Saturday, September 30, 2006

7 Questions - Do You Think I Came To Bring Peace?

Luke Chapter 12
49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Across the board, the response to this question, "Do you think Jesus came to bring peace?", is almost exclusively 'Yes'. They would say Jesus is about peace, love, forgiveness. Actually, this is the wrong answer. The answer to whether or not Jesus came to bring peace is 'No'.

The statement Jesus makes in reply to His own question is, "No, I tell you, not peace, but division." Not simply in context of the immediate verses only, but in context of the entire Bible.
  • The arrival of Jesus - The angels sang Glory to God, and peace among men.
  • Isaiah - For unto us a child will be born, and he will be called the Prince of Peace.
These two instances seem to contradict what Jesus is saying. The best way to approach these types of dilemmas is to admit that it seems difficult and seems to run counter to what we assume is His work on Earth, and look further to find out what He means.

It gets worse. When Paul looks back upon Jesus and writes it down, he describes what Jesus has done in terms of peace. He says that what was happening with the death of Jesus was that God was reconciling, making peace, the world to himself, in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. In looking at the words and works of Jesus, it is difficult to avoid the fact that Jesus is irrevocably linked to peace.

Let me try to resolve this. The words from Paul help us to understand what Jesus says before He asks this question. His preface has to do with a fire on the earth and a baptism which He is about to face. He is referring to the fact that fire does two things. It burns up what is combustible, and it purifies what is not combustible. This notion of fire to which Jesus refers is a fire which will both burn up and purify at the same time. He is referring to the fire of God's holiness, which will ultimately be unleashed on a world that continually turns its back on Him.

Jesus looks forward to the day when evil will be removed entirely from the world. Who doesn't look forward to that day, when all the suffering in the world will be done away with. Ultimately, He who is referred to in Isaiah as the Prince of Peace will reign, but in the meantime, strife continues. Jesus is going to go through a baptism of fire, His death on the cross, to take the place of sinners and bring about a reconciliation between God and man.

How can God forgive people and accept them into Heaven? Especially when they are sinners? Jesus became sin for man so that they could be assured of this very thing. It is as if Jesus says to man, "You are only going to hell over my dead body." Jesus is covered in shame, so that those of us who have shameful lives can be covered with His glory. There is no other story like this in any other world religion. This is a story of a physician who heals by taking the patients disease. This is the story of someone so committed to the reconciliation of God in His holiness and man in his sinfulness that He is willing to put His very life on the line to affect that reconciliation.

Is it enough to simply know these truths in your head? How do we move into the reality of this truth to the point of being baptized. We can't ignore the necessity of personal acceptance and trust. The lifeboat is no good unless the drowning man gets into it. And no one else can get in for him. He must do it himself. Surely he couldn't say that his hand that siezed the lifeboat was his salvation. He could only view it as the means by which he apprehended safety.

What Jesus means when he talks about division is directly tied to the work which He was about to accomplish in affecting reconciliation. When a man or woman comes to understand this story, when a man or woman comes to trust in Christ in this way, their newfound faith will prove, almost inevitably, to be a divisive factor. Jesus was dealing with a Jewish mindset who viewed the coming kingdom with visions of peace and tranquility. That is why Jesus says I didn't come to bring peace, but division. Not that His ultimate purpose was division, but the effect of His accomplishment of salvation would be division.

When a life is changed, it changes the dynamic of interpersonal relationships. In the case of someone coming to faith in Jesus Christ, division is inevitable. How does your unbelieving family react when you bring up Jesus? How do they react at the table when you talk about the Bible? How does your unbelieving spouse react when you invite them to church? How real is the division in your family since you became a believer?

Jesus demanded careful obedience, costly loyalty, and that is why not everyone is prepared to pay the price, nor to accept those who do pay the price. In Ephesians Chapter Two, Paul describes the person before coming to faith in Christ as dead, and like the rest, objects of God's wrath. But, when someone is brought into Christ, they are no longer 'like the rest' and it is that distinction that causes the division, which is the answer to the question before us tonight.

These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg

Friday, September 29, 2006

Open Air Extraordinaire

The group is growing each week as new people join up. We have a lot of new people hearing about what we do and coming along. Many are just starting out and have no idea how to start a conversation with a stranger and lead them through the Law and Grace. A big part of the night was pairing up with various people and letting them watch a witness encounter. Tonight's podcast is one where I took Andre around and we found a group of kids. I opened with a variation of the Name Ten Get Twenty game and in about nine minutes stopped their mouths with the Law and had them sitting there stunned as they learned of God's mercy. It sounded too easy, but it was basically the only recording I got as the next three groups I talked to either weren't interested or ended up having their rides pick them up in the middle of the conversation. One lady, in fact, as I got to the end of the good test was so convicted, she swooped up her three teenage kids with a, "Come on, boys, I've heard enough. Let's get out of here." Even when people couldn't stay to the end, either with a one to one, or an open air preacher, I make sure to get a "Good Person" tract into their hands so they can read it in private later. Sometimes pride is too much for a person to overcome and even though I am presenting the harsh truth, I leave room for the person to escape if they are really through with the conversation. It is not me that will ultimately convert anyone. It is God, using His Spirit, through His Word.

Open air is definitely becoming a regular part of our week. We are blessed with such a great location that is very friendly to us setting up and preaching. Tony Miano has a lot of great props, including a stand with some very nice signs to get people's attention. He also has many bears donated from the Children's Hunger Fund that we can use to gather a crowd. I was the first one up on the box tonight, and I felt pretty good about it. But, I am still learning, and I need to get better at gathering a crowd and keeping my volume up so everyone can hear me. The great thing about being part of a team is that I can get feedback and learn from everyone. Tonight also, there was a table next to us with Scientologists promoting their religion. There were no conflicts between the groups, as they were very quiet. I was surprised, but neither group went up to the other. It was very apparent, though, that while they had two people sitting at their table listening to what they had to say, there were hundreds of people gathered around our preaching and witnessing. God is certainly in control and can sway the hearts of men. I thank God that we are blessed with the feet to carry us to the streets, the mouths to proclaim His Gospel, and the hearts that have been softened by His Grace to have compassion for a lost and dying world.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is Repentance Necessary for Salvation?

It is true that there are numerous Bible verses that speak of the promise of salvation, with no mention of repentance. These merely say to "believe" on Jesus Christ and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9). However, the Bible makes it clear that God is holy and man is sinful, and that sin makes a separation between the two (Isaiah 59:1,2). Without repentance from sin, wicked men cannot have fellowship with a holy God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and until we forsake them through repentance, we cannot be made alive in Christ.

The Scriptures speak of "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). We turn from sin to the Savior. This is why Paul preached "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). The first public word Jesus preached was "repent" (Matthew 4:17). John the Baptist began his ministry the same way (Matthew 3:2). Jesus told His hearers that without repentance, they would perish (Luke 13:3).

If belief is all that is necessary for salvation, then the logical conclusion is that one need never repent. However, the Bible tells us that a false convert "believes" and yet is not saved (Luke 8:13); he remains a "worker of iniquity." Look at the warning of Scripture: "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (1 John 1:6). The Scriptures also say, "He that covers his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesses and forsakes them [repentance] shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). Jesus said that there was joy in heaven over one sinner who "repents" (Luke 15:10). If there is no repentance, there is no joy because there is no salvation.

When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, he commanded his hearers to repent "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Without repentance, there is no remission of sins; we are still under His wrath. Peter further said, "Repent . . . and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). We cannot be "converted" unless we repent. God Himself "commands all men everywhere [leaving no exceptions] to repent" (Acts 17:30). Peter said a similar thing at Pentecost: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you" (Acts 2:38).

If repentance wasn’t necessary for salvation, why then did Jesus command that repentance be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47)? With so many Scriptures speaking of the necessity of repentance for salvation, one can only suspect that those who preach salvation without repentance are strangers to repentance themselves, and thus strangers to true conversion.

All the material in this post comes directly from the pages of The Evidence Bible. This KJV bible has been commended by Josh McDowell, Dr. D. James Kennedy, and Franklin Graham.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is There Such A Thing As A Carnal Christian?

Answer by John MacArthur:

Yes, in fact, there is no such thing as a Christian who is not at times carnal. Did you get that? And if you're saying to yourself, "I have never been carnal," then, "God have mercy on you."

But let me tell you what people mean by that. There was a definition of a Christian as a Carnal Christian, as if that was a permanent condition. The people in the Church used to teach that there were three kinds of people, Natural, Carnal, and Spiritual. And they would define the Natural person as unregenerate, unsaved, self on the throne, life in chaos, and sin everywhere.

Then there is the Carnal person. What's that? That's the Christian who still has self on the throne. Christ is still in there somewhere, running around, but He is not in charge, and the life is still in chaos. So the only difference between a natural and a carnal person is that Christ is in there somewhere, but the life hasn't changed.

And then thirdly, there is the Spiritual Christian. Self is off the throne, Christ is on it, and the life is all in order. And so people came up with the idea that you could be either a Carnal Christian or a Spiritual Christian. You know, once you are saved you could say, "Well, I am going to stay a Carnal Christian, I like it better."

And that brings in this whole idea of Lordship, because those are the people who accepted Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord. Those are the people who said, "I don't want to go to Hell, and I want you to save me from Hell and I want you to forgive my sins, but I just don't want you to run my life.

And the old definition of a Carnal Christian was a person who believed in Jesus for salvation, but didn't let Him be Lord, and didn't let Him run his life. That's not what a Carnal Christian is. That isn't at all what Paul had in mind in 1Corinthians 3, not at all. Let me show you what it is.

There is only two kinds of people in the world. My grandfather use to say the "saints" and the "ain’ts," that's it, Christians and Non-Christians, Believers and Unbelievers. Now listen, the Natural man is the unregenerate. The Spiritual man is the regenerate man. Read Romans 8, the Spiritual man is the regenerate. But the Spiritual man can act in a fleshly way. Anytime you disobey the Lord, you are carnal. Anytime you obey the Lord, you are Spiritual. Anytime you do what you ought not to do, you are carnal. That means fleshy, you're operating off the principle of sin. Anytime you do what the Lord wants you to do, you honor the Word.

So carnality is not a permanent state of Christians who have not given Christ Lordship. Carnality is simply a momentary experience of the Believer who is disobedient to God. So it is not a state, it is simply a kind of behavior. And all Christians at any given moment, right now, this moment here, are either Carnal or Spiritual, depending on whether you functioning in the Spirit or in the flesh. If you are sitting there and the Spirit of God is teaching you, and you are enjoying what's happening, then the Spirit of God is at work, you're a Spiritual person.

If you're sitting there saying, "I don't like what he is saying, I don't buy any of this stuff. I reject all this stuff. This stuff isn't true." And you have hostility in your heart, and you may be dealing with sin, and you don't like what I said, I don't know. Your flesh is reacting, that's Carnality. Understand?

Listen to three episodes of Way of the Master Radio on this very subject.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

7 Questions - Who Do You Say I Am?

You can ask anyone who Jesus is and they all have an answer. Everyone knows Jesus... Or do they?

Mark 8
27Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

28They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

29"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "You are the Christ."

30Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

When you read the Gospel of Mark, you'll notice that when people came in contact with Jesus of Nazareth, their reaction was seldom the reaction you get today, one of polite neutrality. Jesus inspired devotion in people, they were prepared to die for Him. He inspired fear in people, they were awestruck by His words and deeds. He also inspired hatred in people, especially towards the end of His time on Earth.

People were amazed when He forgave sins. "Who can forgive sins but God Himself?" they cried. Who was this that even winds and waves obey Him? Jesus loved to turn this question back on His followers. Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?

Anyone familiar with the prophets in the Old Testament was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, who would put things right. Jesus read these passages to his disciples and then sat down and told them, "Today, this scripture is fulfilled. I am He"

Even with the many answers given as to who the people on the street thought Jesus was, He makes it more personal and asks, "Who do you say I am?" Peter's answer says that, even though he didn't fully understand Jesus' divinity, he knew enough to know that Jesus was the one that all the prophets of the Old Testament pointed to.

This was not the party line for a young Jewish man... "Hear o Israel, the Lord, your God, is one." Peter's confession was a breakthrough of monumental preportions. Peter's experience with Jesus in the first chapters of the gospel brought him to this conclusion. God, the father, had revealed this truth. The Spirit of God, using the Word of God, Jesus Himself, opened Peter's heart. The Bible contains all the truth we need to have Jesus revealed to us as well. If you will examine it with an open heart, then God will reveal this to you as well.

The question of Jesus' identity is a personal one. The person next to you cannot answer for you. Jesus warns not to tell others about His identity, because it will not be their testimony that will convert them, but an encounter with Jesus Himself. Jesus had to be rejected, and crucifed, first, before He could fulfill His role as the Messiah.

If, in His love, He desires to be around sinners...If, in His justice, He cannot ignore our sins...How, then can He display His love and execute His justice? That is the great question. And, the answer is in the cross. At the cross, Jesus is an emblem of the Father's love, and Jesus is the one that bears the Father's wrath. If He simply excused sin, He would not be true Himself in the perfection of His holiness. He executes his justice on His Son, so that those who deserve His wrath can find forgiveness in that Son. Then, it becomes very wonderful. Who do you say I am? You are the Christ. You are the One that bears our sin and reconciles us to the Father.

In the mystery of God's purposes, God speaks by His Spirit, through his Word, and through my mouth. God makes his appeal to you right now through the lips of a mortal, preaching, talks like this. The idea that my typing would have a life changing effect on anyone is absurd. It is almost impossible. There is no possibility of me being able to put words together to convince you that Jesus is the Christ. God, by His Spirit, is the one that makes that change in you. God is able to overcome your skepticism. Here, in the cross is the answer.

My word to you, the very word of God Himself, is cast yourself upon Him. Come and bow your knee before His cross. Declare with a faltering tongue, but declare, none the less, that "You are the Christ." Remember, no one else can answer for you. He asks you, "Who do you say I am?"

These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg

Monday, September 25, 2006

What Standard

Consider the most Important Matter in Life!
View how others measure up to God's Commandments, and find out why God gave the 10 Commandments!
The answer may shock you.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Burn Your Boats

Here's a message from Darrel Rundus, of The Great News Network, called "Burn Your Boats" that he preached last Sunday. Feel free to download it and share it with people who aren't sharing their faith. It's kind of a HBKS/Complete Christian/face your fear message.

I hope and pray it will help you by the power of the Holy Spirit to convict them and motivated them to face their fears and start sowing the seed of the gospel.

The ancient Greek warriors were both feared and respected by their enemies. In battle, the Greeks established a well-deserved reputation for their unsurpassed bravery and unshakable commitment to victory. The key to their overwhelming success on the battlefield had far more to do with how the Greek commanders motivated the warriors than it did with issues of tactics or training. The Greeks were master motivators who understood how to use a "dramatic demonstration" to infuse a spirit of commitment into the heart of every warrior. Once the warriors had been offloaded from their boats onto their enemy's shore, the Greek commanders would shout out their first order…"burn the boats!" The sight of burning boats removed any notion of retreat from their hearts and any thoughts of surrender from their heads. Imagine the tremendous psychological impact on the soldiers as they watched their boats being set to the torch. As the boats turned to ash and slipped quietly out of sight into the water, each man understood there was no turning back and the only way home was through victory.
To really commit, you must burn your boat.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Jesus Walks on Water

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles,

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

One thing stands out here. When people first encounter Jesus doing something miraculous, fear is typical. Many people I witness to can see their need for Jesus, but are fearful of taking that first step and putting their trust in Him. I can imagine Him saying to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." Once people are willing to let Jesus in the boat, they will immediately reach where they are heading. He promises that you will pass from death to life, and He will give you a new heart. And, He will never let you down.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tag Team Evangelism

Tonight, we had a nice group at Burbank Town Center. All the regulars were there. I met a gentleman named Russel from Hollywood during the boot camp and he wanted to join us to see how we did our open air preaching. Also, a young man, Brook, joined us. I had met him before in Simi Valley, and he usually goes to 3rd Street Promenade. He was relatively inexperienced and I paired up with him for some one to one. The audio this week is of Brook speaking with Yvette. She, while very nice, was quite a challenge, and it was all I could do to not jump in and rescue Brook. But, he did really great and stepped right up to the challenge. After getting knocked around a bit he asked me to step in. I wrapped it up with Yvette, who thought her plans were to just see a movie tonight. The Law did its work and closed her mouth and she left with something to really think about. One of the great things about pairing up is that we get to learn from our experience while having someone to bail us out if it gets too difficult.

Before that, Tony got up and preached open air using some stuffed animals to draw a crowd. There were really a lot of people gathered and we could have used some more witnessers to speak to all the people who were standing around. I got pulled aside to speak with a guy who, though open minded, admitted to me that he thought he was God. I said that I wasn't shocked as most people essentially believe the same thing. We sparred for about 20 minutes and shook hands and parted amicably. I told him that his pride would keep him from bending his knee to the Truth. I pray that it was just his youth that let him hold on to his silly ideas. I pleaded with him to observe the creation as proof of the creator, and his conscience as the creator reaching out to give him some light. If he would just respond to that light then God would reveal himself directly through the Bible. I don't think I got through, but I definitely gave him the Law and the Gospel, so he is without excuse. Men know the truth, but they supress it because they love their sin. With the Word of God now in his mind, pray that the Holy Spirit works on his heart tonight.

I have missed a few days writing here just trying to catch my breath after the boot camp, but I think I am back, renewed with energy and zeal to seek out and save the lost. Please pray for endurance so we can all run the race as to get the prize, and pray for all that heard the Gospel tonight.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

7 Questions - Why Do You Call Me Good?

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"

20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

Here was a young man who is interested in eternal life. He was probably considered a good church going man by the standard of his day. In contrast to the many who approach Jesus sad and leave happy, here is about the only example of someone approaching Jesus happy and leaving sad.

This young man was active in his faith. And, as an active person, his focus on what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Not what God has done, but what he had to do. "Good teacher, what must I do..." Jesus immediately resets the agenda. He doesn't even answer the question, but responds to the very notion that there is someone who would be called good. This is a striking response that stands out even in the text. What is going on here?

There isn't a single example in the Talmud of a Rabbi being referred to by this title, good teacher. The reason is straight forward. To use good in this way, is to ascribe to a man, an attribute that only belongs to God. This could be seen as stylish flattery. Jesus is not denying His divinity at this point, but is making clear that He should only be called that if He were God. Since the young man does not realize whom he is speaking to, Jesus asks him to consider his words. At the heart of the matter, the identity of Jesus in the most important issue.

Jesus then asks him to consider what it would require to enter Heaven in the company of an all-good being. He brings up the commandments, the Law, and presents them as a mirror for the young man to compare himself to. The Bible teaches that anyone who keeps them perfectly, without one mistep, will live. The only problem is noone has, noone can, noone will keep them.

The young man proclaims his own goodness, and answers that he has kept the commandments. This is the same answer that people give today when you ask if they will go to Heaven when they die. The top answer to why people think they are going to Heaven is always, "I am a good person." People think they are essentially a good person and live basically by the rules.

Interesting to note is that even though this young man thinks he has kept the commandments, that has not provided him with rest for his soul. He is still worried about his eternal fate. Otherwise he wouldn't have run up to Jesus and asked what he needed to do. He has no sense of peace, no sense of forgiveness, no sense of assurity of eternal life.

This man hadn't considered that deeper than the act of adultery, God looks beyond the act to our hearts. To have hatred to our brothers is akin to murder. Jesus could have dug deeper with the man to show him this. But, he jumps right up to the top of the list. He points out that despite his affirmations to keeping the commandments, he had actually broken the first commandment. Clearly this young man had not put God first. He had not loved God with all his heart, all his mind and with all his strength. At this, the young man's face fell. He went away sad.

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. In our affluence, we are tempted to rely on earthly things. If we have amassed enough things to get a comfortable lifestyle for ourselves, the idea where we have to put someone else on the throne is not very attractive to us. When the only way of salvation is to accept God's offer and bow down before the provision that Jesus makes, and to hold out empty hands, that is a dreadfully humbling thing.

The ultimate impediment in all of our lives, the Bible says, is that we are at odds with God. We are alienated from God. We are unable to put ourselves in the right with God. God, in recognition of that, has come in the person of Jesus Christ, and has died on the cross, not as a display of His affections, but the Son has died to bear the settled indignation of the Father against the rebellious hearts of men and women. He has died in the place of sinners. And, when we read the Law of God, we discover that we haven't loved Him with all of our heart. We discover that we haven't always told the truth. We discover that we have coveted things of our neighbors. We have been guilty of impure thoughts. We realize then that as a lawbreaker, we neither have the time, nor the ability to clean up the mess that we have contributed to.

There is no resolution down the path of religious observance. But, there is salvation down the path of Jesus Christ. The way of entry is not by exertion. The way is by childlike trust. The sad part of this story is that this man doesn't walk away from Christ because he is a bad man, but because he is a good man. It is his very goodness that keeps him from the kingdom. Don't let your self righteousness keep you from Jesus.

These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

After many witness encounters, I usually give out a Gospel of John to the person if they don't have a Bible of their own. So far we've gone through the first five chapters from the viewpoint of someone reading it for the first time. Let's pick it up in chapter six.

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
I really notice that the Bible speaks a lot of Jesus being Jewish. When I witness to Jewish people I constantly have to remind them of this fact. They seem to think that to follow Christ would mean they have to cease being Jewish. I remind them that Jesus never ceased to be a Jew.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

I've heard this question asked of me a lot. "If God knows everything, then why does He ask questions?" If you read the Bible enough, you'll see that God answers most of our questions. Here, He is asking Philip to test him.

7 Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up, 9 "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"

10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Here is another example of Jesus using His miracles to authenticate Himself. The people of that day were intimately familiar with the Scriptures, and every time Jesus fulfilled prophecy, He spoke very clearly of His identity as the one God of Israel.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

If you want to know, you have to go

This was an incredible experience and there was so much great one to one witnessing and open air preaching. Click on Darrel "The General" Rundus to hear one of the most inspiring examples of preaching the Gospel in ten minutes recorded the last day in Huntington Beach.

If you ever get the chance to sign up for and participate in a Boot Camp, you'll never be the same.
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Click on the photos to see most of the pictures I got over the weekend.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

21 Principles For Open-Air-Preaching

Tomorrow, I head out to a 5 day Evangelism Boot Camp put on by the Great News Network. We will hit the streets and learn how to present the gospel to a crowd of people. I thought it might be appropriate to post this article on Open Air Preaching by Ray Comfort.

Principle #1
A Blind man cannot see. (2 Timothy 2:24)

Principle #2 Witnessing and Preaching should involve teaching. Strive to teach. Show them their state before God. (Acts 5:24)

Principle #3 Avoid foolish questions. If you answer a stupid question you're as stupid as the question asked. Ignore stupid questions.

Principle #4
Aim for Repentence rather than a decision. There must be repentence.

Principle #5
Earn the right to witness. Start in the natural realm and then swing to the spiritual realm.

Principle #6 If God has saved someone, let God tell them he is saved. Let the Holy Spirit bear witness that he is a child of God. Let God give him that assurance. (1 John 5:10)

Principle #7
Never fear hecklers. Pray for good hecklers to show up.

Principle #8
Be careful of cliches.

Principle #9 You are fighting a spiritual battle. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood.

Principle #10 Pray for Godly discernment.

Principle #11
Use the elements for amplification.

Principle #12
Never wear sunglasses when you preach. Let them see the conviction in your eyes.

Principle #13 Don't let anger in sinners upset you.

Principle #14
Be earnest in your preaching and witnessing.

Principle #15
Read proverbs regularly. If you love yourself, pray for wisdom.

Principle #16 Remember your calling. What God has called you to do. Leave the causes of animals, trees, enviornment to the non-christians.

Principle #17
Use the Word of God as much as you can.

Principle #18
Use your testimony as much as you can.

Principle #19
Preach in the sight of God.

Principle #20
The end is nigh. Use anedotes as much as you can. Stories with meaning. Illustrations.

Principle #21
Use elevation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Gospel for Muslims

Dear Muslim,

Assalamu alaikum
The Gospel of Jesus is Good News. That is what "gospel" means in Greek. It is the good news because Jesus has removed the requirements of keeping the Law in order to obtain salvation and that through Jesus, we can obtain eternal life. Jesus made it possible for people to receive the free and complete gift of salvation by faith.
Our father Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). It was his faith in God that made Abraham righteous before God, not keeping the law, not keeping the commandments.
The Law of God is perfect because God is perfect. The Law is a reflection of the character of God. It is wrong to lie because lying is against God's character. It is wrong to steal because stealing is against God's character. That is why the Law tells us what is wrong. God is not arbitrary and neither is His Law. Though the Law is good and perfect, no man can keep it perfectly. No person can keep the Law.
Jesus taught us that to even look on a woman with lust in your heart is to commit adultery with her (
Matt. 5:27-28). You see, the Law of God is not simply to govern actions. It is for our hearts and attitudes. Purity of heart is what God wants from us. Purity of heart down to the deepest part of our being. Why? Because God's heart is the Purest and Most Holy of all. And since the Law was spoken by Him and came from Him, the Law is Perfect and Holy. That is the level of perfection you must have when trying to keep the Law.
However, we are not able to keep the Law. We sin. We fail. The Law says do not lie, but shows us where we lie -- in our very hearts. It says do not commit adultery, but shows us where we commit adultery -- in our hearts. The Law of God is perfect. We are not. God is perfect and Holy. We are not. We are not able to keep the Law of God because we are finite, limited, and affected by sin. How can anyone ever hope to please God through keeping the Law? How can anyone ever hope to please God and attain heaven by doing good deeds? It is not ourselves that we must please, but a Holy and Pure God.

The Good News

The Good News is that you do not have to try and keep the Law of God to please Him. You do not have to try and raise yourself to the level of God's Perfection by trying to keep His Holy and Perfect Law. You cannot do that. If you thought you could, then your heart is full of pride. What you can not do, Jesus did do. He kept all the Law perfectly (1 Pet. 2:22).
Jesus said that "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friend," (John 15:13). Jesus laid his life down for his friends. Jesus performed the greatest act of love in the universe. He died for our sins. He paid the penalty of breaking the Law, which is death. If this were not so, there would be no damnation. Jesus took our sins and died on the cross in our place (1 Pet. 2:24). This great act of love is unsurpassed in all the world. It means that you can, like Abraham (Gen. 15:6), be righteous by faith. All you need is faith in Jesus.
Are you tired of trying to keep all the Laws in Islam as you strive to do more good deeds than bad deeds in the hope that on the Day of Judgment your good deeds will outweigh your bad? Because you earn in large part your salvation, you cannot know whether or not you will be saved. If you are tired of trying to be perfect, of trying to obtain Paradise through your works, then you need Jesus. Jesus said, "If any of you are heavy laden, come to me, and I will give you rest," (Matt. 11:28).
Jesus forgave sins in Luke 5:20 and 7:48-49. He walked on water (
Matt. 14:25). He rose from the dead (Matt. 28:6). Have you done more than He in keeping the Law or performing miracles? Has even the Prophet Muhammad done more than Jesus?
The Good News is that you, like Abraham, can be made righteous by faith. Do you want the righteousness that is by faith? Or, do you want to earn Paradise through your deeds? Can you earn it? Have you done it so far? Have you been doing enough?

Jesus said:

Do you want to try and please God through keeping the Law of Allah or by the grace of Christ? Is the greatest act of love to ask you to earn heaven through good deeds or is it to be a sacrifice in order to give to you what you cannot attain yourself? In which is the greatest act of love?
If you want the eternal life that Jesus can give you, then trust what He did on the cross and do not rely on your own works to please God. Trust Jesus by faith. It is not Muhammad who forgives sins. Jesus does that (Luke 5:20; 7:48-49). Jesus said, "Believe in God. Believe also in me," (
John 14:1).
Like Abraham, be righteous in God's eyes . . by faith.

-Matt Slick

Sunday, September 10, 2006

7 Questions - What is This You Have Done?

2. What is this you have done?

When God finished creation, He was absolutely satisfied. He created beings that were morally good. But, in a leap to improve, man tried to become equal with God. This rebellion comes with a consequence.

The serpent comes with a question, casting doubt on what God had said about the forbidden tree. Once Eve starts to doubt what God had said, the serpent sows the seed of ambition. Inviting her husband to participate, both get involved in an act of rebellion. The promise will be that man will have the knowledge of good and evil. The truth was man found out that he was naked. Man believed the lie that God's way was not best.

Which assumption do we start from? God is the author of truth. Or man is the creator of his own truth. When we start from the latter, we put ourselves in a position of judging God. We are more likely to object to something, not because it is immoral, but because it is unhealthy. Smoking has become a worse evil than six of the ten commandments. The word sinful has been more closely associated with chocolate than adultery. Once you have removed a Creator that speaks a word that is authoritative and true, you have removed any basis for legislating in relation to morality.

Man has done three things.
  • He had believed a lie.
  • He was blatantly disobedient.
  • He sought to deny any responsibility for his actions.
The Bible doesn't just speak about Adam and Eve doing this. We can turn the searchlight of the Bible on our own hearts and find that we are just as guilty. We have inherited a nature that is in rebellion to God. We are deeply flawed and we are inherently self centered. The Bible, in this question, confronts us with our own moral choices. Once we set aside the notion of a Creator to which we are accountable, we then set about to interpret the facts that confront us to fit our denial of Him.

We are tempted to live the life of our choosing by denying God and making up a morality for ourselves. We believe the lie that there is no God. We blatantly disobey the Law written on our hearts. And we justify our actions at every turn. When our view of the world starts with a lie, we will compound that lie to secure our viewpoint. By trying to be our own master, we put ourselves under the ultimate mastery of death. This is what God told Adam in the garden. Ultimately, our sin will lead to death.

Two Choices:
  • Atheistic Humanism: Broad and crowded. Assumption is that there is no God. The Bible is not a revelation from God. It is merely a collection of religious ideas. Our study of it can be colored by our own interpretations.
  • Christian Theism: Narrow and sparsely populated. Assumption is God made every fact in the Universe. He alone can interpret all things and all events. We are dependent upon God for any truth.
Because of our participation in the rebellion, as sinners, we suppress this truth and we reinterpret the Universe so that we and not God define truth. The very sinfullness of man makes it impossible to recognize the truth. Because of sin, we think wrongly. We are blind to the truth. The deadness of our hearts and our hatred of God may be overcome by His goodness.

This goodness reaches its apex in the death of Jesus Christ, which absorbs all of our denial, all of our disobedience and all of our denial. We don't have the capacity to accept this forgiveness apart from God's grace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I 0nce was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Testimonies About Jesus

31 "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.

33 "You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

36 "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Many people 'believe' the Bible, but that is about as far as it goes. Mere intellectual assent is not enough. Jesus requires that you come to Him to have eternal life.

41 "I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44? How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God

45 "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"

References to Moses, and what he wrote, are speaking about the Law, the Ten Commandments. Christians, and even Christ, do not accuse or condemn or judge people. God's Law does. God has written His Law on their hearts and not because they can't follow Him, but because they refuse to follow Him are they condemned. Putting your hope in Moses, is saying that you follow the Law, saying you are a "good person". But, the Law is a mirror that shows us our true condition. Our true condition is one that stands condemned already before an Almighty God. But this God is also merciful and is waiting patiently for us to repent and put our trust in the very one He sent, His Son Jesus.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Open Air in Burbank

The evangelism team returned to the Burbank Town Center on Friday, for another evening of open-air preaching and one-to-one evangelism. About fifteen members of the team were present, along with a few new friends.
The crowd was a little lighter than last week. Even so, more than 100 people heard the preaching of the Law and the gospel.
Joey gathered the team and put out a challenge/encouragement everyone. Whoever open-air preached for the first time, one person would receive an Evidence Bible and one person would become the proud owner of Joey's milk crate. Matt and Jeff answered the challenge and open-air preached for the very first time.
Tony started the evening with a session of open-air preaching. He used a game of trivia, with the prizes being dollar bills (donated by the team) and stuffed animals (donated by Children's Hunger Fund) to draw a crowd.
The crowd was attentive, and a man by the name of Ron stepped forward to take the "Good Person Test." Ron admitted that he was/is guilty of breaking God's Law and he would spend eternity in hell. He also acknowledged that the thought of facing God's wrath and judgment concerned him. Tony then took him, and the rest of the crowd through the gospel.
Once he finished preaching, Tony spent some time with Ron and his friend, Shakel, going over the Law and the gospel again. Shakel is a professed Christian who said he had grown up in the church, converted to Islam, left Islam, and was born again last December. Although he spoke the Christian language, Tony wasn't sure if Shakel was saved. Both men received Evidence Bibles, Hell's Best Kept Secret CD's, and True and False Conversion CD's.
Matt, Jeff, and Joey each open-air preached. Joey took a woman (who was present with her young daughter) through the "Good Person Test." By the time Joey finished preaching, the woman expressed her desire to get right with God by repenting of her sin and putting her trust in Christ alone for her salvation.
Throughout the evening, the entire team was engaged in outstanding (and sometimes lengthy) conversations with the unsaved. Dozens of people (Jews, agnostics, scientists, professing Christians, young, middle aged, and seniors) heard the Law and the gospel during these one-to-one and small group conversations. Tony brought out his evangelism display boards, which helped a number of team members to initiate conversations with lost people. One such instance was when Mike (a friend of Tony) took someone through the "Good Person Test" for the very first time!
During the evening, the team met Pastor Ed and Sarah from Pasadena Church of the Nazarene. Apparently, Burbank Town Center is Pas-Naz's regular fishing pond. Pastor Ed asked if he could pray for us at the end of the evening.
Burbank Town Center continues to prove to be a good fishing hole. The Lord, gracious and sovereign, provided the spot, the bait & tackle, and the fish--plenty of fish. To Him be the glory forever and ever!
Chaplain Tony Miano
Ten-Four Ministries

Thursday, September 07, 2006

7 Questions - Where Are You?

I'm sure there are plenty of questions you would like to ask the Creator, but here is a list of questions that He asks of you.

1. Where are you?
The original "Hide and Seek" game is found in Genesis, Chapter 3. It talks about the origin of sin in the world. The immediate context is of disobedience, hiding, coverup and excuses. Adam, who has been made by God and for God, is actually running away from God.

9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

Adam is not dissimilar to the rest of us. This road, while futile and foolish, never the less is crowded. It is not that people don't understand the Truth, it is that they suppress it. What may be known about God is plain to man because God has made it plain. (Romans 1:18-20) The moral problems we have today are directly tied to the response Adam had to God.

Three observations about this question:
  1. This is an unusual question. This question turns on it's head the notion that "man is looking for God". The Bible tells us the total reverse. We are the one's avoiding God and God is the one asking "Where are you?" If God knows everything, why does He have to ask? When God asks us a question, He does it so we face up to the answer.
  2. This is actually a kind question. Instead of acting purely out of justice, he asks this question to draw man out of hiding toward Himself. He could have rightly carried out the death sentence for sin at that very instant, but here is a clear example of God's grace. How kind is our God. God does not give to man what we justly deserve, but because of His kindness, He grants to us what we don't deserve. There is nothing great in man that draws God to him, but it is God's kindness. There is nothing we can do to earn God's grace, and there is nothing we can do lose it.
  3. This is a personal question. Just as God had complete freedom and responsibility for his actions, so do we. No sensible person would think they could hide from God behind a tree, but his sin has clouded his intellect. We think we can hide from God as well because we are clouded by our sin. Our thinking is skewed. Why do so many thinking people eschew the Bible? We think that our ability to think things out is unaffected by the moral impact of sin, but that is not the case. We need to ask God to forgive our sins because the sinful mind is hostile to God.
This questions shows us that God is a God who chooses to reveal Himself. It reveals that God is very interested in establishing a relationship with those He has created even though they have turned their back on Him. He is a seeking God. He is a saving God. He is a relationship salvaging God. He is looking down on you with an unusual, kind, personal question... Where are you?

These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Life Through the Son

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
I hear many people say that Jesus never claimed to be God. I usually hear this from some psuedo Christian sect or cult. Here the Bible is very clear as to what Jesus said about himself. You don't have to believe Jesus was God, but don't say that the Bible never made that claim.

19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

Many people think that Jesus would never judge them as he is too full of love. The bible makes it very clear that Jesus will judge. His love is exactly what requires him to judge evil. A loving judge would not let evil go unpunished. Also, many people say that they honor God, but do not honor Jesus Christ. Here we see that this is not an option.

24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

All who hear His word and believe will pass from death to life, and will not be condemned. Christ has paid the price for all sin, past and future. As long as you have repented and put your faith in Christ, you do not have to wonder about your eternal fate. He promises that you will live.

28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Make no mistake. God will judge and condemn evil. This is New Testament theology. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot stand sin, and there is a day coming where he will judge and separate Himself from evil forever. God's judgement is just, and it pleases him to reward good and punish evil. Don't let your head hit the pillow before you get right with God. Repent and put your faith in Him, as today is the day of salvation.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Healing at the Pool

Let's continue through the book of John through the eyes of one who has just been witnessed to, and been told to pick up their Bible and start reading the fourth gospel.

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

7 "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."

8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Here is another instance of Jesus commanding the elements, and the physical world. He was able to heal this man with a word. This should not have been too difficult a feat for the one who spoke and the Universe leapt into existance.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."

11 But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.' "

12 So they asked him, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?"

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Two things stick out to me here. Jesus was not so full of Law that he neglected to heal someone on the Sabbath. But, also, he was not so full of Grace that he let the man leave without telling him to stop sinning. Law and Grace go hand in hand. God is full of grace and love and mercy, but never ceases to be holy, just and perfect. By repenting and putting our trust in Jesus, we will understand the balance that must be kept by these two attributes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Jesus Heals the Official's Son

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
I think this is fascinating that he was not welcomed in his own country. It is interesting that Jesus came first for the Jews and many Jews today feel that to put their faith in Jesus as their Messiah would be tantamount to renouncing their Judaism. I also notice that the most resistance I seem to get with my evangelism efforts is from people "inside the church".

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."

49 The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

50 Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live."
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour."

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.

54 This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.

Jesus performed many miracles during his stay here on Earth to prove his Divine identity. Fulfilled prophecy and these miracles stand today as evidence that Jesus is who He says He is.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

As You Are

A few weeks ago on Way of the Master Radio Todd verbally took on a video put out by a local church to invite people to meet them. The video was passed out to people in the neighborhood, and a copy ended up in Todd's inbox. Listening to the video myself, I was a little confused by what they were trying to say exactly. But, Todd just ripped into the thing with no mercy. To add to the story, the church who made the video is actually a church plant from my home church, and someone in my evangelism group is the one who pointed it out to Todd. Needless to say, the whole thing blew up and a lot of people got very upset.

Chris spoke with Caleb. Caleb spoke with Tim. Tim spoke with me. I spoke with Joey. Joey spoke with Todd. Todd spoke with Chris. And I think we got it settled. We can use this event as a lesson in Christian brotherhood. It is right to try to discern truth, and approach each other in love and counsel each other from scripture. But, sometimes with the anonymity of the Internet and the radio, we forget that there are real people on the other end with real feelings. Our pursuit of Truth must be with the goal of helping each other get there, and not merely to prove that we are smarter than others.

Remember, not too long ago, we didn't know the Savior, we didn't understand our own sin in the mirror of God's Law, and we hadn't placed our trust in Him alone for our salvation. And, unless someone had lovingly brought that truth to us, we would still be lost.

As a post script, take a minute to check out Chris Stevens church, "As You Are", and send him a word of encouragement. His leadership will be taking the WOTM Basic Training Course soon and I'm sure we will have one or two of their members coming out with us to witness on Friday nights. And, specifically, listen to his "Myth #4" sermon (this was on his site the whole time) and decide for yourself if they preach "Law to the Proud, Grace to the Humble"

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age

Brimstone for the Broadminded
By Tim Keller

The young man in my office was impeccably dressed and articulate. He was an Ivy League MBA, successful in the financial world, and had lived in three countries before age 30. Raised in a family with only the loosest connections to a mainline church, he had little understanding of Christianity.

I was therefore gratified to learn of his intense spiritual interest, recently piqued as he attended our church. He said he was ready to embrace the gospel. But there was a final obstacle.

"You've said that if we do not believe in Christ," he said, "we are lost and condemned. I'm sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God—even if he is holy too."

This young man expressed what may be the main objection contemporary secular people make to the Christian message. (A close second, in my experience, is the problem of suffering and evil.) Moderns reject the idea of final judgment and hell.

Thus, it's tempting to avoid such topics in our preaching. But neglecting the unpleasant doctrines of the historic faith will bring about counter-intuitive consequences. There is an ecological balance to scriptural truth that must not be disturbed.

If an area is rid of its predatory or undesirable animals, the balance of that environment may be so upset that the desirable plants and animals are lost—through over-breeding with a limited food supply. The nasty predator that was eliminated actually kept in balance the number of other animals and plants necessary to that particular ecosystem. In the same way, if we play down "bad" or harsh doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all our pleasant and comfortable beliefs, too.

The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God's grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. To preach the good news, we must preach the bad.

But in this age of tolerance, how?

How to preach hell to traditionalists

Before preaching on the subject of hell, I must recognize that today, a congregation is made up of two groups: traditionalists and postmoderns. The two hear the message of hell completely differently.

People from traditional cultures and mindsets tend to have (a) a belief in God, and (b) a strong sense of moral absolutes and the obligation to be good. These people tend to be older, from strong Catholic or religious Jewish backgrounds, from conservative evangelical/Pentecostal Protestant backgrounds, from the southern U.S., and first-generation immigrants from non-European countries.

The way to show traditional persons their need for the gospel is by saying, "Your sin separates you from God! You can't be righteous enough for him." Imperfection is the duty-worshiper's horror. Traditionalists are motivated toward God by the idea of punishment in hell. They sense the seriousness of sin.

But traditionalists may respond to the gospel only out of fear of hell, unless I show them Jesus experienced not only pain in general on the cross but hell in particular. This must be held up until they are attracted to Christ for the beauty of the costly love of what he did. To the traditional person, hell must be preached as the only way to know how much Christ loved you.

If we play down harsh doctrines, we will gut our pleasant and comfortable beliefs too.

Here is one way I have preached this:

"Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself.

"If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you—that hurts. If a good friend does the same—the hurt's far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you, saying, 'I never want to see you again,' that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more torturous is any separation.

"But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginning-less and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us."

How to preach hell to postmoderns

In contrast to the traditionalist, the postmodern person is hostile to the very idea of hell. People with more secular and postmodern mindsets tend to have (a) only a vague belief in the divine, if at all, and (b) little sense of moral absolutes, but rather a sense they need to be true to their dreams. They tend to be younger, from nominal Catholic or non-religious Jewish backgrounds, from liberal mainline Protestant backgrounds, from the western and northeastern U. S., and Europeans.

When preaching hell to people of this mindset, I've found I must make four arguments.

1. Sin is slavery. I do not define sin as just breaking the rules, but also as "making something besides God our ultimate value and worth." These good things, which become gods, will drive us relentlessly, enslaving us mentally and spiritually, even to hell forever if we let them.
I say, "You are actually being religious, though you don't know it—you are trying to find salvation through worshiping things that end up controlling you in a destructive way." Slavery is the choice-worshiper's horror.

C. S. Lewis's depictions of hell are important for postmodern people. In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. There they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. The descriptions Lewis makes of people in hell are so striking because we recognize the denial and self-delusion of substance addictions. When addicted to alcohol, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior nor see the roots of our problem.

Lewis writes, "Hell … begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it…. You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine."

Modern people struggle with the idea of God thinking up punishments to inflict on disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell as the freely chosen, eternal skid row of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible.

Here is an example from a recent sermon of how I try to explain this:

"First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isa. 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Ps. 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17)….

"Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something—idols, pseudo-saviors—to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, and fear are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus—and the wages of sin is slavery."

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis's bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, "the greatest monument to human freedom."

2. Hell is less exclusive than so-called tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the modern mindset than the statement: "I think Christ is fine, but I believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God." A slightly different version is: "I don't think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief." This approach is seen as more inclusive.

In preaching about hell, then, I need to counter this argument:

"The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then he owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, then we owe him (Rom. 1:17). In short, to say a good person, not just Christians, can find God is to say good works are enough to find God.

"You can believe that faith in Christ is not necessary or you can believe that we are saved by grace, but you cannot believe in both at once.

"So the apparently inclusive approach is really quite exclusive. It says, 'The good people can find God, and the bad people do not.'

"But what about us moral failures? We are excluded.

"The gospel says, 'The people who know they aren't good can find God, and the people who think they are good do not.'

"Then what about non-Christians, all of whom must, by definition, believe their moral efforts help them reach God? They are excluded.

"So both approaches are exclusive, but the gospel's is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, 'It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. It doesn't matter if you've been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.' "

3. Christianity's view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often, I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all."

"Why?" I ask.

They reply, "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin."

But then a question remains: "What did it cost this kind of God to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this God agonize, cry out? Where were his nails and thorns?"

The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary."

How ironic. In our effort to make God more loving, we have made God less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God like this will be impersonal, cognitive, ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We would not sing to such a being, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

The postmodern "sensitive" approach to the subject of hell is actually quite impersonal. It says, "It doesn't matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow his example."

But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. If any good person can find God, then the essential core of religion is understanding and following the rules.

When preaching about hell, I try to show how impersonal this view is:

"To say that any good person can find God is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.

Hell is the freely chosen, eternal skid row of the universe.

"The gospel certainly is not less than the understanding of truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and calls that 'the core of true salvation.' "

4. There is no love without wrath. What rankles people is the idea of judgment and the wrath of God: "I can't believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?"

So in preaching about hell, we must explain that a wrathless God cannot be a loving God. Here's how I tried to do that in one sermon:

"People ask, 'What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?' But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In Hope Has Its Reasons, Becky Pippert writes, 'Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…. Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.'

"Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, 'Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.'

"She concludes: 'If I, a flawed narcissistic sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone's condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.' "

A God like this
Following a recent sermon on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the post-service question-and-answer session was packed with more than the usual number of attenders. The questions and comments focused on the subject of eternal judgment.

My heart sank when a young college student said, "I've gone to church all my life, but I don't think I can believe in a God like this." Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.

Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.

An older businesswoman said, "Well, I'm not much of a churchgoer, and I'm in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me."

Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus' tomb in John 11. "The text tells us that Jesus wept," he said, "yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That's helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he's both. He doesn't only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross."

The second woman nodded, "Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn't know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus' love. It's very moving."

It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Winter 1997, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Page 42