God Ruined My Rage-Filled Sermon Devoid of Grace

This week we saw thousands of Christian young people gather around the pole.  “See you at the pole” is a chance for Christian students to gather for prayer around the flag pole at their local public school.  It is a brave chance to show the world just how much we treasure Christ.  It takes courage to do. 

At Rock County Christian School, we too took part in the event.  However, at our school, it was a required event – no courage needed.  The event falls on Wednesday, our chapel day.  As I prepared my chapel message, I felt the need to make mention of this fact.  Where is our courage?  Where is our willingness to stand up for God and let our testimony shine?   I was amped up!

Soon after I began writing I started to feel a bit uneasy.  The sermon was coming along great.  I was going to let these neither-hot-nor-cold, apathetic kids have it!  I was going to challenge them to take a stand and do great things for the Lord!  I was on a roll, but this uneasy feeling seemed to grow.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew there some just wasn’t right.

All of a sudden conviction hit me like a truck.  It dawned on me, there was no sense of grace in my message.  My message was more a product of anger than it was Biblical study and prayer.  I knew what these kids were lacking and I was going to beat them over head with it.  Memories of leaving church feeling discouraged and “verbally abused” came flooding back to my mind.  Not only that, but I had basically reverted back to my old fundamentalist days which focused merely on “preaching for decisions.”  I was looking to merely produce external morality that would make our student body look good.  No grace, no understanding, and no God.

The Lord brought Romans 15:1 to mind, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”  In my rage, I failed to consider if my sermon would actually encourage anyone to deepen their relationship with the Lord.  In fact, had they really listened to this message, they would have taken away the idea they themselves had to summon up the courage and produced their own righteousness to display to the outside world.  What a horrible message to send!  While seeking to make our Christian school look better, I was actually denying the very gospel that makes us Christian in the first place!

Starting over from square one, I would then proceed to write out a new message.  While I still launched an attack against an all too comfortable, easy-believism faith that results in nothing, I challenged students to cling to grace and run toward Christ.  True, saving faith that results in the works we desire to see is only the product of Christ working within us.  This ought to be a great encouragement to renounce our sin and embrace the gospel grace that changes the hearts and lives of such sinful people.  The men and women of Hebrews 11 are not merely heroes to emulate, but sinners whose faith was counted as righteousness.  They accomplished great works for God, but this was despite their sin and many failures.  Their strength was not merely an inward resolve to serve, but the product of a faith that had its anchor in Jesus. 

I am truly humbled that God will be gracious enough to ruin my message.  May He do so again and again.  I will need it!  I have a lot to learn…


Book Review: Radical by David Platt

Title:  Radical
Author:  David Platt
Publisher:  Multnomah Books
Publishing Year:  2010
Pages:  230
My Rating:  5 out of 5 (1 meaning I hated the book, 5 meaning I loved the book)

There has been a lot of buzz about this book, and typically that makes me a little hesitant.  Usually I find books that make the evangelical world all excited are books that make me a little sad due to shallow content.  Now, add to this the fact the author is a mega-church pastor writing about the trouble in third world countries and you just have a recipe for an emotional appeal lacking much Scriptural depth.  However, I could not have been more wrong about Radical.

David Platt begins his book with an attack on seeker-sensitive mega-churches whose main goal is to make people comfortable.  He does this by drawing a sharp contrast between this type of church and an underground church devoid of any of the normal amenities of worship we are so use to but filled with committed believers eager to learn more of the Word of God, though it may cost them their lives. 

I have to admit, reading that opening section enraged my sense of self-righteousness toward those horrible seeker-sensitive churches and their shallowness…  It felt good.  I settled in, as my initial fears subsided, and thought this would be a comfortable read knowing full-well that I would never attend such a church.  Of course, I failed to ask myself if I would attend the underground church…  But, that’s another story…

My comfortable read quickly turned to conviction when faced with some pretty tough, yet familiar Bible passages.

  As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:57-62

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” – Mark 10:21-22

Of course, I have read these passages many times.  Of course, as a good conservative, Reformed, evangelical Christian – I believe every word of these passages are true and should be obeyed.  But, is that really true?  This is where I get convicted of my own sin.  Platt explains:

“This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality.  We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus.  We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate.  And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor.

“But we don’t want to believe it.  We are afraid of what it might mean for our lives.  So we rationalize these passages away… ‘What Jesus really meant was…”

“We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.  A nice, middle-class, American Jesus.  A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have.” (pages 18-19)

Ouch.  Talk about convicting…

Again, shattering my preconceived accusation of shallowness, Platt dedicates a whole chapter to the gospel message.  This chapter also introduced me to the whole concept of “Secret Church.”  This concept blew my mind.  Here we have believers gathered together on a Friday night for six straight hours eagerly awaiting to hear doctrinal messages and lessons.  Wow. 

Getting back to the gospel, seemingly without fear Platt destroys any notion of easy-believism. Here’s just a sample:

“We have taken the infinitely glorious Son of God, who endured the infinitely terrible wrath of God and who now reigns as the infinitely worthy Lord of all, and we have reduced him to a poor, puny Savior who is just begging for us to accept him.  Accept him?  Do we really think Jesus needs our acceptance?  Don’t we need Him?” (page 37)

Another convicting section of the book focuses on the need to increase our awareness of the spiritual and physical needs of the whole world.  One way to do this is to see it up close and personal on a short-term missions trip.  While I have often wondered if it would just be better to send money to struggling missionaries, as opposed to sending a group of inexperienced novices for only a week or so at a time, Platt makes a good point while relating this touching story:

“I remember when I was first preparing to go to Sudan, a nation impoverished by years of civil war.  The trip was going to cost me around three thousand dollars.  It wasn’t easy to travel into Sudan since they were still at war, and we would have to charter a plane and spend a few extra days to make that happen.  I remember one dear lady in the church coming up to me and asking, “Why don’t you just send three thousand dollars to the people in Sudan?  Wouldn’t that be a better use of money than your spending a week and a half with them?  Think of how far that money could go.

“I wrestled with that question.  Was I wasting these funds in order to go when I could simply give the money instead?  Should I even be going?  I continued wrestling with that question until I got to Sudan.  There I had a conversation with Andrew that shed some light on the question.

“Andrew was sharing with me about his life in Sudan over the last twenty years.  He had known war since he was born, and he described facets of the suffering and persecution his people had been through.  He told me about the various groups, most of them secular or government organizations, who had brought supplies to them during that time, and he expressed thanks for the generosity of so many people.

“But then he looked at me and asked, “Even in light of all these things that people have given us, do you want to know how you can tell who a true brother is?”

“I leaned forward and asked, “How?”

“He responded, “A true brother comes to be with you in your time of need.”  Then he looked me in the eye and said, “David, you are a true brother.  Thank you for coming to be with us.”

“Tears welled up in my eyes as the reality of the gospel hit home with me in an entirely new way.  I was immediately reminded that when God chose to bring salvation to you and me, he did not send gold or silver, cash or check.  He sent himself  – the Son.  I was convicted for even considering that I should give money instead of actually coming to Sudan.  How will I ever show the gospel to the world if all I send is my money?  Was I really so shallow as to think that my money is the answer to the needs in the world?” (pages 197-198)

The main purpose of this book is to reshape our entire mindset toward wealth and material positions.  If we really believed in God’s call to world evangelism, how would our lives be different?  If we really believed that those who do not embrace the gospel really die and go to a real hell, how would our lives be different?  How can we live a comfort-driven life knowing half the world is dying due to a lack the basic necessities of life?  While these are not comfortable questions to think about, they are necessary questions every follower of Christ must grapple with.

This was an excellent book I highly recommend.  However, I do have some reservations. 

First, I think at some point it would be good have a conversation about the difference between Christians in America being spoiled as opposed to blessed.  The Old Testament is filled with promises of blessings, both spiritual and material, to those who follow the Lord.  Should I feel guilty about enjoying the blessings of God?  Yet, I also acknowledge that gifts from God are also meant to be shared with others in the Body.  I’m just saying I’d like to hear this conversation as opposed to just a guilt trip about having more than is absolutely needed. 

Second, I would like to say that poverty in many Third World nations is not due to selfishness in America but due to poor economic decisions by corrupt governments oppressing their people.  No amount of money we send over there will solve this problem.

However, neither of these two reservations is an excuse for selfishness, laziness or ignorance.  Taking care of the poor is not only a good thing, but a command from a sovereign God.  This book at least is thought-provoking but is at most, a highly convicting reminder of the church’s gospel responsibility to a lost and dying world.

Purchase the book at:  CBD  or Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

This and That 09-24-11

Thrown Over the Fence — “Judge Veit did indeed “extend the principles underlying legalized abortion in order to mitigate the killing of a living person.” The only problem with that statement is that this baby was “a living person” before his birth. The issue of birth is artificial and deadly. The willingness to kill within the womb leads logically to a willingness to kill outside the womb. The horrifying illogic of abortion, even in the United States, means that this mother could have aborted her baby in the hours prior to his birth with no legal consequence. This woman was convicted by juries of killing her son just after his birth. The appeals court reduced the crime, and then Judge Veit suspended the sentence.” – Al Mohler

There’s Someone Wrong on the Internet – “I suspect that we respond to these blunders less because we are so passionate about defending the future return of Christ, the sanctity of marriage, the sacredness of life, the reality of hell, the liberty of ladies to encourage one another with the whole of the Bible, and more because it is an occasion to make ourselves look better. “Look at what that idiot said. I’m so much smarter, bolder, more faithful, more humble than him.” When the world wide web was first invented it wasn’t called the web, nor the internet, Rather the demons in research and development below labeled it ‘The Narcissism Machine.’ If we are going to succeed in redeeming it, in plundering the Egyptians, we need to understand its nature. It wasn’t invented to propagate the errors of Robertson, Smith, Camping, Bell and Sproul Jr. It was invented to tickle and titillate the egos of everyone logging on. Pornography exists to tell us how desirable we are, beautiful women just throwing themselves at us. Facebook and Twitter exist to tell us how much we are ‘liked.’ And blogs, complete with sundry analytics, tell us how smart and influential we are.” – R.C. Sproul, Jr.

Should “Broader Interests” Preclude Pastoring?  – “I’ve noticed a pattern lately and I’m not the only one who has seen it. Christianity Today featured a storyin the spring of 2010 about pastors leaving their churches to pursue writing and speaking opportunities. Francis Chan, Jim Belcher, N. T. Wright and, now Rob Bell, have left local church pastorates, some of which were churches they themselves had planted. This led CT to ask:  What’s going on? Is the local church becoming the “farm team” for full-time conference and book ministry?” – Ed Stetzer

Last Night’s GOP Presidential Debate

Last night’s debate was not exactly the most exciting thing in the world, and no one suffered too much as they left the stage – except Fox News.  I am firmly convinced that Chris Wallace has a man-crush on Mitt Romney. 

Who was the winner?  My answer may surprise you.  No one delievered a knock-out punch.  Romeny and Perry fought the whole evening, but we are kind of getting used to that.  They basically cancel each other out.  Rick Santorum sounded good, but I think his view of putting soliders back into Iraq will hurt him.  Newt was Newt – excellent as always.  The one standout was Governor Jon Huntsman.  I am not a big fan of the former Utah governor, but last night he sounded like the only adult in the room sometimes.  I’m tempted to declare him the winner, but his performance will not boost his overall polling numbers – just like Santorum and Gingrich.

I think the big winner last night was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.   For Johnson, just being included in this debate was a huge victory.  His very presence on that stage is sure to help him.  Though he recieved the least amount of airtime, he had one of the most memorable lines of the evening – “My next door neighbor’s two dogs have made more shovel-ready jobs than this administration.”  That’s the line I saw on the news this morning.  The Governor will get alot of milage and a lot of exposure from that quip.  I don’t think he can strech this win into a jump into the top tier, but it will help him get into the next debate.

Once again, here are my live debate tweets as they happened (from bottom to top):

Ok, so last question was useless, but entertaining. Perry, Cain and Huntsman with the best answers. #gopdebate

“My nextdoor neighbor’s 2 dogs have created more shovel ready jobs than this administration.” – @GovGaryJohnson. Awesome quote! #gopdebate

Ok, @TeamRickPerry trying to hit Romney on flip-flopping, but sounds incoherent and tired. P

Romney to Perry “I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.” #gopdebate

@RonPaul believes victims of rape should be allowed to murder their unborn children. His response was disappointing. Sad… #gopdebate

“Only Pakistan can save Pakistan.” – @JonHuntsman – amen!

@JonHuntsman goes after @RickSantorum and rightly suggests its time to bring our troops home and keep them there. #gopdebate

@TeamRickPerry dodges 3am scenario, but @RickSantorum picks up the ball. He seems to always have firm and confident answers. #gopdebate

@TeamRickPerry suggests those against in-state tuition for illegals don’t have a heart. Honestly, sounds about right. #gopdebate

@MicheleBachmann works in her children again… #gopdebate

@TeamRickPerry again goes after @MittRomney. Does any1 else think those 2 should go 1on1 in a separate debate/cage match? #gopdebate

I like @GovGaryJohnson referring to states as “50 laboratories of experimentation.” That is exactly the mindset Washington needs #gopdebate

I’ve said it before many times, @newtgingrich is the smartest man in this race! #gopdebate

Gotta admit, @JonHuntsman is sounding like the adult in the room right now. #gopdebate

@MittRomney refuses to call Obama a socialist; but @TeamRickPerry is not afraid to speak the truth! #gopdebate

@TeamRickPerry is giving @MittRomney a complete thrashing identifying the real flip-flopper! Go, Rick, Go! #gopdebate

Ok, did I just hear @MittRomney actually accuse someone else of flip-flopping!!!! #gopdebate

@TeamRickPerry “This (social security) would not be the first time @MittRomney is wrong about something.” #gopdebate

Fox analysts are already writing off @RonPaul. Who says liberal in media are the only ones with bias? #gopdebate

@GovGaryJohnson asked why libertarian voters should prefer him over @RonPaul. Great question! #gopdebate

@RonPaul promises to veto all bills that violate the 10th Amendment.

@THEHermanCain takes on @MittRomney – Romney is stuck on a old tax system – “that dog won’t hunt.” #gopdebate

@newtgingrich hits it out of the park – “It is fundamentally wrong to give money to people doing nothing.”. Instead, invest in human capital

Brett, there’s more people on stage than just Romney #gopdebate

I would like to see candidates chosen randomly to answer questions instead of it based on the moderator’s whim and bias. #gopdebate

A Free E-Book on Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism & Arminianism

The fine folks over at NiceneCouncil.com has made another free e-book (pdf format) available to use who desire to deepen our theological mind and yet are cheap to spend actual money in this endeavor.   The book is entitled, “Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism & Arminianism” and is written by  Drs. Kenneth Talbot and Gary Crampton. 

The late Dr. D. James Kennedy, who wrote the foreword, said this book, “is a new and fresh examination of the Biblical doctrines of sovereign grace. The views are set forth logically, Biblically, and convincingly. It is a book which should be read by anyone seeking to understand the biblical doctrine of salvation…I invite you to read on and find out what Calvinists really believe.”  

What more needs to be said?  Download your copy here.

Book Review: Unseen Realities by R.C. Sproul

Title:  Unseen Realities:  Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons
Author:  R.C. Sproul
Publisher:  Christian Focus
Publishing Year:  2011
Pages:  157
My Rating:  4 out of 5 (1 meaning I hated the book, 5 meaning I loved the book)

If I had a top ten lists of favorite authors, Dr. R.C. Sproul would be somewhere in the top three.  The man is simply brilliant.  By that I mean he is both simple and brilliant.  The guy just has a great way of breaking down complex theological issues into understandable pieces that people like me can digest. 

Recently, I was given the opportunity to review one of Dr. Sproul’s latest books, Unseen Realities.  In this small paperback seeks to explore the spiritual realm of things unseen.   Normally, I am not really attracted to such topics, but anything by R.C. is normally worth a try.  I was not disappointed.

The book is neatly divided up into four parts – Heaven, Hell, Angels and Satan.  

The first part on heaven stood out to me the most.  Quoting a few select passages just won’t do it justice because its not so much the content or the exact wording that stands out, it is the tone.  Sproul writes as a man reminiscing about his moved beloved memories.  He writes as a man genuinely intrigued by a place to which he’s never been but so longs to be one day. 

From a wistful talk about heaven, Sproul  dives into the uncomfortable subject of eternal damnation, hell.  This section artfully deals with some of the common questions people have about this subject.  Are there literal flames?  How can a loving God send people there?  Does everyone face the same type of punishment in hell?  The reader is also treated to some keen insight on more in-depth subjects like the existence of the soul and annihilationism. 

In the next section dealing with Angels, we are given clear descriptions of the role angels play in God’s creation.  So often we are tempted to downplay this role so that we don’t seen too weird, so I found this section refreshing and informative.  We also see discussion of related topics such as angel veneration and the exaltation of Mary. 

The final section deals with Satan himself.  Summarizing  the basic misconception people have of our adversary Sproul writes, “In church history, there has been two serious distortions about the person and work of Satan.  The first common distortion is to minimize his reality, or to even deny he exists, and to fail to take him seriously as a real spiritual adversary.  The second distortion is to attribute to him greater power and significance than he actually enjoys.  So often the church has been influenced by dualistic perspectives that see forces of good and evil, light and darkness, as equal and opposite powers, vying for supremacy.  But the Biblical view knows nothing of such dualism, because the contest between God and Satan is no contest at all.  Satan is a creature, and a created being.  He is always and everywhere under the sovereign power and authority of the Creator.”  Sproul also discusses Satan’s fall, limitations and ultimate destiny.

What I found missing from this book was much of a discussion about demons/fallen angels.  When you mention the word “demon” on the cover, you expect more of an appearance in the pages thereafter.

This book is definitely worth your time to read.  It’s a short and easy read, but by no means is it a fluff piece that only skims the surface.  Sproul does a great job in providing in-depth theology at a layman level.  Go out and buy the book today. 

Buy it from amazon.com          But it from CBD

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

My Family vs. Pat Robertson

This morning, my wife and I joined her side of the family in an annual Alzheimer’s Walk in Madison.  Jill’s grandfather has been suffering with this issue for years now.  Though it has been emotionally difficult and challenging in a whole host of different ways,  one thing this man can count on is a loving  and devoted wife who will cling to his side each day as he drifts away into the long goodbye.  One thing she can count on is a praying family to be by her side.  This is love.  This is what marriage was always meant to be – a loving, life-long commitment mirroring the devotion Christ has given to His Bride.