Friday, May 27, 2011

Forgiven and Commissioned

As I watch certain churches explode into apostasy, I have been spending time meditating on a passage that has always greatly encouraged me, John 21:15-17, which I’ll post in a moment. I love this passage because it points that the goal of the church-universal is not to win souls or save the world or combat social ills, it is to love Christ by loving the flock first and foremost, everything else is an incidental. I was encouraged once again by this passage, but as I read, I saw something I’ve never seen before.

One of the reasons I believe the Bible is the Word of God is because of the layers of depth that it contains in every passage; truly it is shallow enough for babes to play in, and deep enough for scholars to drown. A few days ago I would have probably been so arrogant as to state that I had plumbed the depths of John 21:15-17; but last night I saw an even deeper message, at least as beautiful as the surface message.

In order to get there, let me give you some context. This passage revolves around the Apostle Peter, the most vocal of Christ’s followers. His mind was set as to exactly how Christ would ascend to Prophet, Priest, and King of Israel, and he had to be corrected continuously, often quite sharply, over the three years that Christ discipled him. The peak of his errors occurred on the night that Christ was betrayed, Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus told Peter that before daybreak (the rooster’s crow), Peter would deny him three times (Matthew 26:33-35, Luke 22:33).

Here is where my recent discovery began, for immediately before this, Christ had commanded Peter, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) I realized that Christ had given Peter a command even before Peter was restored; indeed, even before he fell. It reminds me of Isaiah’s amazing prophecy of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, for when that prophecy was made Jerusalem didn’t yet need to be rebuilt, because it was still standing, but the prophecy came to pass perfectly (Isaiah 44:26).

Peter did indeed flee from Christ, he did indeed betray him three times, and he recognized that his sin was grievous to Christ, and he wept bitterly. There is no doubt in my mind that at this time, Peter felt he himself was the Son of Perdition of whom Christ had spoken. Peter would have felt irredeemable and unforgiveable. But even as Peter was a grievous sinner, his God and Saviour is faithful, and Peter says it better than I can as to how he was restored, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25) The word for returned is the same word that Jesus used to tell Peter, “when you’ve turned-again (re-turned), strengthen your brothers.” Peter knew by experience and by word that Christ seeks and saves the lost.

So that brings me to the Sea of Galilee in John 21. Christ was raised a few weeks in the past, he has appeared to the Apostles twice before, and they are overjoyed that the Messiah has come, that he has reconciled them to God, he has put their sins away, and he has defeated death. But Peter’s blatant oath that, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away...even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:33,35) goes unaddressed, unresolved. On the Sea of Galilee, starting at verse 15, Jesus, sitting next to Peter, looks at his disciples and motions, asking Peter, “Peter, do you love me more than they do?” Jesus’ question is pointed, it is meant to drive Peter’s conscience into introspection, for Jesus doesn’t just ask, “Peter, do you like me?” He asks with a very specific word, agape, a sacrificial love that extends all the way to death, for agape has no greater man than this, that he would lay his life down for his friends (John 15:13). Jesus’ question literally asks, “Peter, would you die for me, even more than these?”

I can’t tell you exactly what Peter’s countenance did, but I imagine that it fell significantly. He responds, “Yes Lord, you know that I philo you.” Peter does not answer Jesus’ question, he can’t, because the last time he told Jesus he would die for him and never leave him, he failed miserably. So Peter says in effect, “I don’t dislike you, there is a genuine brotherly affection (philo) between us; but as to the extent of my faithfulness, I cannot say.” Jesus does the most amazing thing, something that I am hoping this article is building towards; he commissions Peter, “Feed my lambs.

Jesus asks again, “Peter, do you agape me?” And Peter once again responds, “I philo you.” Jesus commissions Peter again, “Tend my sheep.

Jesus asks a third question, but he changes it from the previous two, “Peter, do you phileis me?” This question crushes Peter, I can tell you that definitively because verse 17 says, “Peter was grieved because he asked the third time, ‘Phileis me?’” Here is a minor aside from the point I am making, but Peter changes the word he’s using for “knowledge”, previously he had said Jesus was “aware” of all things, but now Peter says, “Lord, you have perfect knowledge, you are omniscient, you know I philo you.” Jesus commissioned Peter a third time, “Feed my sheep.

In the following verses, Jesus shows Peter that though Peter couldn’t say it, that he would indeed die for Christ. This passage has always strengthened me in my ministry of the gospel. In an age of imaginary ordinations, manmade titles, and worldly governments, I have been strengthened that if there is any affection from me towards Christ, my commission is to love the church; not the building, but the flock inside. I always remember that it is not I who loved God, but God who loved me first, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for my sins (1 John 4:9-11). Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:5). This is the strength that I received from meditating on this passage, but I wonder if you’ve seen the deeper layer which I so now love?

It was D.L. Moody who said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man who is fully committed to him.” Moody said a lot of stupid and unchristian things, but I believe this was the worst. In a synergistic world, a world where we’re all working with God to accomplish his will, we would all fail even more spectacularly than Peter. The world has never, and will never, see a mere human committed to God accomplishing anything. I’ve heard a sermon by Mark Spence that showed how dangerous this thinking was, for Mark was told by a seminary professor that a sinful past would ruin a life of ministry. Fortunately Mark has realized the full reconciliation in Christ and is now an accomplished evangelist and preacher.

But look at Peter, you’d be hardpressed to sin worse than him, breaking a direct promise to the Lord of Glory. Peter was forgiven, and more than forgiven, he was entrusted and commissioned. If you forgive someone, but refuse to trust them again, you have not really forgiven them. Christ forgives perfectly, he entrusts, he gives his followers who are the greatest failures the biggest responsibility. He works in us to accomplish his will perfectly, building his church masterfully. His grace is magnified in the fact that he turns his enemies into his closest of trusted ministers and friends. He states that those who have been forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:47).

Peter, that grand failure, was fully forgiven, fully entrusted, fully commissioned to take care of Christ’s most precious asset, his church. Elsewhere Peter puts it this way, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5) Then, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

It was an unexpected find, but one that has greatly edified me, that Christ has chosen to forgive and commission his saints before even they have asked for forgiveness; even before they need forgiveness. It does not matter the extent of your sin, or the gravity of your betrayal, for the blood of Christ cleanses from all unrighteousness. He restores the fallen, he builds his church out of the least likely materials, and he strengthens and empowers his ministers to love his church.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 3:13-14

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Preaching in Season

Today the world didn't end. I didn't expect it to, but everyone with a television or radio had at least pondered whether May 21st 2011 could be the end of the world. For this reason, I took this open opportunity to proclaim the excellencies of Christ in Marietta Square, a small but popular park about two miles from where I work. This weekend is my "duty" weekend where I work a 12 hour shift as support.

My first sermon at 3pm closely followed my gospel-tract about May 21st, 2011, which can be read here, I spent a great deal of time on what the gospel is that will be preached to the nations that will precede the end. Normally when I preach in Marietta Square, I'll lose on average 25% of my crowd immediately, and another 25% before I conclude; they wander off in various degrees of disgust. Today surprised me to no end, my crowd increased; people crossed the street, took iPods out of their ears, sat down, and listened as I exposited the Bible on eschatological signs.

Immediately afterwards I had a very intellectual debate with Church of Christ students, they were not interested in the rapture, they were upset that I had not preached that baptism was necessary for salvation. As we continued the conversation these students showed to be much more heretical than just thinking baptism is the first step of obedience in salvation; one denied the eternality of Hell, another affirmed universal salvation, and one was adamant that God does not hate sinners (Psalm 5:4-5), and walked off when I told him God hated him most of all since he had made himself a false prophet proclaiming a lie about God (Proverbs 6:19). He came back later and I was able to tell him that not everyone who believes the Bible that God hates sinners is a member of the Hypercalvinistic Westboro baptist Church.

I then went home, just in time for my phone to ring with a completely unexpected phone call, so I had to head back for work. I did not even think about preaching again, but as I drove past the Square, I was amazed at how many people were there, and determined in my heart to preach on my way home. I completed my work, and headed for the Square at 8pm; two hours after the rapture was supposed to happen. I prayed for three things: a crowd, a parking space, and no band on stage. All three were answered.

I parked and headed for the Square, just as a group of kids started playing on the stage. I felt this might be providential and I took a moment to prepare a sermon based on Matthew 24:14, that this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Having prepared my sermon, even more kids were playing on the stage, far too many to ask to move. At this point I considered not to preach, but thought I'd give the kids a few more minutes to disperse. So I opened up my Kindle to a book I've been reading called the Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings of the Reverend and Learned Thomas Boston.

Providentially I opened to, and was greatly encouraged by, "My soul cried out for accomplishing of that [Matt 4:19, fishers of men] to me, and I was very desirous to know how I might follow Christ, so as to become a fisher of men." I prayed for God to make the kids leave the stage, and went back to reading, and within five minutes the stage was mine.

I addressed a crowd of thirty or so people, explaining that I wanted "to talk to you about something that happened today, or more accurately did not happen today." A brief summation of Camping's failed prophecy followed, and I was shocked that no-one left, and I even gained about ten listeners almost immediately, with others trickling in as I preached a bit longer than 10 minutes.

I dove into the gospel at Matthew 24:14, explaining that the end cannot come until someone from every nation, tribe, and tongue worships Christ as Saviour. I took them to the Garden of Eden where man was expelled from Paradise and the Tree of Life, I took them to Heaven where they must be sinless to stand in the Holy Place, and then I took them to the cross where the Lord of Glory died, and finally I took them to the gates of Heaven where Christ opened them for all nations (Psalm 24), and I concluded with Revelation 21:25-27, imploring my hearers to be reconciled to God. During this preaching I did not lose a single listener (at least that I perceived), indeed some in the distance even moved closer, and when I concluded I received applause, which is not odd, but where it was coming from was, for a balcony behind me had people clapping.

Normally I preach out of season, I address people in their normal lives, bothering them, and have to make a transition from the natural to the spiritual realm. But days like today are a real blessing, for everyone is already thinking about the spiritual, especially when you can tell them that had the world ended two hours ago, they would have died without hope and without God, but that they may still seek the Lord while he may be found.

Beloved, now is where I try to take a jab at you. Have you been preaching in season? How about out of season? Have you been preaching at all? Harold Camping has set up an opportunity for you like a tennisball on a tee, and I parrot Paul when he said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:16) Beloved, I see the apostasy happening every-which-where, in churches that don't believe the Bible, in churches that do believe the Bible but don't do anything about it, and in those who believe the Bible but are not making disciples.

The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Proclaim it in season and out of season.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Three Reasons the World Can’t End Tomorrow

With the coming of yet another doomsday prediction, the faith of many is yet again to be tested and shaken. This is by no means a new phenomenon, for two-millennia ago two very disliked men had this written about them,

Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. – 2 Timothy 2:17-18
In recent years there have been no lack of false dates set as the end, and all of them have passed without any incident from Heaven. Unfortunately, the toll on lives and souls in these failed prophecies has been horrendous, including suicides and hardened hearts. Worst of all, the name of God is blasphemed among the nations, tarnished by those who bear his name, yet do not bear his Spirit.

The Bible gives us several signs to look for to know the end is near. These were largely given because of an end-times scare in Thessalonica, and they give us some signs to know just how near the end is.

For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
In my study of the Bible, I have found three main reasons why the world cannot end anytime soon.

Reason 1 – No Apostasy

Paul tells us here that the rebellion, the apostasy, from the one true faith given once for all to the saints, must take place. Undoubtedly this rebellion is well underway, as the Presbyterian Church USA has just exalted themselves above scripture by allowing Sodomites to preach in their churches, but this rebellion is not yet complete. There are Christians to be found around the world, no major city is yet without a gospel presence. My church is not the only church which still loves the truth, standing firm on the rock that is Jesus Christ.

Reason 2 – No Antichrist in the Temple

Paul’s second sign of the end is far more objective than his first sign. He alludes to a man who will set himself up as God, seated in the Temple of God, and will do all sorts of amazing signs and wonders to deceive those whom the true God is deluding (vv.9-11).

Reason 3 – The Number of Saints is Not Yet Complete

Jesus gives us a definitive statement in the Olivet Discourse on when the end will come.

This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

– Matthew 24:14

Based on predictions by the Joshua Project and the Wycliff Bible Translators, this date is still somewhere far off in the future. Over 5,000 people groups are yet to be reached, and over 2,000 languages do not currently have a Bible in their own language, comprising at least 340 million people.

If Jesus returned tomorrow, then it would not be that every nation, tongue, and tribe would worship him as Saviour. He is not willing that even a single one of his saints should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

What Can You Do?

In 2 Peter 2:12 it says the saint both waits for, and hastens the day of Christ’s return. There is a call for the Christian to be working in the world to do the works which he has prepared beforehand for them to do. In the three reasons above, we can be working towards their completion, though only one of them is truly the best way to glorify your Saviour.

Way 1 – Increase the Apostasy

As we’ve seen recently in the PCUSA, the rejection of the Bible as the final authority on faith and practice is a sure way to see a denomination’s demise, its sheep sold for slaughter, and its goats coddled and catered. Another great way to prompt the apostasy is to make ridiculous end-times predictions that will harden the hearts of many to the preaching of the Bible. Many will hear Harold Camping’s self-proclaimed Bible scholarship and assume that because he is clearly deluded and incompetent to exposit the scriptures, that no-one is capable and that the Bible is dead-letter.

Hymenaeus and Philetus were shaking the faith of many, in another place Paul explains that this Hymenaeus was making shipwreck of his own faith, and of the faith of others (1 Timothy 1:19-20). This is not a recommended way, because Christ tells you that it would be better for you to be cast into the sea than to lead someone astray (Matthew 18:6).

Way 2 – Build a Temple

Currently the temple which the Son of Hell will sit in does not exist. It is very difficult to exalt yourself as God, sit on the throne of God, and proclaim yourself to be God on earth seated in his temple, if there is no temple. The third temple, which this Antichrist will sit in, will be built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but is currently occupied by a Moslem mosque.

There have been no lack of effort in the past to destroy or deport this mosque so that a temple may be built. The wildest of these was a conspiracy to airlift, via helicopter, the entire building. A campaign last year called for Israelis to petition for a new temple. This movement is nearing fever-pitch, but has not yet accomplished anything. If you want to hasten the end in this way, then you need to exalt a false God, and build a building from which he will deceive many and lead them down the broad road to destruction. Another option, which I very much do not recommend, is to declare to both Moslems and Jews that they worship the same false god and that the Moslems should allow the Jews to renovate their mosque to make it into a temple.

Way 3 – Call Lost Sheep Home

Even if the first two are completed perfectly, Christ will not return until his very last saint has reached repentance. The Lamb who was slain will receive the full reward of his suffering. At the exact moment that the last saint reaches repentance (according to Zechariah 12:10 and 14:5, this person will very likely be a Jew in Jerusalem) then the sky will explode, Christ will ride triumphantly from Heaven, and utter destruction will follow. Anyone who is not a saint at the moment that the church leaves the earth will face Christ as a Saviour scorned, and his vengeance will be swift and complete.

Therefore, dear Christian, the preferred and commanded way for you to hasten the return of Christ is to preach the gospel to every person, making disciples of all nations, calling all to repent and trust in the One who was dead, but is yet alive. If they are to reject the only Mediator between God and men, then let them do so in the face of the truth and not because of a lie. Jesus said,

Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. - John 8:45,47
Conclusion

William Varner says, “prophecy is not given to form a calendar, but to form a character; a character of prayerfulness, watchfulness, honesty, and holiness.” Beloved, know that the end is near, but also know that it will not be tomorrow. At least three major things need to happen before Christ returns, and those three major things are at least a few years from happening.

Knowing this, it is your Christian duty to proclaim the excellencies of Christ, to call the world to seek him while he may be found, to not trample his blood underfoot in their rebellion. We see trials and tribulations around the world in the form of floods, earthquakes, wars, rumors of war, and we know that these are just the birthpangs of a creation that eagerly awaits the return of its Creator; the end is nearer than ever (Romans 13:11), but because Christ has not yet returned, we know that there is still work to be done.

There is so much to be done, and beloved, you cannot do it all, but you can do your part. Peter was walking with Jesus on the shore of the sea of Galilee and learned the surprising truth that he was to be crucified upside down and would glorify God through it. His immediate response was to ask, “Well what about John?” Jesus replied, What is that to thee? Thou follow me. (John 21:18-25)

What is it to you that there is no temple yet in Jerusalem? What is it to you that many are falling away in the rebellion, following false prophets like Harold Camping to their doom? What is it to you that God is still restraining the Antichrist? If you love Christ, you will obey his commands, you will love his church, you will strive to call his lambs and sheep home; calling all to repentance, knowing that many will come, but others will harden their hearts.

God is in control, he has given you a command, and so beloved, take this gospel of the kingdom to all nations, and then the end will come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Soft Answers

A verse that has always intrigued and even perplexed me is Proverbs 15:1,

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
This verse is so often quoted as a command that I've had difficulty placing it with any certainty into many New Testament contexts. It is so often quoted that a soft answer is always commanded, that the converse is lost. This proverb is more of a statement of fact than a suggestion for tone and directness.

Recently I was preaching with a group of students in the middle of a festival. This is without a doubt my least favorite place to preach, and it has gotten me into trouble in the past, and likely will get me into trouble in the future. But there were so many people within earshot, and students to encourage, that I took a moment to expound on the narrow road to life versus the broad road to destruction (I was preaching on Main Street). When I concluded the sermonette two ladies were vocally upset. The first screamed, "What gives you the right to bother everyone?!" I responded in a soft voice, but not at all a soft answer, "Umm, the Constitution?" She quickly ran off to find a police officer (who was totally on our side). To the second lady, who was nearly as upset, I said, "I apologize for disrupting your business, we're through now, thank you for listening." Her demeanor changed quickly and she said almost apologetically, "I don't mind, it was just very loud." And we parted on good terms.

For a while afterwards I felt as though I had sinned in my response to the first lady, because I had done nothing to turn away her wrath. But then I took the time to read this verse and ponder it, and several like it in the rest of Proverbs 15 and in James 3. I am not the first to respond to wrath in less than a soft tone, the chief example is the Lord Christ himself.

On the night before his crucifixion, every manner of anger and lies were directed towards him, he was sold for the price of a slave, a veritable army of soldiers came to arrest him, witnesses lined up to testify against him, his greatest enemies had him right where they wanted him (Read Mark 14). But the Chief Priest realized that he had no legal right to crucify Christ, he had to face the fact that the witnesses against Christ did not agree. Had Christ returned a soft answer, or no answer at all, he would have walked free, so the Chief Priest asked as direct a venomous question as has ever been asked, seeking to trap the man who claimed to be God, he asked,
Art thou the Christ? The Son of the Blessed?
Jesus, being truly the Anointed of God, Immanuel, God with Us, the Saviour of mankind, the Son of the Good-Word, answered truthfully, he asserted his divinity with the phrase, Ego Eimi, intending to say literally, I am the God who spoke to Moses on Sinai, I AM. It was received as severely as it was meant, and he was condemned to be crucified.

His answer did everything BUT turn away wrath.

Besides the perfect example of the Perfect Man and God, another quote that has always encouraged me is by Martin Luther, seeking, "Peace if possible, truth at all costs." Our words have the ability to start a fire, they can steer both our body and our congregations into truth or even sin, they are the vessels of faith by which the saving message of the Risen Christ are received (Romans 10:8,14,17). We ought to be speaking softly when peace in Christ is possible, but a harsh word is more than capable of revealing sin.

In an age of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-20), I run into about 98% of people who profess Christ, I find that 98% of those have no part nor lot in Christ. A harsh word brings about their anger, showing an unregenerate spirit, a self-justifying demeanor, and a hatred of God and godly rebuke. The first lady mentioned above wanted to know why the balloons and food services of other churches weren't enough religion at the festival, the second lady professed her Christianity, yet both were against the public proclamation of the gospel. I pray that all of those who claim Christ as Saviour will test their salvation, making their calling and election sure, pondering in themselves why they are angry that the excellencies of Christ are preached. Christ said so unsubtly that you are either with him, or against him; you either gather into his kingdom, or you scatter among the lost.

So beloved, be preaching the full counsel of scripture; through the sharing of your faith may you become effective in when to use soft words, and when to speak harshly, may you never be in sin in your responses, may your tongue proclaim without any error the Word of Eternal Life, the Good Word of whom Christ is the Son, for in the beginning was this Word of Offense, he was with God, and he is God, and he became flesh and he dwelt among us. His words led to his crucifixion, but they also led to the salvation of many, may our words be as powerful, as he speaks through us, and calls his saints home through our ministries.

Are you seeking to please God, or men? If you are seeking to please men, you are not a servant of Christ. - Galatians 1:10

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Death of the Wicked

With the justifiable death of any great criminal (Genesis 9:6), under the authority of a recognized government (Romans 13:1), the Christian’s heart ought to rejoice in truth (1 Peter 2:14). We love justice, it is an innate and unalienable emotion that each of us possesses. Think back to the last time you said, "That's not fair!" Who was it not fair to? Our love of justice drives our life because we count ourselves far better than we ought.

It is then no surprise when mankind dances in the street over the death of a manifestly evil person. It is also not much to be faulted, if the celebration is done from a pure motive. After all, the Psalmist says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” (Psalm 58:10-11) I will certainly save my outright rejoicing for Judgment Day in order to ensure that I have interpreted that verse, and about a dozen like it, correctly.

Where this rejoicing goes askew is from the motive of human exaltation. When an enemy of peace is removed from the land of the living, it can be a very dangerous event spiritually because we have the tendency to see their death as proving our own goodness. Just like a natural disaster can convince survivors that they have the favor of God, so can the justice poured out on a single man as an example lead the survivor to see themselves as safe from the judgment of the Almighty (Luke 13:1-5).

One of my favorite contexts in the Bible is oft overlooked because we've become convinced that the Bible is a collection of verses and not of coherent thoughts. Take a moment today to read Romans 1:16 through to at least Romans 3:23. In this contextual progression we see that Paul describes in chapter 1 something we all already know, that those who do not worship God are evil and reprobate (fit to be thrown away). Many in the world who have some foundation in a Judeo/Christian worldview can, and do, look at those people, like Muslims, Animists, Evolutionists, and we can easily condemn them as enemies of righteousness. But the progression does not stop there, in chapter 2 Paul turns it towards the person who follows the living God, and he shows them to be as evil (even moreso possibly because of their rebellion in light of their knowledge of God) as anyone in chapter 1. And in chapter 3 he puts it all together, that there is not a single person alive who lives up to God's standards, we have all gone astray, our souls are the proclaimer and proliferation of death, and none of us fears God; indeed we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

If, then, everyone is a rebel to good, and an active participant in destruction of creation, justice would mean a complete end to mankind. From here we must look to God as an example, for he declares, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." (Ezekiel 18:32) A myriad of attributes of God are on display in this short sentence; his patience, kindness, forbearance, justice, grace, lovingkindness, and authority. Above all, we see that God desires for sin to cease, he has two ways of accomplishing his will; death or conversion. Clearly this passage points that the preferred way is through conversion, though equally as clear is that a very viable option is death.

Pause for a moment and contemplate one of the most radical verses in scripture, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15) Have you thought about it? On this day the Christian is loosed both from the power of sin, and the ability to sin; he has ceased sinning forever (1 Peter 4:1). Now pause on the death of a reprobate, they have stepped out of any measure of grace straight into the hand of an angry and living God, which is a terrifying thing which no man can stand (Hebrews 10:31, Psalm 7:11, Isaiah 33:14). This person too has ceased from sinning (1 Peter 4:1, Philippians 2:10-11), but there is no pleasure in God for this person (Psalm 5:4-6).

What then ought to be our response to such people while they still live, while salvation is still at hand (Acts 17:31)? The New Testament is filled with commands to go and take the gospel to them, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Christ's name, to immerse them in the saving power of the Holy Spirit, to turn them from the world to the Risen Christ, and to snatch them in pity from the flames, loathing both them and anything they've touched (Jude 23), but knowing that if they turn we have delivered a brother from death (James 5:20). It sounds hard. It is hard, we need an example. While we were yet sinning, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). While we were enemies (Colossians 1:21), usurpers (Psalm 58), destroyers (Romans 3:15-17, 6:23), Christ loved us and gave himself for us. It is a gospel worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15). He is our perfect example. He has put away our sins.

What then should be our response? Should we turn from justice and forgive every wrong? By no means (against ourselves, yes (Matthew 5:38-41), against God and humanity, no (Romans 13:3-4)). In Psalm 69 it says we look at the cross and are glad. On that cross the justice of God was met perfectly; every sin we have ever or will ever commit was repaid in full by the Lord of Glory. In Psalm 85 it says that two radically different things met, kissed, each other on the cross, the wrath of God and the love of God. We are not saved from the justice of God, we're saved by the justice of God proving Christ to be both just and justifier, therefore we uphold the law, knowing that through Christ's perfect obedience we have received grace to stand in the presence of God as though we had lived the most perfect of upright lives. The Son of Man, the Son of God, was accursed and cut off from God for the sake of his brothers, crushed for our iniquities, and raised for our justification.

What then shall we do? Perfect saints in Heaven have given us an excellent example, they pray, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10) We see that the perfected saint has the mind of Christ, just as we have here on earth, though not perfectly; the saint in Heaven desires justice and for sin to cease. We ought to be praying likewise, that God would be hastening the day of justice, when sin will cease, and that prior to that that he would be saving many from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

While we have different spiritual fathers, all of mankind has a single lineage to the man Adam. We are, in the most literal of senses, all relatives, kinsmen, according to the flesh. We may be able to trace this to different lines, lineages, and differentiate ourselves into ethnicities, for I am Saxon/Nordic, Paul was an Israelite, Osama Bin Laden was an Ishmaelite, but we are all in the lineage of Adam. So then, let us have the mind of Paul, imitating him as he was of Christ, as he stated, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:3) Let us have such compassion on the perishing that they would be earnestly compelled to turn to Christ and live. Charles Spurgeon put it this way, "If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for."

But when God’s patience runs out, when he puts an end to a sinner, not through conversion, but through crushing, we rejoice that there is indeed a God who judges on earth, a God who will not contend with men forever, a God who loves righteousness and hates wickedness. While someone lives under the wrath of God, we pray, we love, we hope for their conversion, but as soon as they fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31, Deuteronomy 32:39), they step out of hope, and we praise the One who saved us from so great a condemnation, and bless his name for preparing such vessels of wrath so that the riches of his glory and grace are made known to his vessels of grace (Romans 9:22-23).

Apart from the love of God, each of us would glorify God only through his justice, but by the amazing grace of the Just and the Justifier, we glorify God through the justice that was poured out on Calvary’s cross for our sins, and for the grace that abounds in the love of the Righteous and Resurrected Saviour. He has proved beyond a doubt that he is the Only God, the Only Living Saviour, and the Perfect Judge, there is no other;

Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.
For the LORD will vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants,
Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods,
the rock in which they took refuge?’
– Deuteronomy 32:35-37

Monday, May 2, 2011

Do Something

It was the walking dictionary himself, Charles Spurgeon, who said so masterfully, “Do something, do something, do something.” He was expressly talking about soul winning, motivating his people to put their talents into use to take the gospel of life to a dying world.

His command to do something was purposefully ambiguous. He didn’t say, do open-air preaching, he didn’t say, do friendship evangelism, he didn’t say, do go pass out gospel tracts, he didn’t say, do help at the homeless shelter, he didn’t say, do work in the orphanage, he didn’t say, do be an overseas missionary, he did say, do something. Spurgeon was, and is, a man who motivated men to work towards the goal of soul winning, and one of his greatest gifts was recognizing that his gifting was not the only gift given, his ministry was not the only ministry, and his method(s) of evangelism were not the only methods of evangelism.

Unfortunately, in Christendom today we have seen this recognition of a myriad of gifts forgotten, and many of the most popular ministers today are forcing their ministries and pet-projects on their followers, even when their followers are not best suited for these tasks. I won’t name names, not for the sake of sparing feelings, but because I don’t want you, dear reader, to think that there are only a handful of ministers making this mistake. If you read today’s most popular books you will be told that you must be a missionary to unreached people groups, you must be fighting the sex-slave-trade, you must be digging wells in third-world nations, you must be adopting half a dozen orphans, you must be giving all of your possessions to the poor, you must be going on short-term missions trips to provide disaster relief…you must look precisely like the one you’re reading, or you’re doing it wrong.

After reading a recent book I was wondering, am I really being as useful as I can be in my current role in the midst of a slipping Bible Belt? Is my time best spent working amongst students who are, in majority, utterly consumed with the world and so inoculated to Jesus Christ through powerless free-will messages that most will die in their sins having never realized that there was enmity between them and God? Should I listen to one or more of these Pharisaical commands to cross land and sea to fight great evils in other lands? The Georgia community has the gospel, am I really being effective toward the fact that, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14)?

These questions were heavy on my mind this past week, but by the grace of God, the gospel is self-correcting, for Paul prayed for his friend Philemon, “I pray that in the sharing of your faith you become effective for every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 6). On Sunday we went into our Samaria (Acts 1:8), which is a town about twelve miles away, Marietta, and shared the gospel with probably about fifty people. The age range was 11 (a former attendee of our church) to probably 65, and not a single one of the people I talked to personally showed any understanding of the gospel of grace, though most professed at least some understanding of the Bible.

My young friend and brother, Grant, shared the gospel with three students roughly his age, one of whom had been to church earlier in the day, another who was a Buddhist. These three all professed their own goodness, utterly clueless to the fact that Christ came to seek and save the lost. After Grant did a fantastic job sharing the gospel, the Buddhist was still adamant that she would be reincarnated. I took a moment to show her that every religion says if you’re good, something good will happen to you when you die, but I pointed out that as a self-admitted liar, thief, blasphemer, and murderer at heart, if reincarnation were true she would not be coming back as anything good, nor would anyone, for we have all sinned and the thoughts and intents of our hearts are only evil continually. These students went away thinking; realizing that the King himself stepped out of Heaven to rescue them from their assured condemnation, for it is appointed once for a person to die, and then the judgment. We could go to Tibet to find Buddhists, but we've found them in our own backyard speaking our own language.

A little while later we approached a group of late-teens and began to take them through the good person test to show them their standing before God. A young lady, probably 17 or 18, came up right at the end of the test, and wanted to know what we were talking about. I gave her a condensed version of the good-person test to bring her to the point in the conversation that we were at. Long before I could get to the gospel, these girls attempted to justify themselves as better than me (and most likely they are better than me), asking questions of my past, and then they turned inward willing to give up some sins, but not others. The young lady who walked up late took control of the conversation, saying, “I’m willing to repent of lying and stealing, but what about lesbianism, I’m not going to repent of girls.” I’m not sure that she was sincere, or just looking to shock us, but it’s pretty hard to shock me (I work with students weekly) and I instead gave her the test in Matthew 5:27-28, asking her if she had ever looked with lust on someone she was not married to. Her haughty countenance disappeared. Another girl asked, “So, we’re hopeless?

One of my favorite verses recently for evangelism is Ephesians 2:12, it exactly says that we are hopeless. I explained to them that we are indeed without hope, nothing we can do can rectify the danger we’ve put ourselves in through rebelling against God, by blaspheming his name by operating as images of God yet showing all of creation that God must be a liar and adulter, because the images of God are liars and adulterers. This thought sunk in and they were more than ready for the gospel at this point. I asked what God had done in love so that they can be forgiven? A young lady who had previously professed to be a drug-user, spouted out, “He gave his Son.” She had probably heard that before, she may have even said it before, but you could tell by the look on her face that she was understanding it for the first time. I gave a synopsis of Christ’s life and death, and resurrection, and two of them looked surprised when they heard that Jesus was God in the flesh. It was truly a joy to tell these contrite young people that while we were without hope or God in the world, he willingly gave himself up to die on a cross in their place to reconcile them to God. What happened next was not just a “thank you for talking to us,” it was a series of serious questions from them asking how to partake in the forgiveness, righteousness, and reconciliation offered by Jesus Christ. They all promised to go home and read their Bibles, one girl said she had tried, but couldn’t even get through Genesis; I encouraged them to read the Gospel of John first to understand who Christ is, why he came, and why it is important for them. Had we instead gone to Haiti, we would have missed the opportunity to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to this group of pierced, tattooed, drug-using, sexually active high-schoolers.

On Sunday we talked to professing Baptists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, Hedonists, youngsters, seniors, men, women, boys, girls, civilians, marines, drug-users, homosexuals, gluttons, drunkards, and even a girl who very likely was a prostitute. There is no lack of ministry in this world, I encourage you to find a place to serve, to do something.

Beloved, I have a gift for talking to students, I have the ability to easily approach them, strike up a conversation, and present the gospel in terms they understand. I will not stand here and tell you that if you are not ministering to this lost and dying generation that you are wrong, I will not tell you that if you have gone to Haiti or Tibet or anywhere and shared the gospel that you are wrong, or if your ministry is elsewhere, I will not tell you are wrong. The only way I will tell you that you are wrong is if you are doing nothing to preach this true gospel of forgiveness of sins.

Beloved, I will tell you to do something. Find a place where your gifting fits, something you enjoy, something you are good at, and preach the gospel. For the end will indeed come when this gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, but it also will not come until every saint of Christ comes to repentance. These future saints live in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth, both literally and figuratively in how those relate to your location. So be preaching the gospel in your capacity, with your gifts, demonstrating the love of a Saviour who loved you first, not forcing your ministry on others, but finding needs and filling them, proclaiming the excellencies of Christ to a lost and dying world, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of God.

Do Something, Do Something, Do Something. – Charles Spurgeon