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“Stop Obsessing about Heaven”

Mike Wittmer’s post, “4 Reasons to Stop Obsessing over Heaven,” is incredibly good. I’ve come to the conclusion that so many prophetic passages which people assume to be describing a future millennium are actually describing the new earth. Dr. Wittmer’s conclusion is thought-provoking:

The Christian faith is earthy, physical, and, in the best sense of the word, materialistic. Our story begins in a sensual garden of delight and then tells how a nation was delivered from physical bondage into a land overflowing with milk and honey. It turns on an embodied God who physically died and rose again, whose sacrifice is remembered in the physical waters of baptism and the bread and the cup. The story consummates on a new earth where, in the presence of God, we will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb, bite into fruit from the Tree of Life, and gulp handfuls from the River of Life. From beginning to end, the material world matters. The gospel of redemption may be more than creation, but it is not less. Redemption can’t get started without it.

Malarkey’s book may be full of what his name suggests, but the title got something right. Christians will go to heaven when we die, and we all will come back. We don’t believe in the Platonic dream of an eternal, disembodied heaven. We believe in the resurrection!

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Will we seek God?

By the time this column is published, the midterm elections of 2014 will be almost over. There will doubtlessly be runoffs to determine the eventual winner in some states, and the television and broadcast stations in those states will reap continued political advertising dollars. For most Americans, however, the never-ending political season will transition towards 2016.

And on and on it goes. Winners and losers, victory parties and concession speeches, but what will really change?

Some friends on occasion declare that voting is useless—nothing ever changes. Things just seem to go from bad to worse. I certainly understand the sentiment. What we need to do, according to one friend, is to vote against every incumbent. That reminds me more of a child’s temper tantrum than a substantive solution.

Our problem is not with our politicians; it is with humanity. Humans are not good by nature. As the apostle reminds us, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10–11 [ESV]). We have politicians who promote evil legislation, legislation allowing the taking of an unborn child’s life, institutionalizing same-sex “marriage,” establishing state-sponsored gambling, etc. These politicians, however, were not spontaneously generated. Neither did they forcibly take their offices. They were duly elected by the American people, most of whom are unrighteous, do not understand, and do not seek God.

We live in a fallen world, a world that is at root unrighteous. The secularists and liberal “Christians” would have us believe that humans are basically good. The Bible reveals what we experience: humans are not basically good. We are basically self-centered, self-promoting, self-indulging, and self-concerned. All sin, so it seems, has self at the center.

While we can grumble about our fellow citizens, the question is whether we ourselves seek God. This is not to say that elections are unimportant and we should bail out of our civic responsibility to vote for the best candidates on the ballot. It is to remind of us what the basic issues are, and the basic issues begin with us.

Our country’s woes are not centered upon our president’s politically convenient “evolving” on the issue of same-sex “marriage” or his insistence of a woman’s right to an abortion. While the promotion of depravity by our broadcast media and the legitimizing of almost every form of depravity by one of our major political parties are unhelpful to the state of our nation, these are not our fundamental problems. These things are simply the result of our problem. We as a people have rejected God. We will not have him reign over us.

And yet our responsibility as Christians is not to change the hearts of others. We are impotent to do that. The Holy Spirit alone can change hearts. We can and should evangelize others, pointing out that sin is self-destructive, both in time and in eternity. We should point people to our crucified and holy Savior. We can and should pray that God would be pleased to saved our families and friends and neighbors.

Also, we should try to help our unbelieving neighbors understand how sinful actions harm our people. This is a “common-grace” aspect to our being good neighbors. Non-Christians can grasp that things which contribute to the breakup of the family do great harm to one’s society.

The reality, however, is that real change begins with us. Have we repented of our sins and believed upon Christ? Do we desire his presence? Do we yearn to know him? Do we follow his Word? Do we ourselves seek God? “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7 [ESV]).

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David Garner:

Common misconceptions of the gospel (and/or of the Reformation) can come by consuming evangelical soft-drink theology. Epithet-driven, self-absorbed, and emotively drenched, this soda-fountain ‘gospel’ syrup offers high fructose spirituality – addicting and compelling, but ultimately devastating and destructive for heart health. A flip ‘Bible promise’ calendar or a daily devotional pick-me-up supplies my spiritual sustenance, a soda for the day that keeps the devil (of my troubled conscience) away. Such tonic may be ‘just what the doctor ordered,’ but it is not the provision from the Great Physician.

Read Dr. Garner’s entire post for a needed corrective to our evangelical culture’s superficial understanding of the gospel of Christ: Salvation is by Works Alone.

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Quite the brouhaha has erupted in Washington, D.C., over a simple promise which President Obama made when he and his Democratic Party were trying to get their congressmen and senators on board to pass the so-called Affordable Care Act (the very title of the act brings the concept of truth into question). The president said and has continued to say, “If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan. Period.”

Because the Democrats had large majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the president’s party controlled whether the legislation would pass or not. Some legislators were reticent to go along, fearing the backlash from constituents back home. The president was able to squelch some of the potential fallout with his now-infamous promise, “If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan. Period.”

The word “period” used in this context means regardless anything else. It means without equivocation. Period. That’s it. Nothing can change this. Millions of Americans are discovering that the statement not only is not true now but was known early on not to be true.

According to Lisa Myers and Hannah Rapplelye of NBC News, the president’s statement was not true when he uttered it: “Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, ‘40 to 67 percent’ of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, ‘the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.’

“That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.

“Yet President Obama, who had promised in 2009, ‘if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan,’ was still saying in 2012, ‘If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.’

“‘This says that when they made the promise, they knew half the people in this market outright couldn’t keep what they had and then they wrote the rules so that others couldn’t make it either,’ said Robert Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consultant who works for health industry firms. Laszewski estimates that 80 percent of those in the individual market will not be able to keep their current policies and will have to buy insurance that meets requirements of the new law, which generally requires a richer package of benefits than most policies today.”

The president and many in his party are now spinning the story that the fault lies with the insurance companies who had been selling “lousy” plans to unsuspecting Americans, that now citizens will be buying quality plans. Well, spin it any way you like, but a lie is a lie is a lie. Glen Kessler, writing in the Washington Post, gave the president four Pinocchios for his repeated statement. On a scale of one to four, getting a four means you told a whopper.

Some evangelicals particularly dislike saying that the president lied about something. Their thinking goes something like this: Most of our unchurched neighbors are Democrats, and we want to reach our neighbors with the gospel. If we say that the leader of their party has lied, we effectively cut them off from the gospel.

While I understand and am sympathetic towards the logic, I really consider that a worldly way of looking at things. Jesus said to those who opposed him, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Did Jesus not care about the souls of those who opposed him? John the Baptist would be beheaded because he has said that it was unlawful for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:1-11). Did John not care about the souls of Herod and his supporters?

In the Scriptures, we find that truth matters. A lie is a lie is a lie, whether you or I or even the President of the United States tells it. We do not have to be uncivil when we observe that a lie has been told. We must not sacrifice the truth about telling a lie in the name of evangelism. Period.

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Thinking about Independence Day

With Independence Day coming on the heels of two Supreme Court decisions paving the way for the national recognition of same-sex marriage, I feel more like weeping than celebrating. For at least a half-century there has been a concerted effort to relegate Judeo-Christian principles to the extremities of society. 

In one sense, the United States has never been a truly Christian nation, not in the biblical sense of the word. In another sense, the nation was founded as a Christian nation because of the pervasive influence of Christianity upon it. To be sure, there were deists, Thomas Jefferson being perhaps most noticeable (Benjamin Franklin claimed to be a deist but was at best very inconsistent), Unitarians, and the occasional atheist, such as Thomas Paine. By and large, though, leaders exercised a Christian worldview.

For instance, our founding president George Washington wrote in 1778: “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”

John Adams, the second president of the new nation, envisioned a place where the Christian Scriptures were faithfully observed: “Suppos a nation in some distant Region, should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. Every member would be obliged in Concience to temperance and frugality and industry, to justice and kindness and Charity towards his fellow men, and to Piety and Love, and reverence towards almighty God. In this Commonwealth, no man would impair his health by Gluttony, drunkenness, or Lust–no man would sacrifice his most precious time to cards, or any other trifling and mean amusement–no man would steal or lie or any way defraud his neighbour, but would live in peace and good will with all men-no man would blaspheme his maker or prophane his Worship, but a rational and manly, a sincere and unaffected Piety and devotion, would reign in all hearts. What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.” Imagine a politician saying that today.

There was a clergyman who signed the Declaration of Independence and prayers to God in the name of Christ were offered on all occasions. Other religions were tolerated, but voices daring to denigrate or even protest against the Christian faith were relatively rare. Morality was biblically based. The colonial period and the early decades of our nation were not pristine, but Christianity permeated its fabric.

But times have changed, and the America of today is but a shadow of its former self. Instead of leaders willing to lay down their lives in the name of liberty, our leaders seem typically more concerned with padding their wealth and pandering to remain in power. With the most godless president leading the most godless political party in American history, murder of the unborn is considered a woman’s right and sexual perversion a cause for rejoicing, even meriting a presidential congratulatory phone call. Far too many gladly relinquish personal responsibility required by liberty in order to gain cradle to grave sustenance from federal and state governments. Politicians who dare espouse biblical convictions are widely lampooned, and ministers representing biblical Christianity find no welcome mat among the political and academic elites.

I keep trying to find a silver lining, but it’s difficult. One positive is that people should be less inclined to confuse patriotism with Christianity. Many Americans have had the notion that they were good Christians because they were good citizens. Even with the best of civil governments, Christians must remember that, ultimately, we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). This world in its present state is not our eternal home (compare 1 John 2:15-17). We belong to another kingdom (John 18:36).

And yet we do reside in this nation. We remain citizens also of an earthly kingdom as long as we draw breath. Unless commanded to do what Scripture forbids, we are to obey its laws (Acts 4:18-20; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). We should pray that God would turn hearts unto himself. We should work to convince our fellow citizens of the blessings that occur when laws are righteous (Proverbs 14:34). Above all, we should diligently and intentionally teach our children about God and his righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:1-7), realizing that educational and entertainment and political elites intentionally seek to turn our children from God and his righteousness. And, above all, we must not be discouraged. God remains sovereign (Revelation 19).

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Spring commencement exercises have come and gone. Speakers throughout the country encouraged the new grads to be extraordinary, to rise to the top, to follow their passions, to make a difference in the world.

The church often repeats that message, exhorting its youth not be settle for the ordinary, to rise above the common folk in the pews, to do extraordinary feats for Christ, to be radical. That sounds good, but is it biblical?

I have talked with college students who have been counseled by their para-church college ministry leader to put aside marriage for a few years and devote their time to some sort of college ministry. These students love the Lord and want to serve him. They do not want simply to join a church and settle into a comfortable life of ease. I love their enthusiasm and fervor.

Such a view, however, problematic. It equates following Christ, really following Christ with doing the spectacular. My counsel to young Christians is that God is glorified through the natural course of living. With the exception of a believer who God has called to a life of singleness and celibacy, we are to marry and have children and establish godly homes. The husband is to provide for his family, so getting a job which will do that is a good thing. I don’t find any scriptural injunction to delay that for a temporary ministry or mission. The closest one may get is Paul’s suggestion about the present distress in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7, but that was a circumstance peculiar to whatever was going on in Corinth.

On more than one occasion I have talked with young men involved in a courting relationship who were counseled by their college ministers to delay marriage in order to undertake a particular college ministry for a few years. It sounds noble, and it sounds like the type of sacrifice to which the Bible calls believers. The trouble, though, is that “it sounds,” but it isn’t. In reality, it seems to contradict the Scriptures and would lead such young men into unnecessary temptation (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-2).

Well-intentioned Christians have a knack for making complicated what the Bible makes relatively clear. God has not called us to pursue the heroic. He has called us to the ordinary. The purpose of the ordinary, however, is not a matter of pursuing creature comfort. It is a matter of pursuing God and glorifying him through the means that God has established. God has instituted marriage (Genesis 2:21-25; Matthew 19:4-6). God commands us to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Couples unable to have children often adopt. The Scriptures enjoin us to provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8). We are to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). We find discipleship and nurture in the local church (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I cannot help but wonder whether this call to do the extraordinary and radical is little more than an appeal to our individual egos. We don’t want to be “ordinary.” We want others to know how valuable we are to the cause of Christ. And that’s a problem. The focus becomes “us.”

There are individuals that God sovereignly places in situations in which they do what are perceived to be notable achievements. Most believers, however, are called to the “ordinary,” to marriage and family, to employment, to learning and ministering through their local church, and to being a godly influence upon their neighbors and their fellow employees. May we not see such a life as a “lesser” form of Christian living. The Bible doesn’t.

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To say that American society has undergone a seismic shift in the past fifty years is an exercise in understatement. We have gone from seeing the nuclear family as an ideal almost to denigrating it as a dinosaur which should be relegated to a bygone era. A family is now popularly assumed to be whoever wants to live together in some sort of communal arrangement.

What has caused such a shift? How did we get here? Unfortunately, the mindset of our citizens has undergone a radical change. How? I suspect it is by reason of our education system and the entertainment industry.

We recognize there are many good Christian teachers in our educational system, but I seriously doubt they comprise even a large minority. Regardless, the agenda in academia is not driven at the local level but by bureaucrats in state capitals and Washington, not to mention education unions and liberal/radical politicians. An educational system which has systemically expunged moral absolutes has shape young minds to assume that everything is permissible.

The entertainment industry shapes the people’s heart for good or ill. Stories influence people much more than logical discourse does. A well-crafted story influences emotions. Viewers are moved to feel that it is right for the pretty and active woman to ditch her boring but faithful husband for the unattached and handsome and exciting man she happened to meet at their monthly environmentalist meeting.

Unfortunately, too many self-identified evangelical Christians find their thinking and emotions shaped by the same means. Almost daily another such person proclaims that same-sex marriage is a right that people ought to have. Why do they believe that? They’ve been conditioned by our educational and entertainment industries to think and feel that way.

We don’t believe that about same-sex “marriage.” We believe that marriage is restricted to one man and one woman (Genesis 2:20-24; Matthew 19:3-9). We tenaciously defend the concept of traditional marriage, understanding that anything that differs is an aberration of marriage.

But why do we believe what we believe? Is it because homosexuality is personally repulsive? Unnatural? That is true—it is repulsive and unnatural. Still, that’s not a good enough reason. What seems repulsive and unnatural to one generation can seem, if not attractive, at least acceptable and not unnatural to the next. We have lived to witness such a transition. A couple of decades ago, homosexuality was weird at best. Now it is trendy.

There is one basic reason to believe what we believe: because the Scriptures so teach it. I recognize that does not convince unbelievers, those who scoff at the moral dictates of our Holy Book. Still, Christians cannot contradict that which the Scriptures teach and still be Christians if words mean anything at all. No person can accept same-sex lifestyles and be a Christian in any biblical sense of the term. You can say, “Choo, choo!” and call yourself a train engine, but that doesn’t make you one!

I recognize that we may have to use other arguments concerning choices to persuade those outside the faith, and there are good arguments to use, whether one is dealing with sexual morality or good citizenship or personal finances or rearing children. I am, however, confronting professed followers of Jesus Christ. Why do you believe what you believe?

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