Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On the Application of Scripture

One thing that every Christian could work on more would be the proper application of Scripture. If one desires to understand the Bible correctly and in turn apply it properly, then they need to labor through rigorous research and study concerning what God intended the human author of the text to say to the specific audience addressed and what it means. One cannot just replace every "you" in Scripture with his or her self and view what is being said as being directed to them. Such a practice would lead to some interesting decisions in one's life. We all have heard the story of someone who prayed that God would show them what they should do and opens his Bible first to Matthew 27:5 which states that Judas went away and hanged himself. Then he turns in his Bible to Luke 10:37, Go and do likewise. Neither one of those statements were directed specifically to him and his ignoring their context led to dangerous peril. The following are some helpful things to remember to aid you in discerning God's Word rightly.

The Bible is A Book About God

The very first thing we need to realize about Scripture is that it is not about us. The Bible does not tell us "our story" but "His story." It is the written revelation of God to humans. Through it, God shows us Who He is and what He has done. It communicates God's work of redemption through His Son's death on the cross, subsequent resurrection, and the new life and restoration that brings. It does not serve as a self help book that tells us every single decision that we should make. Too often we treat that Bible as some sort of magical talisman or an 8-ball. Such is the mistake the man in the example in the opening paragraph makes. We should not ask simply "what does this say I should do" but instead "where does my life fit in with this story?" "How am I the sinner spoken of who has offended the Holy God?" "What has Christ done so that I can worship God as He created man to do?" "How does the new life that Christ gives to those who trust in Him enable me to be obedient to His commands?" We cannot forget that the Bible is a book about God and our study of it basically then is a study of God and man's relationship towards Him. To ignore this truth would lead to several misapplications of what God says in His Word.

The Bible is a Book That Points to Jesus

Again, the Bible is not about us. It points to Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself acknowledged this. He stated that the Scriptures, referencing what we call the "Old Testament," testify about Me (John 5:39). The Law pointed to His coming in that He can be said to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17). He explained to the two men on the road to Emmaus the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures, again referencing the Old Testament (Luke 24:27). Paul says that all of the promises of God find their yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Many passages that we try to apply to us actually apply to Christ. I love Matt Chandler's example of how several like to take the narrative of David defeating Goliath and make that out to convey that we can defeat the "giants" in our own lives. But we are not the point, Jesus is. David serves as a type of Christ; the one through whom the Messiah would come. It is about Jesus. We relate more to the cowering and fearful Israelites who did not have the nerve to stand up to the giant. We need to pay attention to how the Scriptures point to Christ to guard against misapplying something to ourselves that instead speaks of Him.

The Bible is a Book That Redirects Our Focus

David Powlison describes the Bible as "rescripting" our lives. He states, "Application today experiences how the Spirit 'rescripts' our lives by teaching us who God is and what He is doing." Our original focus revolves around ourselves. We are born viewing ourselves as the center of the universe. We think that everything is about us, we are okay, and we know what is right for us. There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 16:25). If we are truly studying what Scripture says, it will move us away from ourselves and redirect us to God. It will show us that it is not about us but about Him. That we are God's and that He demands our obedience and not the other way around. It is through the Bible's doctrinal teachings about God and His work that shifts this perspective. This is why doctrine is so practical and necessary. Having the right focus leads us to living the right way. We cannot know how to please God unless we know Who He is and what pleases Him. Our spiritual growth comes from our growing knowledge about Christ. That is doctrine! Peter instructs us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Recognizing that the Bible is about God and centers on Christ can dramatically "rescript" our lives by redirecting our focus from ourselves and our ways to Christ and His ways.

The Bible is a Book That Has a Context

One of the biggest reasons for our misapplication of God's Word is our failure to examine the context. It was reported that when asked about the most important thing to take into account when studying Scripture, that Augustine said the following: "I answer three things: context, context, and context." We must always take into account the context of the passage studied to ensure that we do not misapply it. Our goal as Bible students always is to seek to understand the original inspired meaning of the original author's words. To do this necessitates that we take what is written in its historical context (when it was written), its cultural context (where it was written), its literary context (how it was written), its authorial context (why it was written), and the congregational context (whom it was written). Neglecting to examine such contexts will leave one without a fuller picture of what the text is teaching and then lost when it comes to the appropriate application of it. We need to thoroughly study these contexts so that we understand what the text is saying and what it means. We can't have a clear picture of what it means and its application in our lives without it.

To understand Scripture and properly apply it to our lives takes rigorous work and time. But it is well worth it if we truly desire to know God and live to glorify Him. We cannot know Him if we do not study His Word in its appropriate context and we can't glorify Him without first studying to know what glorifies Him. We also need the "rescripting" that Scripture does when studied in its original context to understand its original meaning. I encourage all who read this to strive, with the grace that God gives, to be better students of the Word. To labor, with the Spirit's guidance and direction, to seek to understand what He has said and what it means, so that you may love Him more and live to glorify Him.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Way Among Many or the Only Way?

Jesus said to him; "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father if not through Me" ~John 14:6 (Personal Translation)

A popular perspective today claims that all religions are basically the same and that there are many ways to God. Many people subscribe to such a view. A major high profile proponent of this type of thinking, Oprah Winfrey, made the statement, "There are many ways, many paths to what you call God." However, such a view cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. Jesus entertained no such thought but actually argued against it. When Thomas asked Jesus how they could know the way to where He was going, He responded, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

This very statement shows the falsehood of such a claim to there being "many ways to God." Jesus didn't way "I am one of many ways and one of many truths and one of many lives." No, Jesus stated that He is the "one and only way, the one and only truth, and the one and only life." The way that this is written in Greek clearly shows this as each of the nouns used has a definite article, the, in front of it. He intends to communicate that He is the specific and definite way, the specific and definite truth, and the specific and definite life. Had He intended to mean that He is "one way among many," the definite article would have been lacking in Greek and thus could be translated a way, a truth, and a life. However, this is not the case as each of these descriptions have a definite article preceding them. Further, His point that No one comes to the Father except through Me isolates Him as the only way. No other road exists that one can travel on to find the end destination of God the Father. All other roads lead to destruction instead of life (Proverbs 16:25; Matthew 7:13).

This means that the "Eight Fold Path to Enlightenment" in Buddhism will not lead you to God. The ritual washings of Hinduism will not get you there either. Islam's "Five Pillars" are not the trek to arrive at the God which the Jesus described in the Scriptures refers. And if one is not led to Jesus through the Old Testament law but instead seeks the law itself as the road to God, they remain lost and have yet to be on the right road. Proponents of "liberal theology" that state there are many roads and ways to God promote numerous wrong paths. Trusting in Jesus is the only way as He Himself said unless one wants to claim that Jesus was mistaken or lying, but then they would have to throw the entire Bible out the window because it could no longer be trusted.

Also, while each of the major religions acknowledge Jesus in some way, the question arises as to which Jesus. An examination to the characterizations of the Jesus each religion refers would lead one to conclude that there exist several different Jesuses who actually contradict each other. Islam claims that Jesus was merely just a prophet but not the greatest of all the prophets. He did not physically die nor rise from the dead three days later. Many liberal theologians state that Jesus was a great teacher but not the divine Son of God. The Bible itself, claiming to be God's Word and not substantially proven false in such an assertion, states that Jesus is the Messiah that God promised to come to redeem His people; Who is God's Son; God in the flesh; Who died a physical death on the cross in Golgotha and rose three days later. These clearly are different Jesuses! The philosophical principle of "non-contradiction" will not permit us to argue that all of these different Jesuses refer to the same Jesus. This principle states that something cannot be A and not A at the same time. Jesus cannot both be God and be not God. He cannot be said to have physically died on the cross and to never have died on the cross. He cannot be labeled as merely just a prophet and more than a prophet. These are not the same Jesuses!

There is an author whose name is Lee Smith. The author may share my name but certainly could never be confused with being the same person as me. First, the author is a female while I am male. Based on her books, she would not be considered a Christian or at least not one as I understand the Bible to define it. (She writes some pretty raunchy stuff!) She is 67 and I am 27. She has several fictional novels published while I continue to work on some of my theological treatises that may never be published. There also is a former professional baseball player with the name Lee Smith. Certainly any friends of mine engaged in a discussion concerning this man would not assume that they were talking about the same Lee Smith writing this article. The former Chicago Cubs pitcher has a different skin color as me and skills in the game of baseball I could only dream of having. (I can't even get on base when I join my congregation's dartball team for a game. The one homerun I managed to get was certainly "beginners luck" as I have no pitching arm.) Also, he is my senior by 26 years. The three of us share a name but not many characteristics. No one could logically or rationally argue that the three of us are the same person due to the amount of differences. Likewise, to claim that all of these religions that refer to "Jesus" all speak of the same Jesus would be preposterous and illogical. (Of course this analogy falls short in that these other two "Lee Smith's" really do exist where these other Jesuses are creations of man and not an actual person.)

The question is which Jesus is the right Jesus. Which Jesus is the One Who saves? The Jesus described in the Bible is the way and the truth and the life. He is the only way to the Father. These other Jesuses presented by these other religions may seem more appealing but they are not the way to God. The Jesus found in the gospels and the epistles in the Bible can never be described as "one way among many" but instead must be recognized as "the only way among many false counterfeits." To hold to the former view would be to deny God's Word and call Jesus a liar. Are you trusting and following the way, the truth, and the life or blindly going down a way that leads to destruction and not to God?

In Christ,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Erroneous Evangelism

I have been becoming more and more alarmed with much of the methods and attitudes prevalent in modern day evangelism. I greatly appreciate those who labor at evangelism and have a zeal to share the gospel. It is my prayer that God would increase such a zeal in the heart of believers and raise up more evangelists at home and abroad. As a pastor, one of my duties is evangelism (2 Timothy 4:5) and I long to share the gospel with every opportunity that the Lord provides. However, I cannot excuse or utilize some of the current popular tactics espoused in evangelistic meetings and sermons. The following are some problems in much evangelistic presentations today. My hope is that this may aid in helping people to get the gospel right in their presentation of the salvation message as laid out in the Bible.

Always An Altar Call

I think that it was Charles Finney who came up with the idea of the "altar call" or at least he can be said to be the one who popularized it. Today, some would claim that it has not been a revival service or an evangelistic meeting unless the pastor or evangelist gave an "altar call" at the end. I have been asked why I seldom give "altar calls." In fact, the only times that I have was in the earliest of my preaching days when I had not thought the idea through or when asked by the congregation in which I served. I believe that there are several problems with the altar call and therefore normally avoid it.

If one is not careful, by giving an altar call they make it sound as if someone cannot be saved unless they get out of the pew and come forward to kneel at the altar. They would imply a "work" added for one's salvation. It would not be that you are saved by "grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone" but by "grace through faith AND COMING FORWARD TO THE ALTAR." Also, many people can be emotionally manipulated to come forward without any genuine work of God occurring in their heart. Music can move us. Play "Just As I Am" a dozen times and it may move you to tears and convince you that you are experiencing something and must go forward as the preacher said that you should. Finney was a master at this. He would have the lights turned down and do all that he could to convince someone to "come forward" and give their life to Christ. The problem with this method is that it forgets that salvation is a work of God and not man. The preacher cannot "move" someone to be saved. Only God's Spirit can change someone's heart, desires, and attitude. Those who can be described as children of God are those who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). Altar calls and a lot of the manipulation that goes along with them are not needed as the power of conversion never lies with man-made tactics but with the Holy Spirit working alongside the Word of God. On the day of Pentecost, Peter did not end with an "altar call." He did not ask anyone in the crowd to come forward. Instead, he concluded his message with the point he was aiming to get at; the Jesus whom they crucified is the Lord (Yahweh based on the reference of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:17-21) and Christ (Messiah) the Old Testament spoke of (Acts 2:36). There were no special hymns sung ten times. The result of this was the Lord at work. The people were cut to the heart (v. 37). In the Greek, the verb for cut or pierce is in what is known as the passive voice. This indicates that the subject of the verb received the action and did not perform the action itself. This means that this piercing of the people's heart was not of their own doing but happened to them. God's Spirit used Peter's message to pierce their heart and call them to repentance. It led them to realize what they had done and cry out, Brothers, what shall we do? Peter doesn't tell them that they need to "come forward and take their place at the altar" but instead 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 (v. 38). He did call them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as we always should when giving the gospel, but not to "come forward."

In evangelism, we should just proclaim the gospel, pray, and let God take care of the rest. There is a reason why Paul declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel. Because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Let's be careful not to add a work in what one might communicate with an altar call. Contrary to popular belief, revival and the saving of lost souls can still occur without one. Just look at the revival meetings held by the great evangelists such as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley. They never gave altar calls and God used their presentation of the gospel to draw many lost souls to His Son the Savior. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well when he said, "I would affirm that much of the modern approach to evangelism, with its techniques and methods, is unnecessary if we REALLY believe in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and His application of God's message . . . Should we not concentrate more, as the church has done through the centuries, upon praying for, and laying the basis of Christian instruction for, revival as it is described in the Bible?"

Praying "The Prayer"

Another common method in modern evangelism is to have listeners repeat the "sinner's prayer" after the preacher. Then, usually, the preacher will say something to the effect of: "Now if you prayed that prayer, you can be assured that you are saved and have eternal life. You can mark down today as the day that you received salvation." Many of these preachers don't realize what they are communicating. Look closely at such a statement. "If you prayed this prayer THEN you can be assured that you are saved." According to the statement itself, the assurance of salvation rests, not on the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the sinner's faith in Him, but instead on "the prayer" itself. To be fair, most preachers who use the method of "the prayer" do not intend to communicate this. However, it is easily misunderstood if examined closely. I have talked to people and asked them if they are saved to only have the reply that "yes, I came forward to the altar and prayed 'the prayer.' " Do you see what happened in this case and similar ones? They have based their salvation not on Christ and the cross but on their action of physically responding to the "altar call" and praying "the prayer." This prayer means nothing if God does not change someone's heart. It is merely words. Again, we have to be careful with what we are communicating. I fear that we have too many people who think that they are saved due to "coming forward to the altar" and "saying 'the prayer' " that really are not because they have not been born again in the heart by the Spirit of God. These then become the hardest to witness to because they wrote in their Bible the day that they said "the prayer" and the evangelist promised them eternal life because of it (at least that is the way it was presented, even if unintentionally).

Now am I saying that we should not lead someone in how to pray concerning their salvation? No. I think that there is a big difference instructing someone to "call out to the Lord" for Him to save them (biblical terminology unlike asking Jesus to "come into one's heart" which is never found anywhere in the Bible) and asking them to mimic certain words and phrases verbatim after you. For instance, Paul never asked unbelievers to say a certain prayer for their salvation. Instead, he would say something like the following: The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). It is not "the prayer" that saves but God Himself by His grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Let's make sure that we are communicating this and not leading one to believe anything else.

Jesus Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan For Your Life
A common way to begin a witnessing opportunity is to say something to the effect of the following: Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The problem with such a statement is how it might easily be misunderstood. First of all, for a prideful sinner it might not be seen as such a surprise that Jesus loves them. Of course He would love them! Why wouldn't He? What is there about him not to love? It would be wiser to show them from Scripture of how they are an enemy of God due to their rebellion and sin and what God has done through Christ to turn those who repent and believe in His Son from His enemies to His children. To begin with Jesus loves you plays into their carnal desires and does not get to the heart of their sin. None of the apostles in their evangelistic preaching as recorded in the book of Acts ever began a sermon with Jesus loves you. We would do well to follow their example instead of the errors of our current evangelical culture.

Second, what does it mean that Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life? Does that mean that if you trust in Jesus you can have "Your Best Life Now"? That your marriage will be fixed, you will be healed of all of your illnesses and pains, and that you will be fully healthy, wealthy, and wise? What about those called to be martyrs for the cause of Christ? Or those persecuted for His name sake? My fear is that this communicates something that is not true. Speaking to a "me-centered" sinner," telling them that Jesus loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life could lead them to further idolatry. They may say that they went Jesus not because of how wonderful and great He is but because they believe He will give them "a wonderful life." They will actually view Jesus as a means to these gifts instead of the end Himself. They will center on the gifts instead of the Giver. Something they actually already do! How would this help them come to know the Lord and the necessity to repent of their sin and trust in Christ ALONE to save them from God's righteous wrath that they deserve for their sins? Perhaps it would be better to begin an evangelistic conversation with something more to the effect that "God is a holy God and you are a wicked sinner thus you are a sinner in the hands of an angry God and here is the only hope that you have to ever stand before Him in righteousness not fearing His wrath . . ." That would certainly communicate the truth better.

Jesus is Knocking . . . But At the Wrong Door!
This is probably one of my favorite of the erroneous methods of evangelism today. I shake my head every time that I hear it. It bothers me the most because it is a complete misapplication of what the Scripture quoted even refers. The passage I am talking about is Revelation 3:20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me. In many evangelistic sermons or presentations, the evangelist inevitably mentions this passage and then appeals to the listeners to "open up the door of your heart and let Jesus in." The problem here is that Jesus is NOT knocking on the door of an unbeliever's heart waiting for them to let Him in according to this verse in Revelation. He is certainly knocking but He is knocking on a different door. Look closely at the context of the passage. The door in which the Savior knocks is the door of a church! This is part of the letter to the church of Laodicea as indicated by v. 14. Unless this church is nothing but unbelievers, Jesus is knocking on the door to saints who are lukewarm (vv. 15-16). This "knocking" is His plea to them to be zealous and repent (v. 19). It is not an invitation to accept salvation but a call to repentance before judgment may come. Preachers who use this verse in their evangelistic presentations, whether they realize it or not, do great discredit to the Scripture. It ignores the context and completely misses the author's intended meaning.

Furthermore, the idea of "inviting a waiting Jesus into one's heart" is unbiblical. I have yet to find in Scripture such a phrase of someone "inviting Jesus into their heart." Scripture calls for one to repent and believe in Christ but never to "ask Him into their heart." God opened up Lyda's heart to receive the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). She didn't "ask Jesus into her heart" but the Lord opened her heart. I really think that we underestimate the Bible's description of man's depravity and what it means when it describes us as "slaves to sin." The issue is that we are under sin's power willingly until God changes our will with the new heart that He promises to give (Ezekiel 36:26-27). We cannot "let Him into to our heart" because we do not desire to. God must change that desire before we are able to come to Him (John 6:44). (I have written more on the biblical doctrine of "Total Depravity" here: ) I would prefer to use biblical terminology and biblical methods in evangelism.

My desire is to see evangelism done right and for God to sovereignly bring more sinners into His Kingdom. I realize that God has been doing this, even in spite of some of these errors in evangelism. I also will admit that I have been guilty of each of these erroneous evangelistic tactics at some point and time. But as I have studied God's Word more and grown in my faith, I have begun to see where I was wrong in these tactics and began to instead go with how the Bible describes and models proper evangelism. I intend to put together a gospel track to hand out to folks that I encounter along my way or who may be in my congregation and dealing with questions of whether they are saved soon. Perhaps I will share that in this blog when it is completed. Let's work to do evangelism God's way according to His Word for His glory.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Movie "Courageous"

I went to see the movie "Courageous" yesterday evening and have to say that I was really impressed. While I enjoyed both "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof," I was disappointed in how the former ended with a "happily ever after" type finish where the family received everything that they had prayed for. That does not always happen in life and could convey that if you trust God, everything will go well for you. God never promised us a life of ease and sometimes His answers to our prayers are "no" because He has a better purpose in store that we just can't quite see with our limited knowledge and vision. This movie though was more true to life. They went some places that surprised me. I found myself both laughing and crying (and I am not ashamed to admit that) throughout the movie. I will be careful not to give away any plot points so as to spoil those who will go out yet and see this movie. I was really encouraged to see the gospel explained on the big screen. Praise God!

Overall, the point they sought to convey was powerful and much needed today. Too many fathers have become lazy. They have become too preoccupied in everything but the central calling that God has given them as husbands and fathers. I see this too often ministering to families. The husband is too passive and not leading his home as God has ordained him to as a godly husband and father. I would encourage every father and anyone who hopes to be a father some day to see this movie. It is a message all desperately need to hear.

I know that there will be some who will say that they would rather not see the movie because it doesn't have as much special effects as something such as "Transformers" and no A-list actors. In fact, most of the actors come from within the church that did the movie itself. However, I would rather watch a clean movie that exalts Christ and teaches a powerful message from His Word any day than some of today's "hollywood trash" with the highest paid acclaimed actors. Praise God for this church and how He continues to use their ministry. May He use this movie to awaken the slumbering fathers and husbands out there and encourage them to live out the role to which God has called them as laid out in Ephesians 5:22-33.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Dangers of Facebook

In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and company began what would become a revolution in the way that we would live our lives. They launched a social networking site known as "Facebook," which now has over 750 million active users and counting. Facebook has become such an important part of many of our lives that we cannot imagine what life would ever look like without it. How else could we tell our friends about our day and inform them as to our whereabouts? Where would we put the photos from our latest outing or event? How would we know what our friends did today or how they are feeling? "Writing on someone's wall" used to refer to graffiti. Now it is a standard form of communication. "Friend" has now become a verb. We speak of "friending" people or them not "friending" us. Our world has radically been changed by Facebook.

This social revolution has had many benefits. It has enabled us to reconnect with old friends and maintain friendships when separated by distance. Facebook has allowed me the blessing of keeping up with my friends from high school, college, and seminary as well as those I have served alongside in various ministries the past few years. Now since I have moved away from my hometown and from many of my family and friends, I am beginning to realize how important Facebook can be in staying connected with them. Facebook makes it easy to share announcements or important events as well. In a few minutes you can let all of your Facebook friends know about an upcoming gathering at your house or outing at your church. And Facebook can be used greatly for God's glory. One can post encouraging notes and links pertaining to His Word (as I attempt to do). One can use Scriptures for status messages or share a thought that directs us to God. A lot of good can and has come out of this innovation.

However, a lot of harm can come from Facebook as well if we are not careful. It can be a great temptation that leads to sinful attitudes. Probably the biggest issue with Facebook is pride. The tendency with Facebook is to promote ourselves and not Christ. Often, we fall prey to this without even realizing it. It becomes so easy for a quick thought about the Lord to turn into "look how clever I am for coming up with this." We wait to see how many of our friends "like" what we wrote. Did we share it to be "liked" by our "friends" or to glorify God? Our friend count begins to be viewed not over how many people I can share the gospel with or encourage with Scripture but how many friends I can accumulate. The focus gets switched from the people themselves and redirected to the numbers. Or we take the opportunity to boast of something we are doing in our status instead of boasting of Christ and the cross. Our profile may even be filled with Scripture quotes and things about God but again is it for His sake alone or are we just using Him to exalt ourselves?

We are warned against the danger and harms of pride throughout Scripture. Solomon instructs us in Proverbs that Pride goes before destruction, / And a haughty spirit before stumbling (16:18). The Hebrew word for pride used here literally means exaltation. The root of the word communicates the idea of rise up. To be prideful is to exalt oneself. This word is used of God seven times in a positive sense. God should always be exalted and raised up. However, in its 27 references in relation to man, it is mostly negative. For man to exalt himself would be in essence for him to treat himself as God since only God deserves to be exalted. This type of pride served as the foil for Eve giving into the serpent's deception. He promised her that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Whenever we seek to draw attention to ourselves instead of God, we are trying to be like God, placing ourselves on a pedestal which only He should sit upon. The result of such pride is certainly negative. It leads to destruction and stumbling. Pride on Facebook proves no different. It also leads to ruin. We may fool our friends with our motives but we can never fool God. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, / But the LORD weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2).

I think that the attitude we should have with our use of Facebook should be the same attitude Paul had with his ministry to the church at Corinth. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake (2 Corinthians 4:5). Whatever we post on Facebook should be to proclaim Christ and not to promote ourselves. We should view ourselves as servants of our "friends" and be mindful of how what we post may glorify God and edify them. Perhaps the best question we should ask before we click "share" should be "is this for myself or Christ and others?" This might ensure that we do not wind up falling into the trap of pride and exalting ourselves.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Heaven is for Real" But Not Because of a Four Year Olds Journey

I have just recently read the latest craze on the bookshelves entitled "Heaven is for Real." A lady in the congregation that I serve passed it on to me. She wanted me to evaulate it and let her know if the account was biblical or not. She, as with everyone else that I have known who has read the book, was ecstatic about it and very curious whether this was a geninue experience described. So I took some time the past few days to sit down and read through the book. It is a simple read so I finished it in like two days (compare that with the two months that it took to read Jonathan Edwards' "Freedom of the Will). Many have approached me about this book and wanted my opinion. Well, now after having read the book, here are some of my thoughts.

The book chronicles the account of little Colton Burpo and his "supposed" trip to heaven during a serious case of appendictis. In the days and months that followed the crucial surgery, he began to talk to his parents about Jesus and heaven. The shock was that he spoke of Jesus as if he had physically seen Him and of heaven as if he had actually been there! He even recounts meeting his great-grandfather who died long before he came into existence and his unborn sister whom he was never told about. He also shares with his parents, watching his dad pray in a secret room that no one else knew about and his mom talking on the phone during the surgery. While the doctors never stated that Colton died on the operating table, the young boy convinces his parents and family that he did indeed have an out of body experience and travel to the celestial city.

Being the biblical scholar, teacher, and pastor that I am, I was indeed curious as to the boy's description of heaven and how it would line up with Scripture's portrayal. I admit that for many of the details of heaven that Colton shared, Scriptures can be found to line up with his explanations. Often we find his father doing just that after one of the conversations he has with his son over his experience. He will think back to a Bible passage that sounds similar to what the four (or five or six as the revelation of the experience was given over a few years) year old shared. However, there were two major discripancies that I found between the boy's testimony and the witness of Scripture. He claims that he saw the "markers" (or wounds) of Jesus on his palms. Everything we know about ancient Roman crucifixions was that the criminal to be executed would be nailed through his or her wrists on the cross to lock them in place. Their palms would have ripped because the tendons in them could not be held with the weight of the body. The Greek word used in relation to Jesus' crucifixion that is translated as "hand" can also refer to "forearm." Thus, it is not just limited to "palm."

Also, Colton describes his great-grandfather as having huge wings with himself having small ones. This seems to imply that saints who go home to heaven when they die become angels. That may fit well with popular cultural perceptions but does not line up with Scripture at all. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that the saints have wings and become angels. Man was made a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7) and is always seen to be distinct. However, these discripancies are not my main concern over this book.

What bothers me the most about this book is how many people have used it for their assurance of the reality of heaven. Many have begun to base their understanding of heaven on this little boy's experience, which to be fair, we do not know how genuine it might have been. He could have been dreaming. Technically, there was no record of his death. His dad is a pastor so there is a good chance that he had heard a lot about heaven in sermons and conversations overheard by his dad. It was not like he never heard of Jesus and suddenly begins to describe heaven. His dad and another author could have crafted this whole thing up. Books on heaven and hell are a hot commodity (pardon the pun) these days. Just look at Don Piper's "90 Minutes in Hell" and Rob Bell's "Love Wins." But we don't need this experience to verify or support the truth of heaven. We have an even greater testimony.

We should believe in heaven because God tells us about it in His Word. God's Word must be our sole authority in all things and should carry more weight than anyone's (including our own) experience. Tim Challies makes a very good point in his review of this book: "If you struggle believing what the Bible says, but learn to find security in the testimony of a toddler, well, I feel sorry for you. And I do not mean this in a condescending way. If God’s Word is not sufficient for you, if the testimony of his Spirit, given to believers, is not enough for you, you will not find any true hope in the unproven tales of a child. This hope may last for a moment, but it will not sustain you, it will not bless you, in those times when hope is waning and times are hard" ( Remember what Jesus Himself told Thomas who felt that he needed to see proof of Jesus' resurection. Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and believed (John 20:29). Let's believe in heaven, not because of this four year and his "supposed" journey but because of God's Word. We can't necessarily trust this account of Colton and his experience but we can certainly hold God at His Word.

In Christ,
Sola Scriptura
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just For Fun: "If You Give A Pastor A Pulpit"

A few weeks ago after Prayer Meeting, several of the group noticed the popular children's books, "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" displayed in the widow of the church library. This started a conversation as to what the title would be in reference to a pastor. One man looked at me and suggested that it would read "If You Give a Pastor A Fork" since pastors are known to eat alot (and since supposedly I wind up eating something at just about every widow's home that I visited in). I then suggested that it should be "If You Give A Pastor A Pulpit." Well, my creative mind went to work and later on that week, I put together my own little story based on that title. It has sat on my desk for weeks now and I had forgotten it until I cleaned it. Perhaps this might bring a smile and laugh today.

If you give a pastor a pulpit . . .

He will want an hour to go with it.

He will need his Bible.

He will then take time to study to seek to understand what God has said.

After working a while, he may need to take a break and get a snack.

He will probably wind up talking to someone in the congregation longer than he planned.

He will then remember his sermon and get back to work.

After working on this week’s sermon, he will probably find ideas for next week’s.

He will then need the pulpit again . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Independence or Complete Dependence

We all have been born believing a lie. By default we think that we can do things on our own and that we do not need God's enablement. In a sense this was part of the temptation that led to the Fall. The serpent promised Eve that if she ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then she would be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). She would no longer need to rely on God to determine what was good or evil for her. She would be like Him and know it herself. One of the biggest sins in the church today is that of self-sufficiency; the idea that we can do things on our own without God. We struggle with this sin even after we are saved. Well meaning pastors have stated that "God helps those who help themselves" or "you need to put forth some effort so that God has something to work with." The problem with these statements are that they both are unbiblical. The Bible consistently shows that we cannot be as independent as we think we should be but instead must constantly be dependent upon God and His grace.

Jesus told His disciples that apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). No one can bear spiritual fruit unless they abide in Christ. Jesus did not say that apart from Me you can do a little or some. Instead, He said nothing. In fact, the Greek uses a double negative to communicate this. Literally Jesus says that apart from Me you cannot do nothing. We need to be fully dependent on Christ in order for any fruit to bear in our lives. It is not up to us but we need Him.

The Apostle Paul recognized that all of the ministry that he did was not a result of his work but God's instead. He tells the church at Corinth that But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:10). He points out that it was not he who labored but the grace of God. Paul knew that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Romans 7:18). The very reason that he could labor more than all of the others was due to God's grace and not any intrinsic effort that he exerted. I think Paul indicates here that his labor was fully dependent on God's grace to be effective. In fact, after giving us a list of instructions on how to live the Christian life in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, Paul then prays that Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 23). The ability to be obedient to these commands that he gave must come from God. If we had the ability to "sanctify" ourselves and live out these commands to please God, then Paul would not have needed to pray that God Himself would sanctify you entirely. He recognized that we need God to bring us every step of the way in our salvation, from our initial justification through our progressive sanctification to our future glorification. We cannot make it on our own but must be utterly dependent upon Him.

Any work that we do to progress in our sanctification cannot be done without God's divine work through us. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12 to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Then in the next verse he informs us that it is really God who works through us so that we can live out this command: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). We can only work because God is working. Verse 12 cannot be a reality in our lives unless verse 13 is a reality. We are fully dependent upon God for our growth in grace and righteousness. We are not self-sufficient but utterly dependent. Augustine realized this when he wrote the following prayer in his autobiography: "Command what you will and give what you command." He asked God to command for him to do whatever He wished but also that He would give what is necessary to be obedient to that command. He realized that he could not be obedient to any of God's commands without God's grace. He knew that he was utterly dependent upon God.

What about you? Are you trying to live your life independently or relying on God every step of the way. The old hymn is true that "we need thee every hour." In fact, we need thee every second. Perhaps some of your problems and struggles right now are due to the fact that you are trying to handle something on your own instead of seeking God for His strength and grace to do whatever it may be. We cannot live this life on our own. We were made dependent creatures and must remain dependent upon our Creator. Let's quit believing the age old lie that we can do it ourselves and instead be completely dependent upon God for everything!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Word to Those Attending the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail letter that I sent to our two delegates heading to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in a few weeks. It has been burdened on my heart to put something like this together to encourage them and prepare them for what they may face. This Annual Conference may well prove to be one of the most controversial and heated in recent history as the homosexual issue continues to cause a stir and two business items that address the issue are going to be discussed and voted on. Perhaps there are some others who are reading this blog who are going to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference this summer or know of someone(s) in their church who are that might benefit from this as well. I may write an upcoming blog post or two to discuss more of this homosexual issue going on in the denomination as I have been getting several questions concerning it from those in my congregation as well as others within the denomination. May God use this as He sees fit.

As I have been pondering conference and all that it might entail, I want to remind you of some things as you head out to Grand Rapids in a few weeks. Most of these you are probably aware of, but a quick reminder never hurts.

Watch Out for the Emotional Appeal
One thing those who promote the homosexual agenda like to do is to appeal to the emotions to get people to agree with their position. They often will talk about someone in their family who has been ostracized from the church because of their lifestyle or of a lesbian relationship that has appeared to work together so well. These are actually "red herrings;" something brought into the argument that is not really relevant to the actual discussion at hand. The issue is over the wording used in the 1983 Paper, "Human Sexuality From A Christian Perspective," concerning so-called "same-sex convenantal relationships" and whether the official stance in the paper that "Covenantal relationships between homosexual persons is an additional lifestyle option but, in the church's search for a Christian understanding of human sexuality, this alternative is not acceptable" should remain the position of the denomination today. The goal of the 1983 paper was to examine the "Christian perspective" of human sexuality. To find the "Christian perspective" for anything, one must go back to the Word of God and look at what it says. What the Word of God teaches IS the Christian perspective since a Christian is defined by God's Word and instructed solely by it. This is why the paper went into much detail over certain Scripture passages concerning sexuality. The issue being discussed and debated at the moment, is not how those practicing homosexuality have been treated or whether there have been couples who make it appear that the relationship can work but instead what the Christian perspective concerning homosexuality is and thus in essence then what the Bible teaches about it. Be careful when someone comes to the mic to make a point and uses the emotional appeal tactic. Remember what the discussion truly concerns and the real issue at hand, the authority of Scripture.

Remember the Real Battle
We are in a battle. In 1978, Harold Lindsell wrote a book entitled "The Battle for the Bible" in which he discussed how several denominations and Christian institutions were moving away from holding to the trustworthiness and inerrancy of Scripture (the teaching that the Bible is without error in its original autographs). The same "battle for the Bible" wages currently in our denomination as evidenced with the homosexual issue. The fact that there even is a question over whether homosexuality should be acceptable as a lifestyle proves this as the Bible is certainly clear that God views the lifestyle as a sin. If we hold to the Bible being God's Word as it claims that it is, then we cannot deny the sinfulness of homosexual relationships no more than divorce, living together before marriage, adultery, and having a child out of wedlock. This is a spiritual battle. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Our enemy is not those who support the homosexual issue but Satan himself. Keeping this in mind helps us to maintain the proper perspective.

Pray, Pray, and Pray
Since this is a spiritual battle, we need to use spiritual armor in our fight. Paul calls this the armor of God. It is only by wearing this spiritual armor of truth, righteousness, preparation of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the sword of the Spirit that we may resist the evil day and be able to stand firm. We need to fight this battle on our knees, constantly petitioning God to work as He sees fit this summer for conference and to give courage to stand for Him and His Word. We cannot face this struggle on our own. We need His grace and strength every step of the way. I encourage you to be in prayer for conference and all that transpires as we at the church pray for you and conference as well.

May the Lord be with you as you travel to conference and stand for God's Word for His glory and namesake!

Love In Christ,
Pastor Lee

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011 Has Come, But Jesus Has Not

For months now we have been bombarded by Harold Camping's claim that judgment day was coming on May 21, 2011. He reminded us of this through his radio program, billboards across the country as well as in other nations, and full page ads in Reader's Digest and the Washington Post. Today shows that his calculations were wrong and that Jesus is still coming soon.

Harold Camping the False Prophet
Today is further proof that Camping is a false prophet. We are told in Deuteronomy how to recognize a false prophet: And if you say in your heart, "How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?"-when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (18:21-22). Camping's prediction of Christ's return today around 6:00 PM and the absence of Christ's coming for His bride shows that his word did not come to pass or come true. In fact, this isn't the first time that Camping's claims have proven false. He also predicted Christ's return in 1994. However, when that was shown to be mistaken, he simply stated that he had miscalculated. He has made such absolute statements concerning his accuracy this time around that it will be interesting to see what his response will be in the hours or days ahead.

The Dangers of Date Setting
The entire fiasco with Camping is a reminder to us of the dangers of attempting to set the date as to Christ's return. Granted, Camping is not the only one to do this and more likely will not be the last. In essence, to claim to know the date of Christ's return is to pronounce oneself to be God since Jesus stated that only God the Father knows the date of His return. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only (Matthew 24:36). By claiming to know that certain day and hour, one declares himself God the Father because He is the only One who has that knowledge. The best that any of us can say is that Jesus is coming soon and we should be ready for His return at any time. That time is in God's hands and He will come when God has seen fit. Meanwhile, we have work to do in making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19) through spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Aftermath
Now that all the hype concerning the "judgment day" that we were supposed to have experienced yesterday has passed, we need to be praying. We should pray for Mr. Camping; that God may use this to open his eyes to how presumptuous he has been and perhaps move him to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That he would see the Bible as not merely a set of numbers to predict the end of the world but instead as the revelation of God Himself and His plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. We also need to pray for his followers who are very disillusioned right now; wondering if they have been "left behind" or why Jesus has delayed. Some of them left their jobs and gave up their stuff, believing in Camping's lie. This may harden them towards the truth because they confused a false teaching for what was real. We should as well continue to say with the Apostle John, Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20). Al Mohler put it well in a recent tweet: "We will not be surprised that Christ has not returned according to any human's timetable. But we should not be relieved. Lord come quickly."

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Death of Osama bin Laden

The news and the internet have been a buzz the past few days after the announcement from the president that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. SEALs in Pakistan. People right away took to their Facebook pages to update their status with a victorious salute to the armed forces and the president or shared a quote that condemned rejoicing in an enemy falling or any kind of violence. Several around the Washington D.C. and New York City areas went out into the streets, waving flags and chanting "USA, USA, USA!" However, several feel conflicted as to what the appropriate response should be for the death of someone who was responsible for the death of thousands. Should we rejoice that this terrorist was killed or instead be mourning and grieving? This certainly is a difficult question to wrestle with and one that does not have a simple answer. The following are some things that I have been thinking about as I have been pondering what an appropriate (in other words, "biblical") response to this event should be.

Osama's Death Was Carried Out By the Appropriate Means
Paul tells us in Romans that God has given the government authority to punish evildoers. He describes the government as an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4). This is actually a means of God's grace because if man's wickedness had nothing to physically restrain it, then human society itself would collapse as only chaos could ensue. Part of this wrath that the government can carry out would include the death penalty as he does not bare the sword in vain. In fact, the Greek word here for sword, machaira, is often connected to killing someone or someone being killed, in some cases judicially (Luke 21:24; Acts 12:2; 16:27; Romans 8:35; Hebrews 11:34,37; Revelation 13:10). Osama bin Laden did indeed deserve the death penalty as he shed many of a man's blood. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6; personal translation). Thus, bin Laden deserved death and the appropriate authority carried the death penalty out. However, Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary makes a good point that we were robbed of the satisfaction of seeing full human justice occurring through an arrest and a trial.

Now it is true that Paul instructs in just a previous chapter for us to If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18-21). And Jesus preached in the "sermon on the mount" that You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45). However, it is important to notice that Paul here is referring to individual Christians and that Jesus is addressing individual disciples and not the institution of the government. We must always be careful not to apply a passage of Scripture to something to which it does not apply. It is the God appointed governing ruler or official that bears the sword, not an individual acting outside of the government. Had Osama been killed by an individual acting for the purpose of revenge, it would not have been appropriate. In this case, we have those who were acting as part of the government bringing about the death that Osama deserved for his murder of so many.

I Grieve That Bin Laden Has Began An Eternity Apart From God's Grace
While I recognize that Osama bin Laden did deserve death and that it was carried out by the appropriate means, I find myself grieving over his death. Here was a man who lived his entire life without ever turning to the Lord through repentance and faith. The judgment that he faced on earth is nothing compared to the judgment that he now experiences. it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). He now has started an eternal sentence of everlasting conscious torture in Hell apart from the grace of God. This is a scary picture. Even the most ardent atheist (including bin Laden when he was alive on the earth) experiences the grace of God. For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). God blesses those on the earth even who do not acknowledge and worship Him as He deserves with good things. In Hell, however, there are no such blessings. For the unrepentant who do not turn from their sins, this life really is their "best life now." With Osama's death, I grieve that he gained the world but lost his soul.

I Rejoice in God's Justice Being Done
At the same time that I grieve, I also rejoice. I don't rejoice in Osama's death itself but the very fact that God's justice is being carried out. In both bin Laden's execution and the beginning of his experiencing God's full wrath in Hell, God is glorifying Himself by displaying His justice. God is glorified in both displaying His mercy and His justice (Romans 9:21-24). He is glorified in displaying His mercy to those whom He intends to save (the vessels of mercy in v. 23) and in displaying His justice to those whom do not turn from their way to Him (the vessels of wrath in v. 22). If we truly are concerned with glorifying God, we must glorify Him not only for His grace and mercy but also His justice and wrath.

So I am left both grieving Osama's death, knowing where he is now and will be for all eternity and also rejoicing in God displaying His justice. Now you won't find me dancing in the streets for this, but instead coming to God in prayer.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Ills of Idolatry

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. ~1 John 5:21

Its funny how one may complain when the sermon goes just a few minutes longer than they expected but get excited when the football game goes into overtime. Its funny how one may justify missing church on Sunday but set aside everything to make sure that they do not miss the season premiere of their favorite TV show. Its funny how there seems to be no time to read and study Scripture yet one can always find time to watch TV for two hours and go through the whole newspaper. Where does our treasure really lie? How concerned are we about the things of God?

Now the things mentioned may not be bad in themselves; depending on the content. I am not dissing football at all. I root my Redskins on when they have a good game. I have certain TV shows that I may watch from time to time. The issue comes with where we place our priorities and devotion. John Calvin said it well when he stated, "The evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much."

The Apostle John closes his letter with this warning that we should keep ourselves from idols. We often think of idols as a golden bull calf or a wooden statue. However, an idol is much more than that. Anything can become an idol if we place its value above God or desire it more than God Himself. It is worshiping and serving something that is “created” instead of the “Creator” (Romans 1:24). Ken Sande has defined an idol as “something other than God that we set our hearts on (Luke 12:29;1 Cor. 10:6), that motivates us (1 Cor. 4:5), that masters or rules us (Ps. 119:133), or that we serve (Matt. 6:24).” This may be an object, person, or even an idea. It can even be something good or beneficial but if it becomes the center of our universe and what we desire more than anything else, then we have crafted it to be an idol, and thus a rival god.

The fact that John gives us this warning indicates that we are susceptible to idolatry. It is so easy for something we desire or devote our time to take the place of our focus and commitment for God. He commands us to guard or keep ourselves from this idolatry. This means that we need to constantly be on the alert about anything we desire too much that may distract us from our worship of God or lead us away from Him. In fact, the Greek term used here for guard is the same term used to describe the actions of shepherds in relation to their flocks and soldiers with their prisoners. Both shepherds and soldiers have to maintain a close watch over those entrusted to them, protect them, and make sure that they do not go astray or escape. We must keep a close watch on ourselves at all times to ensure that we are not giving something or someone more attention than what we should be giving to God. We need to protect ourselves from crafting an idol by constantly keeping God as the center of all that we say and do. Being thankful to Him and seeking to use everything He gives for His glory. Daily study of God’s Word and regular times of prayer can aid us in keeping John’s instruction. May we be diligent to always put God first and do all things for Him and never give the glory that He deserves to any other.

I am the LORD; that is My name;
My glory I give to no other,
nor My praise to carved idols.

~Isaiah 42:9

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, April 18, 2011

"It is Finished"

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
~John 19:28-30

Last night I basically preached on one word for our love feast and communion service. Normally I preach on a passage or paragraph. However, this one word carries so much meaning in its context that a full sermon doesn't do it justice. In fact, Charles Spurgeon has commented on this word that it "would need all the other words that were ever spoken, to explain it . . . It is altogether immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it." The word in which I am referring is the Greek word tetelestai. It is rendered in most English translations as It is finished. This is one of seven utterances that Jesus made while hanging on the cross. He would have said this with His very last breaths. It is the last thing that He says before giving up His life.

Mission Accomplished
The Greek term comes from the root word, teleios, which means purpose, goal, end. It is often used to convey the carrying out of a task. When Jesus cries this word out from the cross, He is declaring that His goal or purpose has been finished or accomplished. He did not say that I am finished but instead that it is finished. He was not referring to His life being over but His mission being completed. He had accomplished the mission for which He came to earth to do.

What was this mission? It doesn't take long for us to go through the Gospels to find out. In the opening chapter of Matthew's gospel, we read the angel who appeared to Joseph tell him regarding Mary that She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). His mission was to save His people from their sins. In fact, Jesus' very name indicates His mission. In Aramaic, Jesus is Yeshua, which means Yahweh is Salvation or Yahweh Saves. Jesus Himself stated that He came not . . . to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). His mission was to save His people from their sins by giving His life as a ransom. He came to live the obedient life that Adam didn't live and die to experience God's full wrath on the cross in place of those who would trust in Him. A wrath that He did not deserve because He was sinless but that everyone of us does deserve because of Adam's sin and our many sins. He came to serve as a substitute. This was the mission that He declares accomplished. The ransom had been made and the substitution complete.

Mission Fully Accomplished
This Greek word is an intensive perfect, which means that it conveys a full completion of the task at a specific point in the past. One could actually translate it as It has been finished. There is a finality to Christ's work of redemption that He accomplished on the cross. The work had now been "fully finished" and "completely completed." In fact, this Greek word, tetelastai, was often used in the marketplace during the time of Christ's life. It would be stamped upon a receipt after a purchase of a good to indicate that the transaction had been "paid in full." The debt of sin had been "paid in full" by Christ's death on the cross. All of the sins of those who would trust in Christ were paid for; whether they were past, present, or future.

This means that nothing more needs to be done pertaining to our redemption. There is nothing that we can add to Christ's work. We cannot add our own works. The work has been accomplished because of Christ's substitutionary death. Former president George W. Bush has stated that one of his regrets during his time in office was giving a speech after the Iraq insurgency in front of a banner that stated: "Mission Accomplished." This communicated to the American people that the work had been done in Iraq when as we all now know, much more work needed yet to be done. However, Christ could loudly declare "Mission Accomplished" as His mission had been completely accomplished. Nothing more needed to be done for those who would by God's grace be brought to Him. He did all that was necessary. This truth is communicated well by the author of Hebrews when he writes Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins of all time, sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:11-12). The Old Testament priests were never allowed to sit down when they were doing their duty of offering the annual sacrifice for their people. This was symbolic of the fact that their work was not done. The sacrifice offered would only symbolically cover the sins of the previous year. They would have to enter into the "holy of holies" once again the next year for the sins of that year. However, Jesus is said to sit down as His work was finished when He offered Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice. No other sacrifice for sin was needed after His death. His cry from the cross communicated this.

We celebrate this holy week the finished work of Christ. We celebrate the work of redemption that He has accomplished that Friday on Calvary. Praise God that Christ's work is finished!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, April 1, 2011

God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

One issue that many Christians struggle with concerns how God can be described as sovereign over all things and yet man be held responsible for his actions and decisions. Many mistakenly view these two truths as being contradictory. If God is absolutely sovereign, then they reason that man could not be faulted for his sins or since man makes choices and is held accountable to those choices, then God could not be properly described as sovereign. However, Scripture clearly teaches both points without any hint of them being in opposition. One cannot deny either truth. Often they are displayed side by side. The following are several examples in Scripture where both God is shown to be fully sovereign and determining that everything occurs according to His divine plan while man is identified as being guilty of specific sins that he committed under God's sovereign reign. My hope is that these examples and my explanations that follow will aid those who struggle with this issue.

The Treachery of Joseph's Brothers and the Triumph of God's Promise

After the death of Jacob, Joseph's brothers feared that Joseph would get them back for their treachery against him when he was a kid (Genesis 50:15). They had sold him to the Ishmaelites due to their jealousy over their father's greater affection for the young man (Genesis 37:25-28). Instead of retaliating, Joseph says to them: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19). Notice here that there is one event and two intentions. Joseph's brothers meant evil in their action of selling him to the Ishmaelites but God, in permitting the brothers to do it (He could have easily stopped it in some way), meant it for good. God had a greater purpose in His sovereignty. His purpose was to preserve many people alive and keep His promise to Abraham. Think about it. Had Joseph not wound up in Egypt through the means of his brothers' sin, Jacob and his children would have all died in Canaan. Thus God would not have been faithful to His promise to make a great nation with many descendants from Abraham (Genesis 12:2). It was due to Joseph being in Egypt and having been given the ability to interpret the Pharaoh's dream that predicted seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, that he found himself placed into the position of being the second highest rank in Egypt and able to save and distribute food to those who would be hurting in the time of the famine. This would include his father and his brothers. Without God's provision in this manner, Jacob and his sons would have perished without the twelve tribes of Israel developing and then Abraham left without any descendants. This means of provision through the brothers' sin was exactly how God planned for it to happen as seen with the dreams given to Joseph when he was a young boy (Genesis 37:5-10). While the brothers were held responsible for their treacherous action, God is shown to triumph through His sovereignty over them. In no way is God accused of evil in His intentions or actions in His allowance of the brothers' deeds.

The Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart

Ten times Scripture describes God as hardening Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8,17) and ten times it refers to the king hardening his own heart (7:13,14,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:7,34,35; 13:15). I think that the best way to understand this is to view God as withholding His grace from Pharaoh which would result in him hardening his own heart. God certainly cannot cause someone directly to sin because it goes against His holy character (James 1:13). God in His sovereignty could have sent His Spirit to soften Pharaoh's heart and move him to release the Israelites sooner. However, God desired to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16). Pharaoh is held responsible for the hardening of his heart and God is shown to have planned for it to occur. In fact, the first mentioning of this hardening refers to God determining that I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go (Exodus 4:21).

The Planned Rejection of God

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel sin by demanding that the prophet Samuel appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations (v. 5). This would be a sin because they in essence rejected God as their king (v. 7). They were indicating that they thought that God was not sufficient to lead them and that they would rather be like all the nations instead of being the set apart nation devoted solely to Him that God had called them to be. However, a kingship for Israel, although a sin due to it indicating their rejection of God, was planned from early on. In fact, it was part of the promise that God gave to Abraham. He told the patriarch that I will make you into nations and kings shall come from you (Genesis 17:6). Furthermore, through Jacob, God determined that The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Genesis 49:10). Thus, God planned for man's rejection of him through their demanding of a king. As was with the case of Joseph and his brothers, God permitted this disobedience to serve as the means of accomplishing His plan.

Another planned rejection of God can be seen with the Jews in their rejection of their Messiah. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him (John 1:11). Although Jesus was the "king of the Jews," the Jews rejected Him and had Him crucified on the cross. They failed to recognize the time of your visitation (Luke 19:44). However, Paul tells us that this rejection had been planned by God from the beginning. Speaking of God's righteous dealings with His chosen nation of Israel, he quotes two Old Testament passages that demonstrate that God planned for their hardening (Romans 11:8-10). This hardening was clearly God's doing as Isaiah 29:10 states that God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day (emphasis added). The truth of Who Jesus was and His importance was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:42) Yet, the Jews are held responsible for their rejection. God's purpose in their rejection was to provide salvation to the Gentiles (literally in Greek the nations) and in turn the extending of salvation to the other nations will result in bringing a large remnant of Israel to obedience (Romans 11:11-12, 25-27). God once again used human actions, which man was held fully responsible for, to accomplish His divine plan for His glory.

The Punishers and Their Punishment

Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares the nation of Assyria as the rod of My anger; the staff in their hands is my fury (Isaiah 10:5). To punish His people, the nation of Israel, God plans to send the Assyrians to capture them. Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of My wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets (v. 6). While God intends to use the Assyrians to attack the people of Israel and take them into captivity, they have a different intention. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few (v. 7). Instead, they desire to make themselves look great through the conquering of the nation of Israel. Just as God used the wicked motives of Joseph's brothers for a greater intention that He had, here He uses the wicked intentions of the nation of Assyria. However, the Assyrians were still held responsible for their sinful intentions and punished. When the Lord has finished all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes (v. 12). It may be important to note that this states that God punished them for their attitude and intentions and not necessarily the act of capturing Israel. They are faulted for exalting themselves over God and not recognizing Him using them for His work (v. 15). God used wickedness to punish wickedness and made sure that none of the wicked went unpunished.

Saving the Shipwreck

While caught in a storm sailing towards Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, Paul tells everyone on the ship that an angel had appeared to him, promising that God has granted you all those who sail with you (Acts 27:24). Due to God's word on this matter, Paul could boldly state that there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship (v. 22). However, when some of the sailors were attempting to leave the ship in fear that it would hit the rocks, Paul tells them Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved (v.31). Paul certainly did not forget God's promise that He would preserve everyone's life of those who were on the ship. The next day he reminded them of that promise. for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you (v. 34). Instead, he recognized that God not only ordains the end of His plan but also the means to that specific end. Had the sailors left the ship in their small boats, no one would have been left on the ship who were skilled in directing the ship to its intended destination and who would have been able to handle the shipwreck they would experience. God used the means of the sailors serving on the ship to ensure that they all made it safely to the land. In fact, God also used the means of the centurion to ensure that the prisoners would not lose their lives when the soldiers desired to kill them in case they tried to escape during the shipwreck (vv. 42-43). Through the means of the sailors staying on the ship and the centurion convincing the soldiers to spare the lives of the prisoners, all were brought safely to land (v. 44). God kept His promise through the means of these men's actions. Had the sailors left or the centurion remained quiet, lives would have been lost.

Our and God's Work in Our Sanctification

Paul commands believers to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). This is clearly a command as the Greek verb is in the imperative mood, which indicates a command being given. However, Paul goes on to explain that God also is at work within them both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). The implication here is that, although Paul commands us to work and live out our salvation, we cannot obey that command without God's work in us. We can work only because God is working in us to enable us to do so. Augustine understood this when he stated "Give what you command and command what you will." In other words, "command me to do whatever you wish, but give me the ability to obey that command." Thus, man is responsible for this "working" and God is sovereign over it.

The Predetermined Sin to Take Away All Sin

As part of his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter refers to Christ's death as a product of both God's sovereign plan and man's sin. He describes Jesus as being delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). Thus, Jesus' death occurred as planned and ordained by God. This plan was definite, meaning that God intended for it to occur and would ensure that it would occur. It was predetermined as indicated by it transpiring according to God's foreknowledge. He formulated this plan before hand. Yet, man is held responsible for the sin that was done according to the divine plan. Peter states that this Jesus . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God ordained the sin of the murder of His Son to serve as the means to take away the sins of those who would trust in Christ. Basically, God conquered sin with sin!

The One Written Beforehand Who Would Have Been Better Not to Have Been Born

In the upper room with His disciples, Jesus warned the Twelve that one of them at the table would betray Him. He then states that this betrayal serves as part of God's divine plan written down previously. For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him (Mark 14:21). The Old Testament contained many prophecies which spoke of the coming Messiah's death; Isaiah 53 arguably one of the greatest of such passages. However, the one who served as the means of this betrayal does not have his responsibility in the crime neglected. Jesus goes on to say that, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. Though part of God's plan to send Jesus to the cross to die for the sins of the ones who would trust in Him, the consequences for such a grave sin Judas would commit that very night were so dire that Jesus could say that he would wish that he had never been born. Of course, God intended him to be born and to use him as a means to bring Jesus to the cross. We read that Satan entered the disciple's heart and persuaded him to turn Jesus over (Luke 22:3). From Job 1:12; 2:6; and Luke 22:31, we learn that God serves as sovereign over Satan and must grant him permission for him to do anything. Thus, this means that God had to allow Satan to enter into Judas' heart. God did not directly cause this but permitted it so that He could bring redemption to the world and also did not allow Judas' sin that resulted from his following of the devil's enticements to go unnoticed.

Some Final Reflections

In all of these passages, we see God presented as sovereign over every person and event, yet people still being held accountable for their actions. In each case we have one action, two actors, and two intentions. Often the human actor's intentions differ from God's who serves as the other actor. However, one action results from the two actors and their two intentions. God uses the human actor with his intentions, though often sinful, to accomplish the action of His intention. He thus can be described as the "primary" cause of the action with the human actor deemed as the "secondary" cause. The human actor only does what God allows or enables the human actor to do. This human actor is still held accountable for his sinful intentions and desires. All of this is to accomplish God's ultimate purpose. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this point well: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

As students of Scripture, we must affirm that both God is sovereign and man held responsible for his actions and decisions, exercised under God's sovereign hand. We may not fully understand how these two fit together but we cannot deny either. Let's always remain true to the text of Scripture, especially in regards to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Christ and Him Crucified

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
~1 Corinthians 2:1-2

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that his preaching to them when he had been with them was not with fanciful words nor persuasive language. Instead, he preached the word of the cross (1:18), the truth of Christ dying on the cross to suffer the punishment of those who would place their faith in Him so that they would be saved. He describes this message as being foolish to unbelievers but the power of God to those who are saved (1:18, 23). Recognizing that the power to transform lives came from the message of the cross, Paul focused on that central message. In fact, he states that he determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

All of Paul’s teaching revolved around Christ and His work on the cross. This doesn’t mean that the cross was all that he talked about. He discusses marriage later on in the letter as well as spiritual gifts. However, everything he preached and taught were done so in light of the cross. Everything that he said connected to Christ’s work of redemption. It was all done in the shadow of the cross. He always referred back to God’s saving work on the cross and how that enabled one to live a life that glorifies God. How that saving work enables us to obey God’s commands and walk righteously.

What about us? Does our teaching and actions all center on the cross and Christ’s work of redemption? Is everything that we do done in the light of the cross? Often we focus a great deal on the cross during the season of Lent and at Easter but does it occupy our mind in our day to day activities when the holiday season is over? After all, the cross represents the power of God that saved us from our sins through our repentance and faith in Christ. Should it not then be front and center in our life and thought? Should it not be the primary message we share with unbelievers?

Let us, like Paul, resolve to look at all things in light of Christ’s work on the cross and in that cross alone find our boast (Galatians 6:14).

The church can only live and breathe at the cross; without it, there is no life and reason to exist. ~Erwin Lutzer

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Biblical Perspective on the Earthquake in Japan

The following is a revised version of my original post about a little over a year ago: "A Biblical Perspective on Haiti." Much of the same questions and comments we saw over the current situation in Japan resemble those formerly discussed with Haiti.

Everyone is aware of the tragic earthquake that has ravished the nation of Japan and left mass amounts of destruction in its wake. The number of losses are still coming in. Several agencies and organizations have already begun to send aid to the country. The responses to the news of the disaster have varied. As with every major catastrophe witnessed, various questions have emerged with endless answers given. As with the tsunami in India, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the earthquake in Haiti a little over a year ago, many question God's role in this situation and His purpose if any. Some are tempted to claim this as a sign of God's judgment. Others do not believe that God was even in control of the earthquake at all. How should we understand the massive event that occurred just a few days ago? Following are some things I believe we would be wise to avoid in forming our perspective of the earthquake and its aftermath.

We must be careful not to err by failing to recognize God's sovereignty in the event.
The Bible cannot be clearer that God is fully sovereign and in complete control over all things, including natural disasters such as earthquakes. Paul tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will. This all things would include the earthquake that devastated Japan. In fact, Amos points out that If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6). This is part of a series of questions posed to get the people of Israel to see that God's judgment was certain. Just as no calamity or natural disaster can occur in a city without God doing it, God will not promise judgment without bringing it about as Amos has proclaimed (v 2). To say that God was not in control of the earthquake would be unbiblical. It would mean that the earthquake exerted power over God and He could not stop it. Instead, God is described as actively in control of all nature. He is the one who rained hail down upon Israel's enemies in Joshua's battle at Gibeon (Joshua 10:11-12) and has the power to both give and withhold rain (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1; 2 Chronicles 7:13; Matthew 5:45). God is in control of all the weather and orchestrates it as He sees fit. A single rebellious molecule cannot be found in existence.

We must be careful not to err by declaring a purpose that God has not explicitly revealed.
One of the first things that many people do when such a natural disaster strikes as what we are witnessing in Japan is to declare it to be God's judgment. We saw this with Haiti when Pat Robertson claimed that the earthquake was God punishing the nation for a "pact with the devil" that they had made. While it is true that God does judge both individuals and nations, both in ways currently as well as ultimately in the future, we need to be careful in being presumptuous in regard to this recent disaster. This could be God's wrath upon the nation of Japan for their sins but He also could have other purposes for the turmoil. Ultimately, we do not know for certain God's plans in bringing about this disaster as well as how He intends to reveal Himself in the earthquake's aftermath. After all, God states through Isaiah that "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, / Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / So are My ways higher than your ways / And My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Scripture counsels use to be careful in proclaiming something that God has not explicitly revealed. The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29). God clearly brought the earthquake about for His intended purpose, whether that be for judgment or other wise reasons. We cannot say with certainty God's purpose without a direct word from Him and God has not specified the reason for this specific occasion in His revealed Word.

We must be careful not to err by failing to recognize that we deserved this calamity just as much as the people of Japan.
The major question asked in the wake of this earthquake has been "Why Japan?" A similar question was asked pertaining to Hurricane Katrina in regard to the people of New Orleans as well as India with the tsunami and just last year with the people of Haiti. What did they do that deserved such a disaster? In fact, Jesus was asked a similar question about 2000 years ago recorded in Luke 13:1-5. While speaking to a large crowd, a group informs Jesus about an atrocity which Pilate had committed. The exact situation is unknown to us today but we can infer that it had something to do with a slaughter of Jews during their sacrifices. Not only was this a terrible occurrence, but it took place during worship which made it even more horrendous. Jesus realized right away the question that they had concerning this issue. They thought that this plight was the result of them being greater sinners than all others. However, Jesus sought to turn their perspective completely around.

Instead of agreeing with their assumption, Jesus took the focus off the victims and placed it on the questioners. The reason this group was slaughtered was not because they were greater sinners. The ones who were killed were no more sinners than the ones commenting concerning them. (Note: This does not necessarily mean that the events God permits or causes to occur are always punishment for specific sins. John 9 makes it clear that, while a result of the curse of sin, not all infirmities and incidents are due to specific sins.) Those who died in the tsunami, in Hurricane Katrina, as a result of the earthquake in Haiti, and now those in Japan were no more sinners than those of you reading this note as well as the one writing it. We deserved the same! I will never forget a powerful sermon my pastor preached right after the tsunami a few years ago. He told us that the question is not "why them?" but should be "why not us?" We didn't deserve God's mercy to not have the tsunami happen in America, or not have a massive earthquake wreck havoc on the West coast. As Scripture tells us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We get so used to God's mercy we have problems when He shows us His wrath.

Jesus actually warns the crowd of an even greater fate, much worse than what happened with Pilate and the latter example of the falling of the tower of Siloam. Unless they repent of their sins, they will perish (Luke 13:3,5). This is Jesus' urgent plea to those who are lost in sin. Repentance means a turning from sin. It is the flip side of faith. One turns from sin in repentance and then turns toward Christ by placing their faith in Him due to the work of God's grace. The likewise may refer to the sudden and unexpected death of those in the Temple and at Siloam. Those who went to the Temple that day to offer their sacrifices did not realize that they would not be returning home. The possibility of the tower falling on the group in Siloam probably never occurred to them. Likewise, if the crowd does not turn from their sins and turn to Christ they will suddenly and unexpectedly (to them) experience the punishment for their sins. The author of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We must not focus more on Japan's sins and forget the many sins that plague our nation but even more importantly, our individual lives. We deserve God's wrath just as much as Japan and anyone else.

We must be careful not to err by failing to pray for all those involved and affected by the devastation that occurred in Japan and helping them out in any way possible.
Even if this is God's judgment upon the nation of Japan (and we have no way of knowing this apart from a direct word from Him) we must not neglect to help them in their time of need. The Bible does call us to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18). In fact, it is referred to as the second greatest commandment, next to you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind (Luke 10:27). Jesus describes His true sheep as the ones who "fed," "clothed," "cared for the sick," and "visited those in prison" (Matthew 25:31-46). While none of these actions saved these He will gather to His right, they do show evidence of His saving work in their hearts. I praise God at the amount of aid that is currently being sent to Japan right now and pray that God will provide them with enough if it be His will. Of course, the most loving thing that can be given to the people of Japan who have been granted the privilege to survive this earthquake is the blessed good news of salvation found only in Christ. Many of those who were spared death would have wound up in Hell because of their sins and failure to embrace the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The greater need is spiritual and while God can and often does use the means of meeting physical needs to show people their greater spiritual need, the spiritual need must not be neglected. Otherwise, it would be like I heard a pastor once describe it as "giving cough drops to someone with tuberculosis." They are only dealing with the symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself. I pray that God would use this earthquake to reveal Himself to many and bring them to a recognizance of their sins and need of a Savior. May He open their eyes to Who the Savior is and move them to turn from their sin and embrace Him.

May we not err in any of these ways in our own continual evaluation of Japan but instead remember that God is sovereign and in control, has a purpose we may not understand nor be sure of, reminds us that we deserved His wrath just as much, and go out and minister to the people of Japan in any way the Lord may give opportunity. May God use this disaster to show His glory and accomplish His purpose!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!