Amid the continued chatter and debate about ‘hell’ and God’s ‘judgment’, I found Tim Keller’s thoughts insightful. The only variant here is that Keller is talking about how he approaches skeptics who stumble over a literal hell and a God of wrath. It’s a shame that more who say they are Christian and even teach at ‘Bible’ Churches look so very much like a skeptic. They should take Keller’s advice and ‘look to the Bible.’

Keller is right, to say that in the Bible we see that ‘The God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.’ Without this judging God, Bell’s (and others’) view of restoration is Pollyanna at best. It’s a Potemkin Village of restoration; nobody is home and nobody is better.

It’s tragic to consider what that skeptics outside or guys like Rob Bell ‘inside’ do; in the name of acceptance they make such judgments upon the word of God and the God of the word.

Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can’t believe in the God of the Bible, who punishes and judges people, because they “believe in a God of Love.” I now ask, what makes them think God is Love? Can they look at life in the world today and say, “This proves that the God of the world is a God of love”? Can they look at history and say, “This all shows that the God of history is a God of love”? Can they look at the religious texts of the world and conclude that God is a God of love? By no means is that the dominant, ruling attribute of God as understood in any of the major faiths. I must conclude that the source of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.

The belief in a God of pure love—who accepts everyone and judges no one—is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears. –Tim Keller, The Reason for God

As a Christian I struggle to keep the gospel playing on repeat on my mental play-list.  I default to Law and idolatry.  God then sends trials to providentially dissuade us of our value and fasten our eyes upon Jesus, who alone is valuable.

Having this daily struggle as a Christian I find it to be my struggle and burden for believers in the Lord’s church where I am privileged and blessed to pastor.  Therefore, I was richly blessed to read again of this dialog between Christian & Prudence in John Bunyan’s classic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The context is a dinnertime conversation between believers about the primacy and power of Christ’s work.

Read this and be blessed and encouraged by the priority of returning to the cross, Christ’s righteousness, the Scriptures, and the return of Christ!

PRUDENCE: Do you not still carry some of the baggage from the place you escaped?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but against my will.  I still have within me some of the carnal thoughts that all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted with.  Now all those things cause me to grieve.  If I could master my own heart, I would choose never to think of those things again, but when I try only to think about those things that are best, those things that are the worst creep back into my mind and behavior.

PRUDENCE: Do you not still carry with you in your mind some recollection of the things that you were formerly involved with?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but greatly against my will, and especially those inward and carnal reasonings which all of my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted to revel in. But now all those things only grieve me; and should I be able to choose only what I think, I would choose never to think of those carnal things anymore. But when I would be doing that which is best, still that which is worse remains with me.

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Last week people were filling out their NCAA Tournament Brackets. There was so much optimism and excitement. And of course there were experts. You know the people I’m talking about. These are the guys that always know (allegedly) about the upsets before they happen. The go on the radio, TV, blogs and Twitter with all of their predictions.

Then Moorehead State, Richmond or Virginia Commonwealth happens, and everyone’s bracket is busted.

Christianity has its own version of bracket experts. They are called the prophecy nuts. You know the guys I am talking about. They write books, rent billboards, and have TV commercials that tell us that they know for sure when the end of the world is coming.

Like the bracket experts these prophetical experts have studied the data and made their predictions. They are ‘certain’ about the outcomes (ie the dates and times).

The NCAA tournament is entertaining. But it is also a reminder of the fact that we lack certain divine perfections, namely, omniscience and omnipotence. We do not have the ability to control the outcomes and we certainly do not (no matter how many sports’ blogs we read) have the ability to predict these games.

In a similar manner the future snoopers have got to come to grips with the fact that they may be spending a little bit too much time with their charts and newspapers–while neglecting the real world of the Bible. Just like ‘bracket-guy’ the ‘prophecy guy’ may be spending so much time with his research that he actually convinces himself that his plan is going to happen. The problem is, he is neither sovereign nor all-knowing. The fact of the matter is, no one knows the day or the time when Christ will return (Matt. 24.36). To venture beyond what is written is neither scholarly nor pious, it is arrogant.

I really enjoy watching the games and enjoying the thrilling experience of the unexpected upsets. It’s also refreshing to remember the amount of what we really don’t know. I really wish prophecy guy would stop renting billboards and writing books and get this same memo.

I wonder if bracket guy and prophecy guy put down their respective paperwork for a few minutes, if they would get along well?

One of the joys of this blog is the opportunity to wring out passages into my own devotional bucket and then scoop out some thoughts and sentences on this site. Therefore, I’ll be posting some short devotional posts on the 4th Psalm in the next couple of weeks as I continue to chew on it.

The 4th Psalm is a song that arises out of the context of difficulty. The Psalmist is encountering unspecified but nonetheless, troubling circumstances. His approach to this is neither bitterness, frustration, nor isolation. Instead, it is prayer to God, words to the oppressors, and words to other believers.

What is striking about this Psalm is his quiet confidence in God while amid the blaring siren of conflict. Let’s not forget that he is singing this confidence. His heart is tuned by grace. This is so very practical.

Here are some practical principles in light of verses 1-3

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I really like Fred Sanders The Deep Things of God. It is a very theological and devotional look at the Trinity. He does this from the sideline of contemporary evangelicalism. This makes it particularly fresh and engaging.

This sum and substance of this quote has been rattling around in my mind for a couple of weeks. Helpful stuff.

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It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.

In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.

Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.

So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?

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I have been quite refreshed by the recently published volume Feed My Sheep. The book has contributions from Mohler, Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur (among others). As you might expect, it is a very helpful reminder and instruction into the priority of preaching. I am reading it on my Kindle and keep going back to these quotes for encouragement in ministry.

This particular quote is from Sinclair Ferguson in his chapter preaching to the heart. The whole chapter is very helpful, but this was particularly appropriate:

There is a center to the Bible and its message of grace. It is found in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. Grace, therefore, must be preached in a way that is centered and focused on Jesus Christ Himself. We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need.

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There are many things about the Christian life that are a mystery to me. One of the things that is a mystery and that chaffs my spirit is when a Christian begins to get something and then goes militant against his former ilk. You know what I mean; they begin to understand something theologically profound and impacting and then they are ready to shred anyone of their former friends because they do not get it.  Often times the refrain, “I can’t believe they don’t get this. Are they blind?!”

A friend of mine has likened this to the ex-chain smoker who now can’t stand people who smoke. The guy used to suck down cigs like slurpies but now he is free from that vice and everyone else is suddenly an idiot.

This happens a lot with Calvinists. We begin to understand (notice–begin) the doctrines of grace and we have little patience for those foolish Arminians. Why is it that we can hold to a system that emphasizes the soveriegnty and grace of God at such a premium, but at the same time we are ready to mow down anybody who does not sign off their email with Soli Deo Gloria (which I do by the way–because I mean it and want to be safe). After all, isn’t the understanding we experience as Christians a result of God’s grace? Or does this just come as a result of our superior smarts?

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One of the big keys to living the Christian life is to stop pretending.

If you need a lesson on pretending go and watch some little kids. They are very good at it. They dress up, role play, and live on in a fantasy world. It is one of my favorite parental past times to watch my kids rescue princesses, heal the sick, run a store, defeat the bad guys, and pretend to be mommies.

Too often we as Christians are comfortable pretending. We pretend that we have it all together, are full of faith, rock solid, and without sin or other issues. To the untrained eye it might even appear like we don’t need a Savior.

This is one reason why I love the guy in Mark 9.14-29. This father of a sick and demon possessed man admits that he doesn’t have it all together. He declares: “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9.24)

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A helpful, big picture reminder for preachers:

What does a pastoral heart of wisdom do when it discovers that death is sure, that life is short, and that suffering is inevitable and necessary?

The answer is given two verses later in Psalm 90. It is a prayer: “Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (vv. 13b-14, ESV).

In the face of toil, trouble, suffering, and death, the wise preacher cries out with the psalmist, “Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love.” He prays this both for himself and for his people: “0 God, grant that we would be satisfied with Your steadfast love always, and need nothing else”-and then he preaches to that end.

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Most books on prayer are convicting. The authors don’t have to work too hard to give us the Bible verses, make some helpful observations, and point us to simple application. On the other hand, I have found it somewhat rare to find books on prayer that also provide clear, practical instruction. Perhaps this is due to people being afraid of imposing standards or practices that are not mandated in the Scriptures. At any rate, I am very excited when I can find a book that does both: provide conviction and instruction.

The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre is one of those books. It is not a long book. It weighs in as a paperback at about 120 pages. However, whatever is lacked in volume it brings in substance. Think of it as a cup of espresso for the discipline of prayer.

McIntyre (1859-1938) was a minister in Scotland. His daily faithfulness precedes this volume. It is helpful to remember that this book was an outflow of a life that was bathed in prayer and the ministry of the word.

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After this post on Kids and Bible Reading, I have had several people ask about how to use the Heidelberg Catechism as a family, and in particular with the training of children. I figured it was worthy of a quick post.

I have broken the answer down into things to remember and then suggestions for implementation.

1. Remember that this is a catechism. It is a teaching. It is written by men and is not on the same level as Scripture.

Suggestion: Explain this to your children. Tell them that God has given us many gifted teachers (Eph. 4.11) throughout Church history that help us to better understand the Bible. This is an example of helpful teaching. But make sure to explain the difference between the catechism and the Bible. To invert these two will undermine everything you are trying to accomplish.

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I recently had  a great discussion with my 11 year old son. He was remarking about how the word ‘believe’ is so often tossed around in different ways. He mentioned that we believe there are certain planets, countries and stuff. And then people say they believe in Jesus. His point (in my words) was that it seems that to believe in Jesus means a little more than to just have some mental assent or agreement.

As I sat with him I was so encouraged with the depth of the question. On the face of it, it appears that he is wrestling with the demands and glory of Christ in the gospel. I love this type of wrestling from him.

While we talked and worked through things I tried to help him understand what we are getting at in terms of believing in Christ. We broke it up into two helpful terms: Trust & Treasure.

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Martin Bashir bringing it on MSNBC. He refuses to let Bell off of the mat. He doesn’t abandon the central issue of Bell’s creative editing and deviation from orthodoxy. Bell simply has nothing to say. He circles the theological runway like a plane with no landing gear.

Bashir’s concluding summary here is particularly helpful:

You’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture. . . . What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you, and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easier to swallow. That’s what you’ve done, haven’t you?

I had to laugh when I read the tweet from the satirical account XIANITY:

HERESY UPDATE: @RealRobBellamends previous claims and states categorically that there is a hell and its spelled MSNBC

Providence is a good word. It regathers us in when we get disorientated in our observations of the horizontal.

The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us this key doctrine in question 27: in that God upholds all things, as with his hand…and all things come to us, not by chance, but from his fatherly hand.

It seems like everywhere I turn, even when trying to avoid the subject, I bump into something concerning Rob Bell and his new book. He is on CNN, USA Today, The Guardian, Good Morning America, and others.

My first reaction to this is, “It’s getting old.” However, as I think about this a bit, I wonder at the bigger picture. I wonder at the picture informed by God’s providence.

We know from Scripture that God uses all kinds of figures to influence his end. We have seen him use prophets, kings, and even an ass. So perhaps I need to sit and think about what is being accomplished.

I’ve made a quick list here . I’m sure there is more.

It Makes You (re)Own what You Believe

Shortly after becoming a Christian I started a new job. I had to complete some training prior to starting. In my class was an aggressive Jehovah’s Witness. This lady saw that I was reading books on Roman Catholic theology (she supposed I was Catholic but I was actually taking religion classes at a local university). She was all over it. Everyday she would badger me about the deity of Christ. She brought me tracts, magazines, and papers. She just kept on telling me that Jesus was not God but a god. It was crazy.

But what did this do? The first week or so I was on the ropes. I was knocked off balance. I got mad. But in time, I got my composure and started combing the Bible for answers. This actually became the time that I read through the Bible thoroughly. I began showing her what the Scripture said.

After a period of time I realized that though this woman was a messenger of Satan, serving false doctrine, she was also serving God and me by making me own something that I did not really own. I could say with Joseph, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50.20).

This has always been the way things work in the history of the church. We see this in Galatia with the Judiazers, Colossae with those who undermine Christ’s supremacy, in the early church with Arius, Palegius, right on through to the Reformation, the enlightenment, and to our day with the battles with liberalism. God uses these things for his good to strengthen his church.

I’m guessing many Christians are thinking through hell in a much more comprehensive way. If they are being led to the Bible for answers then this is good.

It Indicts the Lack of Discernment

Rob Bell didn’t fall out of the tree of orthodoxy overnight. He has been sticking his finger in the eye of historic Christianity for years. The problem is too many evangelicals didn’t realize it.

The bottom-line is that Rob Bell would not be nearly as popular as he is if there weren’t so many evangelical barnacles attached to him. I think of churches in my own city where evangelical pastors recommend his books and videos. The fact that evangelicals, especially pastors, did not see this coming is an indictment on the level of discernment of our movement. You could say, without exaggeration, that Rob Bell’s popularity and credibility comes through the impressionable, doctrinally shallow American evangelicals that are drawn after cool rather than true. It reminds me of the teenage girl who is searching for approval and identity. She goes after the cool guy. Then she finds out that the cool guy is not who she thought he was. She is crushed.

It Draws Out Voices

It is interesting to me to sit and listen to the voices that come out in defense of or disagreement with Bell.

For example, Rick Warren, tweeted, after the initial Love Wins firestorm erupted:

I believe in hell because Jesus says it’s real & he knows more about it than anyone.

John Piper likewise tweeted,

Farewell Rob Bell.

Then we have the president of Fuller Seminary, Richard Mouw, in USA Today yesterday:

…president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

Thanks for that Richard.

As frustrating as that statement is, it is actually clear. It is clear that Mouw and Bell have abandoned the ship of orthodoxy and done a cannon-ball into the ocean of historic Liberalism. I just wish they would abandon the term ‘orthodoxy’. The way he is using it here it’s tied to Christianity. To be right about Christian doctrine then you need to be biblical. To deviate from the Bible, whether out of ostensibly ‘generous’ motives or not, is to deviate from Christianity. It reminds of J. Greschem Machen’s classic book Christianity and Liberalism where he noted that you are free to create your own religion, just don’t call it Christianity, that one is taken.

Speaking of Machen, he is always helpful to quote. He hits the right notes here, with respect to the current debate about hell and God’s character:

How can anyone be unhappy when the ruler of the universe is declared to be the loving Father of all men who will never permanently inflict pain upon His children ? Where is the sting of remorse if all sin will necessarily be forgiven? Yet men are strangely ungrateful. After the modern preacher has done his part with all diligence–after everything unpleasant has carefully been eliminated from the conception of God, after His unlimited love has been celebrated with the eloquence that it deserves–the congregation somehow persistently refuses to burst into the old ecstasies of joy. The truth is, the God of modern preaching, though He may perhaps be very good, is rather uninteresting. Nothing is so insipid as indiscriminate good humor. Is that really love that costs so little? If God will necessarily forgive, no matter what we do, why trouble ourselves about Him at all? Such a God may deliver us from the fear of hell. But His heaven, if He has any, is full of sin.

…How do you know that God is all love and kindness? Surely not through nature, for it is full of horrors. Human suffering may be unpleasant, but it is real, and God must have something to do with it. Just as surely not through the Bible. For it was from the Bible that the old theologians derived that conception of God which you would reject as gloomy. “The Lord thy God,” the Bible says, “is a consuming fire.” Or is Jesus alone your authority? You are no better off. For it was Jesus who spoke of the outer darkness and the everlasting fire, of the sin that shall not be forgiven either in this age or in that which is to come. Or do you appeal, for your comforting idea of God, to a twentieth-century revelation granted immediately to you? It is to be feared that you will convince no one but yourself. –J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

While the current drama may be a surprise to some, it is not to God. It is a divinely dispatched magnet to draw out both the orthodoxy and the false doctrine from the swelling, undefined crowd called evangelicalism. In this, while we wince, we learn.

Each family has their big debates. In our family we keep coming back to two of the most complex, intriguing, and important topics of all time.  They have combined to complete an elaborate tapestry of argumentation that, as far as we know, is still hovering over Lake Michigan.

The debates center on proving the veracity of two theories:

  1. Is a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s?
  2. Is bread crust good for you?

I know that by bringing these topics up there is the potential to make this the most controversial blog post in the history of this site. However, this is no longer a matter of debate. We have a solution. I’m here to set the record straight.

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For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (1 Peter 1.16-17)

Would you not have loved to have been there on the Mountain with Peter? No doubt it would be the highlight of our lives to see the glory of Christ in such a dazzling manner and to hear the words of God affirming him.

It is interesting to consider how the Apostle Peter later wrote about this event.

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-below is a meditation by Charles Spurgeon that I found particularly encouraging…enjoy!!-

“He humbled Himself.”—Philippians 2:8.

JESUS is the great teacher of lowliness of heart. We need daily to learn of Him. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples’ feet! Follower of Christ, wilt thou not humble thyself? See Him as the Servant of servants, and surely thou canst not be proud! Is not this sentence the compendium of His biography, “He humbled Himself”?

Was He not on earth always stripping off first one robe of honour and then another, till,naked, He was fastened to the cross, and there did He not empty out His inmost self, pouring out His life-blood, giving up for all of us, till they laid Him penniless in a borrowed grave? How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud?

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Since I continue to hear so much bad feedback about previous thoughts on Rob Bell from his supporters, I figured I’d try to communicate my concerns in a brief poem. My aim is to appeal to their artsy side, while expressing my own.

There once was a teacher named Rob, whose last name rhymed with hell

His dislike for this doctrine was easy to tell–he wrote a book about love that redefined hell

The danger is seen in what he has lost–Jesus is eclipsed, so is sin, and the cross

The long-term effect is tough to predict, but I’m sure I can smell Satan’s old trick-

“You shall not surely die” was that old lie he did sell

Now here it comes again, from the pen of Rob Bell

(For a good review of Rob Bell’s book, see Tim Challies here.)

This is probably one of the most common questions  I hear from parents wanting to establish Christian disciplines in their kids.

Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?

This is what we do in our home. I am not saying it is for everyone, but we are supportive of it as a practice by conviction and experience. Our children range from 20 months to almost 16. There is quite a variety.

I’ll hit this from two angles, family and personal devotions.

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