do you give God your very best?” When it’s the Lord’s Day, do you give God your very best worship? When it’s time to sing praises to God, do you give Him your very best praise? When it’s time to study God’s word, do you give Him your undivided attention? When it’s time to give Him your tithes and offerings (Oh no! This one might sting a bit!), do you give God your most generous gift, or do you morph into a penny-pinching cheapskate?

The greatest command in Scripture, according to Jesus, is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” Loving God with 50% of your heart, 75% of your soul or even 95% of your strength will never cut the mustard. God deserves your full and complete love. Perhaps a simple question will help you honestly evaluate yourself: “When God turns over your Christian life, does He find a ‘Made in China’ sticker underneath it?” In other words, is your personal walk of faith as cheap and as fake as my daughter’s Mexican guitar?

If so, it’s high time for you to get rid of the embarrassing sticker underneath your Christianity. Your family sees it. Your friends see it. And most tragically, God can see it. We dare not adopt or peddle a cheap, cookie cutter Christianity. God gave us His very best. In response, we must give Him our very best.    

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Good Preparation Glorifies God

“The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and the men of Gebal cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.” – 1 Kings 5:18
Did you ever own a car that refused to be driven until its engine was warm? My dad did. 

He was the proud owner of a Volvo diesel station wagon. I remember it well. It was a real speedster: 0 to 60 mph in around 45 seconds — assuming there was a tailwind. And it had another marvelous feature: Simply press the accelerator to the floor and a thick plume of black smoke would fend off any would-be tailgaters.

With so many wonderful features, it’s a wonder that my dad allowed me to drive it. But he did, provided I follow this one simple rule: “Make sure you let the car warm up.”

Like most of us, my dad’s Volvo wasn’t fast, flashy or ready to run a marathon five seconds after being awakened from a dead sleep. It needed time to warm up. It had to get its juices flowing and slurp down a cup or two of “joe” before it was ready to roll. In other words, in order to get us to our desired destination, that old Volvo required preparation.

You see, good preparation is vital for old diesels, and it’s just as vital for Christians who aim to glorify God.

In 1 Kings 5, King Solomon set out to do exactly what God had promised King David he would do: build the temple in Jerusalem. The construction of the temple was destined to be the most important building project in Israel’s history. The temple would centralize worship in Jerusalem, and the Ark of the Covenant upon which God’s Spirit remained would be back in the Holy of Holies where God intended it to be. And contrary to popular belief, this massive, strategic building project didn’t rest on a foundation of stone. It actually rested squarely on the foundation of God’s faithful promise.

Several years earlier in 2 Samuel 7:12-13a, the LORD promised David, “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for My Name.” God promised David that his son would build the temple, so God saw to it that Solomon did just that. Why? He did it because God always keeps His word.

Without God’s promise, the temple never would have been built.

With that in mind, here is a little morsel of Scripture-based wisdom to chew on: God’s promises inspire God’s work.

Think about it. Why do you spend your time and energy doing the Christian stuff that you do?
What inspires you to read your Bible? What inspires you to pray? What inspires you to come to church? What inspires you to tithe? What inspires you to share your faith with others and lead them to Christ?

Is it not, in large part, God’s powerful and trustworthy promises that inspire you to do the dozens of things that you do as part of your Christian walk? We faithfully read the Bible because God promises that it will be a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. We faithfully pray because God promises to hear and answer prayer. We faithfully attend church each week not only because God says so, but because God promises to meet with us as we gather in His name. We faithfully tithe because as we give God our first 10%, He promises to open the floodgates of heaven and bless us more than we can imagine. We faithfully share our faith with others because Jesus promises that those who accept him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. We do what we do in response to God’s good and faithful promises. God’s promises are the very foundation of our good works, are they not?

So, consider Philippians 1:6: “I am confident of this, that he who began a work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The fact is, God’s wisdom and power have prepared the way for His will to be carried out in your life. Throughout your lifetime, the Lord has been preparing you to do something significant and impactful that would bring Him much glory.

Every family member in your life, along with every friend, neighbor, teacher, coworker, boss and even your enemies, have been used by God to shape you into the person that you are today. Why has He done this? He has done it so that you can faithfully carry out the marching orders that He has tailor made for you, so that you can bring Him the honor and glory that only you can bring Him.

Isn’t this a remarkable reality to consider? As your life brings the Lord much glory, the very preparation that brought you to this place of bringing Him glory has also brought Him glory. Like me, as you look back over the years of your lifetime, you have a wealth of memories. Some are good. Others are bad. Still others are really ugly. Yet God has used all of these moments and encounters in your lifegood, bad and uglystrategically to bring you to this place in your life. Did God know what He was doing? You better believe He did!

So, don’t miss this golden opportunity to bring a double helping of glory to the Lord. Bring Him glory by lovingly and faithfully carrying out his marching orders today. And as you do, the sum total of all your past relationships and experiences that have shaped you for this moment will also bring Him glory.

You see, years ago the Lord began a good work in you, a work of preparing you. And good preparation glorifies God.