By Drew Kuehl
I think we all have a different picture in our minds of what heaven is going to be like. There are a few passages in the Bible that give us some idea of what it’s like, but a lot is still left to our imagination. A couple years ago, when my daughter Kara was 2 or 3, my wife, Amy, was putting her to bed one night and noticed she was deep in thought. She asked her what she was thinking about and Kara said “Mommy, I don’t think I want to go to heaven.” Amy was a bit surprised and so she asked, “why wouldn’t you want to go to heaven?” Kara looked up at her with concern on her face and said “because Mommy, what if I slipped on a cloud and fell right back to earth?”
You see, in her mind, heaven was a sort of place where you get to jump around on clouds above the earth and look down on what everyone’s doing. Though what Kara had imagined might not be the case, we do know that it is a place of unrestrained joy and freedom from our earthly bonds. When I think about it, I find myself torn inside. I would love to be there and see and experience it, but I also want to be here with my family that I love. So I always come to the conclusion that I find myself coming on many other issues as well: I have to trust in God’s perfect plan and timing.
This week as we continued our study of Philippians, we tackled verse 19 to 26 of chapter 1. We looked at verse 19 and saw how Paul used the power of prayer and relied on the provision of the Holy Spirit. We then saw in verses 20-21 that Paul was ultimately confident about his deliverance because he had given Christ first place in his life. We talked about how verse 21 is really Paul’s purpose statement and should be ours as well. I think it’s important for us to think about how we would honestly complete this sentence? For to me, to live is ______? What gets you up in the morning? What gets you excited? When you say, “That’s what life is all about,” what are you referring to? Here’s the issue. No one can leave that sentence blank. Everyone is living for something. What are you living for right now?
For Paul to live was Christ and to die was gain. The word “gain” that Paul uses refers to “profit” or interest on money. As Christians, we come out ahead when we’re dead. Actually, we’re not really dead when we die. We leave this world to spend eternity in another world. What do we gain? We gain a better body, a better home, a better inheritance and better fellowship. Live or die as Christians, it’s a win win situation. We finished by looking at verses 22-26 and we saw that we need to be prepared to die but plan to really live.
I’ve had many family members die in just the last few years: 3 Grandparents, an Aunt and my cousin and best friend. I know the truth that the longer I live, the more people I’ll see die. I rejoice in knowing that each knew Jesus and is present with their Savior. When I think about my life I’m torn as Paul was, but as he ultimately did I can say to live is Christ. That means to live is to share the gospel and teach the word of God to anyone God puts in my path. But to die is to come face to face with the God who created me and His Son who saved me. I can’t think of anything better.
By Grant Castleberry
Pastor Carl preached a powerful and convicting sermon this past Sunday on the doctrine of Eternal Retribution. The sermon was titled, A Place Called Hell. In the sermon, Pastor Carl looks at the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20 and talks about the place where the wicked will be thrown, the Lake of Fire.
One element that stuck out to me in the sermon that I had overlooked in the past is the fact that this place will be a bottomless pit (Rev. 20). Of course I had heard terms like "the abyss" and the "bottomless pit" before, but I had never really thought of their ramifications. In the sermon, Pastor Carl, in Edwards-like imagery, describes Hell as a place where you are always falling and are not able to gain your bearing. I have often thought about the flames of Hell, but I had not often thought about the endless expansiveness of Hell. What a terrible place! Not only is Hell a pit of fire, but it is a bottomless pit, of which the people that are there will never grasp its depths. They will be forever falling, groping, tumbling, and hurdling through its empty recesses, with no hope of ever finding solid ground. That thought is incredibly terrifying to me. I do enjoy climbing (with ropes), repelling down cliffs and climbing walls, and I do plan on sky-diving before it's all said and done, but the thought of falling from a plane without a parachute or falling off of a rock face is grippingly scary to me. The thought of falling for all of eternity is horrifying.
As I have been pondering this truth, several verses came to my mind which describe God as the rock of our salvation:
Psalm 18:2 - The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 94:22 - But the LORD has been my stronghold, And my God the rock of my refuge.
Isaiah 28:16 (quoted in 1 Peter 2:6) - Therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly conerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
These verses present quite a contrast to Hell for those that are in Christ. Those that are in Christ have God as their rock! They have a solid foundation, of which Christ is the cornerstone. There is no worry about a free-fall for eternity, because their feet are firmly planted in the true foundation! Finally, they will forever reign with Christ in the New Heaven and the New Earth and their existence will be defined by the one true Rock for all of eternity, Yahweh (Rev 21-22). Praise the Lord, for this is all of grace, and we should proclaim this gospel of grace to every creature (Mark 16:15)! Hell is indeed a terrible place, and we don't want anyone to go there.
By Grant Castleberry
The word evangelicalism is a cherished word among conservative American Protestants. I described myself as “an American Evangelical” on my facebook profile for about five years! For most of us, when we hear that word, we think of someone or an organization that exhibits certain qualities such as a defense of biblical truth, a love for evangelism, a firm understanding of propitiation and the atonement, piety in practice, public activism, and a stalwart orthodoxy to the fundamentals of the faith as expressed in the creeds of historic Christianity. We may also think of specific people or organizations such as C.H. Spurgeon, B.B. Warfield, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, The Southern Baptist Convention, Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU), or Princeton Theological Seminary in the nineteenth century. The word is an incredible descriptor because for so many, it embodies true Christianity. It means so much more than simply being a Baptist, an Episcopal, a Presbyterian, or a Methodist, because many from those backgrounds have fallen into Protestant liberalism, and it certainly does not include Roman Catholicism.
I recently read Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, which attempts to define evangelicalism and explain who is and who is not an evangelical. The book contains contributions from four very different theologians: “fundamentalist evangelical” Kevin Bauder, “confessional evangelical” Albert Mohler, “generic evangelical” John Stackhouse, and “postconservative evangelical” Roger Olson. Before I started to read the book, I was somewhat surprised and disheartened that there were so many “versions” of evangelicalism. Four distinct perspectives on evangelicalism is a lot, especially when you consider we’re talking about true, evangelical Christianity. Questions surfaced in my mind such as, who are these other so-called “evangelicals,” and have Protestant liberals and Roman Catholics completely hi-jacked this precious term? Before I read a book, I like to browse the Table of Contents, the Introduction, some of the chapters, and the Conclusion to understand the general thesis and content of the book (sometimes the author tells you all you need to read in the Introduction). When I turned to the Conclusion in this book, this quote from B.B. Warfield was the first thing that I read:
The religious terrain is full of the graves of good words which have died from lack of care—they stand as close in it as do the graves today in the flats of Flanders or among the hills of northern France. And these good words are still dying all around us. There is that good word “Evangelical.” It is certainly moribound, if not already dead. Nobody any longer seems to know what it means (207).
The quote was cited from a lecture he gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1915. It struck me that that was almost 100 years ago! He thought the term was “moribound, if not already dead” almost 100 years ago. My fears were absolutely confirmed. Here, I was holding a book where four very different authors espouse four very different views of evangelicalism 97 years removed from when B.B. Warfield thought the term was already dead.
I guess I have been naïve. I grew up attending a Bible church in Dallas, Texas and then Southern Baptist churches in high school and college in Houston, Texas and College Station, Texas respectively. I attended another Bible church in Woodbridge, Virginia, a Presbyterian church in Pensacola, Florida, and a Calvary Chapel in Iwakuni, Japan while I was in the Marine Corps. I chose these churches simply because I thought that they best represented the evangelical faith in their respective locations. I consider myself a Southern Baptist, both in doctrine and heritage, but I also have respected the teaching and thought from what I have perceived as the larger, broader “evangelicalism” that I found reading and listening to people like John MacArthur, John Piper, Carl Broggi, Joseph Stowell, R.C. Sproul, and many other “evangelical” stalwarts of the faith that were not necessarily Southern Baptists. I knew that there were “liberals” out there. I knew that there were those who denied the “inerrancy” of Scripture, that didn’t believe in the “miracles” of the Bible, as well as many other foundational doctrines of Scripture such as the Trinity, justification by faith alone, the omniscience of God, and the atonement of Christ as a propitiation for sins. I just thought they were silly and certainly not Christians. But I had no idea that they claimed the moniker of evangelicalism!
But in truth, I had already started to see the term evangelicalism compromised. I had just been denying it. For example, when Rob Bell released Love Wins early last year, a book that denies the doctrine of an eternal retribution in a literal Hell, the major television networks referred to him as an “evangelical” in their interviews. They presented him as teaching a doctrine that was unique within the “evangelical community,” but within the “evangelical community” nonetheless. No one questioned his orthodoxy to the evangelical faith among the major media sources with the exception of Martin Bashir, who I will forever respect because of how he pointed out to Rob Bell on national television that he had abandoned the evangelical faith. Or there was the experience of meeting former Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is an outspoken Catholic. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Senator Santorum, and I do see eye-to-eye with him on many issues, especially social ones. I do not, however, consider him an evangelical. In our conversation though, he referred to the fact that Time Magazine had named him one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals.”
So what exactly does the word evangelicalism mean and where does it come from? You may have noticed, that I have yet to define the actual term evangelicalism. It seems, that it’s easy to talk a lot about what evangelicalism is and isn’t without defining it, and I think that’s part of the problem. Many people use the word referring to critically different things. So over the next few posts, I am going to define evangelicalism and share my frank thoughts about the term and how it is a term that we must strive to preserve.
By Drew Kuehl
What are the biggest challenges facing Christian teens today? There certainly are many. I compiled a top 10 list from surveys that have been done but also from my experience over the last few years working with and counseling teens. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Personalizing/living out your faith
2. Living in an anti-Christian culture
3. Sexual purity pressures/temptations
4. Identity and self-image issues
5. Divorce and family issues
6. Negative media influences
8. Absent father figures
9. Lack of discipline
These are issues that teens have all dealt with to some extent at some time or another. The bad news is that these issues won’t go away. As we mature and grow in our faith, we gain experience and ammunition in battling them, but as long as we live in this fallen world, these issues, challenges or problems will always be there.
As we continued in our series in Philippians this week, it’s interesting that Paul gives us principles in this letter to deal with several of these issues. Remember that Paul wrote this letter as he was facing some pretty big challenges of his own being imprisoned in Rome. Even in his chains, his focus is on God, and on his role as an apostle of Jesus Christ and on his commission to spread the gospel.
We started in verse 12 and saw that God’s purposes are often accomplished through our problems. Paul didn’t focus on his chains but instead on the advance of the gospel. Paul was able to see God’s purposes even through his problems. It may be helpful for us to ask this question: “How will this trial or difficulty that I’m going through right now help me to present the gospel to someone?” That’s a pretty radical thought, isn’t it? We then saw in verse 13 how the sharing of the gospel should always be our goal. Paul was compelled to preach and did so to the many palace guards that were chained to him around the clock. The result was that the message of Christ was spreading throughout the entire imperial guard. We then saw in verse 14 that courage is contagious and that other Christians were being emboldened by Paul’s bravery. We finished by looking at verses 15-18 and how clearly the message of Christ was what was most important to Paul.
We are all going to face problems. Today’s teens are surrounded by them. The good news is that with an upward shift of our perspective, off of our circumstances and onto God’s purposes, we will be presented with opportunities that we may have never otherwise had. But we need to make sharing the gospel our goal, take courage from other Christians and not get caught up in what other people are doing but rather focus on the message of the cross of Christ going forth. May that be the objective and ambition of our lives.