Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Involuntary Transformation
Rom.12:2 - And be not transformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.

The follower of Christ, the believer, is supposed to pursue and surrender to being changed and transformed by God’s power. Some of this is noticeable and perceptible, but much happens secretly inside the heart and mind of each of us. We sometimes tout the outward changes and neglect the realization of the accumulation of the many number of small, imperceptible changes occurring in our spirits that join as a symphony to transform us into the image of Christ. Many times we experience these changes with an air of victory and effervescence, but many times these changes come in the form of protracted sufferings, which if patiently endured, will bear the spiritual fruit in direct proportion to our surrendered faith and which ultimately will glorify Christ. This is the life and joy of the believer, to be clothed upon by His image and have our own flesh crucified by the transforming power of God’s Word and the working of the Spirit.

The business of transformation is one of the Spirit and cannot be accomplished by the will or works of man. I know there are seeming paradoxes and oxi-morons galore when we address the unseen things of the Spirit and well they should be. If we drag the Spirit into the pragmatic understandings of man’s strategies we have misrepresented His ministry and more dangerously will enter into a humanistic pragmatism whose obedience soothes the flesh but negates the Spirit. In that convoluted form of discipleship we can attain false contentment and become blind to greater callings of God’s Spirit.

Metaphorically speaking we can organize the feeding of the five thousand without seeing the miraculous multiplication. We can reserve the upper room without being part of its divine power. We can minister to little children without becoming one ourselves before the Lord. We can attend the marriage feast at Cana but are conspicuously absent in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can rejoice at the empty tomb without a visit to Golgotha. But in essence, the entire Christian journey is filled with victory and defeats that contain victories.

But there is another form of transformation, an involuntary transformation, that is clandestine in its approach and effective in its goal. It comes through the classroom of the senses and does it greatest work in the post graduate work of the mind. Oh yes, everyone has taken this course, thinking they were only auditing, only to realize they had taken it for credit and passed with flying colors. And having your record expunged is much more difficult than receiving the rewards of hours of study. You can look around the classroom and see students from all theological positions, all ages, all cultures, and every teacher has come up through the ranks, studied hard, and now proudly wears the professorial moniker. Many students seek to attain that status.

The transformation of which I speak comes through attempting to transform others. It can come through good intentions and it can operate in the classroom of self righteousness but it is counter productive at best. When we attempt to be the agent of change for others, with an emphasis on judgmentalism, we will be unknowingly transformed ourselves. I do not speak of judging the spirits or judging teachings against Scripture, but I do speak of judging people’s hearts. Seems simple, it is not. I believe even the most careful Christian who desires to discern Biblical truth flows in and out of unbiblical judgmentalism. It is a delicate proposition that gets little attention because of the clandestine nature of the process.

There is such a thing as Biblical judgment when it comes to truth and spiritual deception even though those things are quickly falling out of favor in the church. But spiritual judgment and carnal judgment live in the same neighborhood and even sometimes right next door, so it is entirely possible to exercise spiritual judgment and without realizing it have carnal judgmentalism climb aboard. Now true spiritual judgment transforms us for the better while judgmentalism affects us for the worse. But the delineation between the two judgments is so fine they often become one indistinguishable entity and with that unspiritual alliance our journey can become unproductive. If the truth is not spoken in love it is still truth but to no enhancement to the life of the speaker and most of all with no approval from the Author of truth.

But when we consider ourselves as the agents of someone else’s transformation then we ourselves enter an unseen process of transformation. We begin to be changed in subtle and not so subtle ways that do not glorify our Master. Frustration and impatience, evil thoughts and bitterness, pride and anger, and many other emotions and thoughts that carry carnal baggage not only keep us from progressing toward Christ, we begin to regress. And we begin to exhibit the same things that we may accuse others of, only in different manifestations.

The people, the preachers, or the teachers that we wish would change begin to change us purely by our own efforts to transform them. I have found myself being drawn into ungodly emotions sometimes when I speak in correction about some men and their teachings. And let us not attempt to deftly place them all under the canopy of “righteous indignation” because the emperor has no clothes on that one. As we discern error we must be vigilant about entering into it ourselves, God’s Spirit is actively desiring to transform us even when we are pointing out the error in others, so let us not only never forget that but let us embrace and be aware of it as well.

Humility and the constant awareness of our own spiritual shortcomings must be the platform from which we speak. As we rightly approach doctrine with certainty, so must we view our own failings and sin with the same certainty we apply to others. This is the finest of china in the Christian journey since it is so easy to see gross error in others and their teachings and mentally relegate our own small infractions as normal, common, and unremarkable to God in comparison. That is not the case and God is not on our side, we must seek to be on His. Pride is a chameleon and can covertly assimilate into our lives, find a quiet home, and disguise itself as a doctrinal companion against those with whom we have issues.

Some “discerners” have morphed and been transformed into a kind of acceptable “carte blanche” approach which means that if they are contending for the faith they have spiritual license to say anything they wish. They have forgotten that they themselves are no more than sinners saved by God’s grace, unprofitable servants whose only glory is the Most High God and not themselves. And even while being used as a mouthpiece we all must keep listening attentively to the personal correction of the Spirit both in our own lives and indeed as to how God would have us address these issues. If you have never had to repent because of your words, your attitudes, or even your mixed motives then perhaps you have not been hearing God. You see, if our purpose becomes to transform others then we ourselves are being transformed albeit without our realization. Do we desire to please Christ our Master, or are we on some other “mission”.

So how do we avoid this pitfall? There are no easy and pat answers, but the first and most substantial step is to be aware that this type of involuntary transformation can easily take place. Do not think the devil only deceives doctrinal backsliders, no, he has a design for all of us. If he cannot stop us from speaking the truth he will deceive us into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. What you place before you changes you. When people of my age sat before the Beatles they changed their hair styles and were changed even when not setting out to be so. And so it is spiritually, what we place before us changes us. Maybe in small increments and sometimes rapidly but change occurs nonetheless.

So when we place sinners before our hearts and minds and view them as objects for us to change, we ourselves begin to change. And the active ingredient of this transformation is simply pride. Pride, that repulsive attribute of the fallen nature of Adam that has found a resting place within our very bosom. And yet, ever so quietly, it captures more and more mental territory inside us while ever claiming to stand for truth and to desire the best for these “objects” we judge. And pride even defines judging in ways that best fit its own interests. The transformation of how we think, how we feel, how we assess, how we hear, how we act, how we speak, and in essence every part of our being gains its momentum by how we view others. A spiritual conundrum about which the flesh is most satisfied to ignore.

And in the end,
if left to its own devices,
pride transforms us into the image of Pilate,
and not Christ.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Needs or Deeds

Do you see the deeds or the needs of the unsaved? God looks down upon the wickedness and sin of this world and against the backdrop of his absolute holiness one would expect Him to obliterate all of human kind in an understandable expression of His righteous indignation. Right? After all, mankind has taken His pristine gift of life and the glory of creation and poisoned it all with his sin and rebellion. Should not the Judge of all the earth do right? Would it not be within the revelation of God’s nature to avenge His enemies? The entire world was one entire teeming mess of cultural sewage that was repugnant to a holy God and deserved to be visited by His righteous vengeance. Amen.

By soft! What light in yonder window breaks? It is the love of God, the illogical and unreasonable love of Almighty God, laying aside His vengeance and lo He comes planning and reaching and, oh my, He comes Himself in the form of these very rebels. Does He not realize the depth of man’s depravity? Or the abject refusal of His redemptive offer by most? Can He not see the wicked inventions of the race He created and loved? These sinners steal and covet. They envision and carry out acts of promiscuous relationships. They are prideful and self serving. And look, does He not see that there are homosexual sinners who do not deserve anything but His most violent and open throated contempt?

But with full knowledge far beyond our ability to understand, complete with the experiential understanding of the past, present, and future events comprehended absolutely at any given moment, Almighty God designs an immutable plan to reach out to and offer forgiveness and reconciliation to the entire human race. Wesley’s coming words “And can it be?” ring true and reflect the confounding nature of what was to come. Not only was God going to offer redemption, He would pay the price for their judgment Himself. This sacrificial expression of love is beyond our ability to understand as to the motive and the application of that motive. Was there no other way in which God could “save face” and yet accomplish His loving mission? Was this infinitely condescending plan the exclusive way of providing a redemptive escape for these rebels?

So God comes in the form of sinful flesh, despising the shame, and vicariously takes upon Himself the sins of the world. How should we, how can we emulate God’s expression of loving reconciliation? With the full knowledge that we are limited by who we are and yet understanding that as much within us lies we should reflect the same divine heart as does our Father, we must surrender to His will and not ours. And today the church behaves and speaks in a way inconsistent with the overt exhibition of the redemptive love of God toward sinners.

Not once in God’s letters to the New Testament church does He specifically deal with the sin of homosexuality alone and exclusively. That sin is always in the context of other sins and sin in general, and of course that practice is a sin. One wonders why the New Testament apostles never dealt with child molestation or rape or necrophilia if indeed God had a hierarchy of sins that were to be identified by the church in a unique way, especially as it applies to the lost. How the heart of God must break over both the sin of this world and the misrepresentation of His saving Gospel. And in the forefront of this misrepresentation are the vicious attacks on homosexuals on one hand and the doctrinal attacks to the Biblical teaching concerning that sin.

Let no one misunderstand, homosexuality is a sin and indeed a perversion of the Creator’s intention concerning sex and the male/female bond. Because of the media exposure and the approval of that lifestyle the numbers of homosexuals are increasing. It is impossible to know if that reveals an unfolding of latent desires or a choosing of that same lifestyle based on its acceptance. Only God knows.

Yes there are some who by virtue of insisting God creates and accepts homosexual relationships attempt to alter the nature and immutability of Scripture. But I want to deal with the other end of the spectrum, those who feel a calling to combat homosexuals with caustic words, political activism, and a general spiritual ambiance of self righteous condemnation and “full throated contempt”. Now if you are among those who believe no one can be born with homosexual tendencies and desires than you will not find this article of any benefit. You will be left with attempting to explain how a baby can be born with female and male genitals and yet deny that the curse of sin can affect someone’s mind.

God has never called the church to any political activism, He has called us to preach the gospel to every creature on the face of this earth. The political and governmental systems of this world fall under the sovereign will of God, but they are by no means God’s spiritual representatives. Many governments have put millions of Christians to death and many persecute and torture others. This notion that God desires the church to become involved with the political system in promoting some specific areas of morality is humanism at its zenith, for any morality without Christ is graceless legalism when it is espoused by the body of Christ. We as the body of Christ are in this world but not of this world, we work and raise our families but our spiritual calling cannot be unequally yoked with the systems of this world and with those who deny Christ.

The attempt to influence fallen governments is a misguided notion that pushes Biblical morality upon unsuspecting sinners by legislative force, which the government will do without the church. Can we not trust the Almighty to take care of us or do we so need to participate that we suggest God desires us to become entangled with the affairs of this world? We even use the world’s terms such as “conservative” and “liberal” when they should not have any place in spiritual vocabulary. A politician may be conservative and yet be lost and even anti-christ.

These people have a need to be exposed to both the explanation and the exhibition of the love of God as showcased in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It surely added to their assumptions about the church when people said that AIDS was God's vehicle of vengeance on the gay community. They already stand condemned, both spiritually and many times within the society, so how can we drive the nail deeper by our smug and ungracious moral attitudes? No one needs abandon their Biblical understandings about the nature of sin, but we must not sacrifice our understandings about love and grace on the altar of moral pejoratives.

Let us be Christians, followers of Christ, and reject the badge of moral police and cleaners of the “cultural sewage” that includes sinners for whom Jesus died. Should we all not hold ourselves accountable and remember we have no righteousness of our own and that many of us would still be part of the “moral morass” were it not for God’s redemptive love? We should not hold tightly and exclusively to the elephant’s tail ,of God’s justice and claim we are representing Christ in all His fullness. People have desperate needs, many homosexuals will become so desperate they will this very year take their own lives. “Well let them die and decrease the surplus population”. (Ebenezer Scrooge)

Our mission isn’t about cleaning up society or improving cultural standards, and it isn’t about legislating morality or condemning sinners, and it surely isn’t about culling out certain sins as extraordinary and in need of a deeper gospel than that which God used to save us. No, we are called to spread the life saving gospel of Jesus Christ accompanied by works of compassion that authentically reflect the Father’s heart and substantiate the words we share. We are the church, the living body of Jesus Christ and we must hold out the lifeline to the group of friends we were once a part of and not speak in such a way as to act as if we would never think of being such people. We were them and God loves them.

So should we.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Experience Driven Paradigm

The folks at Lighthouse Trails Publishing graciously sent me a copy of a new book by Roger Oakland entitled “Faith Undone”. I highly recommend it for all students of the Word who wish to expand their perspective on what is taking place theologically inside the many mercurial movements of the church. The following article is the first one that I felt led to write after reading that fantastic book, and if you would like to order a copy you can contact the people at Lighthouse Trails at www.lighthousetrails.com. You will not be able to put it down.

Way back in 1992, in a book entitled “A Church for the 21st Century”, Leith Anderson writes, “The old paradigm taught that if you had the right teaching, you will experience God. The new paradigm says that if you experience God, you will have the right teaching” (Leith Anderson, A church for the 21st Century, op. cir., p.21.). Read those two sentences again and with thoughtful understanding. What is the author saying? What are the implications of such a spiritual theorem? This new model of spiritual thought has vast and far reaching implications upon the way the church encounters and embraces truth, authentic and God given truth. As a matter of fact, those two sentences just may completely encapsulate the basic foundation of the emerging church in all its forms.

Leith Anderson is the former pastor of Doug Pagitt who is a leader in the emergent church and it is easy to see where some of Pagitt’s teachings originated. Anderson in the same book observes that “ However, Biblical theology looks to the Bible for a pattern of experience followed by proposition. The experience of the Exodus from Egypt preceded the recordings of Exodus in the Bible. The experience of the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost all predate the propositional declaration of those events in the New Testament. It is not so much that one is right and the other is wrong; it is more of a matter of the perspective one takes on God’s touch and God’s truth.” (Leith Anderson, A church for the 21st Century, op. cir., p.21.).

Basically what Anderson and others are postulating is that experience is truth. They are teaching that God can be experienced through the subjectivity of the senses first, and then the truth of that experience can be written down as authoritative. Now this is not a new phenomenon and it has occurred throughout church history, but this is the first time it has been openly recommended and taught as the paradigm for coming to truth itself. Many churches have taught that experience would substantiate Biblical truth, but few taught that experience uncovers truth. And with this form of spirituality we can come to a more complete understanding of just what is taking place in our midst, rapidly and with new vitality.

This experiential view of truth also has ramifications beyond the Christian church. Many emergent teachers believe that Moslems, Buddhists, Jews, and almost all religions have experienced God in a way consistent with the light that they possess presently. In conjunction with this view is spawned a doctrine that says that all faithful and genuine adherents to other religions will be saved in the end by God’s grace. You can see where this is going and the depth of the insidiousness of the deception, can you not? While we do not worship the written Scriptures we do hold them in unwavering faith, realizing that they have been given by the God whom we do indeed worship. When experience takes precedence over Scripture then experience actually becomes Scripture and with that we all are undone as Mr. Oakland observed.

But shouldn’t we seek to know and experience God as Christians? Oh yes, and most assuredly, we should and we must. Being content with only holding a dusty set of systematic theologies has its own liabilities and we must be prayerful and broken as we seek to know Christ more completely and more intimately. It may well be that the lack of that kind of spiritual journey of prayer and Biblical meditation contributed to the emergence of these new wayward paths. But seeking Christ on a spiritual path within the parameters of Biblical truth is a far different journey than creating one’s own experience and having those experiences remove, expand, and create their own parameters for what is true, and that is the ultimate “Lost in Space” doctrinal journey.
Let us not judge anyone’s heart or intentions, that is God’s business alone, and it will only have us deviate from the main issue at hand, truth. It may well be that good intentions and the winsome personalities and authenticity of some of the men in these movements are providing the most effective leverage for the spreading of unbiblical thought. I doubt that many would have gathered in a room and discussed the strategy on how best to deceive the church, no, most if not all fell into deception themselves. People can pass a lie detector test even while giving an inaccurate account of an accident because they do indeed believe the account they are sharing even though completely wrong. And so it is with most of these new teachers, so we must guard our hearts from bitterness and pride lest we too fall into a different kind of demonic snare while attempting to expose another.

As soon as Israel forgot the Words of God they were headed for idolatry and deception. We can recall that God’s people began to reject His Word and their commandments and after many warnings they were carried into Babylon as captives. Later upon their return to Jerusalem, Ezra found the Scriptures and as he read them the people wept in brokenness and repentance because they had neglected God’s Word. Most Jews never came back to Jerusalem because they had become comfortable and satisfied with their spiritual experience in Babylon and resisted the call from God’s Word to return. And so it is today. As westerners we live in an experience oriented society which lives and breaths new and exciting experiences. This kind of sensory lifestyle has infiltrated the church resulting not only in its practice but its embracement. An experience driven spiritual journey is much preferred to an experience derived from sacrificial discipleship built upon the Word of the Living God. God’s axe head has sunk and like Samson the church by and large doesn’t even know it’s missing.

The Deceiver is ever so cleaver and multi-pronged in his clandestine assault, while on one hand he deceives many into leaving the foundation of God’s Word for the experiential excitement of human senses, he at the same time attempts to deceive us from the sacredness of prayer and fasting and meditating upon the things of the Lord. Let us not reject that which is Biblical and edifying because of their misuse by others. As a matter of fact, we should in these last days spend more time than ever in our prayer closets with our Wonderful Lord, seeking His face, interceding for others, and beseeching Him to change us into His image. We who speak correction to others must indeed speak it to ourselves as well. And without that kind of intimate spiritual servanthood we become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, without the compassion and spiritual power to effectively call our brethren away from idolatry.

And let us not eschew spiritual experience ourselves because others have made it their standard. No, when the Word of God is our foundation God can and does graciously provide us with some spiritual experiences that can go beyond human words. The great Christians of years gone by give passionate narratives of personal times of refreshing that experientially substantiate the Scriptures, not supersede them. We do not seek experience, we seek Christ, but we certainly do not resist what God in His wisdom has for us. Experience is not our main course, but it is sometimes our dessert.

This new experience loaded Christianity is moving more and more to eastern mysticism and many teachers envy and even emulate the practices of the eastern religions. Read how the children of Israel worshiped the idols of the heathen and took their practices as their own and you will see history repeating itself. Christ is not enough, redemption is not enough, heaven is not enough, the Word is not enough, and just like the children of Israel the church has received the bountiful gifts from God and still is unsatisfied. Like a wild ass she has sniffed the air and smelled the odor of other flocks, and instead of leaving her own field completely she has invited the beasts of the heathen to join her and has filled her troughs with God’s food flavored with the food of the heathen. And this new “mixed” food tastes so fresh she is uninterested in its spiritual nutrition and value, it feels and tastes good and with that the church is satisfied.

I will write more concerning these things, but I still strongly urge you to get the book “Faith Undone” by Roger Oakland. The Spirit might use it to compel you further into a love for God’s Word and a corresponding spirit of discernment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Enemies of the Cross

Phil.3:18 - (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Paul exhorts us a few verses earlier to “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. He uses himself as an example and warns us to guard against being led astray by those who walk in their own flesh and not in the Spirit. The verse I quoted here is very telling in its verbiage, as it says that some are “enemies of the cross”. Think about that phrase, he did not even say enemies of truth, or enemies of the gospel, or some other phrase that would have been appropriate. He used the cross.

Follow me in this vein. The preaching of the cross must have been primal and significant if that was used to identify the movement called the church. Can that be said of the church today? Is the cross and its redemption front and center of our theology, both practical and doctrinal? Are the sufferings of Christ placed before us on a consistent basis by our leaders? When was the last time you heard a series on the cross? Paul did not say these men were enemies of success, or marriage, or humanitarian efforts, he said they were enemies of the cross. Oh how dangerous it is to be an enemy of the cross of Christ.

It would be better to be an enemy of the state, or an enemy of Michael the Archangel, than an enemy of Christ’s cross. To be called an enemy of the only offer of redemption God ever made is an eternally unsettling proposition. God wounds His own Son and will He abide those who mock it? If anything it should be handled with sacredness and awe recognizing it is the cross of Christ and the mystery of God’s magnificent redemption. The cross is the core, the foundation, and the essence of what it means to be a Christian, for without the cross we are still in our sins. Without the cross God still lays in wait to avenge with no mercy, no grace, and no sacrifice. Be an enemy of Paul or Peter or even Mary, but never become an enemy of the cross of Christ. The enemies of the cross do so to their own peril.

But look again what the great apostle says concerning himself. He confirms that he has told them many times about these enemies which means that Paul was a faithful teacher that warned his flock. There are many enemies of the cross today in many different ways and depths and we must warn others about their error and sin. Like a doctrinal four legged relay race, some are on the first leg and some have taken the baton on the last leg, but all are on the same race to turn away from the cross. Let us remember, to downplay or dilute or reinterpret the cross is just as deceptive as denying it altogether. And those in positions of ecclesiastical authority are obligated to warn the flock about these grievous wolves.

I believe many who doctrinally massage the cross are deceived and do it in ignorance, albeit with vigor. But we cannot let motives or personalities dilute our vision concerning the sufferings of our Master, His crimson wounds cry out against us if we dare compromise on this the most sacred of all events. How can we betray the ultimate expression of unimaginable love ever exhibited for us, His sworn enemies? Stand before that wooden altar and watch as the Lamb writhes in mortal and immortal anguish for His sinful mockers. Our allegiance must be unwavering, militant and yet surrendered, celebrational and yet worshipful, shouts of joy and seasons of tearful silence, and in the end how can we ever be privy or even stand by and see the glorious cross of our Lord and Savior defiled at the hands of post modern wanderers? What would we, what could we ever say when we see the Risen Christ as He displays His atoning wounds to be admired before the entirety of heaven if we but compromise on that centerpiece of all spiritual and historical revelations?

Remove your wicked hands from off Golgotha’s glory and if you must use them use them to cover your carnal mouths. No one must approach the awesome image of that Roman punishment with spiritual sandals still adorning your fleshly feet. Away with you present day mockers who recoil at God’s scarlet redemption and attempt to disgrace it by meaningless words of earthly explanations and definitions. Only tear filled hearts that understand and yet still recognize divine mystery can ever really see what God has wrought at the hands of wicked men and the blood of His own Son. The incarnation has arrived at its purpose and the Passover Lamb is sacrificed for the bloodless doorposts of the entire world.

Hail, look now and see! There are many such door posts who now bear the unmistakable red blush of God’s eternal atonement, humbly and proudly displayed on the earthly houses of forgiven sinners. And with the redemptive testimonies of God's elect, the enemies of God and His cross are confounded. Oh my! Oh the cross! Archaic and yet modern; lovely and grotesque; judgment and yet redemption; Oh that cross! Please all you doctrinal rebels, please do not touch that which is our foundation. You will one day answer for your folly not before man, but before the Great and Terrible God who once gave His only begotten Son but who will exact His justice upon all unbelief. You do not fear God today, but tomorrow brings an astounding judgment from which there is no escape. I warn you, in Jesus’ name, repent while there is still time.

But again see what the great apostle says, that he speaks through tears. Where are those same tears today? Tears that flow from the indignity that is being done to our Lord Jesus and tears that beg God for the power to stem the tide and herald His cross once again. As we cling to Calvary’s tree we must weep for those who have become its enemy. How can the sacrificial expression, given in love, be treated so meanly? And with all these modern words that strip Christ of His glorious atonement whirling around the spiritual community how can we remain tearless? It is our duty, our privilege to weep between the porch and the altar in brokenness and faith. But do not see these tears as spiritual weakness, they indeed are our strength in Him.

Weep and howl all you that mix the sacred with the profane.

Lord Jesus, we have watched as the enemy has come in like a flood even to the blaspheming of your holy cross. Forgive us, Lord, and stretch out your hand against those who would deceive sinners concerning you redemption. There is no God like You and there is no redemption except Your cross. We bow before You and worship the One who still bears our wounds. The cross is our only glory and by faith we hold its atoning light for the whole world to see. Make short work of your enemies, Lord, not for our sake but Yours.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Mystery of it All

How we have brought the greatness of our God and the mystery of His being and the perfection of His plan, and placed it upon a flannel graph, devoid of its sacred mystery, and full of man’s simple, dirty hands. Pretending to understand and comprehend it all, we continue our journey bound by earthly cords that tether our hearts to this wretched place of hedonistic horror, and with this we are satisfied? The mystery of Christ and His incarnation seldom finds an extended place of meditation in our carnal minds since that place provides an habitation for the things that we desire and the never ending scourge of thoughts about other people. This mystery, the Risen Lord Christ and all that pertains to Him, will not be fully known until the day of translation into His eternal world, but still like the shipmates of Odysseus we have stopped our ears to the eternal siren that continually calls all true believers to seek Him and His Majestic Face. And far from shipwreck, we have been summoned to a glorious mystery that can make the sailor whole.

What will we think when we set foot in the expanse that is the dwelling place of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Will we think we have come to the wrong place because it is beyond what we ever expected or desired to know? Will all our stories and word pictures seem embarrassingly deficient before His very throne, and will even the most demonstrative worshiper on earth now seem timid and restrained in comparison to what should have been? The reality of the Risen Christ and all His universal glory has been hidden by our mindless doctrinal conjectures and our three dimensional prisons. The glory and majesty of Jesus lights all of heaven this very moment, and although we cannot see Him He still beckons us to seek His mystery.

This mystery is not something that has not been told to us by God’s own Word, on the contrary, this mystery dwells within those very Words with layers of revelation waiting for the hungry hearts that will diligently seek Him. The entire written gift is a mystery, from the first Word of Genesis to the last of Revelation with only its Author to reveal it to those who seek its treasure. The depths that can never be fully plumbed still provide food and hunger alike for those who ask and knock. The authenticity of this mystery, the experiential reality of what these written Words reveal, are the hope we look for and seek today. One day death will open the door and usher us into the very revelation of this eternal mystery and we who have been received by His blood will enter the everlasting plan which was cemented before creation was spoken.

This mystery is our very life and it should propel us to unsearchable heights of grateful worship, each step of discipleship unveiling a fresh revelation of Him which we missed in the Scriptures before and sends us running to see what else we missed within the honeycomb. And then we realize that there is no end to Him, only His beginning on the day of our salvation. There is no paradox or incompatibility between sound doctrine and the essence of the mystery detectable in every truth. This is not new truth as an island, detached from the foundation that has been laid, no, this is the unfolding of the greater truth that each truth holds within itself. And connecting them all, every Word and every facet of this infinite truth, is Him, The Word.

He, the Eternal Word, the Risen Christ, He is all and He is all in all and He has made all and sustains all. And in a glorious mystery we are in Him and He is in us. How glibly and antiseptic do those theological words roll off our earthly tongues and yet the mystery of the truth they convey unmasks us as retired graduates and not seeking students, speaking words of passion without passion. Is it any wonder that the world can dismiss our claims when we share such unspeakable truths as if we were sharing a history lesson or repeating some second hand story that we ourselves were not privy to? Christ lives in every believer. There is enough truthful mystery in that statement to keep us prayerfully seeking a fresh and deeper revelation of what that means every day until Christ returns.

The energy produced by the sun occurs at its core as hydrogen is basically turned into helium. But it takes that energy 100,000 years to reach the surface and be released to the solar system. But we can only see what is on the surface. Is it the same with our spiritual lives? Are we content to bask in the light of the surface, or are we relentless to know more? Is Christ our life or only our future? Are we so consumed with Him that we are a peculiar people in the midst of a crooked and perverse world and we cannot help but shine as lights in this darkness, constantly trimming our wicks and filling our lamps with more of Him? Jesus is no dry, doctrinal tenant, He is the Hope of the World, living mysteriously inside us and desiring to reach other future believers.

If it is only a story it is a whopper and the greatest piece of fiction ever contrived by the imagination of man, but if it true then it is the mystery that must capture us all forever. All of us that have been touched by this awesome mystery, this redemption found only in the Lord Jesus Christ, we stand as testimonies that this mystery is true and can be found by listening to God’s Spirit. Like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus our journey has been altered and we have been changed forever. We can offer some degree of explanation, but only the Spirit can make it real to other listening ears. When I heard for the first time that Jesus was coming back it sounded like some fairy tale to an amateur astronomer like me, but then why was my heart substantiating that truth? I didn’t want to believe it and yet I could not reject it.

And then the mystery became a reality and I was saved. And even though I then had embraced the mystery of the gospel message, the aroma of the mystery still remained. God was still drawing me toward Himself even though I was already His. I could know the mystery of the gospel and yet experience more and more of that same mystery. And in fact, the more mystery becomes truth in my heart and life the more I am changed from glory to glory. I feel so sorry for those who follow a lifeless and pragmatic gospel and never experience the wonder of seeking to know Him more. I am sad for those who use Christ to improve this life and miss the glories of knowing Him in the Spirit.

Do not be content with knowing Biblical facts, seek the mysterious nectar of each Word that leads to more of Him. He is infinite and inexhaustible, and He says to “learn of Me”. Have the Words in ink become Words written on your heart? Does the Lord Christ only live in you or does He live through you as well? Do you know about Jesus or do you know Him personally as you drink fully from the bottomless well that is knowing Him? If you have camped out on doctrinal truths but the fire of the mystery of it all has gone out I exhort you to ask God to stoke the fire again. Jesus has risen from the dead and He is alive today! Excitement and brokenness meet together as we ponder what we know and what we know we do not know yet. Search His Word and seek Him in prayer and allow Him to bring you by His Spirit back into a journey of faith that will again change you, just like He did on the very first day.

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him…

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Hell. The word has become a convenient slang expression of dislike or emphasis such as “cold as hell” or he plays baseball “like hell”. Now as a theological subject hell has been bandied about as a myth, or somewhat less than the medieval view, or in actuality an eternal place of torment beyond what anyone could imagine. This word generally speaking covers the words Sheol, Gehenna, and the Lake of Fire along with the many descriptive glimpses into what hell actually is. So when I refer to it as hell I mean the eternal place of punishment which has several names but hell being the most familiar.

Now in order to deny its existence one must deny the plain teaching of the Scriptures. Jesus refers to the eternal hell time and time again, and it is disingenuous to take his parables about hell and render them useless by dragging their meaning down to mean earthly discomfort. That is what we have heard from so many unbelievers who claim hell is here on earth and only heaven awaits all of us after death. It is stunning to watch thousands and perhaps millions of professing believers, enamored with the intellect of the preacher, actually listen as he systematically removes the open and intended meaning from the New Testament and claim they do not refer to an eternal place of torment.

We always thought that the question “How could a loving God send people to hell” would be asked in the midst of liberal churches and also by unbelievers, but now that question is not only asked in evangelical circles it is taught as new revelation. Hell has taken on an uneducated and unenlightened connotation even within churches that still want to be considered evangelical. And within evangelical churches that still believe in hell, the lack of passion about the eternal damnation of the lost removes the edge from the truth they say they espouse. Most are more interested in buildings, success, marriage, self esteem, and a myriad of others things at the expense of the place we call hell.

How cruel would it have been for Jesus to speak to us in a code that uses terms like, the worm never dies, torment, cast into the fire, furnace of fire, everlasting fire, and scores of other words and phrases that make it evident in His description that hell is real, hell is torture, and hell is forever? That would be the greatest deception of all if a God of love purposely threw an incredible scare into His people. The Scriptures tell us that God has not given us the spirit of fear which means God does not want us to walk totally in unsubstantiated fear, but Jesus has warned us to fear him who has the power to cast the body into hell and its “unquenchable fire”. Our Master would not have given us such vivid imagery of this awful place called hell unless it was real. Let us examine a few things that describe this place we call hell.

First it is eternal. Matt.3:12 - “Whose fan is in His Hand (Jesus), and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”. This fire that burns up the chaff will never be quenched. The chaff is never completely burned up so the fire continues. How is that possible? Rom.9:22 - "What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction”. The lost will one day received a vessel that is fitted for destruction in hell where they will never die but suffer the pangs of tortured death for eternity.

That is an incredible thing to actually believe and because of the deep and overwhelming nature of that truth many today have abandoned believing it. Let us be honest, none of us have acted in a way that is consistent with that truth, have we? Are we so passionate, so driven, and so broken about souls on their way to hell that believer and unbeliever alike must say, “Look, this person must REALLY believe what he says he does!”? The answer is obviously no. How many pillows, void of any tear stains, can testify against us as we sleep comfortably while millions perish at the rate of 150,000 a day? How many of us have shied from witnessing because of social fear or inconvenience or even being judged as unsophisticated? Or maybe just consumed with our own lives? All of us are guilty of them all.

But still hell is for eternity. There are souls there at this very moment who have been there for thousands of earth years and there are souls who have arrived this very day and are just becoming horribly acclimated with their eternal plight. Three times in Mark chapter 9 the Lord uses the phrase “Where the worm doesn’t die and the fire is never quenched”. That is a way to press home the eternality of hell, there is no sign of a temporary purgatory there. Can you imagine opening your eyes in hell and realizing you would be there for one million years? How could you cope with such a thought and what supernatural emotions would go through your mind? But at least you would have a million year hope, small as it would seem. But when someone “wakes up” in hell and realizes they are there forever…and ever…and ever…how can we even fathom such a scenario?

Remember, many are dismantling the truth about hell because it is distasteful and unsophisticated in our post modern world. They tell stories and present tortured etymological theories and twisted Hebraic contexts that implant doubt not faith. They are controlled by the Evil One himself whose wish is that many will one day join him in that awful place that was originally prepared for him and his angels. Think about it, with the shallow and convenient witnessing that the church does now, consider what effect it would have if we all thought there was no hell. All the great preachers and evangelists who were mightily used of God believed in eternal punishment for the wicked sinner without Christ’s forgiveness. Would there ever have been a Whitefield or Wesley or Edwards if they had not believed in hell?

We are indebted to the Christ who saved our souls from hell to obey His command and go and warn others, and as the rich man in hell (Lk.16) pleaded we must go and tell others about God’s gift of deliverance and salvation. Anyone who diminishes or questions or in fact teaches that hell is not a real and an eternal place of tormented justice must be considered anathema to all of us. I know, it seems so intellectual and so merciful and so modern to be extricated from the fundamentalist doctrine of hell but never forget, you are being led away from the teachings of the Lord Jesus Himself, not just the teachings of men.

Second it is torment. Jude tells us that Sodom and Gomorrah were and example of “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”. The rich man in hell was surely concerned with the prospect of his brothers coming to that place of torment (Lk.16). This place called hell carries with it eternal suffering and torment. Many today make light and jest of this type of description concerning hell but they only reveal their own deep deception. Think about how people will do anything to avoid fire and its burns. Some people had jumped from eighty stories from the World Trade Centers on 9/11 just to avoid the flames. They chose death by jumping more than waiting one more minute in the heat. It is fire that our Lord used as a metaphor for us to comprehend the colossal nature of hell’s torment.

Haven’t we all experienced some burn on our fingers that torments us for hours? One of the most painful sections of the hospital is the burn units. These torments in hell are no minor matter, they are real and they are torment and torture way beyond our ability to comprehend. But how could a loving God do that? Be careful, you are constructing a God after your own understanding and not according to His revelation of Himself. And if fire is a metaphor because the spiritual reality is beyond us then we should be all the more concerned.

Third it is for the unbeliever. The Scripture tells us in Hebrews that “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy…”. (Heb.10:28) That phrase “died without mercy” is an especially bone chilling description of someone who passes from this life to the next without the sin forgiving mercy of the blood of Christ. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” says the writer of Hebrews. (Heb.10:31) God has poured out His wrath upon His Son for us, but for those who refuse the redemption of Christ their end is just the beginning of an unimaginable eternity. As I said it is very difficult to fully believe in a literal hell and so we either reject the clear teaching or we refuse to think about it very often. Even those of us who believe what Jesus said about hell have a somewhat shallow faith about it.

In the sight of a holy and righteous God the unbeliever is not some well intentioned creature genuinely attempting to find his Creator, no, the sinner is a disgusting enemy of the Most High who considers himself his own deity and rejects all calls for faith and obedience which will inconvenience his life of hedonism and sin. Each and every unbeliever lives a life of eternal peril that only waits for his last heartbeat to begin the judgment that awaits all those whose sin enters eternity uncovered and unforgiven. It is no wonder the angels of heaven rejoice when one sinner repents and believes because they are well aware of the tormented justice that will meet the unrepentant unbeliever.

In reality there are only two kinds of people in the redemptive economy of Christ, saved and lost. There is no in-between and there is no negotiation, one is either a believer or an unbeliever. A sinner might be pious and believe in Allah and horizontally speaking may be a kind and gracious person, but he is still lost and headed for hell. We must not give way to these new theologies that deceptively suggest that sincere adherents to other religions that follow other gods can be saved without believing on Christ, they cannot. The kindest and most generous sinner whose demeanor and behavior puts many believers to shame is still an enemy of the cross of Christ and is bound for hell because his sin is still unresolved forever. The works of man have no part in God’s redemption, it rests alone on one and only one work, the work of God’s Dear Son Who shed His blood upon the cross and then rose from the dead. That work is the only issue and can only become a sinner’s eternal covering and salvation by faith and by faith alone.

So hell now and the lake of fire in the future will be filled with unbelievers. No second chances, no purgatory, they will spend eternity in a place of torment. If a man had to spend eternity with just the torment of an ingrown toenail he would be in misery, so just imagine what sinners will go through in a torment so horrible it can only be described as fire. We do not fully believe in that hell, do we? Come on, if we really believed that kind of eternal place of torment we would witness more, pray more, fast more, and surely weep more for the unbelievers that we know and in fact the entire world. Oh but we are so concerned that our comfortable lives may be affected if we meditate upon the consequences of hell. We fear we may be seen as a fanatic even among church people. If God would see our broken hearts over hell bound sinners He just might call us to a more direct and sacrificial service to the Lord Christ.

It was unbelievers like you and I were that consumed God’s heart and ultimately had the divine Word come to earth, put on human clothing, and suffer the punishment of our sin in our place. Words are almost embarrassing sometimes when we attempt to fully grasp the enormity of the sufferings on that bloody Roman cross. To think that God could come as God incarnate and allow Himself the indignation of death and in that death He was paying the price for the sins of the entire world. What kind of sufferings would take the place of one sinner’s eternity in hell? But the entire world? It causes us to gasp with holy awe and bow in broken worshipful gratefulness when we realize He suffered like that for me, for you.

Finally to speak of hell on the printed page is to so mute the reality that it is almost a disservice but it is our command and our only vehicle of communication. I will always contend that if we could bring five men back from hell they would dramatically affect much of the church with their passionate witness and personal testimony of the time they spent in hell. Forget about anyone who claims to have gone there and returned, they have not. The reality of hell and its teaching from the lips of our Lord will continue to be attacked through subtle and creative methods, but we must stand fast and ask God for the faith to fully believe what He has said about hell.

If we ever really believe in hell, it will revolutionize the church.

Friday, February 08, 2008

It Unfolds Before Your Own Eyes

Unless you watch this 10 - 15 minute you tube clip you will not only not fully understand my article but you as a believer will miss an opportunity to witness firsthand an actual unfolding of the one world religion as it is being rapidly constructed. This forum on the role of faith in economics was part of a yearly meeting in Davos, Switzerland that centers primarily on global economics. Rick Warren's participation begins a little past the halfway point in the video.


As I watched this video the thought came to me that if this had been made by actors thirty or forty years ago it would have fit nicely in the movies such as “A Distant Thunder” or “A Thief in the Night” or any movie depicting what might happen in the end days. I listened to the Catholic priest, the Imam, the Rabbi, and the others and they all shared what I would have expected. But when Rick Warren spoke I was mesmerized.

Here was a supposed representative of the Lord Jesus Christ sharing with people the necessity of religion, any religion, in the global economic stool. His premise was that “faith” was so prevalent worldwide that the leaders and the churches, temples, and mosques must be included in any economic endeavor because of their proximity to the people. He had, of course, a humanitarian slant to his view of economics but his was an exhortation to a religious pluralistic partnership. To the average listener he was saying the very same things that the other representatives of their religions were saying.

First he was saying that our collective mission is to confront and attack the problems of this world. Poverty, disease, social neglect, global warming, and all the earthly ills that have and are still plaguing the inhabitants of this earth. That, suggests Warren, is our collective mission as adherents to any and all religions. No where does Warren point out that Christianity is incongruent with all other religions, and that our mission is spiritual redemption not humanitarian. Listen as Warren holds out the olive branch to everyone as long as they are “doing good”.

All those “good works” that Warren touts are nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of God. Like humanistic ants, running around to establish their own righteousness, the human race is quickly coagulating into a one world religious view that holds the works of man in high esteem and reduces the Lord Jesus Christ and His Saviorhood as one small piece of a large human puzzle. It is better to refuse an invitation to an event than to speak without exalting Christ and His gospel. What message would Whitefield or Wesley or Bunyan delivered to this crowd?

To be unequally yoked with unbelievers and infidels is blasphemy at its zenith, and when exemplified and encouraged by someone with the stature and fame of Rick Warren it becomes a devastating deception that is sweeping the hearts of millions. Could you not feel chills up your spine as you listened to Warren give spiritual credibility to every demon inspired religion upon the earth and exhort all Christians to join with them in a message of earthly help? He said he did not care what your motivation is, greed, pride, influence, or anything else as long as you did good. So if you were serving Satan by feeding the poor it was acceptable. And please do not contend that we are against humanitarian works or that the church has fallen short in some of these areas, that is a straw man that still does not provide any Biblical foundation for what Warren is organizing.

These religions are not doing good, they are enemies of the cross of Christ and you and I have lived long enough to see Christian ministers take these idol worshipers by the hand and walk in agreement. Brothers and sisters, the end is here. I have a pre-tribulation view of eschatology, but if someone suggested we were in the first half of the tribulation period it would not surprise me. Listen to me very carefully. No one knows who the Antichrist is until he is revealed. People laugh at us for being such fundamentalists and literalists, and they even mock us for suggesting that someone like Rick Warren could be used by the Antichrist in bringing in his dastardly plan. This is serious business and it requires a solemn assessment by all believers when we see such things being espoused by Christian leaders.

Warren gives such credibility to the Roman Catholic Church as he praises them for their humanitarian works especially in Africa. He neglects to mention their works theology because it seems he now couples works with faith and now presents some form of religious amalgamation that is palatable to all religions and cults. We do not see fully all the events like these so we must be all the more concerned when one is presented to us. They are happening more than we can ever know. Remember, what a person does it what he believes, not what he might print on his doctrinal page.

And when Warren reveals his motivation for doing good works he states because Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Was this command by our Lord a call to all of us personally as we live our lives or was it the Great Commission to the church to go into all the earth and do good humanitarian deeds so we can prove we love people as we love ourselves? A subtle change, a clandestine doctrinal shift, a verse out of context, and a million other seemingly harmless points of error become a tidal wave of deception that not only compromises the mission of the church, it changes the gospel into another.

So here we have a man who the world now believes speaks for the evangelical church sitting among the world’s religions and leads the group in carving out some common ground upon which we can all walk together in a form of unity. Do not look for the end days and the accompanying falling away of the church, it is unfolding right before our very eyes. Be bold and yet weep, many souls are like lemmings heading for a Christless eternity as men like Rick Warren soothe their conscience. Be bold and yet be humble, it is only God’s grace that has kept us from being captured by the same deception. Be bold equally inside and outside of the prayer closet, our words can warn some but will never be sufficient to rescue the captive.

Do not expect the emergent types to offer any correction much less criticism about Warren and his message, they are deceived themselves. They will defend anyone who is outside the “fundamentalist” camp as they see it. This is particularly sad when you consider that there are men out there who actually hold fast to solid doctrinal truths but find it distasteful to even strongly critique just about anyone or anything, the exception being orthodox brethren. I disagree with someone like John MacArthur on some things, but to attck him while providing cover for a heretic like Brian MacLaren is unfathomable. This does no great service to the body of Christ and in fact provides a disservice to the offending and wayward brother himself.

In these times the Holy Spirit will both discomfort us to press further toward Christ and simultaneously comfort us with the knowledge that His time is at hand. The physical sufferings of this world can never compare with the spiritual sufferings, albeit invisible, that the entire world is going through at this very moment. The church has long since closed their spiritual eyes in deference to their eyes of flesh. We see the emaciated bodies of the hungry but are blind to emaciated souls of the lost. We see the physically sick but cannot see the sickness of sin. We see the earthly impoverishment of many but have shut our eyes to the eternal impoverishment of billions. We run to hand out loaves of earthly bread without feeding the lost the Bread of Life.

We hear talk of P.E.A.C.E. plans but we do not listen to the clanging of the swords of warring angels doing battle in the heavenlies. We hear speeches about the United Nations but we close our ears to the Prince of Peace. The hidden viciousness of the spiritual battle has ever so gently turned our swords into plowshares way before God’s timing would have it be so. Good intentions have draped themselves over our eyes and the allurement of the saccharine words that drip from misguided lips have captured our attention. Do not be deceived, these last days will be filled with more good than in any time in church history, but in a diabolical irony it will be these very works that the enemy will use to deceive many, including those in the church. It seems like some confounding riddle, but make no mistake, this strategy is brilliant in its deceptive evil and it must run its course until the Guardian of all Truth returns to defeat all evil and be revealed as THE Truth Incarnate.

He surely must be at the door, ready to be revealed at the last time to be worshiped by friend and foe alike. Friends, perhaps we all should look at videos like this one about Rick Warren every now and then so as to remind ourselves that the day is far spent and the night is upon us. Be careful though, words like these from Warren are pleasant to the fleshly ears and they soothe the carnal man but they are an affront to the Words of the Living God. If Warren be God serve him, but if God be God serve Him. Reject bitterness, reject pride, reject the flesh, but above all reject everything that does not come from the Word of the Living God.

You may not find popularity with men, but then, whose favor do you seek?