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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Why Religious People Go to Hell

“The boy didn’t need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”

–Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949/2001), 22.

So I have this friend who hates legalists.  I mean hates.  And he has a saying that goes something like this: “Legalism sends more people to Hell than alcoholism.”

My friend is a little zealous, but he’s probably right.  Mind you, both alcoholism and legalism are to be avoided if at all possible, but most often, the alcoholic has a leg up on the legalist.  For the alcoholic usually knows that he has a deep need, even if he isn’t asking for help.  The legalist however…not so much.  And recognizing our need is the half way point to Jesus.

The Pharisees and Scribes were clearly not even half-way there.  As far as these men knew, they were keeping all the rules and had no need of God’s help. Their encounter with Jesus is told in the first few verses of Matthew 15, where Jesus challenged them…

“…you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”

-Matthew 15:5-8 (ESV)

In this case, legalism actually led to disobedience. More often, it only leads to disinterest…in God. Why cry out for help if you can keep the rules on your own?  Like Isaiah intimated, legalism moves our hearts far from God.

Once a newspaper asked for answers to the following question: “What’s wrong with the world?”  And G.K. Chesterton famously replied: “Dear Sirs, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.” The religious leaders would have never answered this question like that.  As they saw it, the problem was with the prostitutes and tax-collectors, or with the Roman thugs who occupied their beloved land.  But the issue was never with them. They were doing life right.

So when the Messiah came, they saw no need for Him.  They were doing fine on their own, thank you very much.  And so we learn from the Pharisees that there is more than one way to earn a trip to perdition: First, there is the way we’ve always known – the irreligious way, the Prodigal Son in the land of sin. And then there is the way of the Pharisees themselves, the way of the Elder Brother.  As Tim Keller says,

“Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.”

-Tim Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Herod The Great People Pleaser

“What will my friends think?” This pressing question is constantly swirling in the head of one known as a people pleaser. The clothes they wear, who they sit with at lunch, the college they attend, the person they marry – in short, almost everything they do, every decision they make is calculated to please other people, with the ultimate desire…to have their approval and praise.

Herod, of course, is one of the great people-pleasers of history, and his antics are on full display in Matthew 14. He was called Herod Antipas, or just Antipas, and was the Roman ruler over Galilee and Perea for most of Jesus’ life and ministry. One of three sons of Herod the Great, Antipas shared the rule of Palestine with his two brothers.

And undoubtedly he had very poor relations with one of these, his brother Phillip, for on a trip to Rome, Antipas met Phillip’s wife Herodias and “fell in love.” He subsequently divorced his own wife and married her.

But unfortunately for Herod, John the Baptist didn’t have a people-pleasing bone in his body, and the prophet of the Jordan River did not hesitate to call him on it:

…John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.

Matthew 14:4-5 (ESV)

John said a loud “No!” to this union, and Herod locked him up for it, but he feared the people…so he didn’t put him to death.   That motive worked for a time, until as the story relates, another desire to please people took over, and through a series of events including a sultry dance and a foolish promise, he heeded the request of an adolescent girl:

Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.

Matthew 14:8-9 (ESV)

Behold Ladies and Gentlemen: Herod the not-so-great, refraining from killing a man because he wanted to make the people happy, and then killing the same man, because…he wanted to make the people happy. Talk about a buffeted life. You might call Herod a pinball, and the people around him? They controlled the flippers.

But as we sit in judgment of Herod, don’t we have to admit that we’ve all been there to one degree or another? We’ve all been there because all of us have had the sense that if only our friends approved, or the “important” people liked what we did, all would be well, and we would be finally happy. And our search for pleasure in the opinions of others has repeatedly ended only in pain. So into our foolishness, the great prophet Isaiah warned,

“Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils, for why should he be esteemed?”

Isaiah 2:22 (NASB)

Why indeed?

Herod would eventually be exiled, punished by Emperor Gaius – the one man he would apparently not be able to please. But before that, this same Herod Antipas would encounter another Prophet…at the kangaroo court of the Son of God (Luke 23:6 – 12). Herod would question Jesus at length, and receive only silence. Of course we know better, but you might almost wonder if the conversation lagged because they really had nothing to talk about. For the one who could only ask, “What will make the people happy?” had nothing at all in common with the One who could only ask…“What will please my Heavenly Father?”

 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 21: Matthew 15

 

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Field is the World

Operation WorldIt’s pretty easy to get focused on those close to us when we think about reaching out to the lost.  If your child doesn’t know Christ, or your mom or dad, or your spouse, it’s fairly easy to forget about what’s going anywhere else, and focus only on them. It’s also easy for us pastors and church leaders to think that what is really important is what is going on in our locale, our city, our neck of the woods.  Believe me, I personally have narrowed my focus too many times.

But our call is to more than our Jerusalem.  It is also to all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). To this end, I had a Navigator leader who once told me that he thought Matthew 13:38 was the key verse of the BibIe. I think that was overstating it, as it is hard to get the gospel from this verse, but there is no doubt that it contains an important truth:

The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,

Matthew 13:38 (ESV)

That man was thinking of the first five words of this verse in particular: The field is the world.

Not my backyard, not my town or city, not even my county or state.  The field…is the world. And yet how easy it is for us to forget the great needs of the world.

But Christ calls His people to be World-Christians.  I’ll never forget George Verwer, the founder and leader of Operation Mobilization talking about this – I think it was at the 1984 Urbana missionary conference where he spoke of holding a globe up during his morning prayer time, and crying out, “Lord, I love the world!!!”

And we should.  We should love the world because God loves the world.  Yes, of course, our heavenly Father loves the ones we hold dear. But he also loves the journalists of Charlie Hebdo in France, and the Ebola victims of Africa, and the persecuted Chinese.

Our Heavenly Father loves the world, and it is the field to which all of us have been called.

Short of going overseas longterm, my application for this has been to try to pray for the world semi-regularly.  I get a daily email from Operation World which has helped. Now, I confess, I have a ways to go – I too often skip over this part of my daily prayer time, but I do get to praying for the world more than I used to.

And that’s good, because my field, just like yours…is the world.

Our reading for Tuesday, January 19: Matthew 14

 

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Comfort for those who believe they have committed an unpardonable sin (Part 3)

disastroWe’ve been discussing the trouble Christians have with believing they have somehow done something beyond the grace of God.  Part one is here and part 2 is here.

Here is the second reason Christians need not worry…

2. The gospel. Over and over again, Scripture makes it clear that justification (God declaring us righteous) comes by faith, not works. Christ takes our sins on Himself on the cross and gives us His righteousness. If somehow salvation or damnation came by what we said or did, then the whole of Christianity would be turned on its ear and would cease to be Christianity.

So Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Or consider the first letter of the Apostle John, where he writes:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (ESV)

As someone once said, “I looked up the word ‘all’ in the Greek, and it means…all.”  He cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness. And then finally…

 3. The example of the Apostle Paul. Look at his autobiographical story in 1 Timothy chapter 1:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:12-16 (ESV)

The meaning here is clear.  Paul is saying that he really was the worst of sinners…a blaspheming, Jesus-hating, Christian-killing, absolutely nasty religious dude. In short, Paul was the worst man who ever lived, and yet God saved him…but with a specific purpose – to show a watching world that no one, not a single person would ever be beyond His grace.  If God saved Paul, He can save you too.  You must simply believe.

And that leads to the most convicting consideration of this whole matter, given by Martyn Lloyd Jones in the article to which I have referred in the previous two posts.  He says that if after considering all this, you still think that you have committed the unpardonable sin, then your real problem is that you don’t believe the Word of God. And for this you should simply repent. If you have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, not in your own works of righteousness, then you are a Christian.  Tell God you are sorry that you have not believed His Bible. Tell Him that you are sorry that you have not believed this statement from Jesus:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24 (ESV)

Amen…and Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Comfort for those who believe they have committed an unpardonable sin (Part 2)

disastro“The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”

Good old Fanny Crosby – she knew what she was talking about when she wrote the above words back in 1872, in her famous hymn, “To God be the Glory.”  And yet, so many Christians through the years have been determined to prove her wrong, saying that what they had done was too vile to be forgiven and receive a pardon.

Their reasoning has often come from Matthew 12, where the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. And after assailing their foolish logic, Jesus launches into these memorable words:

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Matthew 12:31, 32 (ESV)

With that, here is the first of three reasons (and there are more) that Christians who are concerned about having committed some sort of unpardonable sin…need not worry:

1. Regarding Matthew 12, consider that Jesus would have never said that the Holy Spirit is somehow more important than He or the Father. Each Person of the Trinity is fully God.  So what does the Lord mean, then, when He says that you can speak against Son and be forgiven but not against the Spirit?

A famous Lutheran theologian, C.F.W. Walther, is helpful.  He writes:

“Now it is certain that the Holy Spirit is not a more glorious and exalted person than the Father and the Son, but He is coequal with them.  Accordingly, the meaning of this passage cannot be that the unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the person of the Holy Spirit; for blasphemy against the Father and the Son is exactly the same sin. The blasphemy to which our text refers is directed against the office, or operation, of the Holy Spirit; whoever spurns the office of the Holy Spirit, his sin cannot be forgiven. The office of the Holy Spirit is to call men to Christ and keep them with Him.”

The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Dr. C.F.W. Walther

Surely this is right. For Jesus said…

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me…”

John 16:7-9 (ESV)

It is only through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit that we come to believe, so to speak against the Holy Spirit is to speak against His convicting work so as to resist His call to believe in Jesus.  This explains the passage very well, because the Pharisees certainly did not believe in Jesus –  they were accusing Him of doing miraculous works by the power of Satan.  Therefore, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is at root the sin of unbelief.  It is resisting the Holy Spirit and refusing to believe in Jesus.  And this fits in well with the next reason…

concluding tomorrow, Sunday, January 18

Let me offer the same encouragement as in part 1: if you would like to read more, please consider reading the excellent treatment of the subject by Martyn Lloyd Jones in this article, called “That One Sin”.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Comfort for those who believe they have committed an unpardonable sin

disastroIn January of 1991, I filled up my 1984 Chevy Celebrity with all my worldly goods and headed east to help start a church with my friend John Cox.  John was a fairly recent Fuller seminary grad, and I was out of college working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.  We had met at Willow Creek in Chicago where he was an intern, and he told me of his desire to start a church either in the Washington D.C. area, or L.A. When he decided on Washington D.C., I was delighted, long having been a political junkie; I determined to come along.

These were exciting days – ah, for the adventure of youth!  We wanted to reach lost people, and figured there would be plenty of those out in the land of politics and passion.  It was just the two of us, plus a young gal named Mindy Ebert who would be our children’s ministry director.   John moved out a few months before me and secured lodgings with a guy who owned a townhouse in Centerville, VA.  When I arrived, I moved in with the two of them.

Just about every day, before I headed off to Enterprise and he headed off to do whatever church planters do, the two of us would pray together, asking God to begin the work which would eventually be called Cedar Run Community Church.

And then, when our landlord/roommate set a wedding date, we took the hint and set about to find a new place. Happily, John had a contact named Brian who had a couple of spare rooms in his house, and one evening, we went out to eat with Brian and his other roommates, I suppose to make sure there would be the all-important roommate chemistry.

We were all believers, and had a great time of fellowship. Except. At one point in the evening, Brian, a charismatic Christian, played a cassette tape of a worship service he had been a part of, as I remember, to get our opinion.  And it was a cacophony of sounds, probably screaming, chairs turning over, that sort of thing.  And after listening to it, I made an off-hand comment: “It sounded demonic.”

Probably not a wise comment, but it was what I was thinking, and Brian seemed to be looking for our opinion.

Now, it didn’t occur to me right away, and nobody else said anything, but perhaps a few minutes later, I realized that the people associated with this worship service characterized this particular moment of the service as “the Holy Spirit coming by.”

And in a flash of emotional pain, I thought, “Uh-oh…what if I was wrong?”  If so, I had just called the Holy Spirit a demon.  And I knew my Bible well enough to know that if I had just called the Holy Spirit a demon, I had also just committed the unpardonable sin.

Or had I?

It is a passage of Scripture that has caused great trouble to surely thousands and probably millions of Christians through the centuries: Jesus said…

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Matthew 12:31-32 (ESV)

Would you believe me if I told you that off and on for years, I would wrestle with whether or not I had committed the unpardonable sin that Jesus speaks of here?  The reasons for my long struggle included a misunderstanding of Scripture resulting from a too-light hold on the gospel, and a powerful enemy who wished for me to live as a discouraged Christian. As Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “…Satan who, though he cannot rob us of our salvation, can definitely rob us of our joy.”

Now there have been books written on this subject, but let me enumerate just a few reasons that a person who worries about having committed the unpardonable sin…shouldn’t…

Continued tomorrow, Saturday, January 17…

(In the meantime, consider reading this most wonderful article by the great hero of the faith, mentioned above, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.)

Coming on Monday, January 19: Matthew 13

 

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Blessedness Found Here…

The opening Psalm of the Psalter sets the stage for all the worship that is to come, and paints a picture of the fruitful, blessed life that every man, woman and child would like to live. Since I mistakenly posted my article on Matthew 11 yesterday (see the post “Dealing with Doubt”), today I’m sharing the first, best and most wonderful reason to continue to meditate on the Word of God: it is the highway to the blessed life. Read…and remember why we are “the people of the book.”

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (ESV)

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 
 
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