Christian Mysticism and Inclusivism Taking Hold in Evangelicalism 

In one sense, as believers in Christ, we are to be accepting and loving toward those who do not know Christ. Yet we also have doctrinal convictions and beliefs that counter those who differ with us and we are to oppose them (lovingly of course). Jesus put it like this: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). We are to go out preaching the Gospel in its full array of hard truths (original sin, total depravity, just wrath, hell, substitutionary atonement, justification through faith alone in Christ alone, all of which is made possible by grace alone) and yet we are to be innocent as doves in our speech and conduct toward them. We are not to be deceived by false teaching and even more so, we are to oppose it, but do so with reverence, gentleness, and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

However, in our modern day in age, the Protestant evangelical church, to a large degree, has capitulated to the culture, inviting in its pagan practices and belief systems, as orthodox teaching even. What do I mean? Well, let's consider the millions of "FW: Fw: Fw:" emails circulating the globe right now, sent by those from within Protestant evangelical churches. Most of these entail some form of superstition or myth, that if you do X then Y will happen, without any regard for a sovereign God who rules all things by His powerful word. In addition, many of these emails are already documented as being false out on www.snopes.com (check it out).

But regardless, the principle is that something can be said about what is being taught (or not being taught) nowadays in our churches concerning who God is and how He has acted in history through Christ to redeem us from God's impending wrath. Something can be said about the teaching because it has resulted in "believers" folding to these mystical "Christian" emails, believing them to be true. I can't tell you how many of these my dad receives from people within his own evangelical Bible study group. I had to just ask people to quit sending them to me, or in most cases I would find the snopes.com article speaking about that particular email and reply to all with the link. They stopped coming in quickly. I mean it's not true, right? Why should things that aren't true spread around as if they were? But that is not my main point.

Something else concerned me today that prompted me to write this entry. I noticed a Facebook group entitled, "100,000,000 Christians Worship God!" And while I certainly hope that is true (while remaining cautious as to the truthfulness of that), something confirmed my cautiousness. I noticed many of the comments on the forums saying things along the lines of, "Are we Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, etc. or are We CHRISTIANS? Too many times we get all worked up in denominations, that we forget we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we are Christians indeed. Why do we continue to put down one another, we all have our faults in the denomination." Yes the church is imperfect. Yes the church has rough edges, in every denomination. Yes, even Reformed denominations and circles for sure. :] But is there not a good reason, in many cases (though not all), for denominational splits?

A quote from Monergism.com's Bad Theology section says this: "Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true (Gospel) Christianity...But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching that is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin." Yet this is lost nowadays on our Christian culture at large.

This is where the evangelical church has capitulated to the pagan culture around us and its ideas. How? Instead of holding fast to the Christian understanding of tolerance, to a large degree, we have adopted their understanding of tolerance. This was set in stone for me on the group itself where it gave rules for the members: "If you or anyone is known to say or write anything unkind or negative to anyone in our group we will ban them IMMEDIATELY upon notification." Now of course, the rule should stand in the instances where people say unkind and things to others, so as to harm them personally. That should not be tolerated. And of course, trying to manage that for 400,000+ users is next to impossible. However, that's not my point. It was the addition of something in the rule that I think is revealing. Did you see it? "Anything ... negative." Anything? Really? Even doctrinal disagreements that hit at the root of how people are saved and get into heaven for eternity? Hmm. Is this not the adoption of something that our secular culture values, that is moral and religious relativism?

During the 16th century, there was this little theological schism in the catholic (universal) church called the Reformation. Heresy was the issue at hand, heresy having to do with how people are saved, literally, for eternity. And while I personally desire for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, the uproar in the Reformation was over this very issue: how are people to be saved from God's wrath? Catholics and Protestants fundamentally disagree over how people are saved. Luther was condemned as a heretic at the Diet of Worms. I hold to Luther's teachings on the Gospel. To Protestants he should be considered one for whom the world was not worthy for standing strong against false teaching and upholding the Gospel. We do have affirmations together with Roman Catholics on the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and several other important distinctions that can be made over against other religions (like the Mormons, JW's, and others who would claim to be under the title of Christianity). But are these enough to unite us? No. They go further to talk about certain, extra-scriptural requirements placed upon the work of Christ, if we are to be saved.

We drastically differ on the nature of salvation itself with the Roman Catholics. This is not an unimportant distinction as most seem to think. This is not something we can just look over. This affects our ability to stand together as one people in Christ with Roman Catholics because we both view each other as heretics (heretics being those who believe doctrines that will take them to hell). Yet it seems those who claim to be Protestant evangelical Christians don't get this at all, which just makes you have to really wonder about their own understanding of the Gospel to begin with (justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone), though of course you cannot necessarily paint everyone with a broad brush, I know.

Regardless, it seemed a majority of people in the group forums were making many of the same statements (though I only read a handful of the thousands of comments) concerning our unity with Roman Catholics in particular, as well as other denominations, that by Biblical, historical, Gospel, confessional standards, are anathema (accursed), enemies of God, enemies of the cross, because they reject the Gospel message itself in their teaching and preaching, either implicitly or explicitly. "They have a form of godliness while denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5). Some of the few comments I actually appreciated were those coming from some Roman Catholics opposing the Protestants for trying to bring about this unity. I found this interesting, because the argument by the Roman Catholics was that we Protestants have abandoned the "real" church (Rome) and have no right to call together unity. I agree, not that we have abandoned the real church, but that we have no right to call together unity.

We Protestants, as a group, deny their doctrines that only the Roman Catholic Church can interpret Scripture for us, that she is infallible. We believe in Sola Scripura, that the Scriptures alone are the sole, final, infallible authority for the life and practice of the church. We deny their Eucharist because in it is a most pernicious belief that Christ is re-sacrificed each week at Mass. We deny that Christ's atonement is incomplete and that only the priests can stand in between us and the Savior. This flies in the face of Hebrews 10:11-13 which reveals that Roman Catholics have simply re-instituted the Jewish sacrificial system all over again each week in their Mass, but instead now, the sacrifice is the "incomplete" work of Christ, at least according to them. And as far as the priests are concerned in the Church of Rome, Christ alone, not a sinful priest, is our intercessor. No man can stand in between us and God. The only One who can, who is qualified, is Christ Himself. The way has been opened, the temple curtain torn in two by His work on the cross. He is our great High Priest. Through the work of Christ alone, we have full, unfettered access to the throne of God above, when outside of it, only wrath and a fury of fire remains.

Surprisingly, even the Roman Catholics (at least those true to the Roman Church) are getting the point in the forums, the very point I'm trying to make: there is and can be no unity between Catholics and Protestants on the basis of the fact that we both have serious doctrinal disagreements on the nature of salvation itself! They see the real issue at hand here: eternity, either with or without God. Maybe we should wakeup too and recover the Gospel in our groups before it is lost amongst our denominations altogether.

All of this in turn makes me consider whether there are 100,000,000 Christians (saved, regenerate, actually believing, Christians) worshipping God right now (through faith alone in Christ alone, the only way to truly worship God to begin with, is it not? (Romans 14:23) if these people claiming to be Christians believe there are other acceptable views within Christianity of how we are saved; and, if they believe there to be no important disagreement on fundamental soteriological (salvation) issues. Yes yes, I cannot know anyone's heart. I agree with you. No one, not even the person, can really know the heart, but only God knows. Here's a distinction though: you can know what someone believes (at least outwardly, at face value) by what they state personally as their beliefs, can you not? Is that not what doctrine is, a stated belief in words, sentences, you know, language, that we use to communicate ideas and concepts to others? This seems to be lost now though in our mystical, culturally inclusive, relativistic Christian culture.

Yes, I wish the church could be universal in the sense that there were no denominational splits. But unfortunately, we do not have that luxury, because within many of these different denominations are false doctrines and heresies by which people are being blinded from the very Gospel itself and led straight to hell. That seems to me to be quite important, trumping this postmodern, cultural desire for what really amounts to false unity to begin with. This is frightening and should strike fear in us as believers that we be faithful to the Apostolic Gospel message delivered to us in the Scriptures.

I cannot stand in worship with Catholics or other (theologically liberal or relativistic) denominations even who deny we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I will not. Because I'm theologically arrogant? Not at all. I'm a sinner saved by grace alone. How could I possibly be arrogant if God is the One who saved me when I wanted nothing of Him, blind and depraved, turned away from Him? I cannot. This has everything to do though with the very Gospel itself by which we are saved. We lose that, then what is the point of the church? I will not stand with those who differ on these points because we believe we are saved in two entirely different ways. One is supernatural, the other is fleshly. One is by divine intervention, the other we climb the latter of works to be acceptable. One is by Grace Alone through the finished work of Christ; the other is faith plus works you do to get in good with God (which is just smoke and mirrors for humanistic, man-accomplished salvation really).

Within many denominational splits lies important theological (belief) distinctions that must be understood. If someone says this is unimportant, they have clearly adopted the modern pagan postmodern cultural understanding that doctrines and creeds should be eradicated because, "We can't really know anything for sure can we?" This is sad, mainly because church history is full of people who died, were tortured, let their families be split apart, all for theological distinctions and doctrine even, because they knew the glory of Christ was at stake. Would those early church doctors and fathers who have gone on to be with the Lord before us say the doctrines for which they willingly perished were unimportant? I think not.
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This is Just One of the Forms of Persecution the Church Faces 

Christian Ministry Fined $23,000 in Gay Discrimination Case

Much can be said about where the modern notion of "tolerance" is headed in our society: the legal exclusion of those who are religiously and morally exclusive. More and more of these cases are starting to spring up in Europe and North America, not merely homosexual cases, but cases in which a ministry or church takes a stand on morality. We would be wise to pay attention and consider the cost of holding fast to our doctrinal convictions concerning the Gospel and its implications in our lives. Persecution is always good for purifying the church. Unfortunately, we need it, for we have become polluted by the world.
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The Courage to be Protestant - A Review 

In The Courage to be Protestant, David Wells notes there are three major groups splintering within the evangelical church now that threaten the entire movement's original cause (though one of them is remaining faithful and seeks to preserve it). There are smaller groups that are splintering of course, but the focus is on the three major movements. The word "evangelicalism" is rooted in the word "evangel" which means Gospel. This was the fundamental basis upon which the phrase "evangelical" came into existence, starting either during or right before the times of the Puritans (based upon the fact that John Owen and Jonathan Edwards used the term themselves in their writings). Now though, things are taking a drastic turn; a turn, in fact, that has not been witnessed in its entire history since the Reformation.

These three distinct groups that are "emerging" (no pun intended) are the Truth-lovers, those who hold a historic protestant understanding of the Gospel as recovered in the Reformation (though all of these people are not necessarily Reformed); the Marketers, that is those who hold to using corporate marketing techniques to, in a sense, manipulate people into the church (marketing primarily to an aging baby-boomer generation); and the Emergents, those who believe it is necessary to adapt and morph Biblical, theological and historical understanding to our postmodern culture in an effort to win them for Christ (marketing themselves primarily to my generation).

While not doubting the good intentions and desires of the Marketers and Emergents, Wells brings stinging indictments that reveals their shift on crucial doctrines of the Gospel itself, which Satan has historically used to tear the church apart from within and eclipse the Gospel itself, all in the name of Christianity. I have not been able to put this book down it is so good. It has really made me consider the need to be even more courageous (yet loving) to hold fast to historic Protestantism (that is the Gospel) in the face of those, even within our churches unfortunately, who employ worldly means to bring people in and in some cases attempt to save themselves through their own doing and "Jesus' help".

Within the Marketing and Emergent movements, everything under the sun (including substitutionary atonement even! Check out Al Mohler in this sermon) is being redefined outside of historic, Biblical definitions, but is instead defined upon what our culture thinks, says and wants. However though, in a lot of cases, historic doctrines are held, yet pastors and teachers seem to be ashamed of them and lighten them up significantly, or just never speak about them in the pulpit at all. Are you ashamed of the doctrines of hell, wrath, sin, justice, predestination even? Jesus Himself spoke more about hell than anyone, yet some teachers would make Jesus out to be this guy who spoke some hippie love language.

Shouldn't we possibly be willing to talk about that which is uncomfortable (sin and wrath in particular) because it is a prerequisite for getting the Gospel right? Isn't that why people hate us Christians to begin with, precisely because the Gospel is an offensive message to sinful man? And if our message is not met with a good level of opposition, could there possibly be something wrong with our message? It's the truth, is it not? The Marketers sure do seem to be ashamed of these hard truths though. Are you ashamed of the Bible speaking in terms of absolute truth? The Emergents clearly are, because a majority of people in our culture now are not sure there is any absolute truth, and the Emergents are folding to the pressure to be culturally relevant. They therefore shape their message to fit what the culture wants.

This book is a clear wakeup call for the evangelical church to recover it's Gospel-roots as its primary focus and not shift on Biblical language, so that we may preserve the movements' initial cause: the glory of God and the Gospel through which people may be reconciled to God. Either we recover our roots and threads that hold us together, or the historic evangelical cause will be lost. Unfortunately, David Wells believes the movement may already be lost and so it may be time to just move on and start a new movement of Gospel-centrality in the church, for both salvation and progressive sanctification (for growth in our faith). To me, it seems that a new movement is already under way with the advent of the "truth-lovers". David Wells, summed up, puts it like this in the book:
"It would be quite unrealistic to think that evangelicalism today could look exactly as it did fifty years ago, or a hundred, or five-hundred. At the same time, the truth by which it is constituted never changes because God, whose truth it is, never changes. There should therefore be threads of continuity that bind real Christian believing in all ages. It is some of those threads, I believe, that are now being lost....I do not know what the evangelical future will be, but I am certain evangelicalism has no good future unless it finds this kind of direction again."

Nowadays, you have everyone from the Oneness Pentecostals to Joel Osteen being called evangelical, yet Osteen is clear that he never wants to speak on anything negative, even if it is true, because it would offend people. Osteen is a Pelagian in his teaching of how people are saved, heresy condemned by an ecumenical early church council, The Council of Orange, in 529 A.D. And then T.D. Jakes does not believe in the Trinity, he's a Modalist/Sabellian, two heresies, both of which were condemned in the third and fourth centuries. These teachers not only deny historic ecumenical, early church doctrines on the nature of Christ, God, sin (doctrines that even the Roman Catholic Church holds, whom we Protestants have crucial disagreements with over the nature of salvation), but these guys also specifically deny the roots of evangelicalism in not preaching orthodox, Gospel truth. Yet they are called and labeled evangelical! And then if you criticize what they are teaching, that they are in error, in any fashion, you get labeled a bigot, most specifically within the church! There is something seriously wrong with that.

This is a totally unqualified quote with no backing or proof anyone actually said it, but it honestly would not surprise me with the way things are shifting in evangelicalism. Someone told me that a lady had left a Roman Catholic church to go to one of the nearby "evangelical" mega-churches (remaining anonymous) because, "They didn't teach the Trinity there and I just can't believe in that." If this is true (which again, not sure it is), volumes can be said about the methodologies employed at the church, the messages being communicated, the lack of clear truth that isn't being taught, and most of all, the fact that there is no Gospel whatsoever (the root of evangelicalism), amongst a host of other things.

As those who hold to the historic truths of Christianity as particularly recovered in the Reformation, we must be willing to take abuse for the sake of Gospel-truth and not shift on those doctrines clearly shown to us in the Scriptures. That does not mean we have to stand up and be jerks toward those who differ. In fact, if this just makes you angry and you know you'll just be mean, please keep quiet. Rather, we should lovingly confront error with the timeless truth of the Scriptures that has been passed down throughout the ages. This book is a proclamation and warning call to hold fast to what is true, even though our times dictate for us to shift our positions. David Wells says, "It takes no courage to sign up as a Protestant." However, to be a theologically historic Protestant is increasingly taking more guts. Lord, help us to hold fast to what is true by Your Spirit.
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R.C. Sproul Interviews Ben Stein 


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Spurgeon on Universal Atonement, John Wesley, and George Whitefield 

Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, "It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself," they say, "to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty." I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins.

Once again, if it was Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice.

That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer—I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.

The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one "of whom the world was not worthy." I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths [Doctrines of Grace], or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

Excerpt taken from A Defense of Calvinism by C.H. Spurgeon: A Defense of Calvinism

Related article, what a defense! For Whom Did Christ Die? & What Did Christ Actually Achieve on the Cross for Those for Whom He Died? - John Piper
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If We Go on Sinning Deliberately 

Excerpt taken from http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue65b.htm

Recognizing allusions may also prove helpful in casting light on passages that are often considered "difficult." This turns out to be the case with the warning found in Hebrews chapter 10:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29)

While there are several issues evident within this complex passage, I wish to focus on the term "sinning willfully" in verse 26. Many have struggled with what exactly the author of Hebrews is trying to convey with this term. The confusion proceeds from the fact that every "sin" is indeed done "willfully" in the sense that all who "sin" do the act of their own volition, thus "willfully" in one sense of the word. Furthermore, the Apostle John makes it quite clear: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). Thus, if we are to maintain that the Scriptures are consistent in its unified message, "sinning willfully" must have some other meaning than that noted above. The question then is: "What does the author of Hebrews have in mind when he writes the term: "sinning willfully"?

Light is cast on this difficult passage when we realize that the author of Hebrews is most probably alluding to a distinct yet similar warning found in the Old Testament. In Numbers 15 we find that those "under the law of Moses" were given instruction and warning regarding "sinning unintentionally" and "sinning willfully." Note the following:

Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him (Numbers 15:27-31).

Therefore, since the author of Hebrews clearly notes that he is making an analogy to the punishment of those who "set aside the law" (vs. 28-29), we get a somewhat clearer picture of what he means by "sinning willfully." Since there was a distinction in the Old Testament regarding those who had received the revelation of the Lord through Moses of "sinning unintentionally" and "sinning defiantly," the author of Hebrews makes the following point analogous to the Old Testament instructions and warning: If those who defiantly spurned the Law after receiving the knowledge of its truth were put to death, how much greater will be the punishment of those who defiantly spurn the Gospel of Jesus Christ after receiving the knowledge of its truth.

After carefully examining the passage and the roots that the author of Hebrews is relating it to, it becomes evident the definition of "sinning willfully" carries with it the meaning of one who defiantly blasphemes the Gospel after accepting the concept that it is indeed true. When this is done, only a fearful expectation of the eternal judgment of God remains for that individual.
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Updated: The New Age Trend Within Organizations 

The New Age Trend Within Organizations - June 26, 2007

I have done a significant update to my post last year on the New Age trend going on right now on many corporate fronts. I felt it was important to clarify many of my points as well as add more content that I felt was necessary. More and more companies and organizations, including those that are public (such as AT&T and IBM), are apparently picking up this trend. At the end of the post, I have added what I feel to be where all of this could be headed, in the long-term political and private realms. We would do well to pay much closer attention to this and be on guard that, as believers in Christ, we must stand against such things, should they come our way.
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Not One Stone Will Be Left Upon Another - Christ Our Great Reward 

"And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.'" - Mark 13:1-2

Many people's reaction to Jesus' statement in these verses is, "Why do you have to be so serious all the time? Why can't you just enjoy the beauty of something man has accomplished? Lighten up!" The reason is because Jesus saw the stakes of helping His disciples see the world through His eyes (the eyes of God Himself), moving them away from their temporally focused, fleshly, sinful eyes. Yes the temple was gorgeous, I'm sure. I cannot even imagine the architecture, the craftsmanship, the work involved to have made it what it was. What we have left at the present time in Jerusalem is absolutely beautiful. How much greater was it's beauty around the time of Jesus?

Of course Jesus could appreciate beauty, He created everything that exists and is Himself the Author of beauty! (Colossians 1:16) That is not why Jesus came to this world though, to appreciate beauty. He came to show a just God who does not pass over sin without any regard for His honor and name; and He came to redeem a people for Himself by His blood. He came with specific intentions, and His disciples were the one's through whom He would begin building His church. Jesus was not going to let them get distracted from the end for which He entered the world by man made structures and accomplishments. Jesus had an intentionally designed agenda at every point along the way in His ministry: to give them (and us) an eschatological vision that was centrally focused upon the prize, that is the glory and supremacy of God for their ultimate enjoyment and His glory in that enjoyment, forever. It pervaded everything Jesus said, His whole life. This is no exception.

The natural person will of course start questioning why Jesus could not just appreciate the temple with his disciples right before He was going to the cross. This is because the natural person, "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." Jesus' statements make no sense to those without the Spirit. Apart from the Spirit giving us understanding into His words, His statements are mere sayings, teachings, or good wisdom. That is why you have so many theologically liberal scholars who seek to equate Jesus' life and ministry with that of Ghandi, Buddha, and other "wise" teachers. Regardless, Jesus Himself was looking beyond this world and its riches and glory to the one to come, which is infinitely greater. The only way that world would be possible for sinners was by His nearing death and resurrection. Hence, this is why Jesus was so centrally focused upon the end goal, the joy set before Him: the glorification of God in redeeming sinners by His blood.

In Mark 13:1-2, Jesus is instructing His disciples that everything they see around them will fall apart and decay. They have no reason to set their hopes on or find their joy in these things or the things of man at all, for all is fleeting and will pass away in the twinkling of an eye. This was the message of Ecclesiastes. And the message of that book was so depressing for our natural selves really so that we are forced to find our joy not in the things that decay, fade, and fall apart, but in the Rock, in the Redeemer, in Jesus Christ alone. The last chapter of the book ends by saying, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" (Ecclesiastes 12:1) "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) And we do this (fear God and keep His commandments) by daily fixing our gaze upon Him in prayer and Scripture reading, humbly depending upon the Spirit to move us and conform us to His image. For apart from Christ you can do none of these things.

"There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down," Jesus says. Now of course, in the context of this passage, Jesus is specifically speaking about the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. But the same principle still applies for all of us in the present day. Focusing on the here and now with no eternal perspective on the end goal, the glory of God and His people enjoying the presence of His being forever, is foolishness. It is in fact absurd! If our existence upon the Earth as Christians is to just gather "stuff" that the world considers to be the end goal, then we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

But the point of Christian existence in this world is to focus our entire worldview, our entire eschatological understanding and perspective, our entire lives even, upon the reward which is Christ Himself, at the expense of ourselves. This reward is spoken of as it pertained to Moses: "[Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward." (Hebrews 11:26) For the glory of God and the joy of our own hearts, we must do the same. Consider the reproach of Christ from a secular world who thinks the cross foolishness as greater wealth than the treasures it focuses upon as the ultimate joy and reason we exist. At your schools, in your jobs, and unfortunately, even in many churches nowadays, be willing to sacrifice yourselves for the cause of making Christ the center of your life and the lives of others, for He is your final, great Reward.

May we all consider that Jesus came not to give us uppity, upper-class, rich lives in the materialistic world's eyes, or just help us live to the best of our potential, or to help us gather abundance in possessions and create and work for the ends of man. There is quite enough schlock out there already in the name of Christ to make me sick. But rather, Christ came and suffered on our behalf on the cross, so that we could also suffer with Him, and by His work in and through us, build His Kingdom, reversing the curse. And He did this that we can all, as His adopted people who trust Him alone through faith, together enjoy Him as our great Reward forever. There is indeed nothing better in all the universe. Let us look to the Reward and "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Enjoy the things God has blessed you with. I'm not saying that we should not enjoy these things, or that it is bad to have them, because they do point to the character and goodness of the One who provided them for you; enjoy what He's given you to His glory! But let us also consider His words at the same time in the verses at the top, that not one thing around us will be left standing when He comes to execute judgment upon the Earth. Therefore, He is all that matters. We are not to set our final hope and joy upon these temporal things and make our life's work for the world's ends, for all of these things will quickly disappear, right before our eyes many times. Christ is the solid Rock upon which we stand, who never changes though, a Person who we can set our ultimate, final hopes upon because of His life, death, and resurrection.
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Approaching the Lord Biblically 

Earlier, I was talking with my brother, Stephen (who is in Baghdad right now with the Army) on instant messenger. We were talking about the Gospel and how we must be constantly fighting to center every facet of our lives upon it. Our conversations, our relationships, our marriages, our toil, our pain, our struggles, our blessings, our families, everything. Otherwise, we risk either falling into antinomianism, that is, the abuse of God's grace with total disregard for obedience and submission to Him, or legalism, that we try and please God with our actions as the basis for our relationship with Him, which fails constantly. Both of these errors oppose the Gospel itself because both say, "I am my own Lord and Savior."

And Stephen said something really practical and encouraging that has helped in his pursuit of Christ while out in the Arabian deserts of Iraq, in particular a war zone, that on its face we may all inherently know but often forget as a rudimentary part of our daily approach to God. I'm simply unpacking what he said to give it some backing. This is nothing really deep, but it may help some of you in your respective ministries in helping people towards Christ. He said, "I've figured out it's a matter of taking the time to meditate on who I am and who God is," to which I then added, "Then we must consider what He did in Christ to bring us to Himself."

Those three things are vital for the Christian life. When we approach God, these are things we must always consider: 1) who we are, 2) who God is, and 3) what God had to do to bring us to Himself.

All of this is sobering, humbling, and yet because of the third point, all of it brings about the most glory possible for God and the most joy possible for us who believe in Christ, because we are now finally, ultimately accepted before the only One who ever mattered. The first point involves the doctrine of sin and total inability as sinners, as MacArthur spoke about at the T4G conference this past week (MP3). We are enslaved to sin, rebellious toward God. We are desperately sick, rotting on the inside, and arrogant toward Him in our actions and words. The second point involves who God is, His nature, His essence, His character, His justice, His wrath against our sin, and His holy, correct regard for the highest value in all the universe: His name, honor, and glory. But then, the third point, we must always consider what it took for God to bring us to Himself, which reveals His infinite love and mercy toward sinners who disregard Him in all they do.

1) Who we are.

This gets right down to a good, solid, Biblical understanding of who we are as humans in Scripture. If we fail to get this, none of the other parts of the Gospel make any sense: the hell we deserve for that sin, Christ's blood as necessary to appease God's wrath, as just two examples, will be regarded as absolute foolishness if we believe we are not this bad. If we merely compare ourselves to others around us in regard to our righteousness, we will not appreciate the Gospel at all. One fault here in our understanding of who we are will taint our understanding of the lengths God had to go in Christ to make us acceptable in His presence. However you cannot have this proper understanding of who you are until you have rightly and Biblically compared yourself to the majesty and holiness of God (in the second point). Isaiah got it in Isaiah 6. So did Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1. And finally, so did Paul in Acts 9. And they got it only because the Lord acted upon them. Ask God to act upon you to show you your desperate condition before Him, and then patiently wait upon Him to act.

Until you see yourself in stark contrast to His nature, His character, His perfections, His frightening majesty, you cannot appreciate how awful you really are before Him. We need Scripture to see this reality, that when the Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men (all of us) to see if there are any who are righteous, He finds not one (Psalm 14:2-3). We need the Holy Spirit, coupled with Scripture, to show us our awful estate before Him, for apart from this, we do not see ourselves as nearly as bad as we should. It is necessary to getting the Gospel right.

2) Who God is.

We must not disregard the Old Testament pictures of who God is in His justice and wrath. Many say the Old Testament presents us with a God of wrath, but the New Testament shows us a God of love and that's who we need to focus on. This is fallacious. God is both at the same time, always has been, always will be. We must focus on all His attributes, summed up in the person of Christ. Both the Old and New Testaments show us a God of justice and love, paradoxically.

This is most clearly seen in the cross, where Christ, in His love for sinners, satisfied the justice and wrath of God in Himself. God is holy, regards His name and honor above all things in the universe, and our sinning against Him has so greatly offended Him, because each sin treads His glory, name and honor, the essence of His being, in the ground. We cannot be accepted in His presence unless something is done about our offense. We are separated from God because of our rebellion.

There is one and only one God, and yet God Himself exists in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a mystery, but is clearly presented in the Scriptures, particularly when Jesus says Himself, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19) Three persons, One God, united in being and essence.

We must see that God is the highest essence of being in the universe, that His glory emanates forth in such beautiful and frightening array, both at the same time. There is no potential in God as if He could become greater than He already is, for He is infinitely great in every way already. He is the most courageous and powerful in all the universe, and yet He is the gentlest, mildest, and meekest of all. He is nothing like us. He is holy and burning with righteousness. Should we approach the throne of God without His righteousness on our side, we would be obliterated in destruction forever, because we are filthy, despicable sinners who have despised His name in all our ways.

3) What it took for God to bring us (sinners) to Himself.

When we approach God through Christ though, God come in the body of a human, by His righteousness on our behalf through faith, we can stand upright in the face of God's judgment, and boldly approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ our own (Charles Wesley). Through Christ's life-work, from His birth to His resurrection after His crucifixion, and we, being united to Him at every point through faith, do not have to fear the eternal judgment-obliteration spoken of in the last point.

But what lengths God had to go to make us acceptable before Him! He could not just let us pass before Him without regard to His honor and name that have been trodden in the dirt. Something had to be done to bring us to Himself. From eternity, this was the plan of God, to reconcile to Himself a people for His own possession, through the sacrificial death of His own Son for us, all to the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:5-6). Christ, from eternity past, glorious in all His perfections, infinitely intertwined in the love of the Father and the Spirit, emptied Himself by becoming a human in history, taking on our very existence. In doing so, He could sympathize with us in our weakness. As a human, He lived perfectly as we never have though, loving the Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, thus fulfilling the entirety of the Law. He did this to the satisfaction of the Father, who then proclaimed at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11)

Whereas we have all fallen infinitely short of God's standards of righteousness and can never succeed in making Him love us with our deeds (Isaiah 64:6), He succeeded in doing so, fulfilling the Law on behalf of those with the faith of Abraham. The only one in all the universe, infinitely worthy of glory, gave up all His rights and instead stood in the place of condemn sinners, taking in Himself the full measure of the wrath of God by His blood on the cross. The love He had with the Father and the Spirit from eternity past was cut off at the cross and He experienced hell, a hell beyond anything we humans can comprehend, because this was the God-man who was made utterly miserable. He gave up His life willingly so that He could save many (Mark 10:45). By His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Death did not conquer Him though, but He rose triumphant over sin, death, the devil, and hell. These historical acts, in particular His resurrection, confirm that all He said and did were true. Those who believe and trust in Him and His work for them are truly free and no longer does condemnation breathe down their neck with every breath they take. Rather, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Keeping these three points in our approach to God gives us a proper sense of the reverential fear we should have before Him, and at the same time it gives us the freedom to approach Him without any hindrance, namely our sin. These two results coming from the Gospel creates within us a joy the far exceeds anything in the world. Our response should be, "Why did you save me? A Sinner of sinners? How can it be!?" Praise Christ for triumphantly achieving a reward for those who believe, a reward we don't deserve: the enjoyment of God forever, the highest of joys, and then giving Him glory for accomplishing that enjoyment for us through Christ!

Further reading on Christ and all of His excellencies:

The Excellency of Christ - Jonathan Edwards
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A Short Testimony of My Life and Conversion (Updated) 

I’m David Westerfield, 28, and have lived in Fort Worth my whole life, and so has my wife, Courtney. I was raised in your pretty typical dispensational Bible Church (affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary), which we left to go to Christ Chapel Bible Church (also associated with DTS) in Fort Worth, because the former church began employing many of the marketing techniques dominating many churches nowadays. I have been at Christ Chapel now since I was in fourth grade. Going back to my childhood, and then even further, my mom's, she was abused severely by her mother. Unspeakable things happened. Back to my chilhood, during the early years of my existence, things were going fairly well for my family, that is until my mom had a total psychological meltdown and memories began flooding back from her childhood. The abuse (sexual in nature primarily, as well as psychological torment) was so severe that her mind split into multiple personalities to deal with it all once the memories began coming back when I was four. She was in and out of psyche wards and mental institutions all my growing up life. So there were great trials in my family in which many times the suicidal personalities came out and she would cut on herself and then go into the psyche ward for about six weeks at a time.

I heard about Christ from a young age from my mom and dad, as well as at church, and “invited Christ to be my Savior” when I was about five. But I still wonder to this day if it was genuine at all only because of the turn my life made when I became a teenager, and lining that up against things said in James and 1 John. As a teenager, sinfully rebellious at heart, I began questioning (as everyone does at some point I think, though my questioning was in the form of cursing at God) how an eternally loving God could permit such evil in my life (and the world) to 1) befall my mother, and 2) our family as a result of that evil. The questioning turned into bitterness, which ate me alive. My actions then fell in line with what I perceived to be reality concerning the nature of God and His control over all things, especially my own life. I got into drugs, partying, slandering my parents, fits of rage, etc. There were two particular instances where I literally should have died: 1) from “huffing” or using inhalants to get high, such as lighter fluid; and 2) from alcohol poisoning after drinking way too much. It is a wonder God did not just give me over to wrath and let me drop into the eternal pit that I deserved for my sin. He indeed should have. But clearly, He had a different agenda for me in His sovereign plan, for it was not my own agenda at all that I later turned to Christ and I never would have jumped on board had He not intervened because I was desperately sick at heart, spiritually dead, and unresponsive to God's calls while in my sin.

After continuing in that lifestyle for several years, at the age of 17, things began to turn. And I clearly remember now that it was not my own doing that brought about my increasing convictions concerning Christ and the Gospel and my lifestyle, but it was the Lord putting those things into my heart that were coming to life, seeds starting to grow that had been planted years ago, and were now being watered by the Holy Spirit. At the end of my sophomore year in high school, I began to read the Psalms because I knew there was hope in the Scriptures, but I didn’t know where to start, so I started there, because it was easy to find. During this whole time I was still pursuing drugs and the party scene, but slowly and gradually, reading Scripture each night, there began to be a shift in my thinking and conviction concerning all of it. I felt increasingly out of place with my actions and the company I was keeping. As an aside, I want to ask a question: Was it something I did that made me think or feel in this way? Not at all, but it was all God’s doing going underneath my thinking and willing and acting to show me my desperate condition apart from Him and His irresistible beauty manifested in Christ. Anyway, this continued into the summer until it finally culminated in late July of 1996.

I had been watching TBN (yes, the Lord can use anything) and they had these scenes of nature and Scripture passages to go along with each scene. I had been watching this in the middle of the night for many weeks, and this particular night at about 2 am I went outside to read Scripture and pray to God (which I had been increasingly doing all summer). And suddenly I was overcome with a deep convicting sense of my own unworthiness in my sin before the Lord in how I had back-slapped Him in the face my whole life, but also a deep convicting sense of His goodness to me in Christ, made effective in the cross, shown so clearly to me in the Scripture He sovereignly brought to me on the TV screen that night. I then asked Christ to forgive me for the way I had treated Him and the Great Burden of sin, shame, guilt, and fear lifted instantly. Looking up to the stars in the night sky that night with tears of gladness, I then felt as if I was caught up into eternity that evening with Christ, with one foot on earth and one in heaven. The Holy Spirit had overwhelmed me and lifted me up from the mire, as David says in the Psalms. I wept for several hours at His mercy toward me as to why He would have ever saved me after pursuing such licentiousness with my life. All I could answer is that He had always specially loved me, from the very beginning, and would not let me go, and made it so that night by His effectual grace purchased in the cross.

There were a whole lot of other factors as to what precipitated my conversion including people the Lord sent who pursued me in the ministry at Christ Chapel, one of which who passed away in a car accident a couple of years ago, David Phillips, a father-figure in the faith for me, who was the minster over the student ministries there. In addition to him, there were other leaders in the ministry, Ryan McCarthy and Jon Dansby in particular, who invested in my life, who are now peers of mine and friends in the ministry of which I am still a volunteer to high schoolers, though they are vocationally involved.

So I really got plugged into Christ Chapel’s student ministries in 1996 after my conversion my sophomore year, and then after high school, started leading as a volunteer in the middle school group in the Spring of 1999. I then began dating my wife, Courtney, in 2000, who I had known throughout high school, we were then engaged in October of the same year, and were married in 2001. Shortly after, as in three weeks after we were married, my mom passed away from causes that were undetermined. I personally believe it was the accumulation of high levels of anti-psychotic medication over the years, but we will never know. She loved Christ though and was converted literally when she was four under the preaching of S. Lewis Johnson in the 1950’s at Believers Chapel in Dallas. The Lord spared her soul, but not her suffering, all in ultimately bringing glory to Christ. That was her hope despite her years of tears and pain. And that has been my hope through all of that (Romans 8), that though we had no real resolution to her life, Christ was her joy and satisfaction and she now rests in His arms of comfort in the presence of His majesty.

Continuing on, my wife and I then left the middle school group and became involved in the high school group, and we are both still there ministering to high schoolers alongside the friends I mentioned earlier with their wives. Courtney and I had Grayson last year in August and he has been such a wonderful blessing to us and has brought such joy to our hearts. Unbelievable. God’s faithfulness and love to us cannot be overstated. Not only has He rescued us from sin and its consequences, His wrath, but He has also blessed us with gifts in this world we are unworthy of as well. ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, for oh my God, it found out me. That’s my life’s story in a nutshell. The undeserved, free, electing grace of God is what saved my soul. I had no real contention with the Doctrines of Grace and Reformed theology when presented with the doctrines formally, because that was my life’s story. God saved me, nothing I did, thought, or willed. He granted the faith, gave me the eyes, transplanted my heart. That is the Gospel, Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection for His people who were rebelliously running astray and then reconciling them to God by His blood. That was me.

I pray this testimony of mine makes you consider your own salvation experience (or even if you don't think you've been saved by God and rest under His wrath even now) in seeing how God alone is the one who moves us to believe in Christ for salvation in the first place. What other explanation is there? The message of the cross is foolishness to the world, that is until the Lord shines the light of His glory in our hearts to make us see the transcendent truthfulness of it, that we may look upon His beauty, be satisfied, and thus glorify Him forever. I will close my testimony by echoing the words of C.H. Spurgeon and Martin Luther concerning their own salvation experiences that I can truthfully say is exactly my own:

"The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, 'I ascribe my change wholly to God.'" - C.H. Spurgeon, A Defense of Calvinism

"I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith." - Martin Luther, Smaller Catechism

God's sovereign work in my heart by the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ is why I am saved and others are not, not any knowledge, wisdom, or good intentions I had toward Christ within myself that I thought up or willed. My will was broken by sin and therefore I pursued that which God hated. This is why I am a Calvinist, because these truths, the Doctrines of Grace (called that for a reason) unpack this unmistakable truth within the Gospel: that it is God, and God alone who chooses who He has mercy upon and who He saves through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. And this Gospel, that God saves sinners through faith in the blood of His Son (Romans 3:21-26), is to be preached indiscriminately to all and God will do as He sees fit to bring people to faith, according to His plan. That indeed is the hope in evangelism and missions and is my life's story of how I was saved.
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