Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

A conversation between Paul and Jesus

John Piper, in his sermon on Romans 16:17-20, records a conversation he imagined between the Apostle Paul and Jesus as Paul was writing that the God of peace will SOON crush Satan under our feet.  Read or listen to the entire sermon, but pay close attention to this imaginary, yet biblically informed conversation that Piper adds to the end of his sermon.

Paul: O Lord, how long? How long till this great enemy is finally removed and the troubles of the church come to an end?

The Lord: It is not for you to know. My Father has the time fixed in his secret councils. And he is infinitely wise and infinitely good.

Paul: Lord, could it be long—hundreds or even thousands of years?

The Lord: And if it were a thousand years—or two thousand? Would that be long? A thousand years is like a day with me.

Paul: Lord, how then should I speak of this coming triumph? What should I say about the time?

The Lord: Be true to me the way I really am, and say what will help people be ready at my coming. They must not think that they can presume upon my delay. For if they do, they will drift into patterns of indifference and be snatched away to destruction in a moment.

Paul: So do you mean, Lord, that I should say that you are coming soon even though I don’t know that from our side whether it will be soon? That would not be a mistake to say that?

The Lord: No that would not be a mistake. Say that. It will cause some to stumble, like many other things that I say. Scoffers will come and ridicule my promise. I know that. But if you give the impression that it will not be not soon, you will do far more damage to the truth and to the souls of men than if you stay true to my timeless haste and help the people be always ready and full of hope.

Paul: Lord, if a thousand years or two thousand should pass and you do not come, what should your people think who read these words in those days? Will they not think, So many hundreds of years have come and gone, there is no reason to think it will be soon any more or that our lives will be interrupted by his appearing?

The Lord: They should remember that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. It will be sudden and unexpected by almost everyone. The world will be going on as usual (Luke 17:26-31). And sudden destruction will come upon them. Pray for them, Paul, that they not stumble over the word soon. Pray that they will know that for me it will be soon, and for them it will be sudden. Pray that they will understand that expecting it to be soon is the best way not to drift into indifference and be snatched away in destruction.

Paul: Thank you, Lord. You know that I would love for you to come back while I am still alive. I would love to be clothed with life rather than stripped of my body in death. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

The Lord: Paul, my dear servant, your desire for me and my quick return is a great honor to me. I would not want you to desire anything less. Finish this letter to the Romans and pray that those who come after you will have your same desire. And until then, never forget—and don’t let the people forget—when I come I will crush Satan under your feet. My grace be with you.

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Killing congregational singing

Some of the greatest joys of my college days at James Madison University were experienced during Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’sLarge Group” meetings. God used those days to give me a glorious taste of what it meant to sing to Him. I’m a guitar player and I love to play guitar, but even more than that, I love to hear the people of God singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs with a passionate heart and a loud voice. The Lord produced my love for congregational singing in those days. I had the great privilege and responsibility of being “song team leader” for a couple of semesters there at JMU. You have no idea how strong my flesh was prior to my conversion to Christ. I took great joy in wowing people with my guitar prowess. But God so changed my heart that by the time I moved into the role as song team leader at JMU’s Intervarsity chapter, I no longer sought to wow people and was actually uncomfortable when others tried to get me to do this or sought to do it themselves.

In an issue of The Briefing, Michael Raiter writes an article entitled, “The Slow Death of Congregational Singing.” In it, I found the perfect explanation for the work that God has wrought in my own heart over the years. He talks about the performance oriented worship that goes on in so many churches these days – where the congregation is more like an audience at a concert rather than the people of God at a worship service. He writes, “It’s time for congregations to sensitively but firmly rise up and reclaim congregational singing. We must remind song leaders (or, perhaps, teach them in the first place) the purpose of their ministry…The role of the song leader is to help us to sing, and they will know if they have fulfilled that ministry when they can hardly be heard because of the praises of the congregation filling the room.

I liken the ministry of song leaders to that of John the Baptist. They must decrease as the people of God increase (John 3:30). When the song begins, we may hear the voices of the leaders and the sounds of the instruments, but by the end of the song, it is the voices of the people of God that should dominate.

But sadly, in most churches, the very opposite is happening: John the Baptist won’t leave the stage. John the Baptist has forgotten why he’s come. As I travel around visiting churches, I’ve noticed again and again that, for all their good intentions (and the vast majority are, I believe, well-intentioned), the music teams are killing congregational singing. I know that sounds harsh, but I see it in case after case. I enjoy the sound of an electric piano, the beat of the drums, the rhythm of the guitars, and the backing of the saxes and flutes, but my favorite instrument is the human voice. Nothing lifts my soul like being a part of 50— 100—300 saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel. Unfortunately that’s a disappointingly rare experience.”

I pray that the sound of 50 to 100 to 300 “saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel” becomes the norm at our churches.

Obsessed with Rapture

I listen to the Whitehorse Inn each week and you should too. It is hosted by Dr. Michael Horton who teaches at Westminster Seminary in southern California. He is normally joined by three other men, one of whom is Kim Riddlebarger. Riddlebarger has written a book entitled, A Case for Amillennialism. This week’s program, in the providence of God, is entitled “Obsessed with Rapture” and if you go to an evangelical church in America you should listen to this program. Dr. Horton says this in his opening commentary, “America has always been fertile soil for end times, apocalyptic scenarios. Hal Lindsey’s book [Late Great Planet Earth] was the best selling book of the 70’s and Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series was the best seller of the last decade. The rapture is still big business in America. Does the Bible teach the doctrine of a secret rapture that is distinct from Christ’s second coming and is it possible that speculation and intrigue surrounding end time events takes our focus off of Christ, who is, after all, the point of biblical prophecy.”

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church – little to no doctrine, no expository preaching, lots of alter calls, “Just As I Am” over and over again, and a lot of talk about “the rapture”. How many people have made “decisions” for Christ when they were kids or teens out of fear of being “left behind.” A secret return of Christ and an overnight rapture of His church are very fascinating, but how biblical are they? When you get past the myths of modern American apocalyptic fictional books and start looking at the scriptures, there is a lot more clarity to eschatology (study of last things).

Haven’t you heard someone say, or haven’t you said it yourself, “All this Revelation stuff and tribulation stuff and rapture stuff is so confusing.” It is when you let the myths of modern American apocalyptic fictional books be your teacher. For some reason, and I knew this was going to happen, the more I look into the return of Christ the more I see that the church’s obsession with decoding the times and placing our hope in a “rapture” have only taken the American evangelical church’s eyes off of Christ. The entire point of Christ’s teaching on his return and the apostles teaching on Christ’s return was to cause the church to live radically obedient lives in the face of tremendous persecution so that at the culmination of the church age (Christ’s second coming) they would be found faithful and their salvation would be certain.

A great bit of the conversation on this week’s Whitehorse Inn program centered around 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which we studied this past week in Sunday School. Many will use this text of as the authoritative word about the “rapture”. Well, after looking at the Olivet Discourse and then coming to 1 Thessalonians 4 you can see a lot of connections between the writing of the Apostle Paul and the teaching of Christ. None of those passages talks about a “rapture” in the same sense that Christian pop-culture talks about a “rapture”. If you just sit down and read these passages – there is trouble in this world which the church must endure with the hope that when Christ returns we will be with him forever. Things will certainly get worse the closer we get to his return, but our hope is not in some kind of secret “rapture”. Our certain hope is that those who have trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection will be found in Him at His appearing and we will not be taken away into eternal judgment, but will be with Him forevermore.

That is the simplest, most straightforward reading of the texts, and shouldn’t that meaning always be the interpretation that the church commends to its people? The more I study it, the more I think so.

I will begin posting the Sunday School lessons on the return of Christ shortly.

Is Christ’s Atonement for Sins Limited?

The gospel message could be preached these three ways:

1) Christ died for some of the sins of all people.

2) Christ died for all of the sins of all people.

3) Christ died for all of the sins of some people

Which of these is faithful to scripture? The one that is faithful to scripture is the one we have been commanded to preach and teach.

Number 1 is not scriptural. In fact no matter if you are “reformed” or not, you would not agree with number 1. The reason being is that if number 1 is true, then no one is saved. God’s holiness and justice demand that all of a person’s sins are punished if they are to be free from condemnation. If Jesus only died for some of my sin, then I still face the wrath of God because of the sin that is left over as unpunished. No one should agree with number 1 as being faithful to scripture. If this is the message that is faithful to scripture then nobody is going to be saved.

I would say that number 2 is not scriptural as well. Someone who is not reformed would say that number 2 is scriptural, to which my response would be, “Then why doesn’t everyone go to heaven?” Of course the biblical answer to the question is that not everyone believes. I absolutely agree that the reason everyone is not going to heaven is because not everyone believes. However, isn’t unbelief a sin? Biblically speaking – unbelief is a sin. So then I would ask someone who agrees with number 2 if the sin that Jesus died for included the sin of unbelief. There are only two answers to that. One answer is – “Yes. Jesus death on the cross atoned for the sin of unbelief.” If you say that, then you must believe that all people everywhere are saved because you agree that the Bible says Jesus died for all the sins of all people. That is universalism and the Bible clearly denies it. The other answer is – “No. Jesus death on the cross did not atone for the sin of unbelief.” Then you must be saying that Jesus did NOT die for all the sins of all people because you just said that he did NOT die for the sin of unbelief.

If someone says that Christ died for all of the sins of all people then this means that God punished all sin for all time on the cross. However, the clear implication of the reality of hell and the judgment to come in Christ’s return is that there is still punishment to be dealt out for sin. If all sin has been punished on the cross of Christ then a hell and a final judgment are belittling to the cross and Christ’s atoning work. This implies that Christ’s work on the cross was not really sufficient to save anyone much less everyone. Do you see that this really limits the nature of Christ’s atoning work? His death on the cross is really limited to what I do with it. Maybe “limited atonement” is really a better description of the non-reformed position. Christ’s atoning work is limited to what we do with it? Is that really faithful to what scripture has to say about Christ’s death on the cross? That would be a works based salvation. And if salvation is possible through works, then some will have grounds for boasting in the presence of the Lord. This is not faithful to scripture.

That leaves us with number 3. Here is what “limited atonement” really means: the atonement for sins that Christ’s death accomplished is limited by God to those who believe. For those who believe, who are His sheep, who are the church – God definitely atones for their sins through the shed blood of Christ. I believe most people hear the words “limited atonement” and they say God’s forgiveness has no limits so then they look upon those who hold to this doctrine with disdain, when really they have misunderstood what is meant by the phrase “limited atonement”. Does everyone go to heaven? If you believe statement 2 is scriptural then you would teach that. Does no one go to heaven? If you believe statement 1 is scriptural then you would teach that. Or do some people go to heaven? This is what scripture says and this is what we must preach and we do that by being faithful to a scriptural view of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. That view says that Christ died for all of the sins of some people – those who believe. So then the question is, “Are you one of those people?”

Pro-choice and Cowardly

Let’s say 1 million people in our country, unknown to them, are being led away to their death. Now let’s say a national leader knows about this, but there are other national leaders who do not believe that people are being led away to their death. So the one national leader who does believe that people are going to die determines that the right thing to do is NOT stand up and proclaim his belief, try and convince others of what he believes, and ask others to forsake their belief and join him in his belief. Instead, this national leader determines that the right thing to do is to avoid imposing his views on others because they do not hold the same belief that he does. What would you call such a national leader?

Dr. Mohler has a great article on his blog today regarding the Joe Biden interview on Sunday’s “Meet the Press”. Mohler suggested a while back that it is his practice to get the “Meet the Press” podcast and listen to it every week to make sure he is aware of the political news items for the week. So that is what I do as well, since I received the generous gift of an iPod.

Biden made these comments in an answer to Tom Brokaw’s question about what Sen. Biden would say if Sen. Obama questioned him regarding the beginning of human life:

I’d say, “Look, I know when it begins for me.” It’s a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I’m prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths-Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others-who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They’re intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life-I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.

So Biden says that he personally believes that life begins at conception. That is what he said. So if life begins at conception and over 45 million babies have been aborted at some point after conception then what is he going to do about it. This is serious. He is a Senator. Biden, by his own admission, believes that over 45 million babies have been killed by legalized abortion. What is he going to do about the killing of 45 million babies…He is NOT going to impose his religiously informed judgment on others because that is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. Do you believe that it is courageous for him to have such a view??? I don’t care if you are pro-choice or pro-life. Either way, you’ve got to have a problem with that. If a national leader believes that millions of lives are being ended yet they are unwilling to impose their judgments to try and stop this because we live in a pluralistic society – then they are cowardly, not courageous.

For most of the pro-choice people I know, I think it is safe to say (though to me it is totally unreasonable) that they believe that 45 million babies have been aborted for “justifiable” reasons. Whether it is justifiable in the name of personal privacy or “choice” or perhaps they say that an unborn child is not really a human life (although there are even secular science books that say otherwise and the more that science learns about the beginning of human life the more that this point of view becomes indefensible). I cannot fathom a justifiable reason to end the life of an unborn baby, but I will at least say that this is what they believe and this is how they try and excuse their position. They believe this and they stand up for it and they try and convince me otherwise and they want me to join their side. But Biden won’t even take this approach. He says he believes that abortion is the ending of a human life, but that it would be wrong for him to impose that belief on others – because that is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. So Biden’s solution is – don’t do anything to stop what he believes is wrong (unless he doesn’t have a problem with unborn babies being killed, which is a more horrifying prospect). That is cowardly, I don’t care if you are pro-life or pro-choice – that is cowardly.

Proverbs 24:10-12

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?