Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
My experience was that old people checked the obituaries mainly to see if any of their peers had died. My great-grandmother would cut out the obituaries of people she knew and keep the clippings in a box. I still have her box of obituaries. I also have her sister’s collection of obituary clippings. And, yes, I have my own collection of obituary clippings.
Although I occasionally run across the obituary of one of my peers (a phenomenon that, unavoidably, becomes less rare, the older I get), mostly, I check the obituaries to see if anyone I’ve known has died, regardless of their age. You see, I hate to be totally out-of-the-loop, when it comes to the death of someone I’ve known. This is how it usually happens: I’ll be talking to a friend or acquaintance and, somehow, the death of a mutual acquaintance comes up. When I express surprise upon hearing the news, the other person will start off with, “Oh, didn’t you know?” It’s almost like everybody in the county knew, attended the funeral, the burial, and the dinner at the church afterwards, but somehow forgot to let me know. “Oh, didn’t you know?” Well, no! How could I if someone doesn’t tell me?!
So…I read the obituaries.
Well, I was reading the obituaries today and, lo and behold, there was an obituary for an older gentleman I’d known all my life. This gentleman had retired some years ago and moved to another state, so the obituary was mainly to inform people in this area, who had known him, of his death. I was reminiscing about this gentleman to my wife, and mentioned that I thought his late mother had been a member of our former denomination because I can remember her visiting our church when I was a boy, whenever she would be in town visiting her son. My wife asked me, “So, what church did he go to?” I told her I didn’t think he was affiliated with any church. At least I don’t remember ever hearing about him being a part of any church.
I was thinking about that later, and it occurred to me that if, indeed, this gentleman was not a Christian, he’s in hell right now. I had to pause and let that thought sink in. Then, I wondered, “How many of the people, whose obituary I read today, died in a lost condition and are, therefore, in hell today?” That’s a very sobering thought. But, that thought led to yet another one: How many people do I know who are in hell today?
Have you ever thought about that? Do you know anyone in hell? You knew them in this life. Perhaps, they were good, decent people: An older person from the neighborhood when you were a child growing up; a friend who died tragically in an accident or as the result of a lingering illness; or, maybe, a beloved relative or family member. You know this person never professed faith in Christ. They never even pretended to be a Christian. They’re dead now. Where are they? If they died outside of Christ, they must be in hell. You knew them in life, but now they’re in hell.
This makes me think about people I know who are still in “the land of the living”. They don’t profess to know Christ Jesus. They’re not associated with anything Christian. Some of them are good, decent, honest people—upstanding citizens, a credit to their communities. But, by the standard of Scripture, they are lost—they, like you and me, “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Good people, but traveling on the wide and easy way that leads to hell (Matthew 7:13). Some of them are coworkers, neighbors and relatives. If they died, I would never see them again, because they would be in hell.
Do you ever think about the reality of hell? Do you ever consider that every person—every soul—who is outside of Christ Jesus, will spend a conscious eternity in hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48, quoting Isaiah 66:24)? Are you aware that hell is not a myth? Jesus said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and, praise God, that is true. But, do you also see that it is equally true that whoever does not believe in the only Son of God shall perish, and that eternally?
I used to think of hell as a place of literal “fire and sulfur” (Revelation 14:10; 20:10; 21:8; Psalm 11:6), a “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15), where the lost burned forever without being consumed. I now see that hell is infinitely worse than that. I am of the opinion that “fire and sulfur” and the “lake of fire” are symbolic expressions. We all know that symbols are less that the things they symbolize. The reality is always greater than the symbol. As horrible as eternal burning in literal “fire and sulfur” or a “lake of fire” would be, hell is infinitely worse. I am of the opinion that “fire and sulfur” and “lake of fire” are symbolic of nothing less than the terrible fire of God’s wrath.
“For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24).
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’” (Isaiah 33:14).
The eternal and unquenchable fire of God’s wrath against sinners will make burning in a literal fire, as we know fire, seem tolerable by comparison. What “fire and sulfur” and “lake of fire” symbolize is infinitely worse than anything we can possibly imagine.
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:15-17).
In contradiction to those who would pit a loving Jesus against an angry Old Testament God, please notice that in that day people will be trying to hide themselves “from the wrath of the Lamb” as well as the wrath of the Father “who is seated on the throne”. The “great day of their wrath”—the Father and the Son—is included in the wrath of God that I’m talking about.
I also used to think of hell consisting of separation from the presence of God. But, that can’t be right because it isn't possible to be totally separated from the presence of a God who is omnipresent.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7-8)
If we read Scripture carefully, I think we will see that the lost are not separated from God’s presence.
“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb’” (Revelation 14:9-10).
Here, I not only see an association of “God’s wrath” with the “fire and sulfur”, but I also see, instead of being separated from God, the wicked are “tormented…in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Where the “holy angels” are, isn’t the Father there, also? I’m speculating here, but could it be that the same light of God’s holy presence that will bring eternal pleasure to the redeemed will be experienced by those in hell as tormenting fire?
There are some, even among Bible-believing evangelicals, who would shrink from facing the reality of God’s wrath. But, face it we must. Yes, the wrath of God is frightening and horrible, but it is a reality clearly taught in Scripture. Some, trying to avoid the full force of God’s wrath, flee for refuge in an unbiblical doctrine of annihilationism. Well, if the wicked simply cease to exist, that isn’t so bad, is it? Might as well live it up in sin now, because in hell you will just cease to exist. Nonsense! God will not be mocked like that. Hell is never-ending:
“The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:11).
Eternal, conscious torment under the wrath of our God who “is a consuming fire”. This is a reality for everyone “whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain” (Revelation 13:8):
“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
I think I know some people who are now in heaven. Based on their profession of faith and what I knew of their life and doctrine when they were living, I trust that these people are now in heaven and that one day I shall see them again as we rejoice in the presence of our Lord and Savior. But, there are others, based on what I knew of their life and doctrine when they were living, I am not hopeful about. Sadly, I think I know some people who are now in hell.
But, what troubles me the most is that I know some people yet living who will also end up in hell, unless they turn to Jesus Christ. Do you know people like that? I’ve often thought that if it were possible to coerce a soul into salvation, I’d be willing to force my unsaved relatives and family members into the Kingdom under the point of a gun—anything, just to get them to flee to Christ. Sometimes, it’s so frustrating trying to talk about Christ with people whose hearts and minds are hardened against Christ and against the gospel. Yet, to be unconcerned, when millions upon millions are on their way to an eternal hell, is most unloving and totally unacceptable for those of us who, but for the grace of God, would also be hell-bound.
So, what is the Christian to do about those we know who are in eternal danger?
“Go…and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
“Preach the word…always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).
And, there is something else believers can do: pray! Only God can save. Only God can open spiritually-blind eyes. Only God can bring the spiritually dead to life. Therefore, pray for unbelievers, that God would cause them to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Pray that God would shine in their “hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Pray that the Spirit of God would bring to the unbeliever conviction “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)—their sin of unbelief, Christ’s righteousness, and the judgment of the wrath to come.
You and I can pray. We must not stop praying for the lost. We can’t save anyone, but listen to the words of Jesus: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). I feel like I’m speaking mostly to myself (because I need to hear this), but I also say to believers who are reading this: “Trust God!” “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14). Is anyone too difficult for God to save?
If you need some motivation, just think about hell.
Friday, December 29, 2006
In my devotional time this week, I’ve been trying to read through the prophecy of Zechariah. At first I was feeling a bit discouraged because, honestly, the book didn’t make any sense to me. I grabbed a verse here and there which seemed understandable and from which I could draw some personal application, but the majority of the text was just simply confusing. Believing in the perspicuity of the Scriptures and the priesthood of believers, I trudged on, yet I wasn’t getting anywhere, as far as understanding the message of Zechariah. I felt like the Ethiopian eunuch when Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” That’s where I was.
Finally, I decided to turn to someone for help and went to Mark Dever’s book, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (Crossway Books). I hoped Dever might provide me with a general overview of Zechariah (At this point, I didn’t care if I got any of the details!). To my relief, I found Mark Dever's message on Zechariah very helpful in making the message of this prophecy much clearer (Thank God for His gift of theologians and teachers "to equip the saints"!).
I was almost immediately encouraged when I read (p. 906) that Zechariah was “the most obscure minor prophet. Old Testament professor Douglas Stuart had said that most people find it ‘an especially difficult read, even for a prophetic book.’” Well, at least I was not the only one! In his message/chapter on Zechariah (“The Message Of Zechariah: Does God Give Second Chances?”, pp. 905-923), Mark Dever focuses on Zechariah’s message that God would give His people, recently come out of Babylonian captivity, a second chance.
God says, through Zechariah, “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD” (Zechariah 1:4). After all, the Jews had been sent into exile because of their sin and disobedience:
“They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.’” (Zechariah 7:12-14).
Yet, despite their past, God entreats the people, “Return to me…and I will return to you…” (Zechariah 1:3). Notice how God takes the initiative to bring His people back:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness” (Zechariah 8:7-8).
“I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them” (Zechariah 10:6).
Aren’t you grateful that God takes the initiative? Look, again, at Zechariah 10:6. We come to God because He has acts first: “I will bring them back…” Not only does God act to bring us back, but he restores us: “…they shall be as though I had not rejected them…” He not only will restore, but God will strengthen us: “I will strengthen the house of Judah…” Zechariah 10:12 adds, “I will make them strong in the LORD, and they shall walk in his name”.
All these blessings are made possible because of the “fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1). Of course, this prophecy finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
"There is a fountain filled with bloodDrawn from Immanuel's veins;And sinners plunged beneath that floodLose all their guilty stains."(William Cowper)
Do you feel far from God? Have you failed to follow God obediently as you know you should? Because God takes the initiative, you can respond to Him. Please, heed God’s voice; respond to His call:
“Return to me…and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3).
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I. Through the Incarnation, God came near
14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
II. Because of the Incarnation, we can experience the fullness of Grace
16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
III. Because of the Incarnation, we can know God
18No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
Surely, the Incarnation of the Son of God gives us our best reason to celebrate Christmas. Having received so much in Christ Jesus, how can we not praise Him?
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity!
Hail the heaven-born Prince of peace! Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I think, perhaps, Owen’s is the most insightful writing I’ve ever come across on the subject of sin. Right now, I’m in the middle of Of Temptation. Today, while reading, I came across the following passage (on page 171). When I read it, I thought, “I must post this!” I never saw the weakness of my flesh this way before, but it is so very true:
“Let us consider ourselves—what our weakness is…
“For ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength, no power to withstand. Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of our weakness; it was so in Peter. He that says he can do anything, can do nothing as he should. And, which is worse, it is the worst kind of weakness that is in us—a weakness from treachery—a weakness arising from that party which every temptation has in us. If a castle or fort be never so strong and well fortified, yet if there be a treacherous party within, that is ready to betray it on every opportunity, there is no preserving it from the enemy. There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close [consummate, bring to a conclusion] and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe temptations to do the work, as traitors incite an enemy. Do not flatter yourselves that you should hold out; there are secret lusts that lie lurking in your hearts, which perhaps now stir not, which, as soon as any temptation befalls you, will rise, tumultuate, cry, disquiet, seduce, and never give over until they are either killed or satisfied. He that promises himself that the frame of his heart will be the same under a temptation as it is before will be woefully mistaken. “Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” says Hazael [2 Kings 8:13]. Yea, you will be such a dog if ever you be king of Syria; temptation from your interest will unman you. He that now abhors the thoughts of such and such a thing, if he once enters into temptation will find his heart inflamed toward it, and all contrary reasonings overborne and silenced. He will deride his former fears, cast out his scruples, and contemn the consideration that he lived upon. Little did Peter think he should deny and forswear his Master so soon as ever he was questioned whether he knew him or no. It was no better when the hour of temptation came; all resolutions were forgotten, all love to Christ buried; the present temptation closing with his carnal fear carried all before it.”
O my! Did you get that? That, sadly, is so true of me. The line that really struck me was, “There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them.” The enemy is not outside, said Owen, the enemy is in me. Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
Oh, how crucial, then, it is for us to “watch and pray”:
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
I found these meditations a needed rebuke...and a sign of sonship from a loving heavenly Father who's committed to my sanctification (see Hebrews 12:5-11). So, please read. I think you'll be blessed if you do.
By the way, while you're at GospelDrivenLife, look around. Mark writes many thoughtful, cross-centered meditations that, I think, will bless your soul.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
There is also the issue of contentment. Are we content with God’s order for the family and the church? Or do we think we know better than God how the family and the church ought to function? The apostle Paul wrote, “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17). He also wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). The problem is, some church women, influenced by the worldly feminism of our culture, are no longer content to be and function as God created them. It’s the curse playing itself out in the church: Rather than finding fulfillment as “a helper fit for [or “corresponding to”] him” (Genesis 2:18), these daughters of Eve strive and fight to prove they’re “just as capable as any man.” Isn’t this what God said would occur? “Your desire shall be for [or “against”] your husband…” (Genesis 3:16). Not only is there the sin of discontentment in this push for female pastors and teachers in the church, there is the sin of covetousness.
Anyway, be sure you read Part 5 of Adrian Warnock’s interview of Dr. Wayne Grudem. If you missed the other parts, you can read them here: Part 1/Part 2/Part 3/Part 4. Also, there is this response of Dr. Grudem to a critic.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
Shed in my heart abroad:
Then shall my feet no longer rove,
Rooted and fixed in God.
O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow;
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow.
O that it now from heaven might fall,
And all my sins consume:
Come, Holy Ghost, for Thee I call;
Spirit of burning, come.
Refining fire, go through my heart;
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole.
My steadfast soul, from falling free,
Shall then no longer move;
While Christ is all the world to me,
And all my heart is love.
—Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I pray not so much for graces as for
the Spirit himself,
because I feel his absence,
and act by my own spirit in everything.
Give me not weak desires but the power of
for this is the surest way to have all his graces,
and when I have the seal I have the impression
He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly
can work grace and life effectually,
and being eternal he can give grace eternally.
Save me from great hindrances,
from being content with a little measure
of the Spirit,
from thinking thou wilt not give me more.
When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith,
for when I lose thee I am either in the dark
and cannot see thee,
or Satan and my natural abilities content me
with a little light,
so that I seek no further for the Spirit of life.
Teach me then what to do.
Should I merely humble myself and not stir up
Should I meditate and use all means to bring
not being contented by one means,
but trust him to give me a blessing by the use
depending only upon, and waiting always for,
thy light, by use of means?
Is it a duty or an error to pray
and look for the fullness of the Spirit in me?
Am I mistaken in feeling I am empty of the Spirit
because I do not sense his presence within,
when all the time I am most empty
and could be more full by faith in Christ?
Was the fullness of the Spirit in the apostles
chiefly a power,
giving the subsistence outside themselves
in whom was their life and joy?
Teach me to find and know fullness of the Spirit
only in Jesus.
from The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur G. Bennett (Banner of Truth Trust).