Friday, August 31, 2018

Hard Hearts


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There is nothing sadder or more tragic than standing beside the bed of a dying person who has rejected Christ and the Gospel.

I think back to a man who’d been attending church for a few months. He had heard the Gospel loud and clear. It was obvious to me that the Holy Spirit had been working on his heart. When he ended up in the hospital because of complications due to diabetes, I went to visit him. With a captive audience, I took the opportunity to present Christ again. I asked the man, “What is keeping you from repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ today?” He replied, “I’m not ready to give my life over yet.” That man died just a few days later of an unexpected heart attack. I hope in his last hours he cried out to God, but as far as I know he went to a Christ-less eternity.

As terrible as it sounds, the truth is that not everyone wants to be saved. The problem is what the Bible calls, “the hardening of the heart.” A hard heart describes an obstinate and calloused spirit that refuses to respond to God or obey His commands. The Bible associates several sins with this condition such as—pride (Dan. 5:20), unbelief (Matt. 13:14-15) and rebellion (Heb. 3:8).

There are several examples of people in the Bible who hardened their heart against the Lord. Pharaoh is probably the most prominent example (Ex. 7:22), who witnessed ten judgments from God yet refused to let the Hebrew slaves go. Then there was Nebuchadnezzar who would not humble himself before God and was forced to live like a beast for 7 years (Dan. 4:31-33). Judas also suffered from a hard heart. He was in the presence of Jesus and still turned away from the truth (John 13:27). Amazingly, the Bible predicts that the people on the earth during the Tribulation will suffer under God’s judgment, yet they will clench their fist in rebellion even tighter (Rev. 16:10-11).

The Puritans had a saying to describe God’s unbending nature and man’s response, “The same sun that melts the snow, hardens the clay.” In other words, God’s holiness will either cause us to repent or rebel, to humble or harden. The deciding factor is how we choose to respond to God’s Word. That is why in Hebrews 4:15 we are warned, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

I think Adrian Rogers gave an apt illustration. “Have you ever seen the charred stump of a pine tree? What do you think happened? Probably someone cut down the pine tree. Then a fire burned the area and caught the stump aflame. After a while it burned itself out. In a year or so the underbrush grew up again. Then there was another fire. And this time, that stump did not burn as bright or as long. One day, there came a time when no matter how hot the fire was, it simply jumped over the stump. That’s the danger of hardening our heart to God’s Word. If we do it long enough, the day will come when we have a “seared conscience” and nothing can break through to us.[1]

Notice that very important word in Hebrews 4:15—“Today.” If God speaks and we allow time to elapse before we respond, we give over that time to the Enemy and he tries to discourage us from obeying God. The longer we delay the more our heart hardens. Keep a responsive heart by obeying God today in whatever He has asked you to do. –DM            


[1] Adrian Rogers, “Harden Not Your Hearts,” Love Worth Finding, 26 February 2018 <https://www.lwf.org/daily-treasures/harden-not-your-heart>

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A God Greater Than Google


Image result for God google

“How many cups are in a quart?” “I wonder what’s the best route from here to Louisville?” “Do you know who won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in 1997?” “Which U.S. President served two non-consecutive terms?” If you are like me, then you “Google” questions like these every day. We live in an age when we literally never have to wait for an answer. If it can be known, we know it in seconds. Siri, Alexa and Google lie at our disposal ready, helpful and connected to all of man’s knowledge via the ever-growing Internet.

I recently read an article in USA Today about tech-giant Google. According to their stats, Google processes on average 40,000 search queries every second, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Did you know every Google search you’ve ever performed is stored on the search giant's servers? With that mountain of information, Google can tell a lot about you: where you live, your hobbies, age, health problems, religion and more. Of course, Google uses that data mostly to target you with ads. But the point remains, anything you’ve ever done on a computer with Google is instantly recorded and can be recalled.[1]

While Google doesn’t publicly report how much data they have stored up, expert estimates say they hold somewhere around 10-15 exabytes of data. If you are in the majority of the population that doesn’t know what an exabyte is, no worries. An exabyte equals 1 million terabytes. Today’s average personal computer holds around 500 GB, which would mean 1 exabyte would equal 2 million personal computers, and Google’s 15 exabytes would be around 30 million personal computers![2]

While Google is a powerful tool that brings vast amounts of information to our fingertips, I have been thinking how many of us have come to trust Google more than God. We have an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God, but most of the time we’d rather entrust our soul to the Internet. After all, the god at our fingertips is visible, controllable, instant, and seemingly omniscient. Have we come to the point where we think Google is greater than God?

All of this got me meditating on an attribute of God that is often left for nerdy theologians to ponder—that is, God’s omniscience. For a textbook definition, we can do no better than A.W. Tozer, who wrote:

“To say that God is omniscient means that God perfectly knows Himself, and being the source and author of all things, it follows that He knows all things that can be known. And this He knows instantly and with a fullness of perfection that includes every possible item of knowledge concerning everything that exists or could have existed anywhere in the universe at any time in the past or that may exist in the centuries or ages yet unborn. Because God knows all things perfectly, He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything. He is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything, nor does He seek information or ask questions (except when drawing men out for their own good)”[3]

Has it ever occurred to you, that nothing ever occurs to God? The Bible is replete with Scriptures attesting to the infinite knowledge of God. For example:

·         God knows everything about you—The number of your days (Ps. 139:16), your thoughts before you think them and your words before you speak them (Ps. 139:1-4), your sins and failures (Is. 1:18), the secrets of your heart (Ps. 44:21), the hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30) and every cell in your body (Ps. 139:15-16).

·         God knows the past, present and future—"I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Is. 46:9-10).

·         God knows everything about the creation— “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them” (Ps. 147:4). By the way, an Australian study a few years ago put the number of stars we can see at 70,000 million million million, or the number 70 followed by 22 zeroes. That means there are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts of the world! Yet, God names each star like we name our pets.

·         God knows all counterfactuals, that is events that could have happened in alternate universes had circumstances been different. Jesus said that the villages of Tyre and Sidon would have repented had He performed the mighty miracles He did in Bethsaida (Matt. 11:21-23). Moreover, Paul contends that had Pilate and Herod known that Jesus was the Son of the God, then they would not have crucified Him (1 Cor. 2:7-8).

Image result for psalm 147 4

What this means is that we have a God much greater that Google, and He isn’t affected by a power outage or weak Wi-Fi. The omniscience of God should lead to several results in our spiritual lives. First, it should heighten our worship. David praised God in Psalm 139:14 & 17, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well . . . How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

Second, it should make us feel secure in God’s love. God knows every ugly thing about you including your deepest, darkest sins and yet, despite this knowledge He still loves you! 1 John 3:20 reminds us, “in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.”

Third, it should cause us to trust in Him. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but God does. Nothing that comes to us whether it be death, disease, disaster or debt catches Him by surprise. He knew about it long ago, and allowed it enter our lives for a reason. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” We don’t know what our future holds, but we know the One who holds our future and He does all things well.

-DM      


[1] Kim Komando, “How to Protect Your Privacy on Google,” USA Today, 17 May 2013 <http://www.usatoday.com/
story/tech/columnist/komando/2013/05/17/google-maps-duckduckgo-web-history/2155759/>
[2] Colin Carson, “How Much Data Does Google Store Up?” Curious Insight, 20 January 2016
<https://www.cirrusinsight.com/blog/much-data-google-store>
[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper, 1961), 156.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Don't Judge Me!


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Susan Boyle had spent most of her adulthood living with her cat Pebbles, caring for her aging mother, and singing in church. With a homely appearance, she certainly didn’t look like a musical superstar. On top of that, her mannerisms were quirky and her demeanor odd. That’s probably why the audience laughed at this unassuming middle-aged woman when she appeared in 2009 on Britain’s Got Talent.

No one expected much when she raised the microphone to her lips. But then she began to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables. Spellbound, the judges were clearly taken with the beauty and power of the voice that filled the auditorium. Even, cynical ole’ Simon Cowell was taken aback. After the music stopped the audience stood to their feet cheering with delight. Everyone was surprised that such an incredible performance came from such an unlikely source.

The video of Susan Boyle’s audition went on to become one of the most-watched on You-Tube (now closing in on 200 million views). As for Boyle’s career, that one show changed her entire life. Since her d├ębut she has sold millions of albums worldwide and has scores of adoring fans.

I think Susan Boyle is an example of the old saying our mothers taught us, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Yet, its part of our fallen human nature to write people off before we have given them a fair shake. We think that with one glance we can size someone up correctly and assign a value to them on the basis of their appearance, ancestry, age, achievement and affluence. 


In fact, I would say that Matt. 7:1 has become the most popular Bible verse in our culture today. It’s the unbeliever’s favorite trump card against Christians who speak out against hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and religious pluralism. We’ve all heard the objection, “Well, who are you to judge?”

Ironically, this verse which the world loves the most, they understand least. Never has a passage of Scripture been so utterly abused, misunderstood and misapplied as this one. Before we can truly understand this passage, we need to clear up some popular misconceptions.

Most people think these verses mean, “You live your life the way you want to and I’ll live my life the way I want to. But don’t you dare impose your moral standards on me by telling me what is right and wrong.” The world cherry-picks this verse, “See, Jesus said you should never judge.”

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To put it as nicely as possible, that's baloney. No one lives that way. If we caught a burglar walking out the front door with our television, we’d yell “Stop! Thief! Put that back!” Why? Because we all intuitively recognize that stealing is wrong and we are making a judgment call.

Here’s the great irony—when you call someone out for judging, you’re actually making a moral judgment about that person. It’s inescapable. Liberals take the judgment statements of Jesus out of context because they want to avoid any moral condemnation for their own actions.  

Sadly, our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both of those extremes are wrong and Jesus shows us that you don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. In fact, Jesus tells us to judge rightly.

·         In this same passage Jesus tells us “to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye” and in verse six he tells us not to cast our pearls before dogs or hogs (a reference to enemies of the Gospel and not receptive to the truth). Both of these commands involve making judgments. Jesus isn’t telling us not to judge—He’s telling us how to judge.

·         Later on in this same sermon, 7:16, Jesus tells us to be fruit inspectors of those who claim His name, “You shall know them by their fruits,” again this involves a judgment. 

·         In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”   

·         Matt. 23 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus giving a scathing tongue-lashing to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In that passage Jesus called the religious folk of his days, “blind guides” (23:24), “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones” (23:27) and a “brood of snakes” (23:33). Anyone who claims, “Jesus never judged anyone” is merely proving their Biblical illiteracy.  

So rather than prohibiting judgment, Jesus gives us parameters for judgment. There are right ways of making judgments and wrong ways. In order to differentiate between the two, we need a good dose of discernment. Certainly, there are some cases where we ought not pick up the gavel and not render a verdict because we are poor substitutes for playing God.

The kind of judgment that Jesus warns us against in this text is the variety that the Pharisees practiced where they looked down their long noses at everyone else who didn’t measure up to their legalistic rules. This is a critical, fault-finding, self-righteous spirit that stinks of pride!

Kent Hughes writes, “The critical spirit is like the horsefly that buzzes with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores and stench. The creature prefers corruption to health. Judgmental believers may go on to be with the Lord, but they will have very little reward for their hypercritical spirit and will have negated much of the good they may have done. This is a most fearful truth—that the tone of our life will be the standard by which God judges us one day.”[1]

Another simple reason why judging critically is dangerous is because it requires that we have all the facts. In order to be a perfect judge, you must have perfect knowledge, but only God has omniscience. When we assume the position of judge we are setting ourselves up for embarrassment and failure because we do not see the total picture as God does. As 1 Sam. 16:7 says, “. . . Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

As one man said, “We judge a man for limp in his walk, but cannot see the rock in his shoe.” 

So, let’s be careful with how we judge. Because one day we will have to stand before God. As Paul warned, “5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5) -DM   




[1] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 229-230.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Long-Lost Love Letter


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In 2017 CNN reported an incredible story 72-years in the making. While Allen Cook and his daughter Melissa were renovating a house in New Jersey, they found a yellowed unopened envelope that had fallen between the cracks in the attic. It was a love letter dated May 4, 1945, by a woman named Virginia to her husband, Rolf Christoffersen, serving in the Royal Norwegian Navy. The envelope was marked “return to sender” and never made it to Rolf. The letter said, in part, “I love you Rolf, as I love the warm sun.” Through the power of the internet and social media, Allen and Melissa tracked down Rolf, 96 years-old and a widower, and his son read the letter to him. As you could imagine, there wasn’t a dry eye in the family. Virginia’s long-lost love letter reached her sailor at last.[1]

As I thought about that story, I was reminded of God’s love letter to us—the Bible. The Father who loved us before we were born, created us with tender care and redeemed us from sin has written us a collection of letters—66 to be exact—yet, how many of us have let God’s precious Word “fall between the cracks?”

In early 2017 Lifeway Research released the sad findings of a study done to measure the Bible
reading practices of Americans. Here is what they discovered: “Americans have a positive view of the Bible. And many say the Christian scriptures are filled with moral lessons for today. However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own. Its no wonder that Biblical illiteracy has skyrocketed in the past decades.”[2]  

Here’s the problem—how can we love a person we don’t know anything about? Moreover, how can we grow in our love and worship of God if we don’t take time to read the book which declares His love for us? Knowing the Word of God helps us know the God of the Word.

Charles Stanley wrote, “The Bible is God’s love letter to mankind. You may never have thought of it that way; many people tend to think of the Bible as a rule book or a story book. In reality the Bible is a magnificent love letter in which God tells His children how He longs to care for them and bless them, forgive them and shower them with His mercy.”[3]

I don’t know what your devotional life is like, but I do know this—if I step away from God’s word for even a day or two, I find my affections and mind being pulled away from the heart of the Father. It doesn’t take long for me to be led astray. Temptations become more powerful. Worries and anxiety grow heavier. Worship becomes stale and my love for the lost withers.

David couldn’t do without God’s Word either. Look at what he said in Psalm 119, “97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me . . . 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word . . . 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”

Notice at least three things God’s word did in David’s life: 1) It produced in him wisdom (v. 98), 2) it purified his walk (v. 101, 104), and 3) it sweetened his worship (v. 103). The more time we spend in God’s Word more our minds will be renewed, the less attractive sin will become and the more we will want to abide in close fellowship with Him. Like the old preachers used to say, “A Bible that is falling apart, usually belongs to a life that isn’t.” -DM      


[1] Ivaylo Vezenkov, “A lost love letter finds its recipient after 72 years,” CNN, 12 May 2017
<https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/12/us/love-letter-delivered-72-years-later-trnd/index.html>  
[2] Lifeway Research, “LifeWay Research: Americans Are Fond of the Bible, Don’t Actually Read It,” 25 April 2017 <https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/04/25/lifeway-research-americans-are-fond-of-the-bible-dont-actually-read-it/>
3 Charles Stanley, Exploring the Depths of God’s Love (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2009), Introduction.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Case for the Pre-Trib Rapture


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Recently, while surfing on YouTube I came across a video from a well-known scholar and theologian calling for the end of “the Left Behind Rapture Theology.” He cited that the doctrine of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture was unbiblical, guilty of scripture twisting, too new to be true and therefore should be “left behind.” (click here to view) Then I read about a 2016 survey done by Lifeway research among evangelical pastors which reported that only about one-third of pastors held to a Pre-Tribulation view of the Rapture.[i]

It seems that the doctrine of the Pre-Trib Rapture has fallen on hard times. As I began to ponder this, the trend began to make sense considering the Reformed resurgence that has taken place in the church over the past decade. Most Reformed theologians adhere to an A-millennial eschatology which denies the Pre-Trib Rapture.

So what about the Rapture? Is it actually taught in the Scriptures? Will the church be taken out of this world before God’s wrath is poured out? Here are a few facts that I have found to be convincing.

First, the Tribulation period is not intended for the church, instead it is meant to punish the unbelieving world of sinners and most importantly to purify Israel. Jeremiah 30:7 describes this future period of judgment as “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” meaning that it’s for Jacob’s descendants, which is the Jewish people. Zechariah 13:8 says that two-thirds of the Jews will perish during this time of wrath. In Matthew 24 Jesus described to his Jewish audience what life would be like for them during the Tribulation saying, “15 So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mat. 24:15-16). The Tribulation is intended to turn the hardened hearts of the Jewish people back to the Lord so that they will finally call out to their Messiah, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mat. 23:39; Lk. 13:35). In short, this means that the church does not fit into the Tribulation scenario, as God will be dealing with Israel and the unbelieving world at this time.  

Second, the church is conspicuously absent from the Earth when the Tribulation is described. It’s interesting that the word “church” (eklessia) is found 19 times in the first three chapters of Revelation. In fact, Revelation 2-3 is where we find Jesus’ report cards to the 7 churches. But from Rev. 6 through 19, which describes the Tribulation in detail, there is no reference to the church on Earth. Then in Revelation chapters 21-22, which is about eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth, we find the church appearing again. What this entails is that the church is not present on the earth during the Tribulation because she has been taken out beforehand.

Third, the NT is replete with promises from the Lord that the church will be protected from the wrath of God. In Revelation 3:10 we find Jesus’ promise to the church at Philadelphia, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” Notice that in this verse Jesus didn’t say He would keep the church “through” the hour of trial, but “from” the hour of trial. Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” He also states in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Keep in mind that the return of Christ is to be a “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) and a source of encouragement for the church (1 Thess. 4:18). There would be no comfort whatsoever in the return of Christ if the church was not to be removed until after it had endured the misery of the Tribulation.

Fourth, over and over again we are told that the return of the Lord cannot be predicted. Jesus stated in Matthew 24:42,44 to “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come . . . So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Paul indicated that the Day of the Lord would come as “a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1). In other words, Paul was saying that you cannot know when the Lord will return any more than you can know when a thief is planning to rob you blind. These verses support the idea that Rapture will be a sign-less event that will occur as a great shock to the world.  

However, the Second Coming of Christ is preceded by numerous signs which Jesus clearly laid out in Matthew 24 including—wars, pestilence, the rise of an Antichrist, the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and cosmic calamities. This means that the pre-trib Rapture and the Second Coming must be two separate events or else we could simply look at the signs and be able to predict when Jesus would return. Especially, Antichrist’s covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27), which formally begins the Tribulation period. From the making of the covenant, all we must do is count seven years forward and know the time for the Return of Christ. Therefore, the only way we can preserve the immanent and unpredictable nature of Christ’s return is to posit a Pre-Trib Rapture event, which removes the church from the earth before God’s wrath is poured out.

It’s for these reasons that I think the pre-tib Rapture is not only biblical, but it makes the most sense of the prophetic timeline. Hopefully, this article has confirmed or challenged some of your eschatological ideas. -DM    


[i] Bob Smietana, “Only One-Third of Pastors Share 'Left Behind' End Times Theology,” Christianity Today, 26 April 2016 <https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/april/sorry-left-behind-pastors-end-times-rapture-antichrist.html>