For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Historical Perspective on the "End Times"

I’ve been reading a biography on the great Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter. An old work published by the American Tract Society, it’s called The Life of Rev. Richard Baxter, Chiefly Complied From His Own Writings. Those who know of Baxter most likely know of him as the author of The Reformed Pastor, and think of him in terms of his amazing ministry at Kidderminster in England.

What caught my attention on this occasion though was the description of a chunk of English history starting in the mid 1640s and lasting for the next 20 years or so. During that time, England endured its Civil War, followed by continued religious factions resulting in the Great Ejection brought about by the Act of Uniformity. On the heels of all that strife and struggle came the Plague, followed almost immediately by the Great Fire of London.

These days, the prophecy nuts, the doom and gloom folks, all point to various calamities and talk about how they must be signs of the end of the world. Who knows, maybe they are. But Jesus never predicted an increase in earthquakes and famines and wars, even though He did tell us these things would be witnessed as the “beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:7-8) And for the last 2,000 years we’ve experienced various aspects of these things.

The point I’m trying to get at, is that as we look around and see these things, we are distressed and discouraged and looking for an immediate end. Again, it may be coming. But after reading Baxter’s description of the conditions in England and the things endured by the church and by the people of what at the time was the center of Western Christianity, I can’t help but think anyone living in those times would have had good cause to think the end was imminent as well. Listen to how he describes life in the mid 1660s:

"And now, after all the breaches on the churches, the ejection of the ministers, and impenitency under all, wars, and plague, and danger of famine began all at once on us. War with the Hollanders, which yet continues; and the driest winter, spring, and summer that ever man alive knew, or our forefathers mention of late ages; so that the grounds were burnt, like the highways, where the cattle should have fed! The meadow grounds, where I lived, bare but four loads of hay, which before bare forty. The plague has seized on the most famous and most excellent city in Christendom, and at this time eight thousand die of all diseases in a week. It has scattered and consumed the inhabitants, multitudes being dead and fled.

“The calamities and cries of the diseased and impoverished are not to be conceived by those that are absent from them! Every man is a terror to his neighbor and him self; for God, for our sins, is a terror to us all. O! how is London, the place which God has honored with his Gospel above all the places of the earth, laid in low horrors, and wasted almost to desolation by the wrath of God, whom England hath contemned; and a God-hating generation are consumed in their sins, and the righteous are also taken away, as from greater evil yet to come."

“Scarcely had the plague ceased its ravages before the great fire commenced its destructive career in London. Churches in great numbers were destroyed in the general conflagration. The zealous, though silenced watchmen, ventured, amid the ashes of a ruined city, to urge the inhabitants to flee from the "wrath to come," and to seek, in their impoverished condition, the unsearchable riches of Christ." The distress occasioned by these calamities was great. Many thousands were cast into utter want and beggary, and many thousands of the formerly rich were disabled from relieving them."

Had Baxter lived this side of the development of Dispensationalism, with its emphasis on end times disaster, I wonder how folks of his day might have viewed the kind of “horrors” described here. Surely they would have seen themselves as truly living on the edge of eternity in way you and I can only imagine. Surely that plea for people to “flee the wrath to come” would have reached an even greater fevered pitch.

I’m not at all making light of the suffering of those in Japan, or the struggles of those in Libya, or any of the other places where sin and struggle dominate. And these things should cause us to ponder eternity and urge other to flee the coming wrath. I guess reading of Baxter’s life and what he endured just reminded me that we have truly been living in the “last days” for 2,000 years. We don’t need some amazing “sign” to tell us that. We’ve been enduring the birth pangs for centuries and if we haven’t realized it by now, I’m not sure any “sign” is going to break through our hardened hearts.

Folks, here’s all the “sign” you need. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God the Son, gave His life as a perfect sacrifice for sin. He was dead, buried, and on the third day rose again. Jesus called it the “sign of the prophet Jonah” and told us this was all we needed. (Matthew 12:39)

And that sign is a reminder that our Risen Lord is coming again. It may be today. It may be May 21. It may be December of 2012. Leave the date setting to others. You just take care of making you own calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Be sure that you have truly come to faith in Christ, that you know His grace, and that you are ready to meet Him when He does come.

Furthermore, be sure that you are faithfully sharing the gospel, making His grace known so that others will come to know Him as well. You don’t need “signs” to tell you that, or to make it urgent. You have God’s Word; and that is sufficient. The end is coming, sooner or later. Not because of earthquakes and wars, but because a Sovereign God has appointed a day and hour and promised it to be so. Our response? Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Homeschooler Moment #4

This isn't the "funny" entry that the last couple have been. This time, it's just a proud dad sharing some of his homeschooled kids' stuff.

1. Our youngest daughter has joined her older sister in the ranks of the "published authors." She has a poem that will published in the spring issue of The Storyteller magazine. Go KJ!

2. Our oldest son bought a new camera and has been going crazy! Here are some of his pics

The kid may have a future here!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Update and Prayer Requests for Japan

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that I appreciate very much Bro. Paul Washer and the work of the Heart Cry Missionary Society. Not only is he one of this generation’s most faithful preachers of the gospel, this missionary endeavor is being used by God in amazing ways.

With all that’s going on in Japan, I thought some of you might be interested in hearing first hand what’s going on, what’s needed, etc. from one of the Heart Cry missionaries in Japan, named Luis.

Update and Prayer Requests for Japan

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Here in Tokyo, our family, church and friends are safe. Just after we finished a Bible study, we felt the big earthquake. Some things fell down, but we just ended up dizzy from the movement. The coasts are the most affected areas. Most probably you have watched on the news that they are estimating 20,000 dead people, and that there was some explosions in two nuclear plants in Fukushima. The reactors didn't explode with these explosions, but the government is trying to cool down the reactors to prevent this from happening. There was a release of vapor with high levels of radiation from one of the reactors. The country is in a state of emergency. Some people were contaminated, but thousands are being evacuated 20 kms. away from the nuclear plants.

The world's perspective of what is happening is focused on the spectacular show of houses and cars floating, on the buildings on fire, or the power of the tsunami. The most terrible sound we Christians heard these days is not the terrible sound of the earthquake or the roaring of the tsunami, but we heard in our spirits the cry and screams of thousands of souls going to hell. We do not deserve to be alive, each person who is reading these lines or breathing today--it is just because of the mercy and grace of our God. It is hard to see so much pain and devastation, but we cannot blame God. We have to praise god for blessing us with another day to live.

God decided to take away the life of thousands of people, and He decided also to keep the lives of many. We are crying for the consequences of His purposes and sovereignty. God is allowing all this devastation, death and suffering in Japan for a purpose. We believe there is a specific precious message from Him to each one of us. So it is our first prayer that we will eagerly seek to listen to His voice behind this tragedy. To spend time entertaining our interest in the images and videos will make all these events worthless. All this will make sense only if we listen to the message of our Lord.

It is disgusting to see people who call themselves Christians united in prayers with buddhists and idol worshipers. Everybody is 'spiritual' now in Japan, but everybody is conveniently keeping silent about to whom they are really praying, and describing this time as an impersonal act of nature for the sake of the false atmosphere of world spiritual unity. Jesus have mercy on us.

After this tsunami in Japan, it is very sad that Japanese people continue praying to the animals, to the toilets, to buddha, to mountains, to their worthless idols, to demons and much other garbage. But it is more sad that many Christians are afraid to tell that there is only One God and there is Only One NAME under heaven by which we can be heard, and His name is Jesus Christ. God have mercy.

Please help us by praying so God has more mercy and patience with this idolatrous country. Japan is the country that rejected the most-over hundreds of years-the Gospel and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please pray for more mercy for Japan.

Please pray for more missionaries who are ready to suffer for the faithful preaching of the true Gospel. We need more missionaries here because the missionaries who do come, most of them return after only a very short time here.

Please pray that all Japanese people will repent from their idolatry and will run to our Lord Jesus, that they may be reconciled through repentance and faith.

Please pray that in this time of unbearable pain, the Japanese people will find through our Lord Jesus reconciliation, and real hope, comfort, love, joy and peace.

Please pray so Christians in this country will be brave enough to share the name of Jesus and to attack the idolatry.

Please pray so many Christians will talk with Japanese people about repentance and faith in Jesus, and that Christians will not use "Bible Promises for God's children" to counsel and encourage the God-rejecting people.

Please pray for God to break our pride and break the pride of this country.

Pray so Japan will understand that their idols and thousand of gods are dead, and that they will not enslave or kill Christians like they did in the past, but this time they will melt and surrender and live on their knees worshiping the Only True God.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Patrick's Day

There is quite a bit of Irish history in our family, on both sides. The most interesting that I know if is my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather on my mom’s side, named James McGuire. Born in Dublin in 1734, he came to America and died in the Revolutionary War. In fact, he was killed at the battle of Blue Licks Spring, Kentucky in August of 1782; a battle considered the last official battle of that war. He died alongside Israel Boone, son of Daniel Boone. I thought it was interesting, anyway.

I’ve also always been a fan of the story of Patrick. Being a good Protestant, of course, we’ve shied away from the Catholic embellishments of the story; but the basic history of the man is quite interesting. And since he lived in the 5th Century, long before the Reformation, etc. he was simply part of “The Church” and so can be claimed by Catholic and Protestant (see the article below claiming he was a Baptist).

Anyway, enjoy the day. And enjoy these links with varying views and takes on the celebration of the man and the day.

Today I’m Wearing White

The Shield of St. Patrick

The Legacy of the Real St. Patrick

St. Patrick was a Baptist

Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fishers of Men...No Bait Required

I never claimed to be the brightest knife in the drawer, or the sharpest bulb in the lamp, or whatever. Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake. I often figure things out, only to discover that everyone else around me has had it figured out for a long time. This may be one of those cases. But I’ll share anyway.

For years I’ve been bothered by the gimmick vs. gospel approach to ministry in general and evangelism in particular. It seems we don’t think God’s gospel is quite good enough to reach folks, so we have to come up with all kinds of gimmicks and gadgets to get them in the door, to keep their attention, etc.

I admit, there was a time that I fell prey to the temptation as well. I assumed church was boring for everyone, so I thought I had to find clever tricks and treats to throw into the sermons so folks would want to come back. Never mind that true believers should have the desire to come and worship a holy God in Spirit and in Truth regardless of how “entertaining” I made things. I’ve since repented.

Still, I’ve struggled with the conflict. I’ve cringed as I’ve seen event after event being planned, and the emphasis seems to always be: what can we do to draw ‘em in, and then we’ll hit ‘em with the gospel. (Side note: often the gospel is never introduced at all, just a warm fuzzy, followed by a random “ask Jesus into your heart” speech). I never fully grasped what the issue was, why folks treated ministry this way, etc. Recently, it hit me.

I attended a men’s event where the theme had to do with being “fishers of men.” And to be sure it drew a large crowd, there was a large giveaway of fishing paraphernalia: rods and reels, lures, etc. (Now, in interest of full disclosure I must add at this point that my youngest son came home with a brand new rod and reel. Pretty cool. But that’s not the reason we went…really.) And from a crowd standpoint, it must be considered a success. In fact, the attendance far exceeded the other “men’s event” things that have been held in which we just gathered to talk about being more godly men, sans giveaways. So it must be good, right?

But as I sat there looking at the racks of fishing rods lined up at the front, so that you were staring at them the entire time the speakers brought their messages, it suddenly hit me. This is our problem. We’ve got the wrong idea about what it means to be fishers of men.

Most of us, when we think of fishing, we envision a couple guys out in a boat or along a lake shore. We see them with their box full of lures and/or live bait. They cast their lines, and if after awhile they don’t have any success, they change the bait and go after it again. Fishing, in this context, is all about the bait. If the bait doesn’t work, change it and go at it again.

So, when we hear the phrase “fishers of men” we think of it in the same way. We have to throw out the right bait. And if the bait isn’t working, we change bait until we find something the fish likes, and then we hook ‘em. Hence, our gimmick and gadget approach to ministry and evangelism. It’s all about the bait. The gospel isn’t powerful enough on its own, we have to find the right bait people will respond to so we can hook ‘em.

And as I sat there looking at those rods, I suddenly realized…Jesus never picked up a fishing pole in his life (probably). The kind of fishing done by Peter and James and John as a profession had to do with casting nets. It was more about going to where the fish were and casting a net over them, rather than sitting back and hoping your bait would attract them.

There are obviously some similarities. You still have to study the fish, know where they are, etc. But one focuses on the bait, while the other is about casting the net and in large part trusting Providence to fill it. Even when the disciples had a bad night, Jesus took them out and made them cast the net again, and it filled to breaking, showing that He was Lord of the fishing nets.

In this case, it’s about keeping the nets mended and in good shape; keeping our life and doctrine pure as Scripture says. It’s about faithfully going out day after day, casting the net of the Gospel and trusting the results to God. It’s not a matter of teasing the fish in, tempting them with this or that bait until they bite. It’s about obediently casting the nets and letting the Lord of the sea fill them.

Jesus even told a parable about this kind of fishing. In Matthew 13 he tells of the Kingdom of God being like a net, thrown into the sea and gathering fish of every kind. His point there is that when we cast our nets, we will sometimes bring in both the good and the bad, and it’s up to God to sort them out. Still, this image is the fishing image Jesus has in mind when calling us to be “fishers of men.”

Now, maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe I’m the one missing the point. Maybe I’m just sour because I didn’t win the big prize in the giveaway. (Which brings up another point: if I come for the “bait” and I don’t win, I leave disappointed. Is that how we want folks leaving church events…disappointed because they didn’t win the big prize?)

Or maybe everyone else has seen this long ago, and I’m the slow one once again. Whatever, I would just offer this plea to ministries everywhere: The Gospel is sufficient. Christ is sufficient. We don’t need to decorate it up just to get folks attention. Preach the Word, in season and out. I know that the bait draws bigger crowds sometimes. But we aren’t called to draw crowds. We are called to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded. Let’s be true fishers of men…no bait required.

(For an excellent sermon on how to become fishers of men, read this message from C. H. Spurgeon with that title: How To Become Fishers of Men.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bell on Hell…Addendum

For anyone who thinks I might have been a bit harsh on Rob Bell in the last post, especially since I haven’t read the latest book, here’s a great review from someone who has. It includes several quotes from the book itself which show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bell is nowhere near orthodox in his teaching. Again, I never really thought he was, and quite honestly I don’t even plan to read this book. I’ve got much better things to do with my time than read pseudo-new age feel good stuff posing as theology.

Anyway, if interested, read the review…

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spurgeon and Bell on Hell

Much of the talk recently has been about Rob Bell’s new book, whether or not he’s a universalist, the reality of hell, etc. I’ve never been that impressed with Rob Bell; I found too much that bordered on heresy in his first “blockbuster” to ever really give much else he said credence. But the good part of all this is that it has raised some good issues and started a beneficial conversation about hell, eternal punishment, etc.

So many want to say that a loving God wouldn’t really send anyone to hell. That of course is what leads to universalist ideas. However, to come to this conclusion, we must deny Scripture. Period. God is holy and just, and must punish sin, to not do so would be to deny His own character.

Charles Spurgeon, of course, gave one of my favorite addresses on this subject. Preaching on Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” he delivered a sermon called Future Punishment A Fearful Thing. If you have the opportunity, read the whole thing. But here is a excerpt from his second “point” in that message.

Let me urge you, my dear hearer… not to attempt to deprive yourself of the beneficial effect, which a proper consideration of this doctrine would have upon you.

1. Do not deny the fact, at any rate if you do, be consistent and deny Scripture altogether. If you doubt the punishment of the future state, doubt the inspiration of Scripture at once, for to doubt one and hold the other is impossible. Do not so violate your own conscience as to dream of sin’s escaping punishment. If you should persuade yourself to doubt the existence of hell, your doubting it will not quench its fires. If there be no hell hereafter I am as well off as you are, but if theme be, where will you be? Take it on the commonest supposition, I have two strings to my bow, you have only one, and that one I believe to be a lie. Oh, my hearers, if I were to stand here and persuade you that there was no danger, you might very well say, “Then what need to tell us so? Why be in earnest when there is nothing to be in earnest about?” I would fain persuade you to escape from the punishment of whose existence there is no room to doubt.

2. In the next place, do not have the edge of this truth taken off by those who suggest a hope that though you may be punished for a time in the next world you will ultimately be destroyed and annihilated. Now nothing in nature ever has been annihilated yet, and it would be a new thing if you should be. I am not about to argue the point this morning, but I pray you do not let the terrors of the wrath to come be taken off by that idea, for even supposing it to be true, yet those who teach it tell us that there will be a limited but a very fearful punishment; they still agree with the teaching of the text, that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” If I knew that I should be damned for a day. I would labor to escape from it; but to be damned for a thousand years will be terrific indeed, and it would still be true that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I dare not, however, hold out to you the hope of annihilation while the Bible contains such words as these. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment,” -everlasting! The word is precisely the same as that which is applied to heaven, and though I shall be told that this is an old argument, I reply that this is the very reason why I use it. Be it for others to invent novelty; we count that the old is better. If that passage does not teach the eternity of punishment, neither does it teach the eternity of reward.

... When Jesus speaks of the fire of hell, he does not say that
annihilation is effected by it, but speaks on this wise: “shall cast them into a
furnace of fire, there shall be (not annihilation, but the signs of conscious
misery) weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.”

…Now I am not going fully into this subject, but I can only say this much; if our Lord and his Spirit intended to make us believe that there would be a worm that never dieth, and a fire that never could be quenched, and did mean to teach us that there was a punishment for sin which would last for ever, I do not know what other words could have been used; and I do pray you, dear friends, whether you think so or not, be on the safe side; for even if it were but a thousand years only, think what that must be. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, even if you could get out again; but when it comes with the solemn sanction, as I am persuaded it does, that you never will escape from those hands, oh, why will ye die? why will ye die? Look, look to Jesus, and find eternal life in him. Beware lest you be “wandering stars, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”

3. Some suppose that instead of annihilation, restoration awaits the lost.
There are no texts in Scripture which when read by honest men can mean this: they must be wickedly and perniciously perverted before they can be made to teach anything of the sort. Scripture does not speak of the fire of hell as chastening and purifying, but as punishment which men shall receive for deeds done in the body. They are to be visited with many stripes, and receive just recompense for transgressions. What can there be about hell fire to change a man’s heart? Surely the more the lost will suffer the more will they hate God.

…You live in the company of saints now-at all events, you live in a land which represses immorality, but in hell there are no preachers of the gospel-no holy examples to win you to holiness; the dwellers in hell are enemies of God;-a pretty school for virtue that. Do you suppose, then, that you who leave this life without the fear of God will be led to turn to him then? Cast away the thought, my hearer, it will deceive you. This fearful doctrine did much mischief in America at one time, but it was so revolting to the common sense of many s conscience, that its day was soon over. This error will eat out the veiny soul of piety.

…Abraham did not say to the rich man, “My dear son, you will return to my bosom when you have undergone those purifying flies.” Oh, no! That would have been something, more than a drop of water to cool his tongue; that would have drenched him with buckets full of the cooling draught. But no, it was just this: “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

4. Some ungodly men say, “Well, you do not believe for a minute that there is any material fire, do you?” My dear hearer, what is that to you? There is a text which speaks of destroying both body and soul in hell, which seems to indicate punishment for the body; but if it were not so, do you think that soul punishment is a trifle? Why, man, it is the very soul of punishment. It is far more dreadful than bodily pain. Go across to Bethlehem Hospital, and observe poor creatures perfectly unpained in body, whose minds are wrung with bitter anguish, and you will soon see that a wounded spirit none can bear. Oh, hear ye the Lord; for it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. If there be no material fire, if there be no literal worm, this will be sorry consolation for a soul on flame with woe.

Though I am thus speaking, I know what some will do. You will go away and say, “I could not bear to hear him.” I do not ask you to hear me, but I do pray you do not neglect your souls. You will say, “What a harsh preacher!” Say so, but do not be harsh with your own souls. You will say, “He brings up the old bugbear.” If it be an old bugbear, you are men and need not care for it; but if it be not so, should I not be a demon, if I did not warn you! As long as God spares my life, I hope I shall not be found unfaithful to your souls. So long as I believe that Book, I cannot but warn you that “It is a fearful thing to fill into the hands of the living God.”

Truly it is a fearful thing. Hell is real. Punishment is real. And as much as we want to appear loving and kind to the world, the truly loving and kind thing to do is to warn them of the judgment that is to come, urging them to flee to the cross where they can find forgiveness and reconciliation; finding not only an escape from hell, but a reward that is greater than we can ever imagine. Run to Christ, my friend, and you'll never have to learn first hand aboutt hell's reality.