Advent: The Time Is Now

RZIM’s Amy Orr-Ewing did a great series of videos last year for the Advent season. The main motif is the kairos, which is the Greek word for time. It’s different from chronos, which refers to the time on your watch. Kairos is qualitative, and refers to important points in time that are pregnant with meaning and significance. They are appointed times when God intervenes in our world and accomplishes a purpose. The best example is when He sent His son, Jesus, into our world to become Savior and King.

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Resurrecting Paul’s Gospel In Our Day

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I was recently invited to a Christmas “service” at a local megachurch. The performance was at a professional caliber, except with cheap ticket prices. The musical performances, dances, light show, and transitions are smooth and polished. It was choreographed to perfection.

And they also talked about Jesus.

I put service in quotes because I think it was a service in all but name. I didn’t leave thinking that I had worshipped God. I was entertained and hyped up but I wasn’t invited to the throne of grace.

The sermon I heard told me that I am “inadequate” for a “transformed” life without Jesus. One of the pastors did mention a survey of Americans’ inflated perceptions of self-worth, showing us that we are narcissists. But that’s about as bad as the description of our condition got.

Consequently, the gospel I heard was a message that God can give me a purpose in life that will fulfill me. If I put my faith in Him then there will be so many more things that I can do. Yessss!

I’m sure that I was especially sensitive because I had been listening to R. C. Sproul sermons all year. I felt like an Amish person sitting through mass. With bad news that good who needs the gospel? I realized that we need a bestseller book that redeems the doctrine of sin. As I thought about it more I realized that we need to resurrect Paul.

Paul gives us a comprehensive and concise understanding of the gospel, especially in his letter to the Romans. He gives us the bad news of our condemnation and he also gives us the good news of His salvation, justification, and sanctification. If twitter was a microcosm of the U.S. you’d think that half the church has never read Romans 1. God is more of a therapist rather than a judge.

The most popular gospel today is a message of reconciliation for a broken world. We’re supposed to speak to gays, drug addicts, and skeptics and stress God’s love for them. The idea is that they will cling to the cross because they are so desperate for healing, peace, meaning, etc. Like the sermon I heard, it was about what you stand to gain.

But how can the unbeliever be prepared to respond to the gospel if he does not become aware of his guilt? We do live in a broken world and part of what makes people broken is that they find the gospel offensive. That includes people who know that they’re hurting, not just those who are in no need of a religious crutch.

Moreover, how can the church speak prophetically if it decides to tickle the ear rather than prick the heart? The prologue to John’s gospel tells us that the world is condemned because it has rejected the light. The church’s most important responsibility is to bear witness to that light and remind people that God will hold them accountable.

We need this gospel: a balanced message that carries the bad news and the good.

What Does Symmetry Reveal About God?

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In Ezekiel 40 God casts the prophet into a trance and shows him a vision of a new temple with its courts buildings. You can see the symmetry from diagrams of the floor plan. Knowing that every verse of the Bible is there for a reason we have to ask ourselves what this means. What does it say about God? Why did He make it symmetrical?

The unity and diversity in symmetry struck me. It was right there in front of me and I never realized it. The reason why I think this is so important is because it gets to the essence of who, and what, God is.

Philosophers have tried to find the right balance between unity and diversity for thousands of years. They tried to reduce the world down to one essence from which everything emanates but they could only get to four: earth, air, fire, water. What was the fifth essence that unified these? What was the quintessential essence?

University is a combination of the words unity and diversity. There are a diversity of disciplines, sciences, but what is the one truth that permeates them all. This is probably a foreign concept for most college students who simply pick classes like they order off the menu at a restaurant.

The unofficial motto of the U.S., e. pluribus unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” Unity in diversity.

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We see unity and diversity everywhere in creation but only in the biblical worldview do we see unity and diversity in the creator. We see in the godhead unity and diversity within the community of the trinity. We worship a triune God, one in essence and three in person.

When I think about the symmetry of the temple that Ezekiel saw I now think of how it reflects God’s unity and diversity. When I think of the three sides of the temple I think of the three divine persons. I also see that God brings order out of chaos.

Now we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and God brings His holiness into us. He has brought peace and order to our chaos. Wherever we go we dwell in the holy sanctuary of the Most High.

If I Had To Preach At A Wedding…

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Weddings are like graduation ceremonies in that your expectations for the sermon/speech are pretty low. The speaker has the impossible task of captivating an audience that is impatiently waiting to get to the fun part of the event. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with my brother’s sermon at a friend’s wedding last week.

He highlighted the couple’s admirable commitment to their relationship by guarding their purity before the wedding. They did what seems to be rarer these days by not hooking up and shacking up. They trusted God with each other and their relationship and they’ll be blessed for it.

It got me to thinking: what would I say if I had to give a message at a wedding? What should a wedding sermon sound like?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

We start at the beginning, creation. He made us male and female, equal in His eyes and yet distinct from each other in how we manifest the meaning of humanity. I think of a loose connection with the unity and diversity of the trinity, where we affirm that there is one divine essence and yet three distinct persons. Male and female are both humans and yet they bring something unique to the human experience.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

Or, to quote the theologian Wayne Fontana, “The purpose of a man is to love a woman and the purpose of a woman is to love a man. So come on baby, let’s start today, come on baby, let’s play the game of love, love, la la la la la love.”

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

We read in Malachi 2:15 that the Lord created marriage to establish a Godly seed in the earth. He wanted all men everywhere to call upon the name of the Lord. Your marriage has no higher purpose and it will primarily be fulfilled through the fruit of your union. This basic idea seems to be lost on almost everyone, including Christians. Marriage is not about living or financial arrangements. It’s about pursuing God’s purposes for our lives.

Young people who are single and establishing themselves often have big ambitions to be great or do amazing things in life. Or they may want to simply have the option to go in whatever direction they choose. It doesn’t occur to them that they can effect tremendous change in their own children. No celebrity or famous person will occupy the position you hold in your child’s life. We know the great men of history but we don’t know the parents who devoted themselves to care for their children. If you want to change the world then have children, and lots of them.

Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.

Jeremiah 3:14

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Most important in marriage is the symbol of our relationship with the Lord, who is the bridegroom of His people. Husbands are to their wives what Jesus is to His church. Wives are to their husbands what the church is to our Lord. Even the wedding ceremony reflects this as we watch the bride (the Church) coming down the aisle to be presented before her bridegroom (our Lord) whiter than snow.

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Revelation 19:7-9

In this church age we are betrothed to Christ and we await His coming so that we may enter into the wedding ceremony. We will then be joined together in a holy and eternal union of peace and joy.

The Bible is permeated with language about marriage and weddings. Many of the lessons it gives use these examples to illustrate the things of God. In getting married you will come to have a greater understanding about the Lord and your relationship to Him. May your union be like the union of Christ and His bride. May this wedding revive our hope of our coming union with our Lord as a people.

Amen.

How Much Does Heaven Cost?

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I often heard people say that you can’t buy your salvation and while that is true it is also somewhat inaccurate. Jesus put a price on the kingdom of heaven when He gave us two parables to describe what it is like.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

There’s a legitimate point that my parents and other elders had and I get it. But my economic training tells me that we have to qualify that statement. While you can’t buy heaven you can put a price on it. I know. I need to explain.

There are two economic principles that we need to consider. First, the Subjective Theory of Value says that something is only worth what a customer is willing to pay for it. It has no objective price that applies to everyone.

Opportunity-Cost

The next economic principle is opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a resource is the next-most-valued use of that resource. For example, you are spending your valuable time reading this blog when you could be doing something else. Whatever you could be doing is your opportunity cost. Since you’re still reading this that tells me that your alternative options are not more valuable to you, at least not at the moment.

We now see some things in Jesus’ parables that weren’t apparent at first glance. When the man found the treasure he sold everything he owned to buy the field. He was also willing to give up any alternative use of his time and the field to acquire that treasure.

The same is true for the merchant who found valuable pearls. He was willing to part with everything he owned to get that pearl.

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How many stories can you think of about people who take drastic measures to pursue a dream? There’s Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc. They all were on the verge of financial ruin, some even bankrupt, at one point but they took big risks to succeed.

There’s no doubt about their commitment. If we can risk it all for something as fleeting as business then we can see the value in the everlasting kingdom of heaven. Jesus is clear: in exchange for the kingdom He wants all that you have.

Jesus said that those who look back when they put their hand to the plow are not fit for His kingdom (Lk 9:62). For those people the opportunity cost is greater than following our Lord so they prefer the alternative. He wants followers who prefer the kingdom more than anything.

If someone looked at your bank account would they see that your priority is the kingdom? How about if they looked at your schedule? What’s the kingdom worth to you and is it obvious to anyone?

Jesus wants disciples who’ve decided to follow Him, no turning back. The cross is always in front and the world is always behind them. Even though none go with them they still will follow. No turning back, no turning back.

The Dead Don’t Praise God

Psalm 88 is a psalm of suffering. It depicts the suffering of the people of Israel in exile. Christians can see the suffering of Christ depicted in it. Its language is universal and its applications are limitless which makes its relevance timeless.

I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, 

Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand.

You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths…

You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out.

My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O LordI have spread out my hands to You.

Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah.

The psalmist is in a dilemma because the same God who is faithful, just, righteous, merciful, generous, and mighty to save leads him through trials that cause him to despair even of his life (remember Paul and his despair?). But he makes an important point about the dead that we see in other scriptures too including Ps. 6:5; 30:9; Is. 50:10; Hab. 3:17,18.

Dead men are silent and they can’t praise God. He appeals to God for the sake of His own glory if for no other reason. The psalmist’s picture of death is a gloomy one indeed.

As Christians we need to complete the picture by adding a gospel perspective. This Christian view of death is found in 2 Ti. 1:10; Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15: 17,18, 51-57. It is one full of light and hope.

As Jesus said in Matthew 22, the Lord is the God of the living, not the dead. We who were dead are now alive in Christ. The psalmist’s problem goes away because there will always be people alive to praise God and give Him the glory and honor that is due Him.

Pew: Christians Believe Everyone Goes To Heaven

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Christians who are believe the Bible is the word of God and is “literally true word for word” make up 59% of evangelicals. However, 57% agreed with the notion that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Among all religious Americans 70% hold that view.

Mind you, these are evangelical Christians who are saying this. Political correctness has penetrated the church as it has with the society as a whole. Nobody wants to be mean and imply that a lot of people will go to hell. How can my friend/coworker/relative go to hell? I don’t hate him.

Many Christians, myself included, fear that the coming years will bring greater hostility towards the church. Now is the time for believers to prepare for future persecution by establishing their faith in the word of God. Can the church face this challenge if the gospel is merely optional, one of many alternatives?

All worldviews have, at their core, a set of non-negotiable truth claims. Like Oprah, too many people think that they can avoid deciding which belief is true by affirming the conflicting claims. All paths lead to God and it’s silly to argue with each other about who’s right. You’re ok, I’m ok.

Tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing. Just because we are not responsible for creating a theocratic government doesn’t mean that we sanction unbiblical beliefs and practices. That’s what it means to be salt and light in the world, saying the unpopular things that no one wants to hear.

Broad and wide is the path that leads to destruction. There’s no room for a bandwagon on the straight and narrow.

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There’s A Blood Moon On The Rise

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The recent “blood moon” that we saw has set off many discussions about the end times, most of which are unproductive. A pastor named Mark Biltz of Washington state believes that this indicates that Jesus will come back in the fall of 2015. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, has written a book that has given this theory a huge platform. Hagee seems to be more prudent than Harold Camping by remaining vague about what will happen. He says, with Nostradamus-like ambiguity, that the “blood moon” is a sign of important things to come. Even Rick Warren tweeted a picture of the moon with a reference to the prophetic verse in Joel.

Before we proceed we should get the relevant text.

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.

Joel 2:31

Peter also quotes this verse when preaching at Pentecost in Acts 2:14-41.

These “blood moons” are simply lunar eclipses. They’ve happened before and quite frequently, more than three dozen times in the last 100 years. They aren’t omens of the judgment day; just awesome phenomena to watch. When we read scriptures about the moon turning blood red we are looking at something more than just lunar eclipses.

We get some clues about the meaning of Joel’s prophecy from the fact that Peter quotes it in his sermon. Some scholars believe that Peter is interpreting this prophecy as fulfilled at the day of Pentecost. There’s also the question of which day is the “day of the Lord.” Early Bible commentators believed it referred to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It could also refer to the final judgment. Some even think it could be both.

I also have a hypothesis I’d like to throw in, though it is pure speculation. I’d suggest that these heavenly signs could apply to Jesus dying on the cross. We know that there was an earthquake and that the sky went dark at that time. The Father unleashed the wrath of His justice on His Son. In a way, God also judged Israel for rejecting His Messiah. He tore the veil in the Temple and His presence was there no longer.

Everyone will be too busy freaking out to notice the moon turning blood red.

Keep in mind that a red moon (including Revelation 6) usually accompanies catastrophic events. They could be indications during, or after, a calamity has begun. The smoke from a great fire can make the moon appear to be red and so this sign may reference the destruction of war.

That’s one way I know that these lunar eclipses, which are cool to look at, probably aren’t prophetic signs. If they were then it would be a bad time in which some kind of disaster was already taking place. If these blood red moons were the ones prophesied then no one would care because they’d be too busy freaking out to notice.

The other problem with this lunatic theory is that 3 of the 4 eclipses aren’t even visible in Jerusalem, which is a deal-breaker. The prophecy is given to Israel but they can’t even see it.

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Mark 13:22,23

Jesus told us that no one knows the day or hour so we should ignore anyone who foretells the second coming, no matter how cagey they are about it. The important thing to remember is that believers have no reason to fear because Jesus is victorious. Our responsibility is to be alert and expect the coming of our Lord.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

“Customer Announcement: We Have A Lost Child In The Culture”

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Are young people fleeing from the church?

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church. When I hear that anywhere between 45% and 75% of young people who grew up in the church leave by the end of their first year in college it only supports my concern that there’s an exodus of young people.

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church.

Having come across a few articles now that push back against this narrative I’m more skeptical and curious. And this is to my shame because I studied economics in college and I, of all people, should know that data doesn’t automatically give you the big picture. In fact, many researchers have looked at the data and have come to a different conclusion.

Bradley Wright pulls the data from the General Social Survey on those who identify as Evangelicals by age. The chart he produces shows that the percentage of people who are Evangelicals rises during the 1970s and declines in the 1990s, most sharply for the 18-29 age group. Today we are back to the same levels as the early 70s.

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Bradley also looks at how many Americans are Evangelicals or “Born-again” Christians. (As a pedantic side note I’d say that “born-again” and Christian are synonymous. If you’re not born again you’re not a Christian, but I digress). It hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. There is a decline in religious affiliation (and a rise in the un-affiliated, or “nones”) but that is mostly affecting nominal mainline Christians and Evangelicals.

Ed Stetzer has also analyzed the data and does not believe it supports a pessimistic view. In commenting on the Pew Forum’s 2012 study which showed a rise in the number of people who have no religious affiliation (the “nones”), he said this:

The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years, however there is still great cause for concern here– and for action.

Conservative churches and institutions are holding up better but they still face challenges as more Americans move away from a biblical worldview, including church-going, Bible-reading Christians. There has been a growing movement of “New Calvinists” which has produced organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 The Gospel. Daniel Darling mentions that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary enrolls more students into their Masters of Divinity program than any other similar school.

The church has always thrived in hostile environments and will continue to do so. Jesus did say that He will build His church. I think we can take this as an opportunity to preach the gospel and show the stark contrasts between the cultural and biblical perspectives. If only a few more believers behaved as if they were confident that they are already victorious then we’d see some amazing changes take place.