Friday, July 31, 2009

Daily Devo - Friday, 07/31/2009

"By it [faith] the people of old attained a good report”
Hebrews 11:2

C.H. Spurgeon was a preacher who was ‘megachurch’ before there was such a thing as megachurch. Tens of thousands crammed into his London church building to hear the “Prince of Preachers” deliver a sermon. Congregants didn’t hear any messages about “Living your best life now” nor were they told about the “Five steps to a healthier marriage”. What they got was deep theology, rich bible teaching, and a lot about Jesus. And there was one message—or idea rather—that tended to come up more often than most. The truth that Spurgeon loved to present, over and over, was that salvation was by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Standing against any doctrine or system that added works to the equation, Spurgeon regularly called upon his hearers to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Conversely, some time ago I had a conversation with a neighboring minister who held to the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory—even though he himself was a Protestant. When I asked why he would believe in such a doctrine, he responded by saying “well, certainly there are sins I’ll have to be held accountable for before I can enter heaven.” What a wretched doctrine. What sin against the living God could we, as mere humans, ever “pay” for? How easily we fall from the precious truth that Christ—and Christ alone—provide full and complete salvation for all who believe.

Spurgeon, always crisp and vividly clear when he preached, once told his congregation: “I mean to let it stand out simply before you, that the incarnation, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ are the one foundation upon which we must depend for eternal salvation, and upon that alone; and if we do so depend we shall most assuredly be saved.”

The world hangs on nothing; but faith cannot

hang upon itself, it must hang on Christ.

- C.H. Spurgeon

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Daily Devo, Thursday, 07/30/2009

"By it [faith] the people of old attained a good report”
Hebrews 11:2

Thomas Manton once said “true faith is an old grace”. God’s grace has been around for a long time. Sometimes we mistakenly think that believers in the Old Testament had to rely on the Law to be saved, whereas believers in the New Testament can rely on God’s grace. This is absolutely wrong. God has been consistent from the very moment humanity fell into sin. In his exposition on the letter to the Hebrews John Owen wrote, “it is faith alone which from the beginning of the world was the means and way of obtaining acceptance with God”. Salvation has only ever been possible because of the rich, deep, and forgiving grace of God.

Law and grace are meant to go together. The Law points to grace and grace fulfills the intent of the Law. The reason the ‘heroes of faith’ in Hebrews 11 were reconciled to God was not because they fulfilled every tiny bit of God’s law—they most certainly did not. Some on the list were adulterers, liars and even murderers. They failed over and over again in keeping God’s holy law and Old Testament believer was ever reconciled to God because of their observance of the Law. The Law, though precious and beautiful, condemns us because all fail to meet its rigorous standards.

These Old Testament believers certainly cherished God’s law, but they cherished his grace even more. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that “it is by grace that you have been saved, not of works, lest any man should boast”. Trying to adhere to the Law to be saved is to have faith in our selves (which is foolish faith—no real faith at all). But when we cling to grace our faith finds its object solely in Jesus. From Moses to Billy Graham, all believers were reconciled to God only on the basis of their faith in his marvelous saving grace.

“It is faith alone which from the beginning of the world was

the means and way of obtaining acceptance with God”

- John Own, Exposition on Hebrews (Vol 7)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Daily Devo - Wednesday, 07/29/2009

"By it [faith] the people of old attained a good report”

Hebrews 11:2

At one point in my life I held a ministry position with a parachurch organization that required I travel frequently. I would travel around the country teaching at seminars and conferences while representing the ministry. During one airplane ride I overheard a remarkable—though disturbing—conversation. Across the aisle sat two 30-something guys. Roughly my age, these two men were young professionals. One was a doctor fresh out of medical school and the other a mid-executive with an investment firm. What perked my interest was when the young medical student asserted he was a Christian. Almost immediately the business man began mocking the Christian faith. Though under the pretense of good-natured humor, the young doctor was mocked for “talking to the invisible man upstairs” and “believing that the blood of a dead man washes away our sins”. Eventually the young doctor grew tired of the teasing and suggested they talk about something else. The remarkable part was what occurred next. The young business man said, “Don’t worry, I’m just teasing you. I’m actually a Christian myself”.

That is when I joined the conversation. Turing to the young finance executive I asked him how, if he had committed his life to Jesus, he could mock the other man’s faith—even if it were only in jest. His reply was haunting. He said, “Oh most Christians are too stuffy and take this stuff too seriously. I was just trying to lighten the mood.”

I remember a quote I once ran across from C.H. Spurgeon. He said, “Any kind of faith in Christ which does not change your life is the faith of devils, and it will take you where the devils are, but it will never take you to heaven.” A true disciple of Jesus Christ longs to see his Savior’s name honored and cherished. Because he has been radically set free by Christ’ sacrifice, he yearns to see others set free and rejoices when he meets someone who has likewise been changed by Jesus’ love.

”Now sirs! Any kind of faith in Christ which does not change

your life is the faith of devils, and it will take you where the

devils are, but it will never take you to heaven.”

- C.H. Spurgeon

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Daily Devo - Tuesday, 07/28/2009

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things unseen”.

Hebrews 11:1

‘Faith’ is a term that is often misunderstood, even by Christians. For some it means believing something even though there are no facts to support it. We often hear (and even say) the phrase “You’ve just got to have faith”, by which we really mean “you need to go against everything you know to be true and just hope things turn out the way you want”. At other times we use the word to refer to anyone who seems devoted to some religious cause or idea. We think a person of “deep faith” may be Buddhist, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, or some sort of tabloid mystical spirituality. We observe that the person is really sincere and committed, and although we think they are wrong we still affirm they have “a deep faith”.

Scripture guards this word far more jealously than modern Christians seem to do. Biblically, faith can only be centered on Christ. Anything which does not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ at its core is, by definition, faithlessness. Sadly one the one hand we willingly define faith as something without any substance or fact. Such ‘faith’ is no faith at all—but rather silly wishful thinking which is ultimately valueless. On the other hand we readily fill faith with anything but its true and proper object. Yet, salvation rests in Christ alone—any other ‘faith’ is really no faith at all.

Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace.
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.

No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;

No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Horatius Bonar, 1861

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The uninspiring legacy of an anabaptist

A few week back our adult Sunday School class began exploring the "History of the Baptist Churches". This was actually part three of a a longer church history course (1=Early Church, 2=The Reformation).

There is some debate about how Baptists began. There is of course that absurd belief that an organized Baptist group has always been present throughout Church history. Another option is often presented that we are descendants of the Anabaptist movement of Europe. While there are certainly similar ideas that link the two groups, in fact the movements are rather distinct. While the Anabaptist's held to some beliefs later picked up by the emerging English baptists of the early 17th century*, they also held some radical--and even heretical--ideas that threatened the orthodoxy of their movement.

On such idea that began to be popular in the Anabaptist movement was the "continuing inspiration of the Spirit". In an extreme form, this led entire congregation to throw aside their Bible under the belief that the Spirit was 'the living Word' inside of them. Like modern day fringe-charismatics, they believed they were given special revelations of the Spirit that were to be unquestioned by anyone. Whereas the Catholic church appealed to tradition as an authority over God's Word, many Anabaptist sects appealed to "new revelation" as an authority over existing revelation.

The "magisterial reformers" (Calvin, Zwingli, Luther) responded quite negatively (Zwingli even persecuted these groups). Sadly, many times the Anabaptist were persecuted for the wrong reasons (such as their belief in believer's baptism). Like David, the reformers we so love and cherish are forever tainted by their sinful actions against this group. But some reformers also saw the core problem clearly.

In his famous reply to Sadolet, John Calvin made an important link between the claims of the papists and those of the 'spiritualistic' sects of the Anabaptists. Writing of both groups he states,
"when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency certainly is to sink and bury the Word of God, that they may make room for their own falsehoods."**

Even within a movement that, like modern day Baptists, wanted to be "people of the Book" there arose a hideous idea that actually undermined the authority of God's word. All the while claiming to hold fast to God's Word they in reality let it slip right through their fingers.

This is one Anabaptist legacy that the modern church would do well to abhor.

* The Baptist movement appears to have originated as an off shoot of the Puritan movement in England and as a breakaway from Anglicanism.
** "Calvin's Reply to Cardinal Sadolet's Letter", contained in John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Vol 1 (Edinburgh:
Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), p 36.

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Daily Devo - Monday, 07/27/2009

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things unseen”.

Hebrews 11:1

One of the greatest struggles for the genuine Christian is the struggle for assurance of salvation. Many who experience this pain worry because of unconquered sin. Others, at times, slip into doubt about God’s truth altogether. Still others wonder if they have misunderstood some doctrinal point that will cause them to be excluded from God’s eternal love.

The author of Hebrews wrote his letter to a group of believers who were struggling in their faith. Many were weak spiritually, and some even began to doubt and considered going back to their former ways of life. To encourage them the writer offers a brief definition of faith. He says that faith is simply a firm confidence that the things which Jesus has promised will indeed come to pass. His promises are infallible and eternal because they have been given by an infallible and eternal being.

Samuel Bird, writing in the 16th century, said that faith “is a sure stud to lean upon. We may be bold with all our weight to stay upon it. For although the things that we hope for are not present like those things that are before our feet, we are as sure of them as our footing which stands upon firm ground.” Are you leaning on Christ? If your salvation was in anyone else’s hand you would certainly be lost. But, if it is in His merciful yet powerful hands there is no greater guarantee. Your home in heaven has already been prepared, and heaven doesn’t resell its real estate.

What God has promised shall without question be accomplished.
- William Gouge, Exposition on Hebrews

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Daily Devo - Sunday, 07/26/2009

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things unseen”.

Hebrews 11:1

Driving on my way back from a hospital visit I heard a popular young preacher giving an interview on a Christian radio station. One of his statements caught my attention. He said, “traditional Christianity is little more than cosmic escapism. We have a completely wrong view of heaven. Faith isn’t about looking forward to some future Kingdom, it’s about being that Kingdom in the here and now.” Of course, I can appreciate part of that. We certainly are called to live for Christ in the here and now. But I couldn’t help think about how those words would have sounded to the dying woman I just left back in that hospital room. Taking this young pastor’s advice, perhaps I should have entered her room and given some philosophical and humanitarian speech about the “missional nature of the Kingdom” and the need for believers to set aside notions of the afterlife in favor of “making the world a little more like Jesus now”.

No. I didn’t say any of those things. Scared, dying, and overwhelmed—this Christian woman broke into tears. I simply opened my Bible and read 2 Timothy 1:12, “...I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Then together we looked at Titus 2:12 which speaks of that “blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Moment later I read from Jude where believers are told to wait confidently “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life”.

How I yearn for believers to live more for Christ now...but I still preach Heaven! Far from “cosmic escapism”, Heaven is proof positive that the struggles of this life are worth it. Remove the eternal promise of Christ’ presence and courageous living for Christ in the here and now is no longer possible.

When the soul is taken up with thoughts of another world,
it can better digest trouble here.

- Thomas Manton, Sermons on Hebrews

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Young pastor asks about church buildings

Over the past few months I been having a lot of e-mail correspondence with a couple of younger seminary guys. They were entering seminary about the time I was leaving, and we have kept in touch. Both of them recently launched into churches over the summer (one a church plant and one a traditional church). They have peppered me with tons of questions, so I've taken some of the better ones and will be posting them over the next few weeks.

Our church plant has just bought property and are now planning a building. Our leadership team can't decide if we should build a traditional-type sanctuary or something that doesn't look so traditional. Thoughts?

Josh's answer: Yes I have a few thoughts. First, what in the world do you mean by "traditional"? Certainly you can't be referring to biblical tradition. The "traditional" church comes to us from our Protestant forefathers who simply took the architectural styles of the Medieval Roman Catholics. The Catholic church had a seriously flawed view of the Church--equating it with the Kingdom of God and viewing it primarily as institutional and geographical. Thus, in Catholic thought the "sanctuary" is the spot where we gather to take the mass and worship (whereas in Scripture the sanctuary is the people of God themselves). The Reformers, in a slightly better though still misguided move, redefined the sanctuary as the place where the congregant encounters the spoken Word (e.g. bible preaching). Though better, they still misunderstood the whole idea of "Church"--which biblically means "an assembly of believers".

I personally think the absolutely worst thing a congregation could do is to build a church building that looks anything like a "church". Any argument in its favor must necessarily abandon scriptural definitions and examples. Arguments in its favor generally are one of the following two:

1. It won't feel worshipful unless it looks like a traditional church - The person uttering this comment has a woefully unbiblical idea of worship and frankly a very, very legalistic outlook. Legalism is simply trying to produce religion on our own terms. Instead of being able to bask in the presence of God in the company of other believers--wherever that may occur--this individual won't "feel worshipful" unless they have some man-added thing to grasp.

2. People won't understand and they need a traditional looking church to be drawn in - Really? In Paul's day temples and houses of worship were all over the place, in whatever religion happened to meet your fancy. What was unheard of was the biblical idea of "church". The Gospel--and the very concept of church--is by definition countercultural. We can't build the Gospel--the emphasis is always on living it.

On on practical note, why would you spend so much money on a single use structure like a sanctuary? You will get to use it only one day a week (maybe two), and the rest of the time it sits taking up space unused. It's hard for me to imagine how that brings glory to God. Why not simply build a gym or reconvert a warehouse? You can use the space for all sorts of things: weddings, funerals, services, bible studies, basketball, fellowship dinners, outreach events---whatever you can dream of!

You can follow Pastor Josh on Twitter: Questions about faith, scripture, theology, or daily Christian living can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Daily Devo - Tuesday, 07/14/2009

"[The Jailer] brought them out and said, 'Sirs,
what must
I do to be saved?' And they said,
'Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ,
and you will be saved.'"

Acts 16:30-31 (ESV)

The whole concept of salvation is a wonderful and beautiful mystery. One the one hand, Scripture clearly insists that salvation is solely a work of God. We can do nothing to earn it--in fact, left to ourselves we didn't even want it. On the other hand, the Bible calls on all people to repent and turn to God. From the one angle, we are chosen; from the other, we choose.

I think there are some fairly good theological explanations for this apparent paradox, but I believe by focusing exclusively on 'solving the paradox' we miss the larger message of the Gospel. There is a beauty to the Gospel message, but also a hideous warning. The saved person thankfully says,
"I'm in heaven because of God!" The lost person must truthfully say, "I'm in hell because of me!" Those who are damned will never be able to blame God or say, "I'm damned because God did not choose me." Their damnation is based not upon God's rejection of them but upon their rejection of God.

The beauty of the Gospel is in the fact that my salvation is in the hands of God. Yet, an ugly truth remains: the Lord has salvation in His hands while the unbeliever has damnation in his own.

Whose hands are controlling you?

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Dividing Christ's Body over Millennial Views

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., offers a provocative statement:

"I am suggesting that what you believe about the Millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order for us to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course, all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity...Therefore I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation."

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Daily Devo - Monday, 07/13/2009

"For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,
declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!"
Ezekiel 18:32 (ESV)

A few centuries ago some churches began singing a hymn that included the following verse:

"We are the Lord's elected few,
Let all the rest be damned;
There's room enough in hell for you,
We won't have heaven crammed!"

What a wretched understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! In fact, such theology is "another Gospel" altogether, as it ignores the clear desire of God that all would be saved. But how often do we actually encounter Christians who have this level of hatred towards nonbelievers?

Not often, though I would argue we regularly encounter something far worse. The opposite of love isn't hatred, it's apathy. Christians most fully demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ when we share (and live) the Gospel message with them. Love, as defined in Scripture, involves sharing with the lost the way of salvation. God cared for the lost so much that he sent His Son to provide the way of eternal life.

A small minority of Christians have been exclusive and full of hatred towards non-Christians. Truly, this is a great evil. Yet the vast majority have committed a far greater crime; for, while claiming to love, we have been too apathetic to even share the Good News.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

When traditions become barriers

Today I preached a funeral sermon that included a backyard pig roast and beer tent. Suffice to say, it was not my typical funeral experience. Well over 200 family and friends gathered to say their goodbyes to a husband, father, and friend. Few in attendance were believers.

And yes...I preached the Gospel.

The family had told me the event was going to be informal and encouraged me to dress accordingly. In fact, the deceased was an avid hunter and they told me I would fit in best if I wore jeans and camouflage. Yet as I got dressed I couldn't let go of my suburbanite values and put on a suit jacket (with jeans...I did try). The people who came were hunters, bikers, construction workers, and 'hardy' Northern Michigan folk. It was a great time with a bunch of great people--none of whom knew how to relate to the only guy at the event wearing a suit.

After the service (and after praying with the family and providing some pastoral care) I eventually left. On the drive home, however, I quickly became overwhelmed. Pulling off to the side of the road I spent about 15 minutes sobbing---weeping over the lost who were still gathered in that backyard. So many were without Christ--not just at this funeral, but in the entire area where I live. Only a small fraction of this area's population actively attends Church, and fewer still have been redeemed in Christ.

Once I regained the strength to drive I made my way back to the Church. The entire drive home I reflected on the tremendous disconnect between my Church and this non-believing culture I was invited into. This problem is not just found in my own congregation, but is typical of most churches in the United States (most, by the way, that are stagnant or dying).

Think about this:
We wear clothing styles they don't even own.
We sing with music forms they have never heard.
We preach in a manner disconnected from their everyday lives.
We use language they do not understand.
We embrace a formalism they find cold and impersonal.
.....all the while making the ludicrous claim that our way is "godly" and "reverent".

We've abandoned Jesus' great mission of taking every effort to "seek and save the lost", satisfied instead with a church service that was designed only for ourselves. In short, we've willingly sacrificed commission for comfort and activity for idleness.

I had been given the opportunity to meet a group of people at their level, but instead I did what I felt was more comfortable. The occasion called for camo, but I insisted on a suit. I was a fool--and a selfish one at that.

Far too many of us are. Sunday morning has become our most selfish day. What we call 'bringing God glory' is little more than an exercise of the familiar and safe.

The question is, when will stop making excuses for our comfort-craving and join Christ in His great mission?

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Bonar's Advice to Pastors

Today I once again picked up my copy of Horatius Bonar's little book "Words to the Winners of Souls". It has been a while since I spent time with this old friend. Listen to his sage counsel to all who are in the ministry:
"We take for granted that the object of Christian ministry is to convert sinners and to edify the body of Christ. No faithful minister can possible rest short of this...If souls are not won, if saints are not matured, our ministry itself is in vain.

The question, therefore, which each of us has to answer to his conscience is, 'Has it been to the end of my ministry, has it been the desire of my heart to save the lost and guide the saved? Is this my aim in every sermon I preach, in every visit I pay? Is it under the influence of these feelings that I continually live and walk and speak? Is it for this that I pray and toil and weep? Is it for this I spend and am spent, counting it, next to the salvation of my own soul, my chiefest joy to be the instrument in saving others?'" [P&R Publishing, 1995 reprint, p 4, 5]
When I read such books, which illuminate the very heart of the Gospel, I cannot help but to tremble. So many of us stand idle when God has called us to zealous action.

Forgive me, Father, for the time I have failed to redeem and bring under the yoke of Christ. Grant me the faith and wisdom to redeem what is left, for your glory alone.

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I am now on Twitter

I am now on Twitter ( Look for frequent Tweets, mostly devotions and brief commentary.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is the language of Hell symbolic?

Question from Jesse:
Is the language about Hell in the Bible real or symbolic?

Pastor Josh's answer: First and foremost, Hell is real. It is eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Some within Evangelicalism have begun teaching the idea that Hell is just a metaphor for 'ceasing to exist'. But the Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. In fact, most of what we know about Hell comes from the lips of Jesus himself.

Your question relates to the nature of the language Scripture uses concerning Hell. It is described as an "everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41) and a "furnace of fire" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:50); a place "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48); where the unbeliever "will be tormented with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 14:10) and the “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night”(Revelation 14:11).

Even if Scripture used metaphorical language it doesn't detract from what is being described. Sometimes people make the silly statement, "Oh that language is just symbolic", but they never stop to consider what exactly is being symbolized. Metaphors and symbols point to a larger reality then themselves--and Hell is a big, horrible, terrible place. Ultimately it doesn't really matter if Scripture's description of Hell is graphically literal or gruesomely symbolic. Either way, it is infinitely worse than anything words can describe.

R.C. Sproul puts it this way:
"I suspect they are symbols, but I find no relief in that. We must not think of them as being merely symbols. It is probable that the sinner in hell would prefer a literal lake of fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire image. If these images are indeed symbols, then we must conclude that the reality is worse than the symbol suggests. The function of symbols is to point beyond themselves to a higher or more intense state of actuality than the symbol itself can contain. That Jesus used the most awful symbols imaginable to describe hell is no comfort to those who see them simply as symbols" [R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1992), pp. 285-287].

Because of Hell's unfathomable fury, Scripture warns us of its existence while simultaneously providing humanity with a way of escape. Revelation 20:15 tells us that "whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the Lake of Fire." Realizing the power and holiness of God, the Philippian prison guard cried out "...Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, 'believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved..." (Acts 16:30, 31).

Hell is nothing short of the full wrath of a sovereign God poured out upon an individual for all of eternity. But in His mercy, He has provided salvation through Jesus Christ. Still, many choose to reject Christ. Considering the consequence, such a refusal is illogical and impossible to comprehend. This is why the author of Hebrews could ask in wonder, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3).

You can follow Pastor Josh on Twitter: Questions about faith, scripture, theology, or daily Christian living can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Moral Compass of Evangelicalism

Michael Jackson and the
Moral Compass of Evangelicalism

Everyone seems to be weighing in on the death of Michael Jackson. Song writers, vocal artists, actresses, politicians, and news anchormen are offering their tributes and perspectives on the life and music of the famed singer. It is, of course, no surprise to see many Christians commenting on this issue.

What is surprising is the number of Christian bloggers condemning any believer who dares say anything negative about Jackson. Some offer excuses that are little more than psychobabble, (such as, "you must understand he never really had a childhood"). I suppose then we should overlook the scores of half-naked elementary-aged catamites he "cuddled" with in his bedroom.

Others take a position that could be called axiological schizophrenia ("we must overlook his obvious [ethical] faults because his phenomenal musical [atheistic] abilities"). Perhaps we have too quickly forgotten the second phrase in Martin Luther King's dream that one day his children would not be " judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character".

My personal favorite are those who resort to pious-sounding "feel-goodism"("this is a tender time for his family, so we should only say positive things about Michael. After all, that is what Jesus would do"). Really, somehow I doubt Jesus would write a blog post praising the Moonwalk or the "programmatic masterpiece" we call 'Thriller'.

I remember one of the Father Brown stories written by Chesterton. In the story, two young men engage in a pistol duel. One is killed, and the other flees the scene--supposedly in great remorse. When the man is finally tracked down, the priest is the only one willing to decry the earlier action as murder. The 'pious feel-gooders' accuse Father Brown of mean-spirited judgmentalism, claiming we must "forgive this man for a tragic mistake he made in his youth". Later in the story it is revealed that the man who is alive is really the man everyone thought was dead. He had killed the other man in cold blood, switched identities, and ran off. As the others become enraged and demand justice, Father Brown stands ready to forgive (because the man had come to him repentant). Turning to the crowd the priest says something like, "You have to pardon me if I didn't take your earlier accusations against me with much seriousness. You see, you were willing to forgive this man when you didn't think he really did anything worth forgiving".

I wonder if this somehow relates to the approach many Evangelicals have taken regarding Jackson. They are enraged when other believers decry Jackson's ethical aberrations: pedophilia, self-indulgence, and lyrical humanism. Perhaps the reason is because they see no real problem. Certainly the pedophilia was never proven, but the self-indulgence and humanistic musical genre stand clearly evidenced. For many of these Evangelicals, Jackson was a musical hero who captivated their hearts and imaginations. Lacking any discernment, Jackson's life and music were idolized, and--like Demetrius the Ephesian idol-maker--they cannot stand to see their idol's flaws when held next to the Gospel-light.

Christians have a moral and biblical obligation bring the Gospel to bear on such situations. Yes--we must be operating within the context of gentleness and love. But,these were never meant to be displayed in the absence of truth. The Gospel, by definition, is "truth in love". In the absence of truth, God-authored love doesn't exist. Far too many have betrayed the Gospel by seeking to suppress the truth-love of Jesus' message. Instead of cherishing those whose "feet bring the Gospel of peace", they would stone them.

It makes one wonder who they are really worshipping.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Daily Devo - Tuesday, 7/7/2009

"The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you."
Psalm 102:28 (ESV)

One of the hardest aspects of counseling and pastoral ministry is when I must work with a child who has been sexually abused. It is painful and gut-wrenching, not only because of the pain the child is experiencing, but also because of the pain I know they will experience later in life. Even a child in Junior High is too young to fully understand the emotional damage that was inflicted upon them.

I remember vividly once painful experience. A late elementary-aged girl was referred to me for counseling and was brought to my office by her court-mandated guardian. Although we had never met previously, as the girl entered the office she rushed over to me and gave me a great big hug. Her body seemed to almost melt into mine. Still clinging to me in a deep embrace, which was awkward for both adults in the room, she said "I'm so glad you met with me, you seem very nice." It was all I could do to fight back tears. This young girl had been so sexualized and abused that she knew no other way of relating to older men. Instead of protecting and loving, her parents had abused and destroyed.

The psalmist in the verse above cites a future promise, but also a partial present reality. God's plan is for families to be healthy, loving, and stable. When we give our lives to Christ, and build our families upon His foundation of love and truth, then our children can be raised in relative security. Even in the most harrowing of circumstances, the children of Christ-centered parents experience the love and care of a faithful mom and dad.

The consequences for rejecting God's righteous rule over our lives--and our parenting--has drastic consequences. But the joy of embracing His plan for our families can be a blessing for generations to come.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Daily Devo - Monday, 07/06/2009

"Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 1:31

After a major basketball game a group of reporters surrounded an all-star NBA athlete. Earlier that evening he had played at optimum level. The crowd cheered, the coach grinned, the announcers raved, and even the referees seemed to be in awe. The player had dominated the floor. His teammates merely fed him the ball even as the opponents feebly attempted to take it away. By all accounts it was a magisterial performance.

As the player made his way out of the locker room, wearing an expensive suit and head held high, the cameras flashed and the reporters fired their questions. One young reporter yelled out, "why do you think you played so well tonight?" With a smile as wide as his face would permit the player confidently responded "because of natural ability, of course! I was amazing tonight."

Humanism is such a pitiful religion. One man pits himself against the other and all struggle for the place of honor and prestige. What is granted to us by nature becomes something for which we think we deserve praise. I recently heard a nationally-recognized pastor say that his mega-church became so large not because of prayer or faithfulness, but simply because he was talented. He went on to encourage other pastors to develop their talent under the belief that this is the only way to grow a church. The sin of humanism--a relentless focus on self--finds its way even into the hearts of men who claim to know better.

Christ frees us from all such foolishness. Whatever gifts we may possess have merely been loaned to us from Christ. The strength is his, the ability is his, and therefore the glory is his. There is no one amazing in Christ's kingdom save Christ alone. This amazing Lord chose to use us not because of who we are, but despite who we are.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Daily Devo - Friday, 07/03/2009

“How long will you go limping with two different opinions?
If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal then follow him”
1 Kings 18:21

At a youth event one of my leaders had a conversation with a young teenage girl who was new to the group. We had just finished a session on the truth claims of Christianity and, although the girl was pleasant, she showed little interest in the topic. She was, however, very interested in talking about her own views on faith. That is when things got interesting.

When the youth leader asked about the girl's faith perspective the young woman replied, "I consider myself a Christian and an atheist." A bit stunned, the leader replied "I don't think that's possible." "Of course it is", the girl replied, "there's no reason both can't be true".

This young girl failed to see the truth that towered before her. Either the universe was created by an all-powerful God or it was not. If there is a God, he must be sovereign and we owe him our allegiance. If not, we owe allegiance to no one but ourselves. A Christian understands that God is the supreme standard. An atheist believes that mankind is the ultimate measure of all things. The two philosophies are not only incompatible, they are at enmity.

The heartbreaking truth is that this young girl only verbalizes the way many Christians actually live. While proclaiming to believe in God, they live as if He does not exist. They give lip service to God's moral standards though in reality live according to their own. Far too many professing believers worship God for an hour on Sunday, but then worship their own desires for the rest of the week.

The truth that stands before all of us is that if Jesus is true, then everything else is false.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Daily Devo - Thursday, 07/02/2009

"Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to
inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron?"
2 Kings 1:6

Some time ago I engaged in a conversation regarding Christians using Yoga. A prominent Emergent pastor & leader was advocating such practices, and openly hosted Yoga sessions within his church body. They claimed this was a harmless spiritual and physical exercise that helps people relax and be at peace. When asked whether or not I thought this was OK, my initial response was "I guess its fine".

I regretted those words almost as soon as I used them. Yoga, by its very nature, is an eastern religion that is incompatible with Christianity. Far from being a harmless physical exercise, it is a bold religious statement regarding how one achieves spiritual peace. Its pursuit for peace is entirely in the wrong direction. Yoga searches inward and instructs the individual to empty himself in order to find the peace which is naturally within. Christianity understands that peace & fulfillment can never be found within ourselves. Instead, we must be filled--not emptied--with the truth & grace of Christ.

Romans 5:1 tells believers, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This promise come directly from the lips of Jesus himself. In John 24:37 he says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Why would we want to, or even need to, borrow the practices of pagan religions to achieve that which is a gift of God? This gift is the gift of knowing the nearness of our God and Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.

The study note on 1 John 2:16 in John MacArthur’s NASB study bible says “While the world’s philosphies and ideologies and much that it offers may appear attractive and appealing, that is deception. It’s true and pervasive nature is evil, harmful, ruinous, and satanic. Its deadly theories are raised up against the knowledge of God and hold souls of men captive.”

Is there no Christ that we would then run to such silly myths to find true peace?


Alcohol - The Tie that Binds Mormons & Fundamentalists

It seems the only people nowadays that think alcohol is inherently evil are the rabid fundamentalists and the cultic Mormons. Blessed be the ties that bind, eh? Well, the ties that used to bind anyway.

As reported by World magazine (June 4, 2009):

Some of Utah’s prohibition-minded alcohol laws will be officially loosened today. Beer lovers may celebrate the rift in the so-called “Zion Curtain” that has up until this day prohibited bars from operating normally in Utah, as establishments will be able to serve alcohol to customers without first making them join a “private club.” The state’s traditional hard line on alcohol can be traced directly to the Mormon Church, which frowns upon alcohol consumption

Isn't it a shame when the only other people who agree with the Fundamentalist's "using alcohol as a beverage is a sin" position are Christ-denying cultists? Its even more shameful when even the cultist begin to see common sense.

Note: I am in no way encouraging the use of alcohol. I do not drink it, I do not intend to, and I actively discourage it. I am just dumbfounded how conservative Christians think they have the right to take their moral directives from the American prohibitionist movement rather than from Scripture. Do we really think we have the right to claim a holiness code that would have excluded even Jesus?


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Daily Devo - Wednesday, 07/01/2009

"Epaphras...has made know to us your love in the Spirit."
Colossians 1:8b

Once while at a pastor's conference I stumbled upon a group of believers at a local restaurant. Though they hadn't attended the conference, the recognized the logo on my name badge and rightly assumed I was a pastor. All were from the same church, and a few of them served on its pastoral staff. They invited me over for some fellowship, and as we sat around the restaurant table we spent almost three hours talking about family, theology, church, culture, and then--eventually--politics.

Specifically, the topic was Bill Clinton. As the conversation went on, the rhetoric grew sharper and sharper. Clearly, Clinton had no supporters in this group. What had been a time of sweet fellowship turned into little more than slander and name-calling. The group made fun of Clinton's mannerisms, his attraction to an 'overweight' mistress, his 'ugly' wife, and even jokes about the infamous cigar situation.

Eventually, someone noticed I had been silent during ever since they started talking about politics. Perhaps they noticed a different look on my face. Trying to get me to engage, one of the men said, "Hey Josh, what's wrong? Were you a supporter of Clinton or something?"

I replied, "No, but I am a supporter of Jesus, and I do not think He is being honored right now."

Let's just say no one offered to pick up my tab.

Friends, the love of the Spirit has to be demonstrated. When people hear you talk, will they go and tell others that you are loving?


FBFI Resolution a Good Start, but a Poor Finish

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International is a conservative association of churches known for its strong stance on separation. There is much within this organization worthy of admiration and, despite the general characterization of fundamentalism found within Evangelicalism, the FBFI has demonstrated a genuine desire to be loving, Christ-like, and godly. For example, the very first words one encounters on the FBFI homepage state,
"We must honor our biblical responsibility to use speech that edifies and displays Christ-like love. We must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to humble integrity. Caricatures and personal attacks do not honor the Lord or advance His work. Neither pulpit nor keyboard exempt us from these biblical obligations".
The frontpage of the site also specifically mentions the cyclical controversy of Calvinism and Arminianism, noting this should be no reason for separation. It states,

"The FBFI has always included both Calvinists and non-Calvinists because we recognize that godly men can agree with one another on the fundamentals of the faith while disagreeing with one another in this area. In any disagreement, we must represent one another fairly and treat one another charitably. To make this a test of fellowship among fundamentalists has not been the position of the FBFI and will not be our position".
The organizations commitment to Christ-like love and its refusal to separate over what it views as "non-essential" are both commendable. This isn't to say that the FBFI has always held my respect. While I agree with many of their positions, I probably disagree with a hefty amount as well. As with all fundamentalist groups, they tend to over-practice separation (for example, see the FBFI's rather silly resolution warning young people about John Piper. The warning wasn't issued because of John Piper's theology, but simply because John Piper wasn't as separatistic as they would like).

However, the tone has changed---if ever so slightly. At this year's national conference, the FBFI issued another resolution on "Limited Participation". It reads as follows:

Regarding Limited Participation: Whereas the Scripture admonishes believers generally to maintain fellowship with one another in the love of Christ and in the bond of peace,

And whereas the Scripture also commands believers, individually and collectively, to separate themselves from professing believers who persist in disobedience to the clear teachings of the Word of God,

And whereas Christian individuals and ministries that otherwise enjoy fellowship with one another in the Lord may still disagree over sincerely held convictions, over questions of ministry philosophy, and over judgment as to the prudence of various courses of action,

And whereas such disagreements may be significant and may limit the degree to which individuals and ministries may participate together in various aspects of the work of the ministry,

And whereas the Bible establishes the pattern of respect for the soul liberty and responsibility of individuals and local churches as to matters not clearly determined by Scripture,

Now, therefore, the FBFI urges God’s people:

To respect the liberty of Christian individuals and ministries to limit their participation in projects or activities provided that the particular exercise of this liberty does not violate Scripture;

To avoid labeling such limited participation as separation and to avoid giving the impression in its exercise that other believers or ministries are in sin or are spiritually inferior;

To avoid limiting participation based solely on personal or group preferences as opposed to sincerely and reasonably held principles; and

To practice diligently, forcefully, and lovingly the obligation to separate from believers and ministries that persist in disobedience to clear Biblical mandates or precepts.

Positively, the resolution indicates that the FBFI recognizes the difference between out-in-out separation and what they term "limited participation". Simply put, they understand that separation is to be used for serious doctrinal disputes whereas one can choose to limit participation with a true brother in Christ for less serious (though still important) doctrinal matters. This resolution allows an FBFI pastor to "choose not to participate" with another congregation while being able to simultaneously refrain from calling that other congregation "heretical" (which is what separation implies).

Negatively, the resolution fails to approach the matter from the correct direction. They are still obsessed with removing themselves from the wayward---wayward heretics and even wayward brethren. Though scripture repeatedly gives command regarding separation, I have failed to see a command or an encouragement in scripture for "limited participation". Sure, Paul and Barnabas practiced "limited participation", but this story is hardly given as a commendable example to follow. The entire tone of the New Testament comes from the direction of engagement and unity.

Thus, while a resolution granting permission to remove oneself from a true brother or sister in Christ may sometimes be necessary, it would have been far more in line with the unity of the Gospel message to have issued one encouraging the use of discerning participation (or even respectful acknowledgement) even with brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.