Archive for September, 2010

Our Biggest Fear

September 7, 2010

Title: Our Biggest Fear

Text: Matthew 25:41, 46, Matthew 10:28, Revelations 14:9-11, 20:10

Time: August 27th, 2010

I recently had a lengthy conversation with a member of the cult group Jehovah’s Witnesses on my doorstep. He tried to convince me that there was no hell, no everlasting punishment for sin, only death in the grave. Today, lots of people have a problem with the doctrine of hell. I think I already mentioned a few months back my encounter with a group of fellow-evangelical pastors here in town, many of whom I know from various fellowships including a weekly pastor’s prayer meeting that I’ve attended from time-to-time. They had just written and jointly-signed an op-ed article in the local paper criticizing a local church group for picketing the nearby spiritualist séance community Lily Dale and for displaying signs saying, “God sends false prophets to the everlasting punishment of hell.” The pastors wrote to protest the protesters by apologizing in their article to the citizens of Lily Dale and arguing that God doesn’t ever send a soul to hell. Bothered by these pastors and their objections to the classic, historic Christian doctrine of hell, I wrote my own op-ed article for the newspaper to protest the protestors of the protestors! My point was that as objectionable as the fundamentalist group picketing Lily Dale acted, they at least did have their theology correct, and ironically, it was the evangelical pastors who were in error, actually theological heresy, for objecting to the Christian doctrine of hell. Another example of how unpopular the doctrine of everlasting punishment is today. In still another case, I just finished reading a book on spiritual unbelief in Western civilization, by British evangelical theologian Alister McGrath who claims that one of the main causes for atheism is the doctrine of eternal damnation taught by churches. And while he doesn’t come out and deny the doctrine himself, it’s obvious that he thinks Christianity needs to be careful in teaching about the doctrine of hell because it’s so repulsive to modern thinking. According to McGrath, the American evangelist of the late nineteenth century Dwight L. Moody experienced success in his evangelistic campaigns in Britain because he avoided the doctrine of hell altogether in his preaching. I hope this account of Moody isn’t true, but if it is, I don’t think it’s something positive to say about his ministry, but instead something negative. My point in bringing all this up is to say that today there is a strong dislike for any kind of teaching about eternal spiritual punishment. People will listen and approve of a message about the love of God, but they will react negatively against any talk of God’s wrath or punishment of sinners, especially eternal damnation. But here’s the problem – God’s Word teaches about both the love of God and the wrath of God. Jesus taught of heaven and hell. We can’t simply close our eyes to reality because it’s unpleasant to think about. If hell is a place such as the Bible describes it, we must teach and warn people about it in order to save them from it. We can’t simply stop talking about it because it isn’t popular or because it bothers people. We’ve got to trust that there’s a good reason that God’s Word contains warnings about hell. God knew what he was doing when he inspired the holy prophets, the authors of the biblical books, to warn of everlasting punishment. It’s not up to us to omit what God includes in his special revelation to us. We must hear it and heed the warning. So with that bit of an introduction, let me explain a little about hell. (more…)

Two Legitimate Worries For Today

September 7, 2010

Title: Two Legitimate Worries For Today

Text: Ecclesiastes 9:5, Hebrews 9:27, Matthew 10:28

Time: August 25th, 2010

Probably the main concern or worry today for most people in modern America is over the economy – whether it will recover or not. Put in context, placed in historical perspective, this worry may appear trivial or even superficial, because after all for most of history, most people feared things like sudden invasion from enemies or sudden death through plague, for example. But for most Americans today, in the year 2010, the immediate fear of death is probably not one of the most troubling worries they face, although sudden illness or injury is always a concern for everyone, but not a constant or immediate worry. So we live in a period of anomaly or in other words, we live in a strange time in which the typical fears and worries that have perennially concerned people don’t seem to bother us too much. Again, most people aren’t too fearful of death, or so it appears – at least most people don’t seem to be too terribly fearful of death today; although, like I said before, there is always a fear of illness or injury. But I’d like to ask the question, even though we modern Americans don’t seem to be preoccupied with the fear of death, is that something good or bad? In other words, that we as a people don’t seem to be overly bothered by the thought of our own demise, our own physical extinction, should we be? I’m amazed, for example, when I’m talking with an avowed atheist who says there is nothing beyond the grave, that death is simply total annihilation, that when you die you die forever, you fall asleep and never, ever wake up – I’m amazed that this same atheist isn’t bothered more by his own belief. As a Christian, as a believer in Christ, I carry the hope of everlasting life through salvation of the soul, so I’m not upset at the thought of my physical death, because I’m counting on living again in the Kingdom of God in the afterlife. But I’m still amazed that a professed atheist can treat the matter of his own death – something he says he believes is final and absolute – I’m amazed that he can treat it so casually or doesn’t fear that kind of death more. I think he should fear death, that kind of death especially, more! But I think that atheists especially, and all people in general, should fear something in addition to physical death – divine judgment. Hebrews 9:27 of the New Testament states, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then after that the judgment.” So then there are really two things that people generally don’t fear today, but should fear today, and these two are death and divine judgment. It could be seen as a triumph of modern civilization that its citizens don’t fear these two things anymore, but I see it as a tragedy. It seems to me that there is a superficial optimism, especially among Americans, that helps them avoid thinking about potentially unpleasant things – like death and judgment — but it also keeps them from dealing with these important realities of life. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is a slogan that many follow. And death and divine judgment do indeed seem to be out of sight, at least for now, so then we can forget about them. But God doesn’t want us to forget about them because they are found everywhere in the Bible for our consideration. We aren’t called to live in denial of difficult realities; instead, we are called to come to grips with them in a godly way. Unfortunately, America is full of reality-deniers rather than those who embrace reality with God’s help and salvation. Let’s look for a moment at three things all people, especially non-Christians, should fear and not deny. (more…)