Thursday, June 30, 2011

True or False?

"Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine...But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King." -Jeremiah 10:7,8,10a

Did you ever consider that the Lord is the only true God? Or did you ever consider that He is the only living God and everlasting King? Did you ever consider that despite all that is seemingly out of control in our world, He is still the King of the nations?

I know that we all mentally affirm these facts about God, but often we don't live like it is true. We often worship our 'wooden idols' as we go throughout the day. We look to Facebook for advice before we stop and pray to the living God. We act as if we are supreme rulers of our own lives.

I encourage you this morning to bow to the King of the nations. Submit yourself to the only true God. Give the living God and everlasting King complete rule of your life. Seek his counsel, fear Him, for this is His rightful due.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One Thing the Lord Delights In

“Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the LORD.” -Jeremiah 9:23-24

Scripture teaches that there is no one who seeks after God and that there is no one that even measures up to His holy standard (Romans 3). Since this is true, no man has anything to boast about. No one has done anything of merit. No one is born with any inherent value. No one knows or understands any wisdom of real value. No one has any reason to boast or glory in himself.

The Lord says something significant here in Jeremiah 9. The Lord delights in those that know and understand who He is. The Lord delights in those that know and understand His mercy, His judgment, and His righteousness. Think about it—the Lord delights in this sort of people. Sinful people.

Jesus shared a similar thought in John 17:3 – “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life is in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul demonstrates this for us in Philippians 3:10 – “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…”

There is one thing of value to pursue. There is one thing that the Lord delights in—knowing Him. Reader, pursue this one thing with all that you are. Put all your effort into it. Know Him. Seek to understand the character of God. Seek to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. See how it transforms your life completely.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Titus 3: Effective Church Evangelism

Effective Evangelism Requires:

1.       A Grace-filled Testimony – v. 1-3

In context, Paul is instructing Titus in what to say to those who despise Titus when he speaks, exhorts, and rebukes with all authority. The content of what Paul instructs Titus is exactly what is needed in effective evangelism. These despisers ought to have been subject to rulers and authorities, to obey. They ought to have been ready for every good work. They ought to speak evil to no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. In essence, Paul says that they ought to be displaying the fruit of the Spirit not the works of the flesh.

Paul doesn’t stop there. He reminds Titus that we, ourselves, were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. Paul reminds Titus that he and Titus both used to be exactly what these despisers are. Paul subtly reminds Titus that it is only by grace that he is what he is.

A believer with a grace-filled testimony will be able to demonstrate from his life the radical change that takes place when he trusted Christ. He will be able to show that God’s grace has completely transformed his thoughts, words, and actions. He will be able to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh.

Grace-filled testimonies are needed in the church today. I believe that a works-based salvation has crept into the church unawares. You know when we see it the most? We see it when something bad happens to someone in the church. Let’s say that it was you. Let’s say that you lost someone you love. Your response to God will show what you really believe about Him. A works-based salvation responds like this: “I was good (I went to church, sang songs, tithed, helped at VBS)…and this is how You repay me?!” A grace-based salvation will display itself through realizing that God is still in control. Yes, both will still wrestle with emotions, but a grace-based salvation will still acknowledge God as being in control.

The world needs to hear grace-filled testimonies. They need to hear the radical change that God has brought to your life. They need to hear that you didn’t deserve God’s salvation. They need to see that they don’t deserve it either.

2.       A Grace-filled Gospel – v. 4-8

Grace-filled testimonies are not enough. The lost need to hear a grace-filled Gospel. Look at the text: Kindness, the love of God our Savior, not by works of righteousness, His mercy, He saved us, through the washing of regeneration, through renewing of the Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit was poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, justified by His grace, we become heirs, hope, eternal life, this is a faithful saying, affirm constantly, those who believed…maintain good works, good, profitable. What an amazing string of verses! You could preach for years on those four verses! There is enough doctrine in those short sentences to fill volumes!

A grace-filled gospel reaches the lost. “For by grace are you saved through faith.” This is the heart of effective evangelism. If there was one aspect that could stand alone, this would be it. Think about it, you can’t merely have a good testimony and a nice church to reach people. That pretty much sums up all the Christians in American churches. Nice church and a good testimony. How much effective evangelism is really taking place as a result of those two things?

3.       A Grace-filled Church – v. 9-15

A grace-filled church is effective in evangelism. They have a good testimony with the outside because they avoid foolish contentions and divisive people. They realize that such things are unprofitable. In fact, a grace-filled church rejects the men that are divisive. A grace-filled church rejects sin. A grace-filled church maintains good works and meets urgent needs. A grace-filled church is filled with love for those in the faith.

In order for church evangelism to be effective, a church must have grace. Grace between believers and grace towards unbelievers. This is the bare minimum requirement of effective church evangelism. We can at least show that we can treat one another with God’s love. We can at least set aside our difference between each other for the sake of God’s grace. We can at least work together for the sake of the gospel.

Effective church evangelism needs grace-filled testimonies, a grace-filled gospel, and grace-filled churches. 

Book Review: Erasing Hell

What God said about eternity, and the things we've made up
by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle

Rather than refer to 'Chan and Sprinkle' in this book review (though it would sound pretty funny and probably remind you of some crunchy breakfast cereal from your childhood), I'll assume what the book assumes in the introduction and review from the perspective that Francis Chan wrote the book.

This is a remarkably easy book to read. At 163 pages of text (including the appendix), it only took me 4 hours to read it. And that was with a 40 minute meeting thrown in there. It is a book that I was excited to read, though quickly rebuked by the introduction. The introduction states, "If you are excited to read this book, you have issues." That didn't make me feel too good, but served as a needed rebuke and attitude check on this whole conversation about hell.

Erasing Hell is an attempt to add another voice to the current, on-going conversation about the doctrine of Hell, instigated by Rob Bell's Love Wins. Chan adds a needed perspective to this discussion: pastoral. Chan constantly urges the reader to evaluate thoughts and what they mean practically to daily life. In fact, I found myself rebuked on a number of occasions while I read this book. Nothing said in the book is mean-spirited or unkind. And each chapter ends with the focus turned back upon the reader and what it means for daily life.

Chan says surprisingly little about Rob Bell and Love Wins. He quotes Love Wins a few times to contrast with the teaching of Scripture, but from the way that Erasing Hell is written, you wouldn't think that this book is in response to Love Wins. Again, I think that Chan has done an excellent job in simply adding another voice to a conversation and has helped avoid turning it into an argument.

I felt that the most compelling chapter was the fifth chapter entitled, What does all this have to do with me? In it, Chan takes some time to share some devotional thoughts about some various passages from Scripture and what that means for the reader. Chan compels the reader to evaluate whether or not these things that Jesus says deserve hell are a part of your life. It is quite gripping and convicting.

Erasing Hell is a refreshing pastoral voice in this heated (pun intended) discussion about hell. Rather than focus on the discussion at hand, Chan chooses to focus on what really matters, namely, your life.

Set Apart, Called, Strengthened

“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." Then said I: "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth." But the LORD said to me: "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.” -Jeremiah 1:4-9

The Lord had set Jeremiah apart before his birth. The name Jeremiah even means ‘chosen by God.’ See, Jeremiah was a young man when God called him to be a prophet. In fact, Jeremiah may have been younger than you think. The word he uses to describe himself is the same as our word for child. Young, inexperienced, fearful, intimidated by the people God called him to preach to, this is the Jeremiah we are introduced to in the beginning of his book.

Humanly speaking, Jeremiah was too young, too weak, and too afraid to be a prophet for God. But God had a specific purpose in mind for Jeremiah. He had ordained Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations. This was a privileged position. Most prophets in the Old Testament had a specific word to say to a specific people. Jeremiah was to be a prophet to the nations. I would be intimidated by such a calling!

Jeremiah couldn’t do this by his own strength. However, Jeremiah had the reassurance of the Lord. The Lord promised Jeremiah, “I am with you to deliver you”. The Lord, himself, was with Jeremiah, empowering him, putting His own words in Jeremiah’s mouth. Only through this promise would Jeremiah be able to successfully minister the word of the Lord to the people.

Has God called you to a ministry? Has He set you apart for a specific purpose? Remember your calling. Your calling will give you confidence in the ministry, reassurance when times are tough, and a boldness to speak the words that God wants you to speak. You may seem too young, too weak, and too afraid to minister successfully for the Lord, but if God has called you to speak, then speak! May you never speak any words but His.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's Love Wins

By Michael E. Wittmer
156 pages. Published by Edenridge Press, 2011

This is the first of hopefully many books to be published in response to Love Wins. The purpose of the book is clear both from the title and from the introduction. Wittmer states in his introduction, “I respect Rob Bell. He wrote Love Wins to start a dialogue about the most important issues of our faith, and this book is my attempt as an evangelical to join that conversation.

I appreciate the tone and clarity that Wittmer is able to bring to this book. He never lashes out or says harsh things against Rob Bell, or even Bell’s book. Wittmer simply points out sections from Love Wins and then seeks to give a biblical response to it. He never leaves a question unanswered, and He communicates what he is trying to say with ease.

I found it interesting that Wittmer agrees with Bell on a couple points. Wittmer agrees with Bell's anti-platonic view of heaven and stresses that we must get away from an 'other-worldy' view of the new earth. Wittmer does a great job pointing out the good points of Love Wins, though it doesn't take very many words for him to do so.

Wittmer does an excellent job explaining Bell’s misuse of Greek words and his poor selection of quotes from Martin Luther and other writers that Bell seeks to use to support his claims. Wittmer explains that Bell is not really teaching anything new. Bell has simply selected what he likes about various men from the past (Pelagius, Origen, Karl Barth, etc.) and put them together to get his own understanding of truth. Wittmer rightly points to the fact that Bell’s book is existential in nature.

Christ Alone is an engaging book that “brings more light than heat” to the controversy surrounding Love Wins. I would recommend this book to anyone who has already read Love Wins or is merely seeking to understand what Love Wins is all about. Wittmer has done an excellent job responding to Rob Bell and has added come clarity to the muddy waters.

Our Filthiness, His Mercy

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities.” – Isaiah 64:6-7

There is no such thing as a good man. We all know this. Each one of us can attest to our own wickedness. So it would be pointless to stand before God and claim some sort of righteousness before Him. Isaiah tells God the truth for us. We are all unclean. All our righteousnesses are merely filthiness before God. I love the imagery of the next line. Our sins have taken us away like a leaf in the wind. We are swept out of the presence of the Lord simply by our sins. In fact, apart from God moving in us, no one would call upon the name of the Lord.

Lately, there has been much controversy over sin, hell, and the destiny of every person that ever lived. People talk as if sin is not a serious issue. They talk as if the real problem is God not accepting us or loving us for who we are. Isaiah has news for them. God hates who we are. He absolutely despises our filthiness and can’t stand our sin.

Our sin is a serious issue. Our sin drives us from God’s presence and makes us completely unable to seek the Lord. But God in His mercy has withheld his immediate punishment for sin. He has provided salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He has also issued a call to all mankind to repent and seek Him.

Praise God for His salvation! Praise Him for his mercy to us. Praise Him for his longsuffering! Praise Him for His call to repentance, without which no one would seek the Lord!

The Glory of God in the Church


“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever, Amen. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” -Ephesians 3:20-4:1

What is the purpose of the church?

Some say that it is to reach the world for Christ. Others reference Acts 2:42 – “and they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”, saying that this is the purpose of the church. Still others say that the purpose of the church is to show unbelievers the love of God by providing physical and spiritual care for the sick and dying in this world.

I’d like to suggest to you this morning that the purpose of the church is none of those things. The purpose of the church is not to get people saved. The purpose of the church is not to put on programs. The purpose of the church is not even to sing songs, listen to sermons, or to celebrate baptism and communion. The purpose of the church is not to have a social club with fun little activities. The purpose of the church is not to feed the hungry, provide for the poor, give shelter to the homeless, or to show the love of God. Though all these things may happen at church, they are not the purpose of the church.

The purpose of the church is to glorify God.

“The highest value that God holds is His own glory. Everything He does is for His own glory—everything He does for the praise and adoration of His name.” – Thabiti Anyabwile

God is entirely God-centered. All that God has ever done has been for His glory:
a.       Predestination – 1:5-6
b.      Creation – Isaiah 43:7
c.       Effective Calling – I Corinthians 1:26-31
d.      Incarnation of Christ – Romans 15:8-9
e.      Propitiation – Romans 3:25-26
f.        Sanctification of the Believer – Philippians 1:9-11
g.       Forgiveness – Isaiah 43:25
h.      Christ’s Suffering – John 17:1
i.         Christ’s Resurrection – John 17:5
j.        Sending of the Holy Spirit – John 16:14

It is all about Him. God is the central focus of all eternity past, and He will continue to be the central focus of all eternity future.

Now let’s look at Ephesians 3:20-4:1

1.       To Display God’s Glory is God’s Decree for the church - “to Him be the glory in the church”

In Psalm 19 we read of how creation declares God’s glory. From the stars above to depths of the sea, there is not a part of creation that does not bring glory to God. We also read in Isaiah 6 that the whole earth is full of His glory.

Psalm 19:1-4 –“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,”

Isaiah 6:1-4 – “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”

"His wisdom and power are displayed in the angelic hosts; in sun, moon, and stars; in animals, birds, and fish; in fire, hail, snow, and mist; in wind; in mountains, hills, trees; in kings and people, old men and young; in Israel and the nations. All these are intended to praise the name of the Lord (Ps. 148).” – The Believer’s Bible Commentary

The church joins creation in displaying God’s glory. The church, the collective whole of all those who have believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, has been designed by God to display His glory. The church has been saved, and separated by Christ for one purpose: “That He might present her to Himself a glorious church…” Ephesians 5:27

Christ is entirely God-centered. Everything He does is to bring glory to Himself, for He is God. In our daily practice, we often forget that Christ is the head of the church, and the church is His body. We often fail to pray and seek His mind for what is said and done in the church. We forget that the church is intrinsically connected to Christ, the second person of the triune Godhead. It is a mystery that we cannot fully explain. But all that the church is must give glory to God because it is Christ’s body.

When we rebel against Christ’s headship over the church and seek to obey our own desires for the church we elevate ourselves in our practice to His rightful position. We rob Christ of His glory. We seek to run the church how we want it to run and seek to glorify ourselves instead of Christ. We are glory thieves, stealing glory from the Almighty God and giving it to ourselves.

Not only is God to be glorified because Christ is the head of the church, but the Holy Spirit also indwells believers and gives believers common ground to gather and give glory to God. In essence, each believer is living each day with God Himself dwelling within them. The Holy Spirit is entirely God-centered and brings glory to God in all that He does, for He is God. This is why believers must submit to the Spirit’s control and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through them. Allow the fruit of the Spirit to be displayed in your life. Allow the Holy Spirit to give glory to God through your life.

When we fail to submit to the Spirit’s control, we give in to the lusts of the flesh and give in to sin. In addition to acting against God and contrary to His will, when we fulfill the lusts of the flesh we have robbed God of the glory that He demands and deserves. We become glory thieves seeking to elevate ourselves instead of elevate God. We steal God’s glory by doing our own will instead of His. We steal God’s glory by displaying fruit of unrighteousness instead of the righteous fruit that He saved us to display.

To display God’s glory is God’s Decree for the church just as it is for the rest of creation. To do anything else is to act contrary to the command of God.

2.       To Distribute God’s Glory is God’s Daily Design for the church -

How do you see God’s Glory today? By looking at the church. Indeed, the church is responsible for distributing the Glory of God to the rest of mankind. All the world has the general revelation of God’s glory through creation, but the church alone has God’s special revelation of the salvation of man through Christ revealed to us in the Bible.

“Jesus is the clearest picture of the invisible God to us in this world. But Jesus is no longer visible, at least not in the sense that you and I are. He is not open to inspection by the physical eye. And yet, one of the most common images for the local church is that of ‘the body of Christ.’ It is in the church that God’s Sprit—the Spirit of Jesus—rules and reigns, and is made visible in the lives of love that we live.” – Mark Dever

The church can’t just exist by floating along through time without doing anything. There must be a working out of God’s glory in the daily life of the church. This is where all those things mentioned in the introduction come into play. Acts 2:42 – begins to make sense in light of the daily design of the church to display God’s glory. The programs we run, the evangelism and discipleship that we do, the poor we seek to feed, the homeless we seek to help, the sick we seek to cure, the messages we preach, the songs that we sing all begin to make sense in light of the fact that God’s daily design for the church is to bring Him glory.

There are three things that the Church must do in order to distribute God’s glory day by day.

a.       The Church must follow the biblical pattern for the church

This is where Acts 2:42, 46 makes complete sense – “They continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house…” The early church committed themselves to this daily practice of doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. These are the basic functions of church activity. Anything beyond this must be in addition to, not in replacement of these things.

There is another aspect of following the biblical pattern for the church. It involves the actual leadership structure of the church. We won’t go into great detail right now, for that is not our focus. But suffice it to say that the biblical pattern for Church leadership is Christ as the head of the church, biblically qualified elders to serve Christ as His under-shepherds through shepherding, teaching, and leading, and biblically qualified deacons to serve Christ through taking care of the physical needs of the flock. Until the church structure looks like that, we cannot consider ourselves to be following the biblical pattern. God is glorified through His design of the church, not ours.

In order for the church to fully follow the biblical pattern for the church every believer must also commit themselves to being equipped for “the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Eph. 4:12-16. Until the church is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” we cannot consider ourselves to be following the biblical pattern for the church. Yes, churches must have a vibrant church membership in order to display God’s glory.

God is glorified in the church when the church follows the biblical pattern that God has established.

b.      The Church must obey the commands of Christ

In Matthew 28:19-20 we read Christ’s command to his disciples to “go and make disciples of every nation…teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” We must be faithful to this command of Christ. We must exemplify and teach that each command of Christ is important. Evangelism and discipleship are the tools to reach the world with the gospel of Christ and the glory of God.

“All that are baptized, are thereby obliged, (1.) To make the command of Christ their rule. There is a law of faith, and we are said to be under the law to Christ; we are by baptism bound, and must obey. (2.) To observe what Christ has commanded. Due obedience to the commands of Christ requires a diligent observation; we are in danger of missing, if we take not good heed: and in all our obedience, we must have an eye to the command, and do what we do as unto the Lord. (3.) To observe all things, that he has commanded, without exception; all the moral duties, and all the instituted ordinances. Our obedience to the laws of Christ is not sincere, if it be not universal; we must stand complete in his whole will. (4.) To confine themselves to the commands of Christ, and as not to diminish from them, so not to add to them. (5.) To learn their duty according to the law of Christ, from those whom he has appointed to be teachers in his school, for therefore we were entered into his school.” –Matthew Henry

God’s glory is displayed in the church when we follow all of Christ’s commands.

c.       The Church must eagerly await the return of Christ

Titus 2:13 – “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,”

God is being glorified in the church today and He will receive ultimate glory in the church when Christ returns. The return of Christ for His church marks the most glorious event in the church since the beginning of the church. What a glorious day that will be! All the saints, from all history will be raised for the biggest family reunion of all time.

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” -1Thessalonians 4:16-17

The return of Christ also gives God glory because it will be the purest church since its inception on the day of Pentecost.

“that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” –Eph 5:27

Church we must eagerly await that day when God will be completely glorified in His Church.

3.       To Devote ourselves to God’s Glory is the Desire of the church

The apostles and writers of the New Testament were devoted to God’s glory:
  • Romans 16:27 – to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever, Amen
  • Philippians 4:20 – Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1Timothy 1:17 – Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • Hebrews 13:21 – make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1 Peter 5:11 – To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
  • 2 Peter 3:18 – but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
  • Jude 24-25 – Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.
  • Revelation 1:4-6 - John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Do you get it? Do you see how devoted the New Testament writers were to the glory of God? Everything they did and wrote for us was for God’s glory! Did you notice the timeframe? God’s glory is forever, and ever. Amen! As a church, we must devote ourselves to God’s glory. God’s glory is the reason the church exists. God’s glory is the reason we do anything we do. When we sing praises and adoration to God as a church we elevate His glory. When we gather around His Word we elevate His glory. When we lift our hearts to Him in prayer we elevate His glory. We must be passionate about what God is passionate about. God is entirely God-centered and God-glorifying. We must be entirely God-centered and God-glorifying.

There is one thing that can hinder the glory of God in the church—sin. Sin stains the church. Sin divides believers who are supposed to be united in Christ. Sin in the church destroys the witness of the gospel in the world. Sin hinders the display of God’s glory in the church.

So as we gather this day to worship and praise our great God, we gather this morning to give Him glory. Is there sin in the church hindering the display of God’s glory? Is there any sin staining the witness of the gospel of this church? Is there any sin dividing believers who ought to be united for the cause of Christ—for the cause of God’s glory?

Spurgeon said, “Although sanctification may not now be perfected in you, it must be evident in all you actions, for there cannot be the appearance of holiness in one place and sin reigning in another.”

In a sense, the church should be in a process of becoming more and more holy. The church is composed of believers that are all in a process of becoming more holy—more like Christ. This means that at a collective whole, the church ought to be more holy each day.  

Folks, we must deal with sin in order to fully devote ourselves to God’s glory. We must confess all known sins to God and the people we have offended. 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Come before the Lord and tell Him you have failed. Tell Him that you cannot get rid of sin without His help. Tell Him you need his forgiveness and cleansing. Then go and do the same with the people you have offended. God will not only forgive us of our sins, but He will cleanse us of our sins, “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 3:20-4:3

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Paradox of Pride

“For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’” –Isaiah 57:15

Pride gives us a false view of reality. Pride is like wearing a pair of glasses with magnifying lenses. It distorts how we view the world and how we view ourselves. Let me show you: The proud man lifts himself up. He has an elevated view of himself. He considers himself more important and more prestigious then his peers. In fact, the proud man is higher, in his own mind, than anyone else on the earth. He needs no one’s help. He desires to have no equal, and definitely desires no superior. But the reality is this throne of pride that he has put himself upon is lower than any position on earth. The reality is that pride has drained the very life from him.

If pride is the pair of glasses that distorts our vision, then humility is the pair of glasses with the correct prescription. Humility sharpens our view of reality. Humility helps us to see ourselves in the light of who God is. Isaiah proves this to us. Just look at his description of the Lord—look at this glimpse of reality: God is the High and Lofty one. God inhabits eternity. His name is Holy. He dwells in a high and holy place. Indeed, our God is great than any other. He is what we could never be. He does what we could never do. He dwells where, in our pride we can never dwell.

The amazing thing about this verse is that “God…dwells with him who has a contrite and humble spirit.” Humility brings us close to God. James 4:10 puts it in a concise statement: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” When you get a good glimpse at the reality of who God is, you will realize that you are nothing. That very moment when you see yourself as nothing, God lifts you up.

God intended human life to be connected with Him. He desired that relationship right from the beginning. Pride destroyed that fellowship when Adam and Eve desired to be like God knowing good and evil. Humility before God also restores your life to be the way God intended it to be. “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the spirit of the contrite ones.” God restores your life. God gives you back what pride took away.

Pride brings us low, distorts our view of reality, and separates us from God. But humility lifts us up, restores life to the way God intended, and allows us to dwell with God in that high and holy place. What grace! What love! We can dwell with the High and Lofty One!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ecuador 2011 Update

To all who have been praying, I want to say thank you. As well, to all who have given from their hearts to make this trip possible, thank you.

I have been in Ecuador for about a month and a half, which is the halfway marker of my stay here. I thought it would be appropriate to give you an update.

Well, it has been busy for me since day one. I arrived in Ecuador Thursday night of May 19th, right in the middle of when a work team from Colorado was here. The next day we were up early and headed to Mulauco, where we prepared to pour concrete for the roof of what will be classrooms at the church there. We worked hard all day in the hot sun, and by the end of the day it was ready for the concrete. They next day, Saturday, we did the dirty work. It was hard work, and we got it all done in four hours. Many hands make things much easier!

It wasn't exactly the start I had imagined, but it was all good. The Lord blessed the work there, and we hope to see more fruit in the future. I have been fairly busy in the Lord's work since the beginning. I have seen God work in many people's lives. I have been involved in leading music Sunday mornings in Chaupimolino, where we (my parents and I) spend the weekends, On Saturdays, youth group is held, and I have been involved in that as well, leading music, and teaching. In Borja, where we live during the week, God has also allowed me to work by teaching kids, and leading music.

Mom and Dad have been praying about getting a youth ministry started in Borja, and, a couple weeks ago they invited Andres, (the son of Nelly, a woman who mom and dad are visiting) to the house. He brought his guitar and he and I played for a while, we played checkers (he won), and afterwards, we went up to the high school to play ping pong. He and his friends really like ping pong, and mom and dad have been trying to get a table, but haven't got one yet. We played for a couple hours and then called it quits. I think it was the next day when he invited me to go up and play ping pong with him. He brought a friend that time, so we took turns playing the winner of each game. His friend left near the end and we played a couple more games. The Lord then gave the opportunity for conversation. Andres asked about my parents and I being Christians, and that led into more conversation. He said he never really went to church and he was never baptized, and I told him that we believe something different about baptism. I then explained the gospel to him. He listened, and asked more questions afterwards, about Mary and the Bible, and we talked about drinking. I have not seen Andres or talked to him since then. He was sick last week and I haven't heard from him this week. Please pray that the Lord will work in Andres' life and that he will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

Along with leading the music Sunday mornings, i have been able to share a devotional each Sunday with the other guys involved in the music. We have had some good meetings and prayer times.

Last Saturday I was able to lead the music for a wedding of a young couple in the church. It was a great time.

This weekend we are travelling to Chillanes, where two missionary ladies are ministering. Saturday I will be leading the music for the youth group and teaching a lesson. Please pray for me and for the kids.

There is still a lot ahead this summer. There are multiple VBS's being held at various locations, in whch I will be involved, along with teams from the U.S. and Ecuadorians. Pray for guidance, organization, and souls to be saved. The first week of July I will be travelling with my friend John to a place on the way to the coast called Milagro de Dios. This is a town that is very much out in the boondocks. There isn't much there. There's no running water except for the river, and the living conditions are pretty rough. I have been down there before with my dad, but only for a weekend. Please pray that the Lord will use John and I to reach as many people as possible for Christ.

This time hasn't been just a time full of me being involved in God's work, it has also been a tremendous time of learning for me. I have been able to read many great books, all aiding in my spiritual growth. God is teaching me many things, and I have so much to learn. I am learning who God is, and as a result of that, how small I am, and the attitude of humility I must have. I am learning a greater appreciation of the love of God, and how to be the Lord's bond-slave.

Please continue to pray for me. Pray that I will be humble, submissive to the Lord's will, patient. Pray that I will be more like Christ every day. Pray also for the people of Ecuador. Pray for the people of Borja, Chaupimolino, Milagro de Dios, Chillanes. Pray that the Lord will send workers.

I do want to inform you that the Lord, through you, has provided almost all the funds necessary to complete this trip. I am only lacking $300. I trust that God will provide the remaining amount.

Thank you so much for your prayers and for giving. God is not finished here in Ecuador. He's only beginning. Let us redeem the time that we have and use it for God's glory. Praise Him! He is faithful and always good.

Your fellow-laborer in Christ,

Kevin McKeen

Half Baked

A devotional from Charles H. Spurgeon's Morning and Evening that has impacted me:

Half Baked

"Ephraim is a cake unturned."
--Hosea 7:8

A cake unturned is half-baked, and so was Ephraim. In many respects he was untouched by divine grace. Although there was some partial obedience, there was a lot of rebellion.
My soul, is this the case with you? Are you thorough in the things of God? Has grace touched the very center of your being? Can you feel its divine operation in your life, your actions, your words, and your thoughts? To be sanctified in spirit, soul, and body should be your aim and prayer.

Although sanctification may not now be perfected in you, it must be evident in all your actions for there cannot be the appearance of holiness in one place and sin reigning in another. If this is the case, you are a half-baked cake.

A cake not turned is soon burned. Although you cannot have too much true religion, there are some who seem burned black with bigoted zeal. Others are charred to a cinder with a vain Pharisaic ostentation of those religious performances that fit their disposition.. An assumed appearance of superior sanctity frequently accompanies a total absence of all vital godliness. Those saints in public are devils in private. They deal in flour by day and in soot by night. The cake burned on one side is mere dough on the other.

If this is I, Oh Lord, turn me. Turn my unsanctified side to the fire of Your love. Let me feel the sacred glow. Let my burned side cool while I learn my weakness and that I need the heat from Your heavenly flame.

Do not let me be "a double-minded man, unstable in all [his] ways" (James 1:8). Let me be entirely under the powerful influence of reigning grace. If I am left as an unturned cake and am not on both sides the subject of Your grace, I will be consumed forever in everlasting burnings. Amen.

Seek the Lord

“Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” –Isaiah 55:6-7

These verses should serve as a comfort and a warning to all people. They are a comfort because the Lord is available. He may be found. He is near. If only men would turn from our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, and would return to the Lord, they would find that He is the God of all mercy. They would experience his abundant pardon. But this also serves as a warning. There is coming a day when God will not be available. The time will be too late to turn from sin and seek the Lord. Judgment Day will arrive. And I believe it will arrive soon.

The unbeliever is running out of time to repent. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Judgment is coming, and that is our motivation for ministry. We must urge people to turn from sin and call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. In a world where the vast majority has never even heard that God is calling men everywhere to repent and turn to Jesus, we do not have time to waste.

There is no greater calling for our lives then to evangelism. And if you are a believer, you are commanded to go preach the gospel to every living creature (Mark 16:15). Evangelism is far greater than just a command. It is an honor. It is a privilege. It is a gift from God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, no imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”

God is the God of everlasting, infinite mercy. He is awaiting sinners to forsake their wickedness and turn to Him in faith. You, my fellow-laborer, have been abundantly pardoned by the Lord, and you have been given the message and the ministry of reconciliation. Be faithful in persuading men of the truth. There is a world out there that desperately needs the abundant mercy of God. As David Platt has said, “Church we are plan A, and there is no plan B.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All We Like Sheep...(Pt. 2)

There is much to be said about us being sheep. In my previous post I spoke of the lost sheep, and the Great Shepherd giving His life for them. In such an example, I referred to unbelievers, who do not know Jesus. I would like to continue the sheep analogy talking about believers.

I told the story of the dumb sheep I saw in Pifo wandering around, lost, and they needed their shepherd to guide them back. In another sense, we sheep who belong to the Lord, believers, wander astray all the time.

We really are quite like sheep, dumb, and dependent. We're dumb because we think we are independent, when we really can't be. If we are not guided by the Shepherd, we will wander off, and once we're quite far, perhaps we will pick our heads up and realize, Oh no! Where am I? I'm lost! Shepherd! Where are you? I need you!! Shepherd!!! Come back!!

Let's look at John 10. This is a good example of what is happening to Christians everywhere.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers."

So often Christians do just the opposite from this passage. They stray from the Shepherd, and they forget His voice. Instead, they start listening to a stranger's voice, and think, ooh that's very appealing. But, the stranger has no good intentions for the sheep. The stranger is only thinking of himself and how he wants to steal the sheep for himself. He does not love the sheep as the Shepherd does. But the stranger coaxes the sheep and they will follow him, if they have forgotten the voice of the Shepherd. Christian, do NOT be led astray by false teachers and strangers! We are Christ's sheep. We belong to Him. We must stay near Him, so that we know His voice. Then we will not be 'carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Ephesians 4:14)

"The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." (John 10:10-11)

The Good Shepherd has brought you back from being lost. He gave His life for you. He loves you. Will you so take for granted His gift of life and stray from Him?

I ask you: Do you know your Savior's voice? When was the last time you heard it? If you don't know, or it has been too long, call out to Him. Confess your sins, listen for His voice, and listen to His voice. You need Him. You are just a dumb sheep who can't see very well. The Eternal Shepherd has infinite vision. He knows better than you. Trust Him; He will guide you and keep you from the strangers and thieves. "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8)

All We Like Sheep...

So the other day I was at the compound in Pifo, where recently the neighbors got some sheep, two ewes and a ram. They roam around eating all day long for the most part. Well I was looking out the kitchen window, where I saw the two ewes slowly walking up from the woods, eating away. Suddenly one of them looked up and started bleating. What happened was that the ewes in their wandering had gotten away from their boy. So they were lost. Sheep, although they have a vision range of up to 306 degrees, don't have much depth perception. They could never find their way back to their leader. Soon the neighbor came out and led them back down into the woods to the ram. I said to myself, "those dumb animals..."

Sheep. Dumb animals...wait a the Bible we're compared to sheep! So that makes us...yeah.

Now I know that we're not really sheep and humans are intelligent beings, but when it comes to our spiritual state, we are exactly like those dumb sheep, in so many ways!

I'm sure many of us have heard and even memorized the Isaiah 53 passage many times, but here is verse 6:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way...

Every single human being, like those dumb sheep, are lost, 'gone astray.' There's no hope for those sheep left all alone. They will remain lost if they are left alone.

But wait...they're not left alone. The Shepherd!!! Jesus is our Shepherd, the one to bring us back to where we belong. He is the only one that can and will bring us to Him.

Think of the parable that Jesus told of the lost sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd was bringing his sheep back to the fold. As they entered in, he counted them. Uh oh. he only counted 99...there's supposed to be a hundred! So does he say, 'oh well its just one biggie'? No. He cares for every one of his sheep so he closes up the 99 and goes out on a search party. He retraces his steps, looking around here and there for his lost sheep. He calls for it over and over, and then he hears it: baaaaah. "And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing." (Luke 15:5) This shepherd was so happy to have found his sheep that he called all his friends and neighbors to celebrate that he found his one lost sheep! "Likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance." (Luke 15:7)

What a wonderful picture of who Jesus is. But look at the rest of Isaiah 53: Jesus didn't simply go out and find us lost sheep. "Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed...and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth."

Then look at John 10, another great passage about the Good Shepherd and His sheep. Look at verse 15: "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep."

As I said before, Jesus didn't simply go out and find His lost sheep, He gave His life for them. He died for us, dumb sheep. As the shepherd cares for his sheep, so Jesus loves us, and when one sheep is lost, (and there are many lost) He is out there looking for it, wanting to bring it home. He is calling for the lost. If you are gone astray, listen to His voice. He has laid down His life for you, and He wants to bring you home.

Divine Righteouness

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in vain’; I, the LORD, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.” Isaiah 45:18-19

God is righteous—eternally righteous. Everything He does, everything He says, every way He deals with mankind, every decision He makes, and every purpose of His is clothed in His righteousness. This means that there are no mistakes in God. Nothing is ever wrong. Nothing is ever flawed. It is always right.

When you think about it enough, you’ll realize that this means that there is no indecision with God. God never hesitates or second-guesses anything that He has done or said. He acts definitively and rightly in every situation. That includes His placing you where you are, and making you the way you are.

We often have the tendency to think of ourselves as meaningless and worthless. We see our many mistakes and sins and think that God must have been mistaken to make us the way He did. Be encouraged—God did not make a mistake with you. He has formed you and placed you on this earth for a purpose—a righteous purpose: You are made for God’s glory.

Listen to the words of Isaiah 48:10-11: “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; for how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.”

So here you are, a human being, placed on this earth to fulfill God’s purpose—His glory. In all your failures, in all your flaws, in all your bad decisions, be encouraged that you are not a mistake. When it feels as if God is raising the temperature in the ‘furnace of affliction’, trust yourself to Him who speaks righteousness. He is refining you for His glory.

Book Review: The Knowledge of the Holy

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, 1961

If I were to pick a book that is completely opposite of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”, this would be it. While I concluded that Rob Bell wrote of God in a flippant, disrespectful way, A. W. Tozer writes in such a way that leaves the reader in awe of who God is. I find it ironic that both books are published by the same publisher: HarperCollins Publishers.

Tozer doesn’t waste any words in this book. In fact, one of the ideas that Tozer repeats throughout this little book is that any words used to describe God are merely human, finite words, and thus, man can never reach an accurate description of God. It is this type of writing that leaves the reader careful of not only what he will say of God, but how he will think about God. “The Knowledge of the Holy” is an incredibly simple book. Tozer writes with no biases, no bent toward one theological extreme. He writes with incredible clarity and gives helpful insights towards a good number of God’s attributes. There is not a chapter in the book that does not contain some small, understandable quote that leaves the reader with a nugget of truth to mull over. Indeed, it is the sort of book that could take weeks to read in spite of its small number of pages.

Tozer begins with three chapters to establish the rest of the book: 1) “Why We Must Think Rightly of God”; 2) “God Incomprehensible”; and 3) “A Divine Attribute: Something True About God.” In these chapters, Tozer stresses our total inability to fully understand any single truth about God, but why we must strive to understand as rightly as we can about God. He explains exactly what he means by the word ‘attribute’: “If an attribute is something true of God, it is also something that we can conceive as being true of Him. God, being infinite, must possess attributes about which we can know nothing. And attribute, as we can know it, is a mental concept, an intellectual response to God’s self-revelation. It is an answer to a question, the reply God makes to our interrogation concerning Himself.”

This is an incredibly simple book. The chapters are no more than 3-7 pages long. Each small chapter seeks to take an attribute of God and explain what we mean by it, why we use the words we do, what that means in relation to God’s other attributes, and why it is important for the Christian to think of God in this way. Let me give you an example from the chapter on the Love of God: “From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about His love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed.” Such is the nature of this book!

My favorite chapter is on the Mercy of God. My personal experience with God’s Mercy thus far has been that of fear. I thank God each time He withholds judgment from me, but at the same time I am cowering before Him fearful that the next time I fail Him He will unleash His wrath upon me. Tozer has helped me to see differently. Listen to this: “If we could remember that the divine mercy is not a temporary mood but an attribute of God’s eternal being, we would no longer fear that it will someday cease to be. Mercy never began to be, but from eternity was; so it will never cease to be. It will never be more since it is itself infinite; and it will never be less because the infinite can never suffer diminution. Nothing that has occurred or will occur in heaven or earth or hell can change the tender mercies of our God. Forever His mercy stands, a boundless, overwhelming immensity of divine pity and compassion.” That totally rocked my feeble understanding of God’s mercy!

This book will strengthen your mind. This book will encourage your heart. This book will uplift your spirit to worship the one, true God. This book will open your eyes to the vast, incomprehensible God described so eloquently in the Bible. I will read “The Knowledge of the Holy” again, soon. Thank you A. W. Tozer for your helpful words.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Divine Forgiveness

"I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel." -Isaiah 44:22-23

God is merciful to His people. Israel had turned form the Lord to serve other gods countless times, yet God still was merciful to them. He blotted out the thick cloud of their transgressions and sins. I can imagine a great cosmic accounting page with all the sins of Israel on it. God blotted them all out. Paid in full. God had redeemed His people.

We are not much different from Israel. Here we sit, 2500 years after these words were penned, experiencing the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. God has blotted out our sins, cast them into the depths of the sea. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us. God has purchased us with the blood of Christ. To God be all the glory for his mercy! We can do nothing to deserve His divine forgiveness.

There is no more fitting response than to praise the Lord. Praise Him with singing! The Lord has redeemed His people. "Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities..." -Psalm 103:1-3

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: Love Wins

I usually have anywhere from 6 to 10 books that I’m working on during any particular day. I’ve had a few books that I’ve been working on now for nearly 3 months. I read books ranging from Bible Commentaries, to practical Christian living books, theological books, to just plain interesting books. One book that I’ve been working on for some time is “Love Wins” by Rob Bell. It’s not a particularly long book, or a hard book to read. In fact, I finished reading 130 pages in a little less than two hours today. I bought the book in the heat of the controversy surrounding it back in March. I was intrigued by the controversy, and read many, many articles surrounding the book from both ends of the doctrinal spectrum. I have a folder in my desk more than an inch thick of articles I read about this book. So I started reading it, but lost interest quickly because there were more important things to do. I managed to find a little time this afternoon to finish it up and write a quick review.

To start out, I don’t have much to add to what has already been said about Rob Bell and his book. Albert Mohler has written a good article about this book, as have Kevin DeYoung and Tim Challies. They are much better communicators of truth than I, and have probably thought through the issue more than I have. But I do feel that I have something to offer in this. Please understand that the following review is merely my opinions and observations of “Love Wins.” I’m not looking to be a ‘Bell-basher’ or to spread hate in any way. What I am trying to do is make you aware of the dangers of this book and the unbiblical teachings that it does contain.

“Love Wins” subverts the message of the gospel in all areas. First of all, I find that Rob Bell writes of God in a flippant, disrespectful way. He asks pointed questions about the nature of God and then quickly makes assertions denying valid truths about God. In my experience, there are some books written that leave you in utter awe of who God is and leave you craving for more—book like “The Knowledge of the Holy” A. W. Tozer (I’ll have a review for that one very soon by the way). Then there are books like “Love Wins” that leave with a sick feeling in my stomach and cause me to think, “I wonder what God thinks of this book, and how long it will be until lightning strikes Rob Bell.” Obviously, not everyone who reads this book will think that, but it was my impression, due to the overt heresy and unbiblical claims.

Secondly, Bell undermines justification by faith. Repeatedly throughout this book he makes claims that people are or can be saved through other means than through faith in Christ. He also refers to (though never out-right states) post-mortem salvation. He writes as if salvation is based merely upon man’s choice, not upon faith in God. Also Bell writes of Hindu religion and Muslim religion and Buddhist religion as if they are another way of getting to God. This comes in the midst of a chapter that tries to link the rock that Moses struck (which represents Christ) to anybody’s personal experience story of coming to God, claiming that there are ‘rocks’ everywhere. In fact, he starts the chapter by telling a story of a man who smoked weed, drew some pictures, and then felt an overwhelming feeling that he described as God letting me know I was loved and everything was going to be ok. According to the Bible, a man is justified solely upon faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross (Romans 5:1). I don’t see any room for any other way of salvation (John 14:6) than through Jesus. You can’t follow Hinduism, for example, and then claim that Hinduism is really just another way of being saved through Jesus. (In other words, why don’t we just worship God and try to get to Him however we want? Ask Cain how that worked out for him.)

Third, Bell undermines progressive sanctification of believers. In his chapter on heaven, Bell makes it clear that he believes heaven will be a time of cleansing and purging away of those things that are not “pure and right and beautiful.” I understand that Bell’s view of heaven is not so much an ‘after-death’ as it is a ‘here and now’ type heaven. In fact, throughout the book Bell redefines many Bible terms without citing sources or proving that anyone even remotely orthodox believes the same as he does. This is especially clear in his redefining the term aeion. Sanctification is the process in which God conforms a believer to the likeness of His Son (Hebrews 10:14; Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 8:28-29). This is a process that goes on until a believer dies and goes to a literal place called heaven. Which leads me to the next point:

Fourth, Bell undermines the future glorification of believers. If post-mortem salvation and ‘pruning’ is really possible, then what is the point of God glorifying the believer after they die? Why not just wait until they have been ‘pruned’ of all those things that are not nice and good and beautiful? Philippians 1:6 tells us that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Sanctification is happening for believers right now and glorification will happen for believers one day soon—the day of Jesus Christ.

In closing, I found this to be a terrible book. Rob Bell is acclaimed as a very intelligent man. Admittedly, he is a very good communicator. But I consider his book to be very flippant in how he talks about God. Men like A. W. Tozer that have written books about God's character often express their inability to put what they are trying to communicate into words and how they fear that they may be wrong in what they write. Not so with Bell. He seems bold and brazen in his speech about God and his arrogant rhetoric. I pray that Bell realizes his error and recants. I would not recommend “Love Wins” to anyone as a resource for sound, biblical teaching. In fact, this book reminded me of a cross between liberal Christianity and the New Age movement. If you do happen to read this book, I pray the Lord will give you discernment to see the error in it.

Update: Anyone notice and similarities between Rob Bell's views of judgment/hell/redemption and the Muslim views of the same? I have noticed some striking similarities.

It's a....!

Alicia had her first ultra-sound appointment this morning. We are so excited about this new baby. I admit that it is hard to keep up with Jodie at times, so I can't imagine how it is going to be with two running around the house. At least we'll have a little bit of bouncy-seat time for this next one.

We found out this morning that we will be having another little girl! We'll keep the name a secret for now, but Alicia and I wanted to let you all know our happy news! Keep us and the little one in your prayers in the weeks to come.

Eternal Security...a Marvelous Experience

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel; Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;” –Isaiah 43:1-3a

There is eternal security for the believer. But this is not just a doctrine we believe, it is a truth that we experience day by day. The truth of our salvation is that God has redeemed us from the slave market of sin. We have been bought with a price, and now we belong to the Lord our God. He owns us. Here in Isaiah, we see this truth in a very real way.

We are owned by the Lord because He created and formed us. So in a sense, we belong to him simply because we are His creation. Not only that, God has redeemed us. He has bought us back. He paid the price. Not only that, God has called us by name. To be specifically known by God is a remarkable thing. There are billions of people on the planet; and God still knows your name.

This God—your Creator, your Redeemer—says ‘Fear not.’ There is no need for the believer to fear anything in life. Indeed, whatever you go through—no matter how high the flood waters, no matter how strong the river current, no matter how big the fire, no matter how hot the flames, God will be with you. Indeed, eternal security is not just a doctrine we believe, but it is a truth we experience day by day. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” –Romans 8:28

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Responsibility of Sounding Forth the Gospel

1 Thessalonians 1:8-9
6.19.2011 AM SERVICE

“For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…”

It is every believer’s responsibility to spread the good news of the gospel. In our church culture today, however, we have turned it into a ‘calling’ for just a few. Our actions show that we believe that only missionaries are called to evangelize and share the Word of God. By and large in America today, the people who fill churches on a Sunday morning do so with no sense of urgency, no sense of meeting with the Lord, and no desire to reproduce throughout the week what they learn in church on Sundays. Church has become an extra-curricular activity, and it is last on the priority list. Rarely do you hear believers share on Sunday who they witnessed to through the week, or even what they taught their children about God. You don’t see many couples strengthening their marriages for the purpose of strengthening their own ministry, and you don’t see many parents training their children to be sent out by the Lord for the mission field. In fact, in most church families in America, you see the exact opposite. Within the realm of what we would consider the ‘Christian’ culture in America, you see parents asking if their kids want to go to church rather than bringing them to church. You see many parents pushing their kids to get better educations, better jobs, and better possessions. Marriages are falling apart in the church culture and couples seem more interested in their careers than devoting their lives to serving the living God. And you see the retired crowd that think that they have reached perfection. They act as if they have retired from Christian living and service. This is not what the Bible describes as Christianity. The Lord Jesus himself has commissioned His followers to be witnesses for Him throughout the whole world. While they are going, they are to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to keep all of Christ’s commands—not exactly what you see in the American church.

The Thessalonians are often referred to as the ‘discipling church.’ From what we read in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, you would conclude that this is a church that had it made. They were a healthy church. They were a church that listened and heeded the words of Paul, the apostle. You could read through the books of Thessalonians and find the following things being accomplished by the people: praying, equipping, defending, repenting, loving, laboring, modeling, feeding, leading others to Christ, watching for the return of Christ, warning, teaching, exhorting, encouraging, correcting, comforting, admonishing, and much more. The Thessalonian church serves as an example to Christians today as to what an active, healthy church should look like. They are a church that understood the commission of their Lord and Savior and they sought to fulfill it.

There is a process to this passage of Scripture that I would like to study this morning: Reverberation of the Word, reproduction of faith, and repentance of salvation.

1. The Reverberation of the Word of God – Sounding Forth! (1 Thes. 1:8a)

“sounded forth” - ex─ôcheomai – To resound, to ‘echo’ forth.

a. Sounding forth is the nature of the Word - it proceeds, it reverberates throughout the earth:

Throughout Scripture we read of the reverb of the Word of God. The picture given to us in Thessalonians is that of a stone being thrown into a pond. It hits the water and causes ever-expanding ripples. In the same way, the Word of God echoes forth and causes ripples. Listen to some examples from Scripture:
  • Deuteronomy 5:5 – Moses declared the Word of the Lord to the people
  • 1 Samuel 15:10 – The Word of the Lord came to Samuel
  • 1 Kings 13:9 – It was commanded by the word of the Lord
  • Psalm 33:6 – By the word of the Lord the heavens were made
  • Isaiah 55:10-11 – "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
  • Acts 13:49 – the Word of the Lord was being spread through all the region
  • Acts 19:20 – So the Word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed
  • Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
  • 1 Peter 1:25 – But the Word of the Lord endures forever…
The Word of the Lord was active in Scripture, and it is active today. The Thessalonian Church understood the nature of the Word of God. They understood that it sounds forth. All they needed do was be faithful in speaking it.

b. Sounding forth the Word is a command of Christ

These are the words of Christ:
  • Matthew 28:19-20 - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
  • Mark 16:15 - And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
  • Luke 24:46-48 Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.
There was no questioning this for the Thessalonians. In fact, Paul said that he did not need to say anything. They had simply done it. In being faithful to sound forth the word, the faith of the Thessalonians had reproduced in the surrounding areas.

2. The Reproduction of Faith – Going Out! (1 Thes. 1:8b)

In order to be faithful to the great commission of Christ, we must do our best to see our faith reproduced in others. The Thessalonians fulfilled this by faithfully sounding forth the word of God.
“gone out” – exerchomai – to issue, to come forth, escape, get out, go abroad, go forth, go out, proceed, spread abroad.
  • John 7:37-38 – If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

a. Reproduction is the nature of faith

Faith in God is a contagious thing. We see that throughout the New Testament:
  • Acts 11:24 – For he was a good man (Barnabas), full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
  • Acts 16:5 – So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
  • Romans 1:8 – you faith is spoken of all the world
  • Romans 4:16 – Abraham our greatest example: (Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness) Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
  • 1 Timothy 1:2 – To Timothy, a true son in the faith
The faith of the Thessalonian church had gone out—it had been spread abroad to other areas. It is the responsibility of the church to spread the faith.

b. Reproduction of faith and growth in faith is a command from the Lord

Listen to the words of the Holy Spirit:
  • 2 Peter 1:5 – add to your faith
  • Romans 1:5 – obedience to the faith among all nations for His name
  • John 7:37-38 – If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

In a genuine faith there is an inward compelling to spread the faith abroad. You can’t explain it, other than it is what God has designed faith in Him to be like.

Let’s review: Reverberating the Word results in Reproducing faith, which results in:

3. The Repentance of Salvation – Turning to God! (1 Thes. 1:9)

“how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”

Vine’s New Testament Definitions tells us that repentance means to change one’s mind or purpose and, in the NT, it always involves a change for the better, except in Luke 17:3-4 where the offending brother comes 7 times in one day to say ‘I repent.’ Obviously he hadn’t repented.

a. Repentance is the nature of Salvation

The Thessalonians had turned to God from idols. Thayer tells us that the word ‘from’ “denotes any kind of separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed.”
Pre-conversion, the Thessalonians (every unbeliever for that matter) were joined to idols. They served the idols. They worshiped the idols. They were completely devoted to the idols. Then when faith came to them through hearing the Word of God, they turned away from the idols and turned to God. Now they worship and serve the living and true God. That is the nature of salvation. There is no other way to describe it, no other way to see it happen. This is the testimony of every believer.

b. Repentance is commanded by Christ
  • Mark 1:14-15 – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Not only is this a command from Christ, it is the desire of God. 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is...not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

The reverberating Word—reproducing of faith—the repentance of salvation. That is the process. That is what the Thessalonian church was being faithful in. It is what we must be faithful in. By and large, this is a broken-down process in America. It is a broken-down process in the state of Maine. And it is a broken down process at our church.

4. The Responsibility of the Family – Sounding forth the Gospel as a family unit

I link the breakdown of this biblical process in American church culture to the breakdown of the family unit. Families no longer eat meals together. As a result, they spend less and less time together as a family. Time schedules are filled up with more and more activities, resulting in continual busyness. There is no longer any time for things like family devotions and prayer. Parents no longer seek to be parents to their children, they want to befriend them. As a result, kids no longer view their parents as authority figures and they have no reason to obey their parents. Parents have ceased to be the main educators for their children. As a result, children no longer look to their parents for wisdom and guidance for life’s issues. In fact, research shows that most young people today would rather seek advice from social media like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, than from their own parents. Most households today are two-income homes in order to support over-budgeted lifestyles. This results in parents spending substantially less time at home. And substantially more time at work.

All of this makes it nearly impossible for a family to fulfill the commission of the Lord to sound forth the Word of God.

So what is the solution? How can a family be faithful in sounding forth the word?

a. Fathers –
Dads need to be spiritual leaders in the home. Sound forth the Word to your family first. Where a father leads, everyone else will follow.
1. Lead family devotions. Your wife and your children need you to be digging deep into the Word of God and teaching them what you learn. You are their example of how to study the Word and how to have a relationship with God. You are the discipler of your household.
2. Make godly decisions. For example, decide to be in church. Period. You see, deciding to go to church is one decision. If decide to go to church Sunday morning, chances are you rarely will. Make a godly decision for your family to go to church (Hebrews 10:24) and then take them to church.
3. Show your sons what it means to love your wife. What it means to take a vow to care for her in all situations. Love your wife as Christ loved the church. (Eph. 5:25) Your daughters need to see what sort of man God has in store for them to marry.
4. Get rid of sinful habits. Take the lead in this. Stop serving yourself and start serving Christ. Set a pattern for your family in personal holiness. Show your family what it means to become more like Christ. They are looking to you for guidance. And, for the most part, they will imitate you.

b. Mothers –
Mothers need to be godly examples to their children and faithful wives to their husbands. They need to be faithful prayer warriors to help support their families. Sound forth the Word to your family first.

From P, C & D's song: Midnight Oil:
Mama always got up early

And she never went to bed 'til late
Yet, I never heard her complainin'
About her family of eight
There were times she should have been sleepin'
But, late in the midnight hour
She'd get down on her knees
And you could hear her say,
"Lord fill them will your power"

Mama liked to burn the midnight oil
Down on her knees in prayer
If you asked why she did it
She said she did it cause she cared
Mama knew that Jesus was waitin
When she knelt down by her rocking chair
Oh, I'm glad my mama was willin'
To burn the midnight oil in prayer

Mother, your daughters also need to see an example of how to love and submit to your husbands and your sons need to see the sort of woman they want to marry.

c. Children –
I love Psalm 127:4 – “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth.” Children are the hands and feet of their parents. They will follow your example—whatever that example may be. If you have set forth an example of faithfully sounding forth the Word of God, they will mostly likely do the same. If you are not faithful to the Lord, they will most likely follow that example.

It is the responsibility of any church or family to follow the example of the Thessalonians: Faithfully sounding forth the Word of God so that their faith is reproduced and demonstrated through repentance. What are you doing to get the Word out?

Churches today are being rendered ineffective because we are not being faithful as a church and as Christian families to sound forth the Word of God. We as a church need to break out of this mold that American church culture is pressing us into. It is time to step up dads. It is time to step up moms. It is time to step up church. Sound forth the Word and we will see it spread abroad.