|Q&A Message 4|
|May 6, 2007|
Part 4 of 4 | May 6, 2007
This is the fourth and final message in our Q&A series. During the last few weeks, you have chosen the direction of these messages by submitting questions that you are wrestling with. Questions that you’ve always wondered about. And we’ve devoted the last few messages to answering some of these questions. Obviously I didn’t have time to get to them all in this series. I’m going to try to answer a few more on my blog over the next few weeks. You can get there via our website at ameliachurchofchrist.com.
We’re going to tackle two final questions today in this message. These questions really aren’t connected in any way, but they’re both great questions for us to wrestle with. Let’s jump into it.
Question #1 – Are there ghosts or spirits that stay on earth after death? That’s a nice spooky question to start with, isn’t it?
First of all, we need to understand what happens at death. When we die, our spiritual nature is separated from our physical bodies.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 says that when we die, “the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (NIV)
Last week we talked about how death is part of God’s curse on all creation. It is the result of living in a world that has been forever altered by the presence of sin. Even though death is now part of the natural working of creation, it wasn’t intended to be that way. The spiritual nature and the physical body were not meant to be separated, but that’s what happens now in death.
We know that the body remains here on earth. The body dies and then decays. But what about our spiritual nature? Do the spirits of those who have died hang around here on earth?
The Bible says no. According to Scripture, the souls of the dead are kept by God in the appropriate waiting areas until Judgment Day. The spirits of people who die remain in a temporary state. We know these states are temporary because the Bible is clear that our final eternal destinations will come on the day of God’s judgment. But until then, we can still have this to look forward to as the people of God.
The saved are with the Lord. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, NIV)
Jesus referred to the temporary state of the saved as “paradise” when he spoke with the repentant thief on the cross. Even though it’s a temporary place, it is still a wonderful place without pain or suffering. It’s a place in the presence of God. How awesome is that?
There is a flip-side to this. The lost are kept separated from the saved in a place called Tartarus or Hades.
2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment…” (NIV)
The New International Version of the Bible translates the Greek word “Tartarus” as hell, as do a lot of other translations. But that’s a little misleading because this verse isn’t talking about eternal hell. We can understand from the context that it is not an eternal place. These fallen angels are being held here awaiting the judgment. It’s a temporary state, a waiting area.
As a side note, we learn from this verse that this place of punishment was created for fallen angels or demons. God never intended for our souls to end up here. His intentions are for every soul to be in his presence for all eternity. But at judgment, he will reject all those who have rejected him.
Now, one more Scripture. In Luke 16, we get a snapshot of these two waiting areas. One man named Lazarus is in paradise, the other is unnamed, and he is in Hades.
The man in Hades is begging for just a drop of water on his tongue because he is in incredible agony in the fire of Hades. And Abraham, who is in paradise along with Lazarus, tells him this:
“…between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:26, NIV)
Paradise and Hades are temporary waiting areas where the saved will wait for Heaven and the lost will await Hell. But even though they are temporary, they are impenetrable to anyone but God. Once we are in one of these two states, there is nothing we can do. There is no escape.
So this plays into the question of ghosts or spirits on earth after death? The Bible clearly teaches where our spirits go when they depart from our physical bodies. Staying on earth isn’t an option.
There are some instances in the Bible that seem to pose a contradiction here. For example, what about when the spirit of Samuel appeared to Saul after Samuel had died? In 1 Samuel 28, Saul consulted a medium and asked her to bring up the spirit of Samuel. And Samuel’s spirit actually appeared!
Naturally, Samuel was a bit peeved at this. He said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15a, NIV)
Samuel was enjoying paradise and all of a sudden he has to return to earth. He’s obviously not too happy with that. He’d much rather stay in paradise.
This is a difficult piece of Scripture because it seems to violate a couple of things. One, you can’t get out of paradise or Hades once you’re in. Two, God forbids the occultic practice of contacting the dead. So what happened here?
The answer is that it was a miraculous act of God. God is the only one who can move a spirit from paradise or Hades. And God is the one who made Samuel appear to Saul. It wasn’t the power of this witch, this medium because Samuel appeared before the witch said or did anything. She never gave an incantation, never cast a spell, nothing. This was an act of God alone.
Some would probably bring up John Edward here. John is known worldwide as a spiritualist medium. He’s got a show on the We network called Cross Country. He’s also got a famous talk show called Crossing Over. John Edward has “comforted” many people by contacting a deceased loved one.
This is a direct contradiction to Scripture. God said, “Let no one be found among you who…casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)
We see that it’s an obvious sin from what the Bible says, but is the whole John Edward thing even real? I can’t say for sure. It could be all fake. Or it could be a very real spiritual experience.
Sometimes we like to imagine that life is like a Scooby-Doo cartoon. In those old cartoons, Scooby and his gang were confronted with all kinds of weird and spooky phenomena. But at the end, there was never anything spiritual happening. Everything always had a physical explanation. If it was some kind of creature, it was always somebody in a costume. If something was flying around, it was always hooked to a cable or a rope. If something walked through a wall, there was always a secret door. If you could see through a ghost or something, it was always a hologram from a projector. (The villains in Scooby-Doo really had some incredible technology considering that it was the 1970’s.)
We like to imagine that life is like Scooby-Doo. If you look hard enough, there’s always a physical explanation. But that just isn’t the case. John Edward may be a big fake. It may all have a physical explanation. Or he could legitimately be contacting the spirit world.
If he really is contacting the spiritual realm, is he talking with actual dead people? According to what we’ve seen from Scripture, that would seem to be impossible barring a miraculous move of God. It’s a lot more likely that he is speaking to demons who are masquerading as dead people. And therein lies the danger. It is opening up the door to Satanic, demonic forces that are very real and very dangerous.
I know some of you are probably a little freaked out by all this stuff. It sounds scary to say that demons are real and they are active, but it is the truth. If you believe in angels, then you have to believe in demons. Scripture is very clear about the reality of demons.
Romans 8 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)
I love these verses because they readily teach us that demons are real, but also that they are powerless to separate us from God’s love for us. So as long as we remain faithful to God, we need to be aware but not afraid of Satan and his demonic forces.
Question #2 – How do I turn my problems over to Jesus?
This is a great final question for our Q&A series because it hits us all where we live.
Did you know that America is exporting stress? Yep, just like Coke, Visa, and CNN, we’re exporting stress. Specifically, we’re exporting the actual English word, “stress.” That word has worked its way into most major languages around the world.
And that’s probably because stress is a universal human condition. We all struggle with it at different levels, but we all struggle with it.
God has some very specific instructions as to what we’re supposed to do with this stress.
The Bible tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV)
This is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible because it’s a great snapshot of just how much God cares for us; how much he cares about what happens to us.
Let’s unpack this verse a little bit. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
What are we supposed to with our anxieties, problems, worries? Cast them on God. This Greek word that is translated “cast” carries this idea of throwing something upon something else. This word was normally used for throwing a riding blanket or a saddle onto a horse or a donkey. When you throw a saddle on a horse, what does he do? He carries it on his back. The weight of the saddle is 100% supported by the horse. That’s the exact idea that this verse conveys. Taking our cares, problems, and anxieties, and throwing them onto God’s back, allowing him to carry them from now on.
We also need to notice that next word: all. When it comes to our problems, the things that worry us and stress us out, God wants it all. It doesn’t say to cast “some” of your anxiety on God. It doesn’t say to cast “most” of your anxiety on God. There is an entirety to this. Cast “all” of your anxiety on God.
When was the last time you threw half a saddle on a horse’s back, but then tried to carry the other half yourself? It’s not hard to see that that just wouldn’t work. And that’s the illustration here. If were supposed to throw our burdens and anxieties onto God’s back just like throwing a saddle on a horse, then we logically have to throw the whole saddle of our anxiety. It’s really all or not at all.
There’s one more word we need to key in on: you. You can cast the entire load of your cares on God because he cares for you. He cares for you individually. J.B. Phillips said, “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” We said earlier in this series that you are God’s all-consuming passion. His thoughts are filled with you every minute of every day. He cares for you.
This all sounds great, doesn’t it? But it can be hard to do. The reason most of us struggle with actually doing this is that, somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed things to go out of focus. We’ve either let our view of ourselves or our view of God go out of focus. So, just like the lens on a camera or the dial on an old TV, we’ve got to turn the knob until we get things to come back into focus.
Maybe the problem is that our view of ourselves is out of focus. We take the, “I can handle it” approach. We believe that we’re capable of handling our lives ourselves. We’re self-sufficient, pull-ourselves-up-by-our-own-bootstraps Americans. So we don’t tell anybody else about our problems, including God. Keep things inside, keep things to yourself. Work it out yourself.
What this attitude will inevitably produce is a person who is suffering; they just suffer in silence. Can’t tell anybody. Can’t enlist help from anybody. Including God.
The arrogant “I can handle it myself” attitude leads to inevitable suffering because the truth is that we can’t handle everything ourselves. We need other people, and we most certainly need God.
Let’s look at our verse from 1 Peter in context with the preceding verse. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NIV)
You won’t allow anyone else to help you or minister to you, and you certainly won’t cast your anxieties on God if you miss this first step. The first step is a humble view of yourself and your abilities to handle all the curveballs of your life.
But for some of us, our problem is on the other extreme. We take the, “God isn’t concerned about me” approach.
Yeah, that verse from 1 Peter says, “God cares for you.” But that “you” doesn’t mean “me.” I mean, it would be different if I was different. I’m sure God cares about the religious people. The preachers, church leaders, the Mother Theresas of the world. But this is me we’re talking about. God wouldn’t concern himself with me. Not with all my baggage. Not with my past. Not me.
If that’s the camp you’re in, let me be blunt: you’re calling God a liar and you’re saying that the cross is worthless. God has said specifically in his word that he cares for you. And if you don’t believe that, you’re calling him a liar. And, by extension, you believe that Jesus died for nothing, that the cross is powerless. If God doesn’t care about you, it means he can’t save you. And If Jesus’ death can’t save you, then it can’t save anybody. It is absolutely meaningless.
The Bible clearly says that God cares for you. And maybe you need to refocus your view of yourself. Once you see yourself as a child loved by God, once you see yourself as a prince or a princess of the King, then it becomes second-nature to give your anxieties and worries to him…because you know how much he cares for you.
Our problem with all the stress and worry in our lives may be that our view of ourselves is out of focus.
Or it could be that our view of God is out of focus. It could be that we believe that God can’t really handle the issues and stresses and worries of our lives.
Psalm 55:22 in the Old Testament sounds remarkably like our verse from 1 Peter in the New Testament, with one key addition. It says, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…” (Psalm 55:22, NIV)
Both verses tell us to cast, or throw, our cares and anxieties on God. But they both highlight a different reason why we can do that. The verse from 1 Peter says that we can do that because of God’s love. He cares for us. The verse from Psalms says we can do that because of God’s strength. He will sustain us. So for us to find a way to give our troubles and stresses to God, we have to fully believe, not only in God’s love, but also in his power and strength.
Earlier this year when I was sawing up some wood at my house, my almost three-year-old son Ryan was outside with me. He wanted to help me carry some of the wood. He seemed to gravitate toward the biggest pieces. “I’ll carry this one for you, daddy.” But I knew he couldn’t handle it. It was too big and too heavy for him. But finally I got tired of him asking, so I decided he would learn best by just experiencing it. So I let him carry a heavy log. He grunted and stumbled under the weight of that log, but he was slowly making his way to the wood pile. I was actually kind of impressed. But then the weight got to be too much for him, and he fell down, face first into the woodpile. All because I wouldn’t listen to that inner voice telling me, “You know that’s too heavy for him. You know he can’t handle that kind of load.”
A lot of us treat God like a three-year-old. “God, you may want to carry my load, but let’s be realistic. It’s just too big and too heavy for you to handle.” And therefore we hang onto our worries and anxieties.
There is another way our view of God can go out of focus, and a whole lot more of us fall into this category.
We take the approach that God’s will can’t be trusted.
We usually worry about how something is going to work out and whether or not we’ll like the outcome. That is normally the source of stress in our lives.
The Bible reminds us, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21, NLT)
Nothing can thwart God’s plans. Nothing can derail his purpose. So that should be a source of comfort for me, but instead it tends to increase my stress because I’m concerned, not with God’s will, but with my will.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “Fretfulness springs from a determination to get my own way.”
I know what I want, I know how this should work out, and therefore I’m stressed. It will work out in accordance with God’s will, but God’s will and my will might just be two separate things.
When it comes to this issue of turning over our problems and worries to God, it comes down to a question of focus. Seeing ourselves in the right focus. Seeing ourselves humbly, knowing that we are unable to handle things ourselves. And also seeing ourselves as a dearly loved child of God.
And then seeing God in the right focus. Knowing that God is big enough to handle your load of worry, however big it may be. And trusting God’s will more than your own desires.
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