Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Truth about "Joe India"

Once upon a time, I wrote a post about whether or not people who never hear the gospel, read the gospel, or in some way find out about the gospel, go to hell. I answered that yes, they perish without hope. Of all the posts I've written, I have gotten more 'late' comments on it than any other. Mostly, people are opposed to my answer because they believe it to be unjust. I want to challenge that notion.

I have a character that I call "Joe India" or "Joe Africa" or "Joe Brazil". It doesn't matter where he's from, the thing about the guy is that he has never come into contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I tell people that "Joe" will certainly perish in his sin and go to everlasting torment. I do not relish this thought in the least, and I have invested time and money and prayers to see to it that as many hear the gospel as possible. But is it unfair that such a person should go to hell without a 'chance' at being saved?

Here's why it is just: Joe India is a sinner who hates God. There's the problem. Joe India does not 'deserve' a 'chance' to be saved. If he did deserve a chance to be saved, then the gospel would not be grace: it would be something that God owed Joe India. He does not owe anyone anything, and therefore it is perfectly just to allow a pagan to die in his trespass.

I know that people who object to this often point out that my stance seems to make God out to be cruel or unjust. I do not believe that God is either cruel or unjust. I believe that He is merciful and compassionate. I submit that my position does not make God cruel or unjust, but it is the only position that can make Him both merciful and just at the same time.

Most evangelicals will agree that sinners deserve hell. Indeed, most will agree that everyone on earth deserves hell. If they did not truly deserve hell, then there is no need for them to have a savior in Jesus Christ. Yet, many of these same folks will irrationally argue that it is unfair for someone to perish who has not heard the gospel. It cannot be both just and unjust for someone to go to hell at the same time. Therefore, if Joe India deserves hell, never hears the gospel, and perishes in his sin, then he will certainly go to hell as he deserves. This establishes that God is just.

How does it establish His mercy? It establishes His mercy because I, for one, am not going to the hell that I deserve. I did hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, and by God's grace, I believed it. I should have gone to hell, and I did not deserve the opportunity to repent. Yet God, in His mercy, allowed me to both hear and believe the gospel. He did not allow this privilege to Joe India. That does not make God unjust or cruel. It makes Him just towards Joe India and merciful toward me. He did have a degree of mercy on Joe India by allowing him to live life as a God-hater, but God did not extend to Him the same sort of mercy that He did to me. God was not obligated to do that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Danger of Forbidden Loves

As a pastor, I worry like a father. I worry that those whom God has entrusted to me will pierce themselves through with sin and sorrow by loving this world too much and by loving Christ Jesus too little. I worry that the good things of the world, the things which God has given us for our joy, will become a snare to us and folly.

There is great joy in the blessedness of the freedom of a Christian! No longer is the law our slave-master, by faith we have been set free. All is ours in Jesus Christ, be it life or death or things past or things to come, all is ours. Yet the stink of sin is still with us, polluting our minds and our wills and our hearts to pervert good intentions and to put God blessed things to evil use. What good gift has God ever withheld from those who love Him? What good gift has man not used to heap up iniquity and sin like a trash heap?

We say to our young men, "Marriage is good! He who obtains a wife has found favor in the Lord!" We know that the union of a man and woman in spirit and body is good and sweet, that the love found there extends beyond all earthly union, and that this God-wrought union shines like a bright beacon that extends all the way to heaven, pointing to the love of the Savior to His bride. And yet, we burn ourselves with this most precious gift. While hope that our children will cultivate love, but we know the dangers of lust. We all know that a fire can keep warm and destroy. How we worry that they will stray from the warm paths of love to the inferno of lust! They are free to love, only God forbid that they stray. Such beautiful freedom; how easy it is to fall and be enslaved!

And when they do unite in marriage, and love abounds, we rejoice when two become one flesh and God gives children to this most sacred union. Now behold the danger of this gift! We love them so; we see so much of the Master in them that our love for them masters us. Our own children become speaking idols to draw us away from our God. Our lives revolve around them, and we dote on them, and we believe that their well-being is totally dependant upon us. Eli let the temple be profaned for the sake of his wretched sons. Parents forsake the fellowship of the saints for the sake of whiney children.

Even in nature, we behold something of the nature and wonder of God. We are drawn to the sunset and sunrise and mountain views because something of our Master can be seen there. Could we come to love it too much? The fisherman who wastes Sunday after Sunday to be on the water looking for bass? The hunter who neglects family to be in the woods? Are they not drawn away by lawful things, good things, to do that which is unlawful? The beautiful things can be the most dangerous for the uncautious soul.

Where could we end with the abuse of God's good things? God has given us food that is savory and good, and with it we fatten ourselves to death. He has given us drink, yes even wine is a blessing, and we use it and become drunkards and gluttons. We use the gifts and we dishonor the giver. God give us temperance to enjoy the good and not love it more than we should. How wise was Augustine when he wrote, "So much less does he love you who loves anything else, even together with you, which he does not love for your sake" (Confessions Book 10,sec. 29).

Oh God, grant us good gifts, and keep us from the snare of loving them too much, or rather, from loving them for any reason other than for Your sake. Keep us on the paths of loving wisdom. Grant that we, in our blood-bought freedom, walk circumspectly in this world, not dabbling in the lust of the flesh, but seeing and loving Christ Jesus in all that is good and shunning forbidden loves that are evil. Help us to see you in all things, and to perceive your hand in them, that we may love you more and the world less. Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All Your Base are Belong to Us

If you have never heard the phrase, "All Your Base are Belong to Us," then you are probably not a nerd. If you have ever heard it, but had no idea what it means but chuckled anyway, I'm going to enlighten you to the mystery. (BTW, sometimes in online games, when someone gets pwn3d, someone will exclaim AYBABTU!. That's shorthand for this phrase. And if you don't know what it means to get pwned, go here.) The phrase "All Your Base are Belong to Us" comes from the old video game Zero Wing. It's simply bad translation from Japanese to English. You can watch the old intro on You Tube here.

I'm telling you this for two reasons. One, I am seeking to solidify my nerd status forever. Secondly, this phrase popped into my brain this morning as I was reading Scripture. Here's what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul of Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's (1 Cor. 3:21-22).

That is one of the ultimate AYBABTU verses. Because we are in Christ, everything is ours. Death has no victory. Sin is defeated. Satan is cast down. The saints will triumph. God has given us ultimate victory in Christ. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Hum up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). If the Father gave us the gift of His Son, then it is certain there is no gift too lavish for those who love Him. "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things perent nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:37-39). AYBABTU indeed!

It is a wonderful thing to know that Christ has conquered. It is sanctifying to know that it has pleased the Father to give to us the Kingdom. It brings endless pleasure to know that though the enemy may rage, all his schemes and anger are in vain. He will perish. His time is short. The King is coming.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Returning to Nature

This Wednesday, myself and four intrepid friends will be heading to the Ouachita National Forest of Arkansas to hike 28ish miles through the wilderness. We will be miles from civilization, and a seeming eternity from help should disaster strike. It may rain on us, and we will eat one hot meal a day...probably. We will cross rivers and mountains in our quest to..our quest in the woods and make fire.

What we will learn there, at least the lesson that is re-enforced to me every time I make a wilderness trek, is that we live in a fallen world. If you want to eat in the woods, you basically have to pack your food in with you. Sure, there are berries and plants that a real mountain man can forage for, but without the proper expertise, you will burn more calories looking for such fodder than you will gain by eating it. Plus, if you make a mistake, you may wind up dying a slow, agonizing death due to poisoning. The wilderness is not a hospitable place at all.

You also have to take into account blood-sucking mosquitoes, equally voracious ticks, biting flies, gnats that crawl into the nose, eyes, ears, and mouth, snakes, and bears. Do you know why bears will rip apart both backpack and man to get at one granola bar? Because the food in the woods is junk, that's why. For all the romantic views of nature out there, the fact is that the 'pristine' wilderness grows more briars than berries.

It used to be that every tree bore good fruit. God told Adam, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat", excepting only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16). Do you suppose that God would tell Adam that if all that grew on the trees were pine cones and bitter acorns? I doubt it. It was probably like living in Willie Wonka's candyland in the Garden of Eden before the fall, everything was edible and delicious.

So why do we go into the woods to suffer? Because there is no TV, or cell phone, or computer, or blogging, or UPS delivery guy, or crashing stock market, or radio, or anything. There is silence, and there is uninterrupted fellowship with friends. Plus, I can take my flint, magnesium, and steel and make a big fire. I go because I can walk around with a razor sharp hatchet and whack things with it. I go because that sort of thing appeals to a man. It's innate. I can't rightly describe the primal urge to go out and survive apart from civilization, but there is something inherently manly about it. Perhaps, as a child of God, it reminds me that by the power of the Holy Spirit, a man can go out into a fallen, briar-filled world and survive. Or maybe I just like burning stuff. I won't analyze the native impulse too deeply today, I'm going into survival mode. It's time for lunch. I'm going to go get a meal. Some nicely wrapped, FDA approved, sanitary, thoroughly cooked, nicely ground hamburger will do for today. Next week, I may try to stab a fish with a stick and cook him over a fire.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Most Important Election Ever?

I got this as an email today from the American Family Association:

The upcoming election is the most critical election in the history of our nation. The very future of our nation’s foundation is at stake. Every person will be affected. If the liberals win, then our foundation will no longer be based on the traditional Judeo-Christian morality. It will gradually but assuredly be based on an ever shifting, ever moving foundation. If the liberals win, the damage can’t be stopped with elections two, four or forty years from now. America will forever be changed. We will keep seeing a gradual and growing hostility toward people of faith, especially Christians. The morals of our nation will continue to decline. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price.

In case you may think I’m a “the sky is falling” type of person, you should know: When it comes to predictions, I am a very reserved person. But not on this one. I cannot overstate the damage a liberal victory will do to our country. The upcoming election is the most important in the history of our nation. Yes, if the liberals win you will lose some of your religious freedoms and free speech rights. Churches and pastors will not be exempt. You will not be allowed to say certain things about a particular group. Every item of the homosexual agenda will be approved. All the laws protecting the unborn will be wiped away.

This sort of thing is not helpful at all. Frankly, it appears to me that it borders on hysteria. I do not put my faith in conservative politics but in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Every election year, it seems, spells the end of the world as we know it if we do not go out and elect a conservative president. I'm all for a conservative president. I will vote conservatively. But I do not think that if Barak Obama is elected President of the United States that we are all somehow doomed. Look at what is claimed here:

1) "The upcoming election is the most critical election in the history of our nation" and "The upcoming election is the most important in the history of our nation." Do you believe that this is true? This is more important that the election of Abraham Lincoln or George Washing or George Bush Jr. or Richard Nixon or John F. Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt? Really?

2) "If the liberals win, then our foundation will no longer be based on the traditional Judeo-Christian morality." The liberals cannot 'unfound' me or anyone else off of anything. This is a government of the people, not a tyrannical regime. I submit that our hope as a nation has never been founded on Judeo-Christian morality but on the promises of a crucified and resurrected Jesus.

3) "If the liberals win, the damage can’t be stopped with elections two, four or forty years from now. America will forever be changed. We will keep seeing a gradual and growing hostility toward people of faith, especially Christians. The morals of our nation will continue to decline. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price." Again, a mere election will do this? Will Sen. Obama get in the White House and wave a wand to make everyone hate Christians for generations to come? How does he know that Sen. Obama won't be converted and be the most stellar president in history?

4) "if the liberals win you will lose some of your religious freedoms and free speech rights. Churches and pastors will not be exempt. You will not be allowed to say certain things about a particular group. Every item of the homosexual agenda will be approved. All the laws protecting the unborn will be wiped away." Wow. If Sen. Obama is elected, we will lose some of our religious freedoms. I wonder which ones? We will also lose free speech rights. We will not be able to say certain things about a particular group. (What does that even mean?) As for the homosexual agenda, I think that they've gotten just about everything that they've wanted short of legalized marriage. I'm not convinced that the way forward for the gospel is to express personal indignation over homosexuality. It is sin. I know that. But so is adultery, gluttony, vanity, and pride. We are all sinners in desperate need of grace. I'm worried about abortion increasing as well. Have we forgotten that our sitting VP has a homosexual daughter and what his views are regarding this? Any positive gain we have had in this area seems to have only a little to do with the current administration.

I hate to write a post like this, I really do. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but despite pleas to the contrary, the author very much sounds like "the sky if falling" type of person. Imagine, after reading this, how this person will feel if Sen. Obama is elected. Could the writer pray for him? Has he called on anyone to pray for him? I can't see anything positive in this letter.

What if Barak Obama Wins?

I make no secret as to my 'one issue' voter status in elections. That is, if someone is pro-abortion, they do not get my vote. Period. So I will not be voting for Barak Obama this November. I will say that if he changed his position on that issue, then I would consider him a viable candidate.

I do not think that it will bring absolute disaster for Sen. Obama to be elected. I see many positives in his candidacy. He would be the first African American president. That is good news for our country, and hopefully his election would serve to break down barriers of racial distrust. To put it bluntly, Barak Obama cannot get elected unless white folks vote for him. They will vote for him, and I think that he might win.

So what will happen if Barak Obama is elected? One, our taxes will go up. There is no way that Sen. Obama can fund his healthcare proposals without raising taxes. I am semi-okay with that. My healthcare is going up $100 a month this year for lesser coverage. I simply cannot afford that sort of hike each year, and I am hoping that if Sen. Obama is elected that his plan will help. Some are concerned that electing a democrat means more 'big governement.' Well...can he do worse than what we've seen in the last eight years? Seriously? Government spending is absolutely out of control.

Secondly, our President will not be pro-life. This saddens me beyond belief. I will pray that God will show Sen. Obama the horror of mangling children in their mother's womb. But I will say that we have seen eight years of a pro-life president who has done little, it seems, except appoint a couple of 'conservative' justices. How many appointees have Presidents Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2 had? Why is it that Roe hasn't been overturned already? I'm inclined to believe that a truly pro-life President could do more than wait for Supreme Court Justices to retire. If you really believe that abortion is murder, then we are in a holocaust. That should not be a back-burner issue if you really believe that.

Other than that, I have no idea what will happen. Does anyone actually believe or feel sorry for oil companies profit margins lately or CEO's who have basically beaten the American public out of nearly $2 trillion?? I hope that something will be done about that. I hope that God will bless our next President, and I hope that he will have an easier time than President Bush has had. He was President during a very trying time.

Maybe I am too optimistic. Perhaps the comments will correct my cheery disposition at the prospect of an Obama presidency.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Preaching as Food for the Soul

Good, gospel-orientated, expository preaching is like manna from heaven. Listening to it will fatten the soul. A lack of it will lead to malnourishment and spiritual death. The parallels of preaching and mana do not end here, and I think that it would be very encouraging for Sunday School teachers and pastors to remember that.

Manna is a Hebrew word that literally means, "What is it?". That's what the children of Israel said when they first found it lying on the ground (Ex. 16:15). According to the Scriptures, this sweet heavenly bread was only good for a day. They had to go every morning and gather it, and on the day before the Sabbath they had to get a double portion.

Preaching is a bit like that. Most Christians have heard many, many sermons. I have heard hundreds if not thousands. I have personally preached hundreds of times and taught as many expositional lessons. I should be full of wisdom and truth by now since I have purposefully listened to great preaching and teaching and I have tried heard to teach and preach the Scriptures accurately.

Much to my dismay, however, I can remember maybe a dozen sermons. I cannot even remember my own sermons. Sometimes, when I am preaching a text I have preached on before, I read my own notes and listen to my own preaching and it feels as if I am listening and reading someone else. It is an amazing phenomenon. It simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. It is encouraging because I sometimes glean 'new' insights or marvel at things that I have said. I wonder where I got that from, and I wonder why I forgot it. That's the discouraging part. If I have forgotten so much of my own preaching and teaching about the Bible, and if I have forgotten so much of what others wiser than me have said, what, do you suppose, the average listener retains?

So I have to conclude that God has designed preaching primarily for short term nourishment. It has lasting effects to be sure! And sometimes particualarly powerful words (to individuals) will stick for a lifetime. But primarily, the encouragement seems to be just enough to last us to the next sermon and lesson. To keep us healthy from meal to meal, and to keep us coming back to the banquet table of God's Word and the fellowship of the saints.

This is why we never 'arrive' or we can reach a point where we have heard enough sermons and lessons to quit listening. It would be akin to a man feasting on a magnificent meal and exclaiming, "At last! At last! I have eaten the perfect meal and I never need to eat one again!" Such a person would surely die of starvation. Christians who neglect God's Word and the fellowship of the church will certainly suffer the same fate as this foolish man would. So be with the Lord's people on the Lord's Day and give heed to God's Word. It is as essential as eating; without it, you will starve.