Monday, 28 February 2011

Avoiding Having a Wonky Gospel (Or 'Why We Need to Speak About Hell')

One of the most common reasons people give as to why we should not speak about hell is this: "But people don't like to hear about hell?" They're not supposed to! Nobody likes hearing about being run over by a double-decker bus, but that doesn't stop us from warning people about the dangers of standing in the middle of a busy road. It's not an unloving thing to warn people of a real danger.

If we merely tell people what they like to hear then we are no different to the false teachers that Timothy had to deal with, who taught what people's "itching ears" wanted to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). Just because someone doesn't want to hear about something does not mean that they do not need to hear it.

We need to speak about hell. If we neglect this it gives us a wonky gospel. The reality of God's eternal judgement is part of the gospel. In Revelation 14:6 John sees an angel "with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people." What is the content of this eternal gospel? John tells us in verse 7, the angel proclaims: "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

Therefore, if we are to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel, and to avoid having a wonky gospel, we need to speak about God's judgement, which means speaking about hell. Hell is a real place where real people, who have not submitted to the Lord Jesus, shall spend eternity (see e.g. John 3:36, Revelation 20:11-15). This ought to grieve us and we ought to tremble over the thought of people facing such a future. Therefore, if we love people, instead of shying away from speaking about the reality of God's just judgement, we ought to speak of it with tears in our eyes urging them to flee to the Lord Jesus that they might have life.

In order to help us think through why we shouldn't neglect speaking about hell here are some initial thoughts on what happens to the gospel if we lose our doctrine of hell. What do we lose if we ignore hell?

1) We Lose a Just God
If there is ultimately no final judgement where people recieve the justice due to them for rebelling against an infinitely holy God, then this would mean that God is not just. It would mean that there is no hope that every wrong shall one day be righted.

2) We Lose the Seriousness of Sin
If God does not judge sin fully and finally then it implies that He doesn't really care about sin. This would then lead to us not really caring about sin. If God doesn't care enough about sin to punish it, why then should I care about seeking to live a godly life and turn from it. Yet, sin is infinitely serious. Dragging the glory of the eternal and infinitely holy God through the dirt, which is what we do when we sin, is of the utmost seriousness.

3) We Lose the Glory of God's Grace Displayed in the Cross
If there is no such thing as hell then we lose the ultimate display of the glory of the grace of God: the cross of Christ. If there was no such place as hell then what was the point of the cross? If God is not going to judge sin eternally then the cross was the biggest waste of time. But this is not true. God shall judge sin eternally, therefore the cross is infinitely glorious. At the cross God is showing that He is both just and the one who justifies sinful people, who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26). At the cross the one who shall be the judge on that final day (Acts 17:31), has taken upon Himself the full weight of the wrath of God in the place of His people. If we neglect to speak about hell then the glory of the cross, the blazing centre of the revelation of the glory of God, loses its lustre.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

To Hell With Hell

For the last six weeks or so I have been in a bit of a blogging funk. I would sit at my computer and type and type and delete and type and delete and delete I needed something to... provoke me.

Last night I stumbled on just the thing, namely Justin Taylor's blog post Rob Bell: Universalist?
A question prompted by the publishers blurb and promo video for Bell's new book 'Love Wins'.

As with anyone who pastors a church called Mars Hill, Bell is no stranger to controversy, indeed he relishes the idea of pushing some conservative buttons and this new book is certainly no exception!

However rather than pronouncing anathema’s based on the video alone I am going to go to Amazon, pre order my copy and see exactly what he says.
For the time being please watch the two video's below, the first is the promo and the second is a excerpt from a sermon posted on desiring God yesterday... coincidence?

Additionally I have opened a discussion page on our Facebook profile and would love to hear what others think!

(Parenthetically, if the juices are flowing again I may resurrect some of those dead posts, so watch this space!)

Friday, 25 February 2011

Living in a Shaky World

We live in a shaky world. It is a world that is filled with turmoil and uncertainties. Over the last few weeks the headlines have been dominated by 'shakiness'. The middle east has been shaken by poltical unrest and upheaval, with recent uprisings in Egypt and Libya. New Zealand has been shaken by a devastating earthquake in Christchurch. All of these events make us realise how uncertain and insecure this world really is, and makes us long for security. We live in a shaky world.

Where then should we look as Christians living in the midst of this shaky world? Over recent days Psalm 46 has been brought to my mind. It gives us both a vivid picture of the reality of this shaky world, and gives us as God's people great certainty in the midst of such 'shakiness'. Listen to what the first seven verses tell us:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
This Psalm reminds us, as God's people in Christ, that though all things should be falling down around us we have no reason to fear. Why? Because God is our refuge and ever present help (verse 1), He is with us (verse 7). In the midst of a world that seems to be falling down around us we have one who is an unfailing refuge.

In verses 4-7 the Psalm points us to an unshakeable city. This is a city where God is present among His people (verse 4-5), and which "shall not be moved" (verse 5). In the Old Testament this is referring to Jerusalem, but the Psalm  points far beyond a small plot of land in the Middle East. This unshakeable city finds its fulfillment in the New Jerusalem which Revelation 21-22 speaks of, which shall be seen and enjoyed in all its fullness when Jesus returns. It is a place where God is fully present with His people (Revelation 21:3), and a place of utter security for His people (hence the gates will never be shut 21:25).

In the midst of a shaky world Christ's people have an unshakeable kingdom (Hebrews 12:28), and we look forward to the hope of an unshakeable city (Revelation 21-22). We have a city that no amount of miliatary force can overthrow, and no earthquake can topple. This is because we have a king who reigns with all power over all nations (Psalm 2:7-9), and who shall reign for all eternity (Luke 1:32-33), the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, as we find the world around us being shaken, let us remind ourselves that in Christ we have an unshakeable kingdom, and ever look to Him for refuge in a shaky world. When everything is falling down around us, if we are in Christ we have ultimate security and we shall not be shaken.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Mr. Bookworm meets Mr. Simple-Faith

Over at the Gospel Coalition Kevin DeYoung has written a very helpful short article on the difference between a knowledgeable yet immature Christian and a mature yet unknowledgeable Christian, and what we ought to aim for in Christian discipleship in light of this. You can read the article here.

Technology and Loving our Saviour

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Four Posts on Prayer

Here are four selected posts from the "Above Every Name" archives to encourage and spur us on to "Continue steadfastly in prayer" (Colossians 4:2):

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 8)

We come to part 8 of our series which takes us through the whole Bible. This week Don Carson shows us "The God Who Grants New Birth", as he works through John 3. Enjoy.

Monday, 21 February 2011

What Kind of Workers Does the Harvest Field Need?

What kind of workers ought we to be praying for when we pray that God would send out workers into His harvest field (Matthew 9:38)? How about we dare to pray big, and to pray for workers such as these:
“. . . that He will again raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ [revival]. And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labour and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.”
(From Arnold Dallimore's biography of George Whitefield)

Why Memorise Scripture?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hymn: We Rest on Thee

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.

Yes, in Thy Name, O Captain of salvation!
In Thy dear Name, all other names above;
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Immortal Till My Work was Done

One of the things that understanding God's sovereignty over the work of the gospel gives us is boldness in proclaiming Christ. If we recognise that God is in control of all things then we will be prepared to risk all for the sake of others hearing of the Lord Jesus. If God is in control we need not worry what people may do to us. John G. Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) recgnised this and it gave him great courage to proclaim Christ in the face of fierce opposition and threats on his life. Listen to what he says in his biography:
My enemies seldom slackened their hateful designs against my life, however calmed or baffled for the moment. . . . A wild chief followed me around for four hours with his loaded musket, and, though often directed towards me, God restrained his hand. I spoke kindly to him, and attended to my work as if he had not been there, fully persuaded that my God had placed me there, and would protect me till my allotted task was finished. Looking up in unceasing prayer to our dear Lord Jesus, I left all in his hands, and felt immortal till my work was done. Trials and hairbreadth escapes strengthened my faith, and seemed only to nerve me for more to follow; and they did tread swiftly upon each other's heels.
Because God is completely in control over all things, we are able to say with John Paton that we are immortal until our work is done. If God has more work for us to do He will keep us in te midst of any trouble, if not He will bring us safely home to be with Christ which is better by far.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Immeasurable Breadth and Unfathomable Depth

Where do you find your satisfaction? All of us are seeking satisfaction somewhere. The only place where we shall find inexhaustible satisfaction is in Christ. This is what the Scottish minister Andrew Bonar recognised. On the 18th Febuary 1871 he wrote these words in his diary:
I find my Lord and Saviour more and more satisfying to my soul. In very deed He is all my salvation and all my desire. I am like a man standing upon the shore of the ocean and seeing that it has immeasurable breadth and unfathomable depth, so that I cannot search it out.
Almost four years later on 6th December 1874 he again wrote:
Christ is more than ever precious to me in His atonement, righteousness, merit, heart. Nothing else satisfies me. I only yearn to know Him better, and preach Him more fully. His Cross and His Crown never lose their attractiveness. Day by day He is my rest, my heaven.
Let us then ever seek and long to know the Lord Jesus better. He shall never lose His attractiveness. He shall never cease to be infinitely satisfying.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Cost of the Work of the Gospel

The work of the gospel is costly. If anyone thinks that Christian ministry is an easy option, or a bit of fun they are sorely mistaken. Those who serve in the proclaiming of Christ's gospel must expect to suffer for it. This is something that all of us as Christians must recognise, and it is something that those in full time Christians work must especially be aware of. William Tyndale was a man who understood this. He was exiled from his home country, suffered greatly and was eventually burnt alive for translating the Bible and speaking and writing about the truth of the gospel. Here is the last word he sent to his best friend, John Frith, in a letter just before he was executed:
Your cause is Christ’s gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith. . . . If when we be buffeted for well-doing, we suffer patiently and endure, that is thankful with God; for to that end we are called. For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps, who did no sin. Hereby have we perceived love that he laid down his life for us: therefore we ought to be able to lay down our lives for the brethren. . . . Let not your body faint. If the pain be above your strength, remember: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will give it you.” And pray to our Father in that name, and he will ease your pain, or shorten it. . . . Amen.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 7)

We now come to part 7 of Don Carson's 14 part series which takes us through the overall storyline of the Bible. This week we turn to the New Testament as Carson shows us "The God Who Becomes a Human Being."

Monday, 14 February 2011

Reaping with Joy

Recently, I came across this video of the Kimyal people recieving the New Testament for the first time in their own language. Their joy and thankfulness to God is extremely moving, and it shows that they recognise just how precious is the written word of God. The delight and celebration of t anhe Kimyal people puts me to shame for how much I take having the Bible in my own language for granted, and how I do not delight in it and treasure it as I should. How priveleged we are in the English speaking parts of the world to have humdreds of translations so easily acessible in our own language. All round the world there are peoples that have a famine of the word of God in their own language. Watch this video and be reminded of the immense preciousness of the word of God and be challenged to love your Bible, and to give yourself to supporting gospel famine relief.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Sovereignty, Sin and the Cross

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 helps us undersatnd the relation between God's sovereignty (His complete control over all things) and human sin.

Joseph's brothers treated him terribly. They hated him (37:4) and wanted him dead (37:18). They attacked him, threw him down a pit, then sold him to some passing slave traders (37:18-28). It seems that the only thing that kept them from killing him was the opportunity of making money by selling him as a slave (37:26). They then return and lie to their father, telling him that Joseph has been killed by a wild animal. What they do is a horrific evil, and is utterly repulsive in God's eyes.

However, none of this is outside of God's control. Instead, as we work through the story we see exactly the opposite, that God is in complete control, even over their sin. In fact, their sin is part of God's good purposes for His people, which includes Joseph's brothers (who are to go on to be the heads of the tribes of Israel). Joseph's brothers even end up being saved because of their sin. In God's purposes Joseph ends up as the prime minister of Egypt, who is in complete control over rations of food in a time of great famine. This means that he is able to provide food for his family, including his brothers, when they are struck hard by famine. Joseph delivers his family from death, and ensures their security. He would not have been in a position to do this had his brothers not done such a great evil by selling him off for a bit of extra pocket money.

This was not God just making the best of a bad situation, doing the best He could with the mess that Joseph's brothers had made. God ordained their sin to happen as part of His good purposes for His glory and the good of His people. Joseph makes this clear in 50:20 when he says, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." On the one hand Joseph's brothers plotted and planned and purposed evil against Joseph. However, all of this was part of God's purposes. He planned this for good, to save His people. God did not make the best of a bad situation, He ordained that this should happen as part of His good purposes. Joseph is not ashamed to hold together both God's utter sovereignty and control over all things and human responsibility, their evil is not excusable.

Not only this but the story also draws attention to the glory of God's grace. In His sovereign purposes, the evil that Joseph's brothers committed end up for their good, and bringing about their deliverance. Does that not make us marvel at God's sovereign grace and His unfathomable wisdom.

If we move to the New Testament we see the same pattern. At the heart of the Bible is the most horrific sin ever committed, the slaughter of the Son of God on the cross. This is a horriffic evil, yet the cross has been planned by God since before the foundation of the world. at the cross both Jew's and Gentiles (representing the whole world) united together against Jesus to put Him to death (Acts 4:27). Yet, they did what God's "hand and...plan had predestined to take place." (Acts 4:28). The most horriffic human sin was planned by God from eternity past for the ultimate good, to bring glory to God by the saving of a people for Himself to all eternity. Not, only this but this horriffic evil was purposed for the inestimable good of those who comitted it. Acts 4 sees the rulers of both Jews and Gentiles as representative of the whole world united in putting Jesus to death. Yet, this great evil has been purposed by God to bring eternal salvation to people from all nations, tribes and tongues, both Jew and Gentile.

Ought this not to lead us to rejoicing in the inestimable riches of God's grace? Does this not make us join with Paul in saying: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearcheable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!...To Him be glory forever.Amen" (Romans 11:33, 36).

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Quote: Satisfaction

The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here.
Jonathan Edwards

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 6)

We continue our Tuesday Teaching series in Don Carson's The God Who is There with part 6: "The God Who is Unfathomably Wise".

Monday, 7 February 2011

'My Noblest and Most Fruitful Employment'

Robert Murray McCheyne recognised just how crucial private prayer was for his Christian life and his ministry. In some notes, written towards the end of his life, called "Reformation in Secret Prayer" he says:

I ought to pray before seeing any one [in the morning]. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer, and breakfast, and forenoon callers, often it is eleven or twelve o'clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. . . . Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness; and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then, when secret prayer comes, the soul is often out of tune. . . .

It is far better to begin with God—to see his face first—to get my soul near Him before it is near another. "When I awake I am still with Thee." If I have slept too long, or am going on an early journey, or my time is in any way shortened, it is best to dress hurriedly, and have a few minutes alone with God, than to give it up for lost. But in general, it is best to have at least one hour alone with God, before engaging in anything else. . . .

I ought to spend the best hours of the day in communion with God. It is my noblest and most fruitful employment, and is not to be thrust into any corner. The morning hours, from six to eight, are the most uninterrupted, and should be thus employed, if I can prevent drowsiness. A little time after breakfast might be given to intercession. After tea is my best hour, and that should be solemnly dedicated to God, if possible. . . . [And] when I awake in the night, I ought to rise and pray, as David and as John Welsh did.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A Magnificent Theatre Where the Glory of God Shines Most Brightly

In a post yesterday we saw that our perfect happiness is found in beholding the glory of God (see John 17:24). This raises the question of how we see this glory. Where do we look in order to see the glory of God? It is in the gospel that the glory of God shines most brightly. In the gospel we see "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is why he describes the gospel as "the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4). At the heart of the gospel is the cross of Christ, this is where the glory of God blazes most brightly. Calvin has these words to say:
In the cross of Christ, as in a magnificent theatre, the inestimable goodness of God is displayed before the whole world. In all the creatures, indeed, both high and low, the glory of God shines, but nowhere has it shone more brightly than in the cross, in which there has been an astonishing change of things, the condemnation of all men has been manifested, sin has been blotted out, salvation has been restored to men; and, in short, the whole world has been renewed, and every thing restored to good order.
It is in the cross of Christ that we see the glory of God shining most brightly. It is in the crucified saviour where we see most clearly the glory of God revealed in this world, and it will be that same crucified saviour who will be the centre of our worship and delight to all eternity (Revelation 5:9-10; 12). Into all eternity we, as His people, shall be rejoicing in the Lamb who was slain. In the new creation we shall still see this glory. Revelation 21:23 tells us that in the new creation, the glory of God shall give light to that heavenly city, and the lamp through which that light shines is the Lamb. The reason Jesus is called the Lamb is to draw attention to His death. It is Jesus the Lamb who was slain, the crucified saviour, through whom we shall bask in the glory of God to all eternity.

The problem is that we are all naturally blind, and cannot see the glory of God in the face of Christ. Paul points this out in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and 6. Therefore, nothing short of a miracle equal with the creation of the world (2 Corinthians 4:6), can open our eyes to see His glory blazing in the cross. This means we are helpless unless the one who opened the eyes of the blind (John 9), opens our eyes that we might see. Therefore, as we open our Bibles to see the glory of God in the face of Christ as revealed in the gospel, our prayer must ever be: "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderous things out of your law." (Psalm119:18).

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Stepping Out into the Sunlight

In John 17:24 Jesus prays these words to the Father: "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world." In his commentary on John's gospel, Calvin has this to say about these words:
Christ speaks of the perfect happiness of believers, as if he had said, that his desire will not be satisfied till they have been recieved into heaven. In the same manner I explain the beholding of the glory. At that time they saw the glory of Christ, just as a man shut up in the dark obtains, through small chinks, a feeble and glimmering light. Christ now wishes that they shall make such progress as to enjoy the full brightness of heaven. In short, he asks that the Father will conduct them, by uninterrupted progress, to the full vision of his glory.
In this world we only see a glimpse of the glory of Christ. As we look at Jesus, with the eyes of faith, as He is revealed to us in Scripture, the glimpse we see of Him is glorious and magnificent. However, it is nothing to be compared to the glory that we shall see when we see Him face to face in the new creation. A man shut up in a dark room takes joy in the beams of sunlight that sine through the cracks in the door. However, this is nothing compared to stepping out into the sunlight on a bright summers day. So it is with us as we see in part now the glory of God as revealed in to us in Christ in the gospel. As believers we see His glory in part now, and that part is magnificent. However, it is nowhere near to the magnificence of stepping out into the sunlight of the fullness of His glory, which we shall experience in the new creation.

As Calvin says, the perfect happiness of believers is found in beholding the glory of Christ. This is what Jesus is saying in John 17:24. Therefore, as Christians, should this not leave us with an all-consuming longing to see more of Christ in this life, as He is revealed to us in Scripture, and ultimately to see the fullness of His glory in the new creation. Should this not leave us with a longing for Him either to call us to depart to be with Him - which is better by far (Philippians 1:23), or to return to ussher in the new creation, where we shall see Him face to face (Revelation 21:22-23; 22:4).

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tuesday Teaching: The God Who is There (Part 5)

We continue with Don Carson's overview of the Bible: The God Who is There. This week we are in 2 Samuel 7, where we see "The God Who Reigns".