Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Foolishness of the Gospel

I recently had another one of those funerals where I knew no person involved. I was called because one of the family members contacted a friend about a minister to do the service, and that friend contacted me. I had never even met the friend, she knew me only by reputation. They asked me to come, and I went.

The family was rather nice, and they seemed well-educated and pretty cultured. They were polite with me, and they thanked me for coming. They gave me the order of service. I was to open with prayer and then lead the family and friends in the Lord's Prayer. At the close of the service, I was to give a devotional thought and close with the 23rd Psalm. After this was explained and I had offered condolences to the family, one of the family members spoke up and said something to the effect of, "Now, we don't need a sermon pastor, or some speech on, 'Repent or else!' Just something nice. I'm sure you know what you're doing." The family laughed in agreement. They wanted no sermon and no message on repentance.

I was oddly stunned. I was called at the last minute, and I had planned on speaking from Ecclesiastes 12 and the vanity of clinging to this life without regard to God. I felt as if the rug had been pulled from under me because I knew that if you take away sermons and messages on eternal life and repentance and hell and heaven, I'm just a guy in a suit. The janitor would have had more things to say than me, and he wouldn't have had to drive as far to say them.

So I went in the back and I prayed. I did not speak on Ecclesiastes 12. Instead, I chose 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which is all about the resurrection from the dead and the glorious appearing of our Lord. I did the opening condolence, recited the Lord's Prayer, and sat and waited in growing discomfort.

The family gave the eulogy. One read a poem about how the deceased had not really died but simply had become one with nature. She was now a bird and the wind and the grass and the water. She was everywhere and always with them. The family wept; I fidgeted.

My part came soon, and I took my Bible and stood behind the lectern. The family waited, and I struggled. I knew that what I was about to say would probably offend, but that is not what bothered me. I felt deeply, for perhaps the first time, the foolishness of the gospel. I don't know why it struck me so deeply at that moment, but it did. As I was turning to 1 Thessalonians, the thought in my head was, "I am about to tell these people that a Jewish man some 2000 years ago died and came back to life. And if that weren't enough, I am about to tell them that this same man is going to appear in the sky and that when He does, He will teleport people into the air to hover with Him there." Internally, I chuckled to myself. How absurd I was about to sound to these people!

So I preached, contrary to the request that was made. I did not raise my voice or yell, I simply presented the hope of the gospel in all of its glory and foolishness, and I told them that I believed it with all of my heart. I came to give hope to those who mourn, but more importantly, I came to give honor to the One who is Sovereign over life and death. That is why I disregarded the request, and that is why I always will.

Next time, I will be better prepared for such a circumstance. If someone says something like that, I will simply say something like, "Sir, I am servant of Jesus Christ, not a hired professional. I must say what I must say, and if that is disagreeable to you, then I will leave. But I promise you this, what I say will be sweet because repentance and salvation is sweet, though not everyone finds such truth palatable."

The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, and I am a fool for Christ's sake. May the Lord bless the gospel that was not wanted but was given, and may they come to see a likely offense as a tender mercy. Amen.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Recommendation

If anyone is still reading this blog, I'd like to make the strongest possible exhortation to you. If you have to sell the shirt off of your back to buy Richard Sibbes' "The Bruised Reed," then go straight out and do it. The first chapter alone is worth that and even your socks. If you find yourself in low spirits, I do not know whether you may find a better medicine than this precious book. It has become a soothing oil to my soul.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Blog Changes Coming Up, Stay Tuned

I am revamping both the look and content of this blog. If all goes well, I will be pursuing a Ph.D in Church History beginning this fall, and the blog will soon change to reflect that. I will update more as the template look progresses. I'm probably going to change everything from the layout to the title of this blog. I hope that you will find the new blog a better resource and more edifying. Your comments are appreciated.


The Mgt. (That's me, Brad)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How Dare He!

Homosexuality is immoral. So says Marine General Peter Pace. Check out the entire story here. Do you think he'll catch some heat over this?

Monday, March 05, 2007


The book of Numbers certainly lives up to its name in the first three chapters, doesn't it. It's just what you've always wanted to know concerning the number of Gadites and Benjamites and Reubenites and etc. that walked about in the wilderness for forty years. Could we have done without these chapters, Lord?

If we had gone without them, then we would have missed a very important miracle. I don't know how well you do with math, I myself am pretty lousy at it. But even a mathematical dunce like me can understand the sort of math that I'm about to present to you. Here's the info we get from these chapters:

These are the numbers of fighting men from each tribe, excluding Levi:

Reuben - 46,500
Simeon - 59,300
Gad - 45,650
Judah - 74,600
Issachar - 54,400
Zebulun - 57,400
Ephraim - 40,500
Manasseh - 32,200
Benjamin - 35,400
Dan - 62,700
Asher - 41,500
Naphtali - 53,400
Total Fighting Men - 603,550
(I didn't even have to do the math myself. The handy MacArthur Study Bible did that for me.)

These figures do not include boys under 20, women, or the tribe of Levi. If you throw those numbers into the mix, then the number of Israelites reaches about 2,000,000. This does not include the folks of the other races, the "mixed multitude", that went out of Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38).

How much food do you suppose it takes to keep the average man going per day? How about two biscuits and two tablespoons of gravy. That's over a million biscuits per day and...a lot of gravy. What about water? How much water does the average person drink per day in the desert? I'll bet they have to drink a good bit to stave off dehydration, especially if they are marching around in circles.

My point is that these boring numbers tell us that God provided for over 2 million people every day for forty years in a desert. A people who left Egypt with no real provision and went into a desert where there was no sustanance. That's a logistical nightmare, folks. I know people who can barely feed two teenagers with daily trips to the grocery store; I can't imagine trying to feed a quarter million teenagers in a desert.

But God did it, and He will provide for you and for me as well. He cares for us as He did for them. I had some very lean years there in seminary. Very lean. But I never missed a meal (even if it was Ramen Noodles), and I certainly didn't starve. My bills were paid, my tuition was taken care of, and I even got to go out occassionally. God is good, and He cares for His people. You can count on it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Warning to Drifters

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard him...Exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end. (Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:13-14).

When I was a kid, I used to love to watch old Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel episodes with my great-grandfather. Even though the man only had "bunny ears" for reception, he had the uncanny ability to pick up an old western anytime he wanted. After twenty years, I can still recall that the characters on those shows who were held with the greatest suspicion were the "drifters" that blew in and out of towns.

The problem with these dudes was that they weren't stable. They didn't have families, respectable jobs, or permenant abodes. Naturally, this indicated that they were men with no regard for responsibility, and as often as not, they caused trouble in the towns they wandered into.

The warning of Hebrews 2 begins with a warning against becoming a church drifter. The language used here harkens to a ship that isn't properly anchored, and so it slowly begins to be carried away by the current. That's a marvelous picture of what happens to a church drifter. They come in, they never really connect, and then they slowly drift away. Are you a drifter? Can you identify?

But is this text really speaking of drifting away from the church? Chapter One, admittedly, does not refer to the church. It speaks of the glory of Jesus Christ. So it is legitimate, perhaps, to say, "Bro. Brad, this text is talking about drifting away from Jesus, not the Church!" Very well, I grant you this point. However, let's look at how we came to Jesus Christ and how we stay in Jesus Christ.

Observe the end of 2:3. It says, "At the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him." So where did our knowledge about the Lord come from? The Lord told us about Himself, and when He ascended into heaven, His witnesses told us about Him. For me, that means that approx. 2000 years after the ascension, a man named Sgt. Wilson told me about he resurrected Savior on a bivouac. So does this mean after hearing one time and believing, we are therefore steadfastly anchored? Am I justified in my tying this passage to faithfulness to the local church?

Repeatedly hearing the gospel will not make the beleiver more justified, but it will make him more sanctified as he hears it and loves it more deeply. In the local church, I hear the gospel and the "salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord." And so I grow in faith.

So am I now arguing that local church attendance only helps for spiritual growth and has no effect on justification whatsoever? Well, not completely. Let's turn to chapter 3 to get the full picture. "Exhort one another daily...lest any of you be hardened throught the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end" (3:13-14). We are commanded to encourage one another daily. This is a command for intimate fellowship with those in the body of the local church. To what end? So that sin may not overcome us and harden us so that we cease to persevere. Here's the real point of all this and why the local church is crucial to our salvation: if someone has ceased to be encouraged, then their hearts may be hardened and they will not grow in faith. If they cease to grow in faith, then their justification is questionable. Because genuine faith has perseverance as one of its marks. Therefore, if someone is neglecting fellowship, it is likely that they are not in the faith. At best, they will grow weak, at worst, it reveals an unregenerate heart.

Look again at the implications of the text:

1) We are warned not to "drift away" from the things we have heard.
--->Application: We drift away from the things we have heard by not positioning ourselves to hear them.

2) These things which we heard have been passed to us from the Lord to his witnesses.
--->Application: Specifically, I believe these witnesses to be apostolic witnesses for the most part. Where do we go to hear their witness explained? The gathering of the Church!

3) We are to exhort one another continually.
--->Application: Where can we go to fulfill this command? The local church. And arriving on Sunday is not enough. The command is "daily." Therefore, we must develop relationships in the assembly of the Church and nurture them outside the assembly constantly. If you only do this once a week, then you are a once a week drifter.

4) If we are not encouraged, then sin will harden us.
--->Application: We need the nourishment of the body to aid us in our war against sin.

5) We are partakers in Christ if we continue to the end.
--->Application: We may have confidence that our faith is genuine as long as we are in a healthy relationship with one another in the Church. If we have, through neglect, removed ourselves from the body, then our faith has become weak at best and is non-existent at the least.

Conclusion: Thank God for the fellowship of the saints. Appreciate your local fellowship more, and realize that this group of imperfect people you hang with is instrumental in keeping you honest and faithful. Don't neglect the church, and if you are, repent and return immediately.