Come Join the Party?

The setting is aboard the most luxurious oceanliner every built. The most stunning technological design, with no luxurious appointment missed; The height of luxury aboard the cutting edge of technology.  This was the coolest thing on the planet. Those privileged enough to be aboard found themselves lacking for nothing. Wonderful meals, opulent ballrooms, and beautiful music.  Yet around midnight on April 14, 1912 there was an unbelievable announcement:  The Titanic had struck an iceberg and Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats prepared for the coming peril.

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Firsthand accounts tell us that there were those who refused to believe this warning and they continued to act as though nothing had changed. At first glance, the ballrooms appeared as before. There was still food in the galley. There was still music in the air.  How absurd, how insane would it have been at that moment to turn your back on the lifeboats, to put on your best face, and return to the ballroom, to begin an evening of dancing, and to join the party? How negligent would the crew had been had they failed in their duty to warn passengers of the coming peril and instead enjoy the trappings of their (now extremely) temporary quarters?

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Do we do this? Do we, the church, do this when instead of warning people of the coming judgement of Christ we strike up the band, spread the banquet and begin the party?

We have been ordered to spread the news of the impending judgement, the release of God’s wrath and to run through the halls of the ship pleading with all who would be saved to run to the lifeboats.  This, as all analogies, will fall short. As a monergist, I believe that it is God who saves through Faith alone in Christ alone. However, we are charged with telling those we share these temporary quarters with (the world) that there is a coming judgement, and that salvation comes only through Christ.


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Let’s not kid ourselves; there are great works in which the church is involved (and should be); feeding the widow and orphan, and any current iteration of ministries of mercy and justice (human trafficking, KONY, the civil rights movement, etc.)  but to replace the warning call of coming judgement and the good news of salvation through Christ with any number of self-help, community, feel-good, social justice, THING is in clear opposition to our primary mission. I don’t care how many thousands of people your pastor speaks to on a given Sunday. It matters not a bit how many books he has published, how many campuses you have, or how many cell groups you spin up. If the call of warning and the means of salvation are not clearly and repeatedly articulated from the megaphone of the pulpit, you have failed. Miserably. Negligently.

And people will meet their doom, as those on the Titanic would have, in “community”, in “fellowship”, being trendy and relevant and enjoying themselves.  Surrounded by luxury and impressive architecture and technology, they confused their temporary surroundings with their ultimate destination.

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The warning was sounded long ago when man sinned.  But then, the clarion call came when the good news of Christ’s incarnation, sinless life, atoning death, and justifying resurrection was announced. Our single greatest need had been met; not a tastier meal, a better orchestra, or a softer bed. What value do these have to those who are soon to perish? Rather, the good news that there was a way to live!

How in the world do we confuse the trappings and technology of this soon-sinking ship with “relevance”?  Relevance is what will save us from the impending doom of God’s wrath.  But we too often lose sight of this, our single greatest need, and become enamored with our current trappings. Don’t ever, ever lose sight of the fact that the iceberg has been struck and this ship is sinking. Everyone on it is going to end up in the water one way or another. It will either be in the safety of a lifeboat, or bobbing helplessly to their peril.

The old wooden lifeboats weren’t luxurious, they were completely “old school”. There weren’t entertaining, they weren’t much fun, and they weren’t very popular.  Yet, those who understood the reality of the situation fled to them and would have traded all their earthly fortune to be there.

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The gospel of Jesus Christ will never be luxurious, or posh, or comfortable. It will, by our human standards always seem foolish and irrelevant. But it is the only hope for those who are perishing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ we’ve waited too long to call our shipmates to action. If you aren’t spreading the warning and salvation to those who are perishing, you are negligent.  To those who would walk back into the party and pretend the ship isn’t sinking, you’re delusional.. and to call others to join you? God have mercy.

For those of you who may have stumbled upon this blog, or who have for too long been confusing your festival onboard the ship with the safety of the lifeboat, who have chosen to hear the call back into the party rather than fleeing to the lifeboat. Who are serenaded as you sink with the empty promises of self-help, pop-psychology, and seeking some never-to-be named “great plan” for your life, I ask you to consider the peril we all face. The warning has been sounded. The ship is sinking.  Turn, and run to the only safety, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Marc

Just in Time for Halloween: Children of the Corn at Your Church!

Something horrifying is happening in local churches.  Pastors are taking the pulpit and doing their best “Isaac” impressions from the movie “Children of the Corn”.

Am I exaggerating?  Let’s take a look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsWH1Ngtfx0

What made Isaac so creepy? (Apart from the whole spooky demeanor and, well, killing people?)

For one, what he was saying was just close enough to being a “preacher” to fool his followers and make it creepy for the moviegoer.

Secondly, he was given direct revelation (and marching orders) from a god. His orders were not the orders we are given in scripture.

Thirdly, He was above being questioned in this role. (After all, who would argue with “He who walks behind the rows?”)

And yet this very horror story is playing out in some of the largest, highest-profile churches in our country.

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How?  A charismatic leader stands before a group of people and charges his followers with the mission he was given, through direct revelation.  These followers now believe that what they have been saddled with is their responsibility.. not only to the leader, but to god himself.  The problem?  The problem is that even with the lingo and trappings of a church, if this mission they are being charged with is not the BIBLICAL mission, it’s a false message.  And what would you make of a “christian” leader who replaces the biblical mission with  their own “direct revelation”from god?

How do you know if you’re on mission?

Well, the bible is pretty clear about what your PASTOR should be doing as well as what YOU are called to do.

Your Pastor’s marching orders?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

(2 Timothy 3:14–4:4) – ESV

If your “Pastor” is doing something else, he’s off mission! And who is to blame for the off-mission pastor? Well, he is certainly to blame for being off-mission and not preaching the gospel of repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins.. but who is to blame for him being a pastor?  His congregation!  Isn’t that a bit harsh?  Nope.. look at that verse again:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

People get the Pastor they want.  Those who will not endure sound teaching will accumulate to themselves teachers to suit their own passions (“relevant” “life purpose” to “impact the world”) and will turn away from the simple foolishness of the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, into myth/pop-psychology and off-mision vision casting nonsense.  Take a cold, hard look at your heart for a minute; Do you feel great hearing your pastor’s “pep talk” sermons and then have little interest in reading the actual Bible?  Be careful, you might just enjoy having your ears tickled.

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These “Pastors” aren’t only failing their calling to “feed the sheep”, but failing their mission as christians..

[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

So, how do you know if your “Pastor” is an Isaac?

1. He “preaches” without an open Bible.  I’m not talking about him throwing a single verse or two on the screen and then talking about himself, politics, or pop-psychology for 30 minutes; I’m talking about opening the bible, teaching the entire text in context and then explaining what it means.

2. He has “direct revelation” from God about what WE are supposed to do.  Whether God still speaks to people is not the point. The point is that if your Pastor has a vision for Christ’s church that involves something other than preaching the gospel of repentance and faith?  I can assure you, with the full backing of God’s inspired word, that his “vision” isn’t from God.

3. He talks more about himself than about Jesus.  Listen closely as he preaches. Sure it’s entertaining, but at the end of the sermon, do you know more about your pastor and his ministry than you do about Jesus?

Who is the hero in these stories, him or Jesus?  Is he like Isaac in Children of the Corn, wrapping his own goals and mission in church-garb and christianese-lingo?

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4. He’s above question.  “Question me not, Malachi!”  Is your church built around the pastor’s vision? Is anyone who questions it seen as questioning God?  First of all, it’s Christ’s church and He’s laid out the mission pretty clearly: Preach the gospel. Feed the sheep the full counsel of God’s word.  Administer the sacrements.  If your pastor’s vision is something different? Well, you’d better obey him in his church, because it’s clearly not Christ’s church.  You can wrap it up in whatever lingo, music, and style you want… “it ain’t a church”.

5.  He tells you God has given him a vision for you to “Do church a new way!” Ugh. Let me guess, it involves building a gigantic, multi-site campus and doing “relationship evangelism” and “serving your community” with “cell groups”.  How original. I’m guessing you’ll get to that whole “gospel thing” later.. after you fulfill your Pastor’s mission, huh? (Actually you might give Jesus a guest appearance as you have an altar call following your pop-psychology “self-help” sermon and ask them to “make a decision to become a Christ follower”.. of course, no mention of sin, wrath, or atonement, so I’m not sure WHY they would need Jesus, other than his being some kind of power source to plug into to get all the happy family, good kids, successful business stuff you promised them in your “sermon”. Sorry. Ranting here.)

So don’t be afraid of ghosts and goblins this Halloween. Don’t be afraid of things that go bump in the night…

[28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 10:28 ESV)

To paraphrase a fried of mine who has gone to be with the Lord:

Ghosts and goblins aren’t real. They can’t hurt you.  False teachers tickling your ears?  That’s real. They can kill the soul.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Marc

Note: Chris Rosebrough from “Fighting for the Faith” has done some TREMENDOUS work in this area.  If you aren’t already listening to his podcast and reading him, you’re missing out on a phenomenal resource.  Resources on todays subject can be found here:

http://www.letterofmarque.us/2012/07/is-vision-casting-biblical.html

Physician misdiagnoses dying patients, patients say “He’s great!”

A well known physician recently misdiagnosed hundreds (perhaps thousands) of those under his care over the last several years.  Each of the patients suffer from a disease which is fatal in 100% of cases without prescription of a well known and 100% effective treatment.  And yet the Doctor is completely unapologetic and his patients fawn over him.  His practice is bursting at the seams and he is writing books and lecturing other physicians on his methodology.  Relatively few of his patients seek the proper disgnosis and treatment, even after being informed of their predicament.

How do you feel about that physician? How negligent is he? Is he qualified to treat patients? Is he responsible for their death?

The physician reported that he’s “not really into medical terms, and doesn’t want to weigh his patients down with treatment theories and talk about illness.”   “People know that they’re sick, they don’t need me telling them what’s wrong with them.  I just try to love on them and help them see the best in themselves.  If they’re trying to feel better and get healthy, I think that’s really what’s important in the end.  My patients have told me, and I believe them, that they know they’re sick and have made a decision to get well, so they’re just beginning their wellness journey by living each day trying to be as healthy as they can. It’s not really my place to say one treatment is better than the other, I’m just not into that. I prefer to just love on my patients and encourage them to get better.”

Wait, what? No, “Doctor”, they’re dying from their affliction. Every single one of them. And instead of telling them what the medical journals clearly state, and showing them the 100% effective treatment for their malady, you’re coddling them into the grave.  You’re a lunatic and their blood is on your hands. Any judge would certainly find you guilty of your negligence.

What if I told you the malady was sin, that all men are guilty before God, and that the only remedy is to understand the gravity of that malady, repent and believe on Christ.  Any other diagnosis, any other ‘treatment’, no matter how you ‘feel’ about it, is fatal.  There are no exceptions here.

Diagnosis:

The ‘disease’ (sin) is well described in scripture:

1. Sin isn’t only something you do it’s a state of being. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you are a sinner.  Whether you believe you are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) or you believe that we are condemned only by acts of sin is irrelevant in light of  Romans 3:23

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(Romans 3:22-23 ESV)

2. 100% of humanity (yes, that includes you) are condemned by sin. That’s the malady, the illness, the disease, the curse. You have tested SIN-positive. Scripture is clear on that.

Prognosis:

100% fatal:

1. Everyone is sinful both by nature and by action (Romans 3:23), so what’s the prognosis, Doctor?

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

(Romans 5:12 ESV)

For the wages of sin is death
(Romans 6:23 ESV)

That’s as serious as serious gets. You’ve tested SIN-positive. No doubt about it. And, you’re going to die. But it’s far worse than even that; Your sin isn’t simply an illness, it’s an affront, a challenge, a rebellion against a just and holy God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Ephesians 5:6

 

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… Romans 1:18

How do we get this wrong?

1. Presenting sin as “making mistakes” or “falling short of God’s best for you”.  Let me put this as bluntly as I can. That type of preaching is cowardice.  It’s born out of fear that we’ll offend people by telling them they stand under the just wrath of God.  Sin is far, far more serious that “missing out on God’s best for your life.”  What drivel. That’s like saying terminal cancer is missing out on trips to Disney World.  You’re guilty, and that guilt will result in God’s wrath being poured out on you.  I know, that message isn’t popular or PC. It’s so “old school”.  But it’s the only message we’ve been given.  To water this down is to misdiagnose the illness and send people on their way without feeling the weight of their condemnation.

2. By presenting sin simply as “things we do wrong” that we need to stop doing.  This is pure law, and it focuses us on our own behaviors.  Sin isn’t something I just “do”, it’s something I am, it’s in every fibre of my being.  I need a rebirth, not a remodel.  By confusing this message, we saddle people with “do better” instead of repentance.

The Treatment:

(Please understand that I’m not flippantly labeling Christ as a “treatment”, I’m simply using an illustration here. I also understand that the limitations of this analogy could be viewed as Pelagian. That is not my intent. The bible clearly states that regeneration precedes faith; that God opens our eyes to the nature of our sin and His holiness, which allows us to respond in faith.)

To “get well” you must first admit that you are sick and in need of a physician.  No amount of positive thinking, or “living well” is going to solve your fatal disease.  You are saved by treatment.  While we are clearly called to have faith, it is not our faith which saves us.  Faith in your faith is not the same as faith in Christ.  We are saved by Christ through faith.  It is Christ who saves, not our faith.

1. Repentance and Faith:

Repentance is more than just “changing directions”, it’s more than just “feeling bad” that you’ve sinned. In Acts 2, after Peter blasts the crowd with a clear presentation of the gospel, and their sin, they respond.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2:37-38 ESV)

Note that they were first brought low with the weight of their sin. They got it.  They were “cut to the heart”. Peter then told them to repent.  While being “cut to the heart” and understanding their sin was crucial, it was not in itself, repentance.

I love how John Piper handles this:

“Repentance is not just regret. They had already been cut to the heart (v. 3). And now Peter says, “Repent!” So repentance is more than feeling sorry. It means following through on that conviction and turning around—changing your mind and your heart so that you are no longer at odds with God but in sync with God. Jesus spoke to Paul in Acts 26:18 about this “turning” that leads to forgiveness and gave Paul his commission with these words, “I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” There it is. That is repentance: turning from darkness to light and from Satan to God. It is a reversal of the direction of your life—toward God.”

In other words, “Repentance means first of all, to acknowledge our sins, to be truly sorry for them. This “godly sorrow” comes from the Holy Spirit convicting us with God’s law.

But the Bible also uses the work of repentance in a broader sense to include faith in Jesus our Savior. This faith is produced by the Holy Spirit, who convinces us through the Gospel that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus, who lived, died and rose again for us.

Put those two concepts together and you have repentance in its fullest sense. (Jesus told His disciples in Luke 24:47 that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations.)

According to the Bible, those who are truly sorry for their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior also want to turn away from their sins, intending with the help of the Holy Spirit not to keep on living a life of sin. If we want to keep on sinning, we need to ask ourselves if we have really repented. However, we are weak human beings and although we do not want to commit the same sins again and again, we may sometimes fall into sin out of weakness.

Whenever we sin, we know (as John says) that “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins” for the sake of Jesus our Savior (1 John 1:9). If repentance becomes a “game” with God and we don’t really want or intend to stop committing a certain sin (say stealing), and we go on stealing, living always in that sin of stealing, then we place ourselves in grave spiritual danger. We need to ask that God the Holy Spirit to give us the power to stop committing that sin and trust Him to help us fight against it.

Worldly sorrow is the kind of sorrow Judas Iscariot had, which caused him to commit suicide. It was a self-centered remorse and despair that wrongly concluded that all was lost in this life, that there was no hope, that there was nothing God could do. Second Cor. 7:10 says that this kind of sorrow brings death. But godly sorrow is true sorrow over sin accompanied by trust in Jesus for forgiveness. This is the kind of sorrow Peter had after he denied Jesus, and King David had after he committed adultery and murder (Psalm 51). Godly sorrow leads to life and salvation, because it includes faith in Jesus Christ.

As you can see, the Bible clearly states the diagnosis (sin), the extent (complete), the prognosis (100% fatality), and the treatment (repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ).  To loop back to the medical analogy we used earlier, if your “Doctor” misses these steps, he’s guilty of malpractice.  I don’t care how big your megachurch is, how well he speaks, how many books he’s written, how awesome the music and kids programs are, if you didn’t hear the categories of sin, repentance, and faith in Christ through the gospel, you got something else.

You likely heard the purpose-driven gospel which states the problem as: “Missing out on the great plan God has for your life.”

The solution is to: “Make a decision for Christ” and “begin to live out the dream he has for you”.  You’ll hear a great deal about steps you must take, which include “Stepping out in faith”.

The problem?  You can have thousands of people make a decision for a better life, to “birth” the dream god has for them, and to “change the world”…. and not a one of them has been brought to repentance for their sins and trusted Christ’s atoning work for them.

Yes, the smiling, relevant preacher has negligently misdiagnosed the problem, and those people have not come to salvation in Christ.  Call them “decisions for Christ” if you like, but if they haven’t been “cut to the heart” over their sins against God, what are they making their “decision” for? Their better life? Better family? To begin to discover the “greatness inside of them”?  Maybe, who knows, but it’s not the biblical gospel, which is the only gospel which leads to salvation.   God have mercy on the modern church. The impending judgement and wrath of God will be poured out on those who have not repented and believed on Christ and we’re not warning them. Instead, they’re being told that the problem to be solved is not living their “best life now.”  Our hearts should be breaking over this. Pray that people who have “made decisions” in seeker-driven churches come to hear the gospel of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Marc