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Posts from March 2011

"Foundations of Our Faith" - The Kingdom of God

12 - The Kingdom of God

When we talk about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, it can be a little confusing. This is a term that Jesus used numerous times in the New Testament, so it's paramount that we gain an understanding of what is being referenced.

Is the Kingdom of God something in the past, an experience in the New Testament age or something yet to come?

The answer is yes.  It's all these, but at a much deeper level.

Article IX of The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) states. . .

The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitments to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God's will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.

When the Bible references the Kingdom of God, it does so in a number of ways.  One way refers to the Kingdom within the context of His general sovereignty or rule over all. Simply pu, this means that God is the absolute ruler of all there is or ever will be.

Another way God's Kingdom is referenced is in regards to the Lordship Christ has over the lives of individual believers. It's a description of Christ "ruling and reigning" in the hearts and lives of those who have come to HIm as Lord and Savior.

The Scripture presents the Kingdom of God as being a present reality in the lives of believers, but also as a something that will come to fruition at an appointed time in the future. Today, Jesus rules and reigns in the hearts of those who love Him, and someday, all people everywhere will acknowledge His Lordship.

Click the audio link above or go to iTunes by clicking "Podcast" on the tab on the menu above to listen.  

The key Scripturefor tonight's session was Matthew 20:20-28. This is the story of James and John's mother coming to Christ to beg that her sons sit at his right and left when His Kingdom comes. I think Jesus response is most telling - "You don't know what you're asking."  Wow.  When you take this in context, the reality hits home. 

The disciples were like us at times. They were picturing an earthly kingdom - one with money, power, prestige and influence. Sounds like the prosperity gospel peddlers in Christianity today, doesn't it?

Jesus' Kingdom is not based on earthly standards. 

"Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?" Jesus asked the disciples. Of course, they said "Yes!" but they didn't know what that cup held. Today, we slide into this same mode. We want to be in His Kingdom, but forget that suffering is a characteristic of those who have entered in.

The Kingdom of God is different than the kingdoms of man.

The Kingdom of God is about glorifying God, not advancing the ambitions of man.

Life within the Kingdom of God is upside-down from the life within the empires of man. It's the paradox prinicple at work. You know - to live, you must die, to increase, you must decrease, etc.

Our problem is that we often want to inherit the Kingdom of God, but we don't want to have to suffer in order to do it and unfortunately, the way to greatness in the kingdom of God is through humility in the eyes of men.

British pastor, Michael Green, puts it this way, "Jesus contrasts greatness in the eyes of the world with greatness in the kingdom of God. Greatness in the world is determined by status; in the kingdom of God, by function. In the world greatness is shown by ruling; in the kingdom of God, by serving. In the world's eyes, the great are those who can order others about; in the kingdom of God they are those who endure hard times and injustice without complaining. How slow the church has been to learn the lesson!"

I closed by reading some statements by writer and pastor A.W. Tozer regarding the spiritual, or Christian, person as stated in his book That Incredible Christian.  These are, as Tozer states, the Marks of a Spiritual Man.

A spiritual man. . .

  1. Has a desire to be holy rather than happy.  The truly spiritual man knows that true contentment comes from being right with God not from having perfect circumstances and material possessions here on earth.  
  2. Wants to see the honor God advanced through his life, even if it means that he himself must suffer temporary dishonor or loss.  Such a man prays "Hallowed be Thy name," and silently adds, "at any cost to me."
  3. Has a desire to carry one's cross. The cross is not forced upon us. It is not a burden we grudgingly bear. It is something we take up as we follow Christ. It is the instrument which will bring death to self. Carrying a cross means to be  attached to the Person of Christ, committed to His Lordship and obedient to His commands.
  4. Sees everything in this life and the life to come from God's point of view. God looks at and through at the same time. His gaze does not rest on the surface, but penetrates to the true meaning of things. The carnal Christian looks at an object or situation, but because he does not see through it, he is elated or cast down by what he sees. 
  5. Would rather die right than live wrong. A spiritual man is not careless about the way he lives. He wil lnever be willing to purchase a few extra days of life on earth at the cost of compromising his eternal relationship with God. He wants most of all to be right in God's eyes, even if that puts him at odds with those around him. 
  6. Desires to see others advance at his own expense. This is the mark of a servant. He is willing and desirous of seeing others get the spotlight and receive the accolades of men, rather than advancing himself. As a servant, he realizes that all glory belongs to God and it is His to give to whom He will. It is not ours to gain.
  7. Makes decisions based on eternity, instead of basing them on the temporary reality we know as earthly life. By faith, he is able to rise above the tug of earth an dthe flow of time and has learned to think and feel as one who has already left the world. 

By reading these, I'm left asking myself "Are these the marks of my life?"


There's No Spiritual Carpool Lane

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine showed me a clip of Francis Chan speaking at at RightNow Conference. Chan is best known as a pastor and author of books such as Crazy Love and Forgotten God.

In this clip, Chan, shares about the meeting he had with a church member who was a little frustrated that Chan didn't seem to understand that all Christians weren't radical.

Take a look at the clip.  It's only a few minutes long. . .

"Jesus Says is a totally different game."

It seems so clear when Francis says this, but it's a pretty hard-hitting message. We have way too many Christians who think Christianity is about being a member of a church, giving a donation every now and then and showing up once or twice a week to hear some music and an inspirational talk.

Wow. How far we've fallen from where we've been called.

Why People Don't Like Church

About a week ago, a discussion arose in our Foundations class regarding corporate worship. The need for believers to come together in worship is biblical, even though some like to minimize it or call it a traditional trend.

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

The passage speaks of the vitality of coming together with other believers. This may be for study or fellowship, but primarily is for worship. There is value in corporate worship.

Sad people The act of coming together regularly and worshipping as the church is normative behavior for believers. (Makes you question the over 50% of Baptist church "members" who haven't darkened the door of their church for decades, doesn't it?")

We also discussed how our view of the weekend services may be wrong. Too often, we see it as a time to be prepared for the following week, and that's a good reason to come, but even more, it should be a time where we, as brothers and sisters in Christ can gather to celebrate all that God has done in our lives the previous week. Even when the previous week has been terrible, maybe even a week where we've fallen and sinned greatly, it's a time of healing and celebration that can remind us of whose we are and who we are.

So, the question came up "Why don't people attend church?" We received a number of answers. I saw an article in USA Today from a few years ago that showed some interesting things.

  • 38% stated they strongly agree that there is only one God and He is the one described in the Bible
  • 39% strongly agree that the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.  This is interesting, because if so many strongly agree that the God from the Bible is real as described, they obviously aren't reading the Bible or they would not be stating that He is the same as all other spiritual gods in world religions.
  • 53% strong believe that Christianity today is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people.
  • 44% state they somewhat or strongly agree that Christians get on their nerves.

Like any survey, these points can be manipulated to say what the surveyor wants to emphasize.

In our unofficial survey of believers in attendance last Wednesday, I heard the following reasons as to why people don't like to attend church:

  • Don't have time. Way too busy.
  • All the pastor talks about is money.
  • I don't believe in organized religion.
  • All the people in the church are hypocrites.
  • I can worship God alone. I don't need the church.
  • Some don't want to have to face the truth about themselves.
  • Some don't want to hear about sin and the need for repentance.
  • Some feel they will be ostracized or looked down upon.

Some have good reasons for not attending church.

  • Some churches don't teach and preach the truth.
  • Some churches don't value the Word of God.
  • Some churches focus more on psychology or "feel-good" messages.
  • Some churches are boring.
  • Some are stuck so far in the past, so steeped in tradition and ritual that people cannot see the relevance in what is preached or taught.
  • Some churches have forsaken the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a message that is more in line with the political correctness of the day. These types of messages have no life-changing power. 
  • Many avoid churches because those they have attended have nothing real to offer and leave them with more questions than answers.

All this being said, the truth of the matter is that most people avoid church because they have not seen any real difference in the lives of those who do attend church. This is not an indictment of everyone who attends church, but honestly, if we lived like we should, if we lived in the transforming power of the Spirit of God, if we truly loved others as we have been called to love, others would be drawn to us, because of Christ in us, in such a way that coming together as the church would be attractive.

In reality, the newness of a church "building" wears off quickly. Those impressed with facilities will soon fade away. The people are the church. So, it's not so much of "Why don't people go to church?" but "Why do people avoid the church - the people of God?"

Oh, more surveys will be taken. Churches will develop strategies to be more welcoming and engaging, but until the people of God trust Him with all that we are and live according to His Word, things won't change very much. 

I found this video clip from Central Christian Church in Nevada. Pretty good clip addressing many common reasons people don't church.

Choose Joy and Whatever. . . (13)

01 13 - Choose Joy - _And Whatever.

It's a simple concept, but so very hard - change the way you think. How we think determines how we act. The statement "I acted without thinking" or "I spoke before thinking" really doesn't hold any water. It's just not true. Our statements and actions come as a result of our thinking. 

God tells us in Philippians 4 what we should be thinking about. Paul writes it clearly - whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable. . .think on these things.

Think There's also the teaching in the message about the need for examples. God gives us examples of what it means to live godly lives. Paul was such an example and yet, there are others God brings into our lives regularly that remind us what it means to live by faith.

I read the following information from the Resurgence web site that speaks so clearly to those of us who are parents. We are the examples of godliness our children need. Sometimes, we just don't give very strong examples.

The title of the posting is 5 Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church.  Pretty telling. . .

  1. Make sure your faith is only something you live out in public. Go to church. . .at least most of the time. Make sure you agree with what you hear the preacher say, and affirm on the way home what was said especially when it has to do with your kids obeying, but let it stop there. Don't read your Bible at home. The pastor will say everything you need to hear on Sundays. Don't engage your children in questions they have concerning Jesus and God. Live like you want to live during the week so that your kids can see that duplicity is ok.
  2. Pray only in front of people. The only times you need to pray are when your family is over, holiday meals, when someone is sick, and when you want something. Besides that, don't bother. Your kids will see you pray when other people are watching, no need to do it with them in private.
  3. Focus on your morals. Make sure you insist your kids be honest with you. Let them know it is the right thing for them to do, but then feel free to lie in your own life and disregard the need to tell them and other sthe truth. Get very angry with your children when they say words that are "naughty" and "bad", but post, read, watch, and say whatever you want on TV, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure you focus on being a good person. Be ambiguous about what this means.
  4. Give financially as long as it doesn't impede your needs. Make a big deal out of giving at church. Stress the need to your children the value of tithing, while not giving sacrificially yourself. Allow them to see you spend a ton of money on what you want, while negating your command from Scripture to give sacrificially.
  5. Make church community a priority. . .as long as there is nothing else you want to do. Hey, you are a church-going family, right? I mean, that's what you tell your friends and family anyways. Make sure you attend on Sundays. As long as you didn't stay up too late Saturday night. Or your family isn't having a big barbeque. Or the big game isn't on. Or this week you just don't feel like it. Or. . .I mean, you're a church-going family, so what's the big deal?

From the Resurgence website. Written by Thomas Weaver -

The Dime on the Stage

Last Sunday while I was preaching, I looked down on the stage and saw a dime sitting there. It threw me off. I was faithfully teaching from the Word of God and all of the sudden, I was distracted. It was just a dime, so what's the big deal? I don't know. It was just that there was this dime sitting on the stage seemingly glowing (OK, it wasn't really glowing) saying "Hey, pick me up!"

Dime So, I stopped. I normally don't get distracted. I preach over crying babies and people getting up all the time to walk out (I hope they're just going to the restroom) so why was this little dime throwing me off?

I made mention of it. It was funny. I laid it on my table and said that I will give a portion of it back to God through the offering to come later in the service. Everyone laughed and I went back to the sermon.

At the close of the service, following prayer and time of response, the ushers came down to collect the tithes and offerings. Someone from the congregation (it was probably Tony) yelled "Don't forget the dime!"

At first, I wasn't sure what he said. The service had gone a little long and, honestly, I first thought someone was saying "You went over time!" but it didn't take long before I figured out he was talking about the "dime" not the "time."

At this point, I was focused once again on the sermon and the service and had forgotten the dime altogether. I went back to the table, picked up the dime and went to an usher and threw it in the plate. It was funny. People laughed. Then, it hit me. There's a lesson here.

I know it was a dime, and not really mine to begin with, but the reality of giving was modeled through this. I messed up, though. I didn't give "cheerfully" but appeared to give "grudgingly." Poor model. Wish I had that moment back. Have you ever missed teachable moment?

Someone told me after the service that the dime had been sitting on the stage since the previous Wednesday. I still wonder why it was there. I also wonder why I didn't see it during the 8am and 9:15am service.

So I gave the dime. I placed it in the offering plate. What's funny is that after the service a couple of people came up to me and gave me a dime. One gave me a dollar. They laughed while they did this as just another part of the joke, but perhaps, unknowingly, they also taught a major truth.

I've been thinking about this all week. I met with our Stewardship Team tonight to look over the church's monthly financial reports. Church-wide, we're doing OK. We've made decisions much like many of our families have, to cut extraneous spending. We prayerfully spend the money God blesses us with as led for Kingdom growth. Soon, our discussion turned to the great responsibility we have as individuals to view our material possessions and money as things given to us by God and not to fall into the trap of letting these items rule our lives.

In truth, our goal as leaders is not to ensure the organization of "First Baptist Church" stay solvent, but that the people who are "First Baptist Church" learn and live lives of godly stewardship. There's so much at stake.

Often when pastors or church leaders begin talking about money it seems to always be about tithing more and gaining more money "for ministry" in the church. While these things are important and I'm not minimizing them, there is a bigger task at hand.

As believers, we must learn what it means to live generously. This is freedom. Learning how to handle money and possessions God's way is life-changing.

Many times when folks look for personal financial coaching it's after they find themselves in crisis mode. They have racked up so much credit card debt, have a mortgage too high to pay, find their job situation in jeopardy and begin panicking. We offer help for those in this mode, but how much better would it be to get help on the front end, rather than on the back end when crisis becomes the norm?

We are offering a Crown/Compass Financial Planning course beginning Wednesday, April 6. The class will begin at 6pm and will be limited to the first fifteen people. I desire to lead our church to offer a culture for freedom for people in our fellowship and community. This encompasses financial freedom as well. The cure is a generous heart. I encourage you to check out the site for Generous Giving.

In order to create this culture for spiritual health, we will preach financial freedom and generous living, teach it and celebrate regularly those who are living it.

This is life changing.

It's not another program.

It's not a campaign.

It's life - abundant and free lived from the heart. . .a heart that beats with God's.

I learned much from that dime.

  • It reminded me that all I have isn't mine anyway. It's God's. He just allows me to manage it (which I need to better with.) That dime wasn't mine, but I was given the responsibility of managing it for a time.
  • Sometimes we need others to remind us to give back to God. These reminders, whether in books, sermons, teachings, songs or reminders by friends (thanks, Tony) are not bad. It's good to remember we need each other.
  • When you give, you need to give cheerfully. It's not a show. It's not a joke. It's vital to heart-change.
  • Giving through the church matters. It allows us to bless corporately and cooperatively and be a part of a greater work.
  • No gift is too small. It was just a dime, but imagine if everyone in attendance gave an extra dime? It adds up.
  • Sometimes a tithe isn't enough. Really? God only requires the tithe. I get that, and I could have given one cent as a "tithe" on the dime. However, the message was clear - give it all. Reminder to self - God doesn't just want a token gift. He wants all of me.
  • God blesses those who trust Him. Now, for fear of folks thinking that I'm teaching if you give, God will give you more money in return, read closely. Our generous giving always comes back as blessings. It may not be financial, but the reality is. . .and we've all heard this. . ."You can't out-give God."

So we journey forward as God's people, believing that God truly is converting our hearts. 

Lessons from a Funeral

Quotes-for-grieving Today I attended a funeral for the father of a good friend. Curtis Wilson Sewell, Sr. passed away yesterday. I was asked to read a passage of Scripture, which I gladly did. Pastor Kevin Collison of our sister church, Island View Baptist,  led the service and brought the message. Mr. Sewell was a long-time member of Island View. Pastor Kevin did a wonderful job at bringing the truth of Christ with compassion and caring. It's evident that he loves his flock and I was honored to be able to share the pulpit with him this day.

As words were shared about Mr. Sewell's life and faith by family and friends, both on the stage and in the foyer, I was reminded of the verse in the Old Testament that speaks of days like this.

It is better to go the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will take it to heart. - Ecclesiastes 7:2 ESV

Simply put, it's a good idea to go to a funeral every now and then to be reminded about what really matters in life.

For fear of being overly pastoral with alliterations, here are three things that came into focus once again today.

Friends Matter

Mr. Sewell was 88 years old. Therefore, there were many senior adults in attendance today. These were people who had known Mr. Sewell for many years and wanted to pay their respects and show their concnern to his widow, Sally, and other family members.

These friends consistently spoke of Mr. Sewell's giving-heart and servant attitude. They were amazed at his tenacity and work ethic. You see, Mr. Sewell had served our country as an Army infantryman in World War II and as a result lost both legs. After a year in the hospital, he went to work. One friend said that he'd even mow his own lawn (without a riding mower.) Wow. 

Sometimes we wonder if we're making a difference in life. As you pour your life into others and live out the Great Commandment (Love the Lord your God. . . and your neighbors. . .) it always comes back. It's worth it.

Like many seniors in their late 80s and 90s, the crowds of peers at funeral services are not too large. This was the case for my 90+ year old grandmother. At first, it bothered me. Then, I realized she had attended most of her friends funerals. She had outlived them. 

It was great to see people in attendance today who were much younger than Mr. Sewell. These were younger people impacted by him, but also friends of his children and grandchildren. What a testimony of the power of community and friendship.

Nonetheless, friends matter. To have friends, you must be one.

Family Matters

Sometimes the ones we love the most are the ones that get the left-overs in life. It's a sobering reminder at funerals. I've been to funerals where bitterness over missed opportunties prevail. I have seen adult children overrun with guilt, break down in hospital rooms or during services when the realization that they will never get the chance to reconcile with their parents.

Today's service was not like that. Curtis's son Curtis Sewell, Jr. shared personal testimony about his father. I could see in Curtis, Jr.'s eyes the great admiration and love he has for his father. Curtis, Sr. was in the Army as I stated. One of his requests was that his son, Curtis, Jr. (who is retired Army) and other family members (namely grandchildren and grandchildren-in-law) who are serving in the military wear their uniforms. It was a fitting tribute to a man who loved his God, his family and his country. It was inspiring to see these men in uniform solely to honor their father and grandfather's wish.

There were stories about the closenes of the family. Stories from Curtis, Jr. and from grandson Curtis Allen (one humorous moment was when Pastor Kevin said "Curtis and Curtis, come share about Curtis,") spoke of lessons learned and lives touched.

Even as adults, there was a "little boy" look of admiration and love as they honored this patriarch of the family.

While no one is perfect and sometimes at funerals, the accolades seem so thick and at times contrived, this was no the case today. They were searching for good things to say. They just shared the truth from their hearts. 

It was an apparent moment of familial love.

That which was being said had not gone without saying while Mr. Sewell was still alive with us. This was not an attempt to make up for lost time.

So, lesson learned - family matters. Take the time today to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. Don't presume you can tell them later. God has given you now for a reason.

Faith Matters

Of all that shines clear on a day like this, personal faith in Christ shines brightest. Curtis Sewell, Sr. has that faith (present tense used on purpose.)

We have all been to funeral services where there were great strides made to try to convince ourselves that the deceased was truly in a better place, all the while knowing there was a better chance that the person was not in heaven at all.

These are sad days. These are moments where we look back in the loved one's life for any semblance of faith or surrender to Jesus Christ. All too often, life choices and lifestyle do not match up with the claims of Christ. This makes it so very difficult for family members who are wanting to say "He's in heaven" or "He's in a better place" when deep down we are pretty sure he is not.

Today - this was not the case. There were no contrived stories to convince the crowd that Mr. Sewell is in heaven. This man had claimed a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, based on Christ' s payment for sin on the cross and His resurrection. Surrenduring to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and receiving the free gift of God's salvation enabled us to have a service full of hope and joy. Don't get me wrong, it's still sad. There were and will be many tears. The loss of the presence of our loved ones is difficult and part of the human story.

It's the hope we have in Christ that enables us to move forward, in peace.

Faith matters because eternity is determined by what you do with Jesus now.

Curtis Wilson Sewell, Sr. read his Bible often. He, like many, would underline key verses and phrases that held special meaning. Throughout his Bible, there were many marked verses. However, there was only one highlighted passage. This was the passage of Scripture I was asked to read today. It's Psalm 100 and it's called a psalm of thanksgiving. Some would say that it would be innappropriate to offer thanksgiving at a funeral, but they would be wrong. As believers, it can be a day of thanksgiving.

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noice to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, He is God!

It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and the His faithfulness to all generations.

God was honored today through the life and death of Curtis Wilson Sewell, Sr. God's steadfast love has been shown to endure. His faithfulness, as well as the faithfulness of Curtis has been shown to all generations. To God be the glory!

To Rob Bell and Others. . .Sorry, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

It's been the buzz on the web and in media for the past few weeks and even precipitated a publisher (HarperOne) bumping up the release date of a book.

The story is about Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and his newest book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I had thought about writing about this a week or so ago, but refrained.  There have been many blogs written about it and some in our church have asked me my opinion on the book.  My contention was that since I didn't have the book and hadn't read any of it, I didn't feel I should share my opinions. Well, yesterday I received my copy in the mail. I have been reading through it and find it intriguing, but at the same time very troubling.

This firestorm began when Bell released this promo video for the book. . .

Rob Bell, in my opinion, is one of the most creative and intriguing communicators alive today. His Nooma videos are very well done. When I first saw the promo for Love Wins, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Bell is the master of asking questions and then drawing you in to discover the answer.  I was hoping that even with these questions, he was not truly leaning to the answer he is now giving.  There are obviously some doctrinal differences I have with Bell and knowing where he is coming from regarding some very key biblical and doctrinal issues will mean I cannot endorse, nor would I encourage using Bell's resources.

Lines seem to be drawn in the sand in the pastor-verse (I made that word up.)  You are either lining up with Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and maybe even Eugene Peterson (he endorsed Love Wins on the flyleaf) or Al Mohler, Joshua Harris, John Piper and Justin Taylor. It's was Piper's tweet "Farewell, Rob Bell" that really pushed this over the top.

Bell's model is to ask a lot of questions (in this book, there are at least 350 of them) but questioning is not bad, nor is it a sin.  I'm not saying you shouldn't ask questions.  Discussion about hard topics is good. In fact, Bell has it mostly right when he says. . .

I believe discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the poems of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with. . . a question.

There's truth here, though I don't know if I'd classify discussion as "divine."  That seems to minimize divinity.  However, the point is well taken - it's OK to have questions.  This, however, seems to be more than simple questioning.  In this case, as stated by Pastor Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. . .

We should not write off the provocative theology as mere question-raising. This isn't the thirteen-year-old in your youth group asking his teacher, '"How can a good God send people to hell?" Any pastor worth his covenant salt will welcome sincere questions like this.

DeYoung continues to state that Bell has a much broader impact.  He's the pastor of a huge church with a huge following and that the book is not an invitation to dialogue, but rather a pastor telling us what he thinks. By the way, there's no problem in a pastor telling what he thinks, but there is a problem when what he thinks contradicts the Word of God.  Bell, himself states that his book is "a book of responses to these questions (about heaven and hell)." This is more than sharing what he thinks, this is systematically deconstructing foundational biblical truths.

So, what's the gist of the book?  What's this all about?  As stated in the video clip above, it's the question about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?  It leads to a question regarding the reality of a place called hell.  Is it real?  Is hell what we're experiencing now?  What about heaven? How could a good God not let everyone in?  He loves us, right?

DANIEL We live in an age and culture that likes to see everyone win.  Oh, there are places where we want only one winner, like during March Madness or the Super Bowl. At these times we want one winner to take home the trophy. The losers in the championship game are often forgotten. Yet, notice what's happening in our nation in youth sports and club sports. When my children were younger, they played soccer at our local YMCA. I ended up coaching them. I really knew nothing about soccer and that was evidenced by our record those first couple of seasons. I remember one of the first seasons we played, I received my roster. I had a team of 1st or 2nd graders. Most of these kids had never played before. We were a new team, so we had all the kids who didn't know a coach. It was fun, but we lost every game. We actually scored only one goal all season and you would have thought we'd won the championship. The parents, players and coaches were all going crazy. At the end of the season we had our team party. Guess what? Every child received a trophy. Of course, we, the parents, bought them, but that's beside the point. Everyone wins! Now, I understand the motive. We host Upward Sports at our church and it is built on the premise that "Every Child Is a Winner!" and I get it, but there seems to be a subtle message out there that goes beyond youth sports. We want everyone to win. . all the time and even at the end of time.

Here's the reality. Not everyone wins. Simply put - not everyone gets to heaven.

Not everyone gets a trophy.

Rob Bell has a problem with this. Truth be told, Bell cares deeply about people. He really does. This is evidenced in his writing and messages. I have no doubt this book was written out of his great concern for people and his frustration that many have been turned off to God by the actions of His people and even the message of hell. Unfortunately, rather than stay firmly grounded in Scripture, Bell uses his great literary and communicative skills to unravel the message of Scripture and to cast doubt:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.  It's been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus' message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. (Love Wins, viii)

That's a huge statement and is very clear. Bell is saying that this doctrine of hell is what is keeping people from coming to Christ. Though unpopular in some circles, the reality of hell must be taught. I'm not saying it needs to be taught by a screaming pastor banging on his pulpit or a corner preacher with a bullhorn trying to scare people into heaven (or "scare the hell out of people" as I've heard it stated.) It must be taught as real and authentic and in love, as Jesus did and He spoke often about the reality of hell.

It's all about Jesus, right? "Love wins" means that through grace and love, God is good and great and does good things for His children. That is true, but we cannot avoid the reality that love and mercy and justice are all intertwined in the characteristics of a loving God. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reminds us of this. . .

Jesus spoke very clearly about hell, using language that can only be described as explicit. He warned of "him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

The statements being made most prominently are that Bell argues for universalism. He says in interviews that he is not a universalist, yet his writings tell us otherwise. As Mohler posted. . .

His statements are more suggestive than declarative, but he clearly intends his reader to be persuaded that it is possible - even probable - that those who resist, reject, or never hear of Christ may be saved through Christ nonetheless. That means no conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. He knows that he must deal with text like Romans 10 in making this argument, "How are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14) Bell says that he wholeheartedly agrees with that argument from the Apostle Paul, but then he dumps the entire argument overboard and suggests that this cannot be God's plan. He completely avoids Paul's conclusion that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17) He rejects the idea that a person must come to a personal knowledge of Christ in this life in order to be saved.

Bell and others would say that we are too legalistic or stringent in our interpretation of Scripture. Surely, God wouldn't send anyone to hell? I agree, God doesn't send anyone to hell, but people who reject Jesus Christ or do not surrender to Him choose to be separated from God for eternity on their own and that means literally, they choose hell.  

This doesn't feel good.  People don't like talking about this. I see the avoidance of this subject at funerals. The funerals we have most of the time at our church are for believers who have lived their lives in service to the Lord. Their salvation is known.  (Yes, we can know.) Other times, the truth is there and we just don't like addressing it. We are burying bodies of people who are not in heaven. Why? Not because God is mean or unfair or evil, but because God is love and yet he is just and He has been rejected.

There are some hard realities that I fear we, as Christians, don't like to address at times.  

  • Heaven and hell are real
  • More people will be in hell than heaven (remember that narrow road illustration)
  • Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 10:10)
  • Apart from Christ, there is no hope
  • We, as believers, therefore, must share the truth of Christ with all (Matthew 28:19-20)

Not everyone gets a trophy.

Now, some are complaining that this debate over heaven and hell and doctrine is bad and putting Christians in a bad light. There is concern we're "airing our dirty laundry" in front of the world with mean-spiritedness and that those making points on doctrine are not doing so with a Christlike attitude.  While that may be the case for some, it is not the case for all and in my opinion, the discussion has to happen.

Not all doctrinal controversy is unChristlike, though sometimes it can be.

There have been some strongly worded, sober biblical critiques of Bell and his teachings. The warnings are to believers about the need for solid biblical doctrine. Call it timely, but this is why I have been teaching each Wednesday evening on doctrinal statements we hold true and beliefs we have as Christians and in particular, Baptists. Why? Because in a culture of "feel good" religion, it's easy to avoid and brush aside anything that seems too harsh, even if it's biblically accurate. This has nothing to do with tradition or practice, but the solidness of our biblical foundation.

I agree with Denny Burk, on his posting regarding this. . .

We all need to let the wisdom of the Proverbs guide how we engage in controversy (Proverbs 15:1-2; 16:21; 25:11), and we all need to be humble enough to repent when we transgress with a shrill tone (Psalm 19:14). As Spurgeon said it, "If you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections." (Lectures to My Students, 280).

This is true, and yet we must remember that to avoid the hard questions is to legitimize them. At the end of the day, this doctrinal debate must happen. Why? Because it is a key to understanding who we are in Christ and the working of the Kingdom. To be evasive on the issues causes more consternation and problems. This is one of the problems with the emergent church movement. For the past two decades or so, emerging Christianity has flourished. In the midst of the movement, the leaders have done well to avoid speaking with specificity. At first, the movement addressed some long-held traditions in some churches that, in truth, had nothing to do with the Gospel and were simply "sacred cows" from by-gone religious eras. However, upon looking more closely at the movement, through their accusations of evangelical Christianity, by and large, being overly concerned with doctrine, they have developed a Christian movement that finds itself built on the shifting sand of cultural "relevance."

Therefore, the debate must happen. 

There is a divide among professing Christians. The Enemy is loving this. Yet, this discussion cannot be avoided. This boils down to two rival understandings of the Gospel. They are at odds. They cannot both be right. 

In the end, God is still who He always has been. He is love. He is mercy. He is justice. His plan has not changed. Jesus is still the way, truth and life. Oh yeah, no one comes to the Father except through Him. 

Love wins. It won two thousand years ago three days after a crucifixion. The grave is empty. Death has been defeated. Love wins. . .through Jesus Christ.

"Foundations of Our Faith" - The Lord's Day

01 11 - The Lord's Day

There was a day when "Blue Laws" were the norm.  I asked about this last night and everyone over forty knew what I was talking about.  Everyone else just shook their head saying "I have never heard of the Blue Laws."

A blue law is a type of law, typically found in the United States and Canada, designed to enforce religious standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest, and a restriction on Sunday shopping.  

Lately, the debate over alcohol sales on Sunday has surfaced both locally and nationally.  Given time, Sunday will be just another day.  It already is in many cases.

So, what's the deal with Sunday?  This audio teaching covers the misconception that Sunday is the Sabbath or even a "Christian Sabbath."  Are we to rest on this day? What about church - that's not always restful, is it (well, not for me anyway.)

Also, we address common excuses people give for not attending corporate worship services at church.  Click the audio link above to listen or go to iTunes and download the podcast for free.


Choose Joy and Quit Worrying (12)

01 12 - Choose Joy - _And Quit Worry

Wow!  It's so easy to say "Don't worry about it," when it comes to giving advice for life situations that we have no control over (which are most of them.) Yet, we have almost come to the point of claiming our right to worry as something deserved. The problem is when you read through the Bible and discover that anxiety and worry leads to a sinful, self-centered perspective on life. So, in our study yesterday we looked at God's instructions for us through Paul's letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 4, we are told to "be anxious about nothing."  So much easier to say than do.

In this message, we see that when the focus is on self, we drift toward anxiety. It should be noted that there's a difference between anxiety and anticipation. Anxiety always foresees a future bad, while anticipation focuses on the good.

So many folks deal with anxiety and worry (about 18% of the adult American population.)

What-me-worry Studies have shown the following to add to anxiety:

  • iPods (Well, constant noise really. We need times of silence. The constant need for background noise or a "soundtrack for our lives" can lead to heightened stress.)
  • Traffic (Thought about this today as I heard of the wreck on the Buckman Bridge and saw the traffic building up through Orange Park.)
  • Urban density
  • Fractured family systems (especially on the holidays)
  • Disconnection from meaningful community - no friends or relationships (and Facebook "friends" do not count)
  • Finances
  • Unemployment
  • Working too much
  • Stress

There are other anxiety feeders as well.

So, the question is "How do you know you're stressed and facing anxiety?"  Here are some possible symptoms:

  • Unusual mood swings
  • Anger
  • Exhaustion
  • Fragmentation - mentally not able to focus
  • Sores
  • Paranoia or suspicion
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Fight or flight
  • Fantasizing about dying - "I just want to die."
  • Fantasizing about getting away - "I just wan to leave."
  • The Christian version of the above two - "Jesus, come quickly and rapture me."
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Health related issues
  • "Gotta have my fix" (caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.)
  • Shopping or spending sprees
  • Everyone else is viewed as a burden

The list goes on and on and so many can relate because we are a stressed out people.

The full thought in Phlippians 4 gives us a better view of how to deal with anxiety "The Lord is at hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

What's the result of really praying?  The peace of God, which is beyond our comprehension, envelops us and calms us.

Anxiety melts in the prescence of God. If we're burdened with worry, perhaps we're not spending enough time in the presence of God?

"Foundations of Our Faith" - The Church

 01 10 - The Church

Church membership means little to most people today. So, what is the big deal with joining a church? On a related note, what really makes a church a church?

In this session, we look to the doctrine of ecclesiology or that of the church, to better understand both the Church universal and the local church.

Our Baptist Faith & Message puts it this way. . .

Church10 A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.  In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.