Is Suicide The Unpardonable Sin?

It’s always interesting to hear people talk about things in the Bible that aren’t actually in the Bible. Like that time when Moses told us that cleanliness is next to godliness. Or Jesus’ parable about Johnny beating up the devil with a fiddle. 

But there’s another statement from the Bible that isn’t actually in the Bible. And this one is much more painful.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of suicides in the news. Celebrities have killed themselves. Even pastors of large churches have done it. And it forces many people to ask a familiar question.

Will Christians who kill themselves still go to heaven? Doesn’t the Bible say that suicide is the unpardonable sin?

To be fair, the Bible does speak of what some call an unpardonable sin.

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:22-30 (ESV)

This passage disturbs a lot of people. And it should. But the problem is that most people get disturbed for the wrong reasons. They fear that something they said about or to God 20 years ago will keep them from Heaven, even though they have repented and lived under the lordship of Christ for all of these years. Others think that Jesus is saying that suicide is the one sin that will keep people from inheriting eternal life.

To get a better grasp on this passage we need to understand that Jesus isn’t talking about one particular word or even one action that can keep us from him, as if a sin like suicide is somehow beyond the reach of the cross. Instead, Jesus is saying that it is possible for someone to reject the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance so many times that he has exhausted God’s patience and saving grace. That’s the danger the religious leaders were playing with as they continued to reject Jesus and categorize him with Satan.

God is infinite in his wisdom and power. His patience, on the other hand, does have limits. That is what Jesus is driving at in this passage.

Suicide is a sin. It is a person’s attempt to take his own life out of God’s hands, thinking that he knows better than the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Suicide wrecks families. It multiplies the already painful sting of death for those who are left behind.

But it is not the unpardonable sin.

Thankfully for Christians, our eternal destination is not determined by the last thing that we do here on earth. Consider the following illustration.

A married Christian man is sitting on a bench at the mall while he waits for his wife to finish shopping. He notices a woman walking by. The woman is woefully underdressed. It’s clear that her agenda that day was to draw attention to herself. And this married Christian man was more than willing to help that woman with her agenda. Rather than quickly turning away, his eyes lock in on her. Rather than seeing her as a human being in need of the gospel, he treats her like a piece of meat behind the glass at the grocery store. Without question, this man is lusting. He is breaking the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-30).

And then his heart stops beating. Right there in the mall, on the bench, while his wife shops. This Christian married man dies and immediately enters the presence of God.

If you hold to another so-called biblical teaching that’s not actually in the Bible – the one that says you can lose your salvation, this man is in real trouble. We all are.

But thankfully, God keeps who he saves (Romans 8:29-39; 1 Peter 1:3-7; Luke 22:31-28; John 10:22-42; John 17:9-12). 

That’s no license to pray some kind of a sinner’s prayer and go about living as we please until we get to Heaven. That’s not genuine salvation. Saving faith is fruit-producing faith (James 2:14-26). Instead, it is a reminder of the saving and keeping grace of the Lord Jesus. It’s a reminder of his grace that is greater than all our sin. It is motivation to carry on in our fight against sin.

Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.

That one’s not in the Bible either. But it is true. Many times our imperfections can be quite dark. But because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross and because Jesus Christ is alive today, when imperfect Christians die and stand before their Master, they will be recognized with just one word.

Forgiven.

How To Ruin Your Kid’s Next Sporting Event

Everyone wants to see their kid excel at something. Follow these simple steps and maybe yours will too. 

1. When your kid is moving slow, assume that he’s being lazy. And go ahead. Let him know that in front of everybody.

It could be that your kid is just trying to figure things out. Or maybe his coach didn’t want him to be running in a full sprint at that particular moment when you looked up from your Twitter feed. Nah. I’m sure he’s just a lazy slob. Yell away!

2. Blame it all on the coach.

Have long, unscheduled conferences with the coach before and after games and practices. Send him at least three e-mails a day. Question him from the sidelines. Just do whatever it takes to let that coach and everyone else within shouting distance know that he’s the reason why your fourth grader can’t dunk yet. Certainly, it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that your kid is well, how do I put this, in the fourth grade!

3.Treat the sport as an extended daycare for you to get away from your small child.

“Now just remember, Billy. Mr. Coachy man will be your parent for the next one to three and a half hours. This is mommy time. Don’t go getting hurt now.”

4. Remember, it’s never good enough.

So your kid just hit a home run. Great! But why didn’t he do it during his last at bat? And why does he only have two home runs all year? These questions are best asked out in the open. In front of your kid. And his friends. And their parents. And the groundskeepers. You wouldn’t want your son going and getting the big head now, would you?

5. Constantly compare you kid to the best kids on his team.

Never mind the fact that all kids are different and develop at different paces. And forget about the things that your kid excels at that none of the other kids do. Just focus on the things that all of the other kids do better than your son. 

6. Question his manhood.

Remind him that real men do good at sports. You know, like all of those real men you see on TV who can’t stop doing drugs and beating up women. Real men. Manly men.

So there you have it. Simply following these six steps is sure to make your kid excel at your, I mean his favorite sport. Just don’t be surprised later on when you find out that he’s not nearly as happy as you are.

I Never Got To Meet Truett Cathy

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I never got to meet Truett Cathy.

On Sunday night, my wife told me that Mr. Cathy wasn’t doing well.

On Monday morning, I got the news that he had died.

I felt like I had lost a life-long friend. In a way, I did.

My first job, as far as the IRS is concerned, was at the Chick-fil-a in the Southlake Mall on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia. I grew up eating at Chick-fil-a. When I started working there people told me that I’d never want to eat a Chick-fil-a sandwich again. They told me that having them for break everyday and seeing all of the dirt and grime back in the kitchen would bring a quick change to my dietary habits.

They were wrong.

I did eat Chick-fil-a everyday at work. It never got old.

And there was no dirt and grime in the whole store. You could eat off of the bathroom floor in that place.

That doesn’t just happen. The brand of excellence one consistently finds at Chick-fil-a is the result of the strong leadership of Truett Cathy. And it’s the result of a lot of hard work.

I didn’t really appreciate working at Chick-fil-a until I left. Some of the managers were tough. One always said, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” I hated that. But I was learning something, indirectly, from a man I never met.

I was learning the value of hard work.

Years later, long after my working days at Chick-fil-a were done, I was having lunch with a man who was in charge of a ministry that provided housing for kids with no place else to go. He was telling me all about his passion and his mission. After lunch, he took me on a tour of his place. There were little houses everywhere. As we drove along, he would stop to tell me something about each one. One house was for unwed young mothers. Another one was for boys. Each house had something that set it apart from the rest.

But there was one constant.

Truett Cathy.

“Truett gave us the washer and dryer for that house.”

“Truett paid for this one to be remodeled.”

I learned something else that day from the man that I never met.

Hard work and the rewards that come with it serve a greater purpose than simply having more stuff than the other guy. Followers of Christ use the fruit of their hard work to love God and their neighbor. Truett Cathy was a hard worker. And that hard work really paid off for him. But above any of that, Truett Cathy was a follower of Christ.

It’s easy to think that God’s two favorite jobs are pastor and missionary, as if people in those positions are the only ones who can be serious about following Jesus full-time. Truett showed us the truth. He showed us that, while they have their own place and function, a chicken sandwich can bring just as much glory to God as a sermon. Especially when that chicken sandwich is crafted with excellence and its fruit benefits “orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

I’m sorry that I never got to meet Truett Cathy. And I’m sorry that my kids will only know him through second-hand stories. But at least they can still reap the benefits of his chicken sandwich.

And maybe even one day, like their dad, they too can learn valuable lessons from Mr. Cathy.

A man they’ll never meet.

Here on earth, at least.

The Monday Morning Quarterback

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1. The Ohio State Buckeyes and The New Orleans Saints both lost over the weekend. An angel smiled.

2. The Dallas Cowboys are terrible. However, for some reason, Fox saw fit to make their game against San Francisco the game of the week. I’m guessing that by the end of October when Michael Sam is playing quarterback for a winless Cowboy’s team, the Cowboys will still be playing in Fox’s Game of the Week. The Cowboys are a lot like Obamacare. Everyone knows they’re bad. Everyone, that is, except for the people in charge of putting stuff on TV.

3. Big Ten fans are already starting to count down the days until the college hockey season starts.

4. On Sunday I drove in front of Georgia Tech’s campus with my wife and two sons. They all booed. My work here is done.

5. At the beginning of every season, the NFL tries it’s hardest to remind us that a.) Peyton Manning used to play for Indianapolis and b.) Peyton Manning has a brother who also plays quarterback in the NFL.

6. Not many people have it easier in life than the backup kicker.

7. My wife told me that two of her favorite things are breakfast for dinner and the NFL. We enjoyed both on Sunday night. I married up.

Until next week, happy footballing.

Asleep At The Post

The world is on fire. And one of the groups that can do the most to put out those fires isn’t doing too much. Many of them are asleep at their post.

There are two types of evil children.

One is what we might call Cute Evil. This is the evil that less cautious parents laugh at. It’s the rolled eye at a young age that makes the witless father say, “See there, she’s like her mother already.” It’s the laziness that doesn’t go unnoticed by parents, just uncorrected. It’s the embarrassing temper tantrum that only draws attention but never draws discipline. All because it looks cute.

And then there is the other evil. This is the Your Kid Just Might Grow Up To Be Charlie Manson type of evil. This is the rebellion that is bold and daring. It’s the hurtful word that is used with deadly precision. 

I’ve seen both types. I’ve seen it in shopping centers and I’ve seen it during jailhouse visits. I’m no statistician or sociologist. I’m just a husband and a pastor trying my best to train my children up the right way. But there’s something that I’ve noticed in my encounters with these two types of evils. Something that children from both categories seem to be missing. 

A father.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of kids who are raised by single mothers who turn out to be solid adults. And there are just as many kids who grow up with a father in the home but who still make regular appearances on your late local news for all of the wrong reasons. But a dad can be at home and still not be on the job. It’s possible for a man to be at his post but not really at his post.

My grandfather fought in the South Pacific during World War II. He brought a lot of stories back with him. He would share some of them with me when I was a kid. My favorite one involved one of those men who was at his post but not really at his post.

My grandfather was spending the night in a hole in the ground. Two other men were with him. The plan was to take turns sleeping while one man pulled guard duty. After his shift was over my grandfather refused to go to sleep. It’s not that he wasn’t tired. It’s just that he didn’t trust the man who was taking his place. He knew that having him on duty meant having no one on duty. So my grandfather slept with one eye opened. That is to say, he didn’t really sleep.

I’m glad.

Early into the shift, the man charged with keeping watch fell asleep. Out of his one eye that was opened, my grandfather noticed an enemy soldier slowly crawling up to the hole that he was sharing with his friends.

Seeing as how you’re reading this today, you can probably guess how my grandfather reacted. 

Like I said, it’s possible for a man to be at his post but not really at his post. It’s true on a battlefield and it’s true in the home. The only difference is that in the home, my grandfather isn’t there to play back up for the scores of so-called fathers who are asleep at their post while countless enemies come creeping for their children.

Politicians and community activists tell us that it takes a village to raise a child. Feminists and trend setters in the world of education would like to convince us that Heather and her two mommies are doing just fine, thank you.

But reality is telling us something completely different. 

Kids need fathers. They don’t need couch dwellers. They don’t need dictators. They don’t need overaged buddies. And they certainly don’t need some guy who is asleep at his post.

Kids need fathers.

I know that such a claim sounds politically incorrect. It’s not my aim to pit one parent against the other. Fathers are not more important than mothers. Both matter. Both are needed. Both must work together.

But in our rush to prove our forward thinking, it seems as though we’ve gotten too advanced for the concept of fatherhood. Dads have gone the way of MC Hammer’s pants – so last century. 

And would you just look at what that’s gotten us. Generations of cute little evil kids. And thousands more who are sure to find their names in the paper, not for achievements in athletics or academics but police blotter.

There are two types of evil for a small child.

There are also two types of fathers for a small child.

One father is asleep at his post. The other is engaged. He’s active. He’s kneeling in prayer for his kid. He’s standing up for his kid when predators come. He’s standing up to his kid when evil rears its ugly head. 

If you’re the dad who’s trying to do it the right way, keep it up. None of us are perfect. Don’t get discouraged. Stay the course. If you’re the woman married to that man, pray for him, love him and encourage him. He’s more of a blessing to your family than you realize.

Perhaps you’re the dad who is asleep at his post and someone sent this your way to read and to consider. You need to thank that person. More than that, you need to wake up. Whether you realize it or not, no matter how small, cute and intelligent your child may be, he’s evil. Just like the rest of us. And that evil carries with it consequences that he will have to give an account for. 

Your kid’s behavior has nothing to do with President Obama, radical Islam, “times getting bad” or “the wrong crowd.” It has a lot more to do with you being asleep at your post.

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul tells fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It’s interesting that he doesn’t just say for us to bring our children up in discipline and instruction. That’s because all fathers are bringing their children up in the discipline and instruction of something. The sleeping father brings his child up in the discipline of demons and the instruction of insanity.

Is it any wonder that the world is on fire? 

The 2014 Pastoral Ramblings Football Predictions

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Football season is officially underway. That means that you can quit pretending to care about baseball. It also means that it’s time for the 2014 Pastoral Ramblings Football Predictions. Here are 10 things that you can count on happening this year.

1. Glen Steward Godwin is number one on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. He’s escaped from prison a couple of times, he’s murdered and he’s trafficked drugs. Sometime within the next week, he’ll be caught. By mid November he’ll be playing for Auburn. In December, he’ll win the Heisman Trophy.

2. Michael Sam will be cut by the St. Louis Rams. By executive order, President Barack Obama will charge head coach Jeff Fisher with a hate crime and name a bridge after Michael Sam. ESPN will have wall to wall coverage.

3. Steve Spurrier will throw things. Judging by last night’s loss to Texas A&M, he’ll be throwing a lot of things.

4. An Ohio State fan will say the following statement at least four times this year.

“I hated to lose that game to ________________ (insert: Akron, Ohio University or Mercer). But we play in the Big 10 so we still have a shot.”

Somehow, a 4 loss Ohio State team will end up playing a 7 loss Notre Dame team in a New Year’s Day bowl.

5. At some point in the season the quarterback of your favorite team will say the following statement word for word.

“Well, you know, it was a tough loss but it is what it is so we’re just gonna have to take it one game at a time.”

6. Stanford will beat Cal on a last second hail mary only to have the touchdown overturned by the American Atheist Society for using offensive religious terminology.

7. The Dallas Cowboys will lose seven games this year. You won’t be able to turn on your television or radio without hearing about the Dallas Cowboys.

8. A Georgia Tech fan will lose 75% of his Facebook fans simply for saying, “This is our year,” after the Jackets beat Presbyterian by three touchdowns. The remaining 25% of those Facebook friends will keep sending him Farmville requests.

9. There will be one week where the most interesting game on television will be Hawaii versus Army. You’ll watch your very first WNBA game that day. And then you’ll wish that you had watched Hawaii versus Army instead.

10. Georgia will go undefeated and win the national championship. Some Georgia fan will still want to fire Coach Mark Richt.

Enjoy the football season, everyone.

Oh, and Go Dawgs!

One Of Those Churches

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There’s no such thing as a perfect church. But there are plenty of really good churches. I’m happy to belong to one of them. Almost every day, God puts a visual reminder in front of me to show how beautiful his church is.

On Saturday, he sent Betty Lewis my way. She was pushing a cart with a bunch of chicken on it. There was about to be a funeral. That’s what Betty and her friends do when there’s about to be a funeral. They make sure that the family is fed. No one ever asks them to do it. They just do it. And it may not seem like that big of a deal. Unless you’re the grieving widow who is hungry but doesn’t feel like cooking and could really use some company.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

Last Saturday, seeing Betty Lewis push that cart full of chicken reminded me that I belong to a church where people care about each other.

Every Sunday morning we start our worship service off with prayer. It’s not just any prayer. Every man in the church is invited to come down to the front of the sanctuary to pray for God’s protection and provision over the service. Old men come. Young boys come with their fathers. I’m down there too.

Maybe it’s not hip. Maybe it disrupts the flow of the service. I don’t care. It makes me happy to see men taking a lead in prayer.

They took a lead last Wednesday night too.

A lady in our church had just found out that she was sick. Her husband called me on Wednesday morning and asked if the leaders of the church could pray over her.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14 (ESV)

I was at the front of the line. Behind me, there were almost 20 men. One at a time, they came by, put their hand on their sister in Christ and prayed for God to make her better.

Seeing all of those men pray reminds me that I belong to a church that takes prayer seriously.

When I sit behind my desk, to my right there is a file drawer. Most of the file folders are empty. But there’s one that really should be broken up into two folders. The name on the tab at the top of the file folder is Letters. They are letters of encouragement. Some tell me to have a happy birthday. Some say good job. But they are all expressions of love.

I don’t take this for granted.

For a lot of pastors, their folder with the tab reading Hate Mail From Committees is filling up the whole drawer. They don’t have a letters drawer like I do. Not because they’re doing something wrong. It’s just that they lead a congregation full of leaking faucets (Proverb 27:15). When I open my file drawer, I’m reminded that I do not. And I am thankful.

We’ve gotten church wrong over the years. We’ve convinced ourselves that the church should be a cutting edge factory where we fight hard to stay ahead of cultural trends. Some treat it like one of those big box members only stores. They sign up but never show up until they need a spiritual pick me up. Or 200 rolls of toilet paper.

In reality, the church is the body of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the pastor. He’s the reason for the church. He’s the example for the church. His glory is the goal of the church. When we remember that and put it into practice, nothing else matters. Not carpet color. Not worship style. Nothing else.

Just loving Jesus and loving others.

I’m glad to be a part of one of those churches.

Christian, Nothing Will Happen To You Today

There are very few guarantees. You can’t be sure what will happen to you today. Things could be bad. The earthquake could hit your town. The siren could stop at your door. We can’t be sure.

But if you are a Christian, there’s something you can be sure of.

Nothing will happen to you today.

Nothing will happen to you today that God can’t redeem.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:18-20 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will diminish the source of your joy.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that is beyond God’s forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that is outside of the loving control of Jesus Christ.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will separate you from your Creator.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)

Nothing will happen to you today that will take away your inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

This day could end up being a bad one for you. I hope not but it could. We just don’t know. But when you lay your head down tonight to go to sleep, you will still be able to say that nothing happened to you today.

Nothing.

Nothing but the overwhelming love of Jesus played out before you in a thousand different ways.

Does He Have More Faith Than Anyone In Your Church?

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I have more faith than anyone else in my church.

I believe that the Bible is God’s word.

I sincerely believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

I believe that he never sinned.

I believe that he is the Son of God.

I believe that he was crucified.

I believe that he died and was buried.

I believe that he rose from death on the third day.

I was there for it all. And it all scares me. I shudder just thinking about it. But I believe.

The people at my church are different. Their faith isn’t as strong as mine. It wasn’t always that way. I was assigned there a century ago when the people really believed. Jesus being crucified wasn’t just head knowledge for them. It was a truth that came from their hearts and played itself out in what they said with their mouths and did with their hands.

That too was a really scary time for me.

But with a lot of work, I got things under control.

Now concepts like the virgin birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection are just that. Concepts. Most of the people in the church check all of those boxes. But their belief never leaves their heads. It hasn’t found its way to their hearts and it certainly doesn’t make a difference in what they do or what they say.

We believe that the Bible is God’s word.

We sincerely believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

We believe that he never sinned.

We believe that he is the Son of God.

We believe that he was crucified.

We believe that he died and was buried.

We believe that he rose from death on the third day.

Our beliefs will do us no good when Jesus returns to settle his score. The only works they have produced in me is my shuddering spirit. But that’s more than I can say for the people at my church. Their beliefs have produced nothing. Their belief alone will do them no good when the Enemy returns.

Their faith without works will condemn them to hell.

And by hell’s power, I’m fighting to keep it that way.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! James 2:19 (ESV)