9 Things You Won't be Celebrating in Eternity

I've never met Paul David Tripp, but he has had a profound influence on my life.  I first discovered him when I was assigned the book, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, during an internship. I've since profited greatly from his books,  sermons, lectures, and blog.  Paul has a unique ability to gently grab hold of the human heart and firmly redirect it to Christ.

I recently read an article on Paul's blog that helped me reconsider my priorities.  You might find it helpful to consider your own life in light of what he suggests are "9 Things You Won't be Celebrating in Eternity."

  1. SELF - This life is not about you. You were brought into a world that is, by definition, a celebration of the beauty and intelligence of God.
  2. MARRIAGE - No human being can satisfy your soul; only God can. If you place your identity in your spouse - or any other person, for that matter - you'll always be disappointed.
  3. KIDS - Your children are not actually your children; you gave birth to them, but they don’t belong to you. Your kids are from God, they exist through God, and the glory of their lives points to God.
  4. SUCCESS - God calls you to be fruitful and productive, but the moment you take on your success as an identity, you'll become a slave to a never-ending stream of potential opportunities.
  5. RENOWN - Again, this life is not about you. Your primary job description is to be an ambassador for and herald of the glory and renown of your Heavenly King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  6. COMFORT - Comfort is not sinful, but you'll never find paradise in a fallen world. Also, the work of the gospel will often call you to uncomfortable people in uncomfortable places.
  7. EXCITEMENT - Go ahead and buy season tickets for your favorite football team, but if a touchdown excites you more than the life-transforming ministry of the local church, you need to re-evaluate your eternal priorities.
  8. LEISURE - Again, this world will never be a paradise. It's not sinful to enjoy a vacation, but remember that this life is a preparation for your final destination.
  9. PLEASURE - Pleasure was created by God for you, but the created pleasures of this world are meant to be a finger pointing to the ultimate pleasure - an intimate relationship with the Creator.

Might we all be encouraged to find our identity in Christ instead of the temporary treasures of this life.   


Is it right for the church to point out sin?

One of the great criticisms of the church is that it is inherently condemning.  Many people avoid church because they do not want to subject themselves to the hypocritical accusations of the "holier than thou."  To be fair, many professing christians have perverted the gospel by focusing on the law and neglecting grace.  History is full of stories of churches and individuals who committed terrible acts in the name of holiness.  Many are left wondering, "how can an institution meant to show the love of Christ be so condemning and hurtful?"

Several years ago I went to the doctor for a routine physical.  Everything checked out during my office visit, but my blood test came back showing some abnormalities.  I immediately scheduled a follow up appointment because I wanted to know exactly what was wrong with me.  Why? Because without an accurate understanding of what was wrong I had no hope of being healed. Thankfully I did not have any serious health issues and required no further treatment, but if I hadn't subjected myself to the doctors testing I would not have known the true condition of my health.  

So, what do the doctors office and the church have in common?  They each have your health in mind.  But, unlike a medical doctor, the church is interested in spiritual health.  And I've got some bad news...  the test results are in and there are some abnormalities you should be concerned with.  Like all men, you were you born into sin.  More than that, you've chosen to sin thousands of times since birth.  In a sense, the church exists to point that out.  Her charter includes a call to make disciples of Christ by teaching others to obey Him.  In other words, it is an essential responsibility of the church to point out sin.  But, don't misunderstand what's happening.  The church is not condemning you.  It is merely pointing to the reality that you are already condemned!  You should feel the weight of that condemnation when you learn that you don't measure up to God's standard.  It is only when you see your sin that you see your need for a Savior.  The good news is that we have a Savior!  Jesus lived, died, was buried, and rose again to save you from sin and condemnation.  

I recently had the opportunity to share this truth with my community by appearing on Wellsboro Homepage.  Perhaps this video will encourage you as you consider your your life, Jesus Christ, and the church.  

When Church is a Struggle

The service begins, as it always does, with the announcements.  I don't read the bulletin anymore because I know the service leader is going to spend the first ten minutes reading it to the congregation.  My mind wanders as I notice the worn carpet and dated drapes.  Next is a Scripture reading.  The microphone rings as Mr. Brown fumbles nervously through his Bible. Despite the monotone delivery, a few of the older church members offer a hearty, "Amen," as Mr. Brown returns to his seat.  Now it's time to sing.  I join in, but I'm distracted by the piano player who seems to be making more than her usual mistakes.  The song leader encourages us to sing out, but that only highlights how far off key the man singing behind me is.  The service leader indicates that it's time for prayer and invites one of the deacons to the stage.  His prayer sounds very formal and I wonder if he prays the same way at home as he does in church.  The offering plates clank together in the back of the sanctuary signaling the service leader to come up and offer a few words about tithing. The piano player is at it again as the ushers pass by each row. Finally, it's time for the sermon and I hope the pastor has prepared something relevant to my life. Unfortunately, the baby crying in the third row is so distracting that I'm having a hard time following the pastor.  A few moments later and my eyes feel heavy.  I hope nobody notices as my blinks grow longer and my head begins to bob.  After the service I make my way down a colorful hallway to pick up my children.  I'm greeted by a teacher who hands me a stack of papers as she tells me my children behaved a little better than they had been the week before.  As we make our way to the parking lot I begin to wonder why church has become such a struggle.

Have you ever been through a church service like this?  Hopefully your experience has not been this extreme, but I'll bet you can relate to the feeling of church being a struggle.  Maybe you find it difficult to sit still and focus on each element of the service.  Or, perhaps you have a hard time connecting with the people in your church.  There may be many reasons you can cite for the struggle you feel on Sunday morning.  Yet, God has called His people to meet together regularly to pray, read Scripture, sing, listen to a sermon, fellowship, and engage in special events like communion and baptism.  In others words, God has called each of us to participate in the life of the local church. If that seems difficult for you, let me offer you some words of encouragement from the Apostle Paul:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
— Colossians 3:12-17

Consider these words as you reflect upon your participation in the body of Christ.  How might your Sunday morning experience be different if you approached it with a spirit of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience?  Might your heart be different if you committed to bear with your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Suddenly the monotone Scripture readings, ringing microphones, fussy children, or the unkind words of another lose their sting as your frustration is replaced with the spirit of love that binds us together in perfect harmony.

Friend, remember the privilege it is to be called a member of the church.  Only those redeemed by the blood of Christ are eligible to hold that office.  Allow the joy of your salvation to serve as the motivation to joyfully gather together with the body of Christ each week, even when church is a struggle! 


Take the Endurance Challenge

I am privileged to work with Wellsboro Homepage to produce a monthly installment called Back to Basics.  This is a great opportunity to share the Gospel with unbelievers while encouraging Christians to pursue Christ.  

John and Sara Vogt have been attending Wellsboro Bible Church for some time.  They are a wonderful example of a couple who demonstrates the Gospel in all they do.  Wellsboro Homepage, a local online news source, was developed by John and Sara as a means to share Christ with their community.  I was honored when John asked me to develop Back to Basics to help accomplish this goal.  He is bold to feature this segment once a month in effort to proclaim the Gospel to the men and women of Tioga County.  

This month's installment is called "Take the Endurance Challenge."  How's your endurance?


For more information about Wellsboro Homepage, or to view previous installments, click here.





Here's a look at some valuable online resources...

1.  The Gettys -- Keith and Kristyn Getty are Irish singer/songwriters that have made a profound impact on the music of the church.  They are best known for their hymn, In Christ Alone, but have contributed many other songs that are used in worship around the globe.  They're currently having a summer sale on all CD's and songbooks.  I recommend their album, Live at The Gospel Coalition ($9.99), which is currently loaded into my CD player.  

2.  The Hobby Lobby Decision -- The recent Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby marks a victory for religious liberty.  The 5-4 vote also reveals a deep divide among those seated on the highest court in the land.  Al Mohler evaluates this decision and offers some considerations that we should be paying attention to in the wake that follows.  

3.  Ebola -- As the latest strain of the Ebola virus spreads through Liberia, many are faced with the decision to stay or go.  God has called many missionaries to this African nation and each must wrestle with the real possibility that, if they do not evacuate, they could become infected. Robert Cutillo and his family were faced with a similar decision during their missionary placement in Zaire in 1991.  He explains why the decision to stay or go might not be as easy as it seems. The article opens with the story of Dr. Brantly, a 33 year old Dr. with a wife and two young children, who decided to stay and has been diagnosed with the deadly disease.  What would you do?

4.  Downcast -- Podcasts are amazing.  If you have a computer, iPod, or smartphone, you have access to thousands of resources that would otherwise cost you a lot of time and money.  The greatest teachers of our time are broadcasting their thoughts.  Pastors and theologians are making their sermons and lectures available.  Experts in almost every field are offering counsel and instruction.  Some podcasters are even digging up the best writings history has to offer and dictating them for all to hear.  The best part?  It's free!  Not only that, but you can listen to them anytime you like.  I always have a podcast playing as I mow the lawn, commute to work, or exercise. My current favorite podcasting app is called Downcast.  It allows you to easily search for podcasts, automatically download new episodes and delete old ones, and offers a number of other helpful features.      


Jesus on Every Page

How do you approach the Old Testament?  Do you find that you get lost in the details, confused by the portrayal of God, or discouraged to find little that applies to your life today?  If so, it might be helpful to ask the question, "What am I looking for as I read the Old Testament?" Maybe you are opening those pages out of duty and working through them simply because you believe you should.  Or, it could be that you desire to know more about the history of the faith and want to broaden your understanding of the past.  No matter what you are looking for, it is likely that you spend at least some of your time trying to determine how those verses apply to your life now.  While you should be asking that question, there is a good chance you have been looking for application in all the wrong places.  

Take the story of David and Goliath for example.  David is one of the most prominent characters in the Old Testament, but despite his fame, he had a very humble beginning.  David was the weakest of his brothers; a clear underdog.  When Samuel came to Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel, he asked to examine all of Jesse's sons.  David, being the smallest, wasn't even brought before Samuel for consideration, but was left to care for the sheep!  Similarly, when Goliath was tormenting Israel, David wasn't called on to fight.  Instead, he was relegated to the position of delivery boy, providing food to his brothers on the battlefield.  Nobody expected him to stand up to the giant.  All who liked on would have expected to see David's lifeless body carried back in defeat.  Yet, not only did David get victory, he did it in an impressive fashion. Yes, David was the unlikely victor, and hero of Israel.  What an encouraging story!

But remember the question I posed above, "What am I looking for as I read the Old Testament?" I suppose a more appropriate question might be, "Who am I looking for?"  Most of us are in the habit of looking for ourselves in the pages of Scripture.  We approach the Bible hoping to find something we can relate to in our modern context.  Therefore, we read the story of David and see ourselves in him.  See if your logic might fit into a pattern something like this: 

"David was left out by his own father.  I feel left out all the time.  David was the underdog who stood up to the giant.  I feel like an underdog, too!  David slayed the giant in his life.  I've got giants in my life.  Maybe if I stand up to those giants, I can slay them too!"

It is true that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the wise.  It is true that we can accomplish all things through Christ, who gives us strength.  It is true that we should be slaying the sinful desires and actions that still enter into our lives.  However, if we reduce the Old Testament to a series of encouraging stories, moral lessons, or guiding principles, we've missed the point all together!  Remember the words of Christ as he spoke to the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

Luke 24:25-27 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

When Jesus appeared to the disciples in their distress, He made it clear that He is, in fact, the point of all Scripture!   When we read the Old Testament, we are not to look for ways to insert ourselves into the text.  Instead, we are to study in such a way that we discover Jesus!  

Remember David and Goliath?  Where is Christ in that story?  Let's take another look at the details.  David was an unlikely hero.  He was facing a giant who had been tormenting Israel for 40 days and 40 nights. When David stood up to Goliath, he did so as one man representing many.  God worked through David for the salvation of his people.  After the giant was defeated, the enemy retreated and the benefactors of David's victory were invited to join him in enjoying the spoils.  Does any of this sound familiar?  

When we understand the Old Testament properly, we see that God has faithfully kept His promises, despite the sinful resistance of man.  We are not like David.  We are more like the Israelites cowering in fear!  Still, Christ defeated the enemy.  One man stood in the place of many and attained victory over sin and death.  Not only that, but He has invited us to join in the spoils. Now, there is some encouragement for our lives today!   

Pastor, professor, and author, David Murray, has written a poem entitled Jesus on Every Page.  Maybe these few words will encourage you as you look for Christ in all of Scripture!  

He Will Hold Me Fast

As Christians, we are called to encourage one another through song  (Colossians 3:16-17).  Singing together is not a religious exercise, but a privilege!  When we sing, God uses His Word in a special way to unite our hearts to one another and to Him.  What a joy it is when a diverse group of unworthy sinners joins together to sing with one voice in response to the Gospel!

We are especially blessed to live in an era in which a great number of songs are readily available.  The Internet has made it possible for us to gain instant access to hundreds of thousands of doctrinally rich lyrics and soul stirring melodies.  There is great value in singing both old and new songs.  Ancient hymns have been declared by our brothers and sisters for centuries and it is an honor to echo their rich truths today.  Likewise, many modern choruses offer powerful opportunities for worship.  

There is a song that has been profoundly encouraging to me for the past few months. It is an old hymn with a modern twist, called He Will Hold Me Fast. I have found myself singing portions of it almost daily. We have used this song in worship at WBC and I've been moved to tears listening to the voices of dear brothers and sisters singing these lyrics with great enthusiasm.  I am encouraged to hear the voices and see the faces of men and women, who are walking daily through trial and temptation, declare that they trust in Christ to hold them fast!  As I listen I am reminded that I too must trust in Him alone!  As I sing I am reminding others to do the same. Hallelujah! 

Matt Merker, a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, has made some modifications to the original lyrics and tune of the hymn.  A link to his version of the song (the one we use at WBC) can be found here.  

He Will Hold Me Fast”
Lyrics vv. 1-2 Ada Habershon (1861-1918), Public Domain;
Alt words vv.1-2, lyrics v.3, and music: Matt Merker, © 2013

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold;
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight,
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost;
His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost,
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died,
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied;
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life,
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last!


This song was recently recorded by two of my favorite artists, The Gettys and Norton Hall Band.  Here are videos of each:

Are you Unashamed of the Gospel?

In April, I had the opportunity to attend a large conference for pastors and church leaders called Together for the Gospel.  The focus of the conference was evangelism and the theme focused on living unashamed of the Gospel.  The messages were deeply convicting, the music was encouraging, and I was thoroughly refreshed.  If you are a church leader, plan to attend the next T4G conference in Louisville, KY, April 12-14, 2016.  

Prior to each main session, a short video played on the large screen in the front of the arena.  I must confess that I often tune these types of transitional videos out, but this time, they caught my attention.  Each video told the story of God's redemption.  In every case, God chose to use a Christian who was unashamed of the Gospel to point a sinner to his Savior.  The following two videos made a lasting impression on my heart:



We are privileged to live in an era of very valuable and easily accessible resources.  Although the Internet is full of danger, there are thousands of helpful tools available at our fingertips.  Here are some of the noteworthy resources I've found helpful this week:

Bestsellers:  Tim Challies is a pastor and blogger over at Challies.com. If you don't have him bookmarked, do it now!  He recently started a helpful series entitled "bestsellers."  In each post, he chooses one Christian book that has made it onto the NY Times bestsllers list.  It seems that his primary objective is to see how well the teaching of each book squares with Scripture. However, he also provides some helpful insight by evaluating some of the factors that caused each book to rise to such a high level of popularity.  If you're a reader, chances are you've picked up most of the books he reviews.  If you're not a reader, I am confident that you'll at least recognize most of the titles. Either way, you'll find it profitable to follow this series.  Start by taking a look at his review of Joel Osteen's popular title, "Your Best Life Now."

The Repentant Heart is a Renouncing Heart:  Our behavior is a manifestation of what is happening in our hearts.  If our hearts are repentant, our behavior will change.  It would do us all well to consider the words of Trevin Wax as he identifies characteristics of a heart that is truly repentant. 

Church Membership:  Last week I finished teaching another membership class at WBC.  I find it refreshing to spend these few hours together with potential members.  We are encouraged as we pore over the doctrine of the church, the significance of covenant membership, and the privilege of being identifying with a local congregation.  My understanding of church membership has been significantly shaped by the valuable resources developed by 9Marks.  Some of our members have found it helpful to review the free material they have on their website.  They have also released several books, including a series of short primers that identify the key components of a healthy church.   


Obedience -- the very best way?

Do you remember singing those words?  If not, you probably don't know what a flannelgraph is either, but chances are you could sing along with these lyrics:

"Obedience is the very best way 
To show that you believe: 
Doing exactly what the Lord commands,
Doing it happily. 
Action is the key--do it immediately, 
The joy you will receive! 
Obedience is the very best way 
To show that you believe. 
Obedience is the very best way 
To show that you believe."

In an era of "Gospel-centered" thinking, many who grew up singing those lines have come to ask the question, "Is obedience really the best way to show that I believe?"  Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the many well-meaning Christians who have taught others to focus upon what they must do on Christ's behalf, rather than pointing them to what Christ has already done on their behalf.  This focus on the law established a Christian subculture characterized by what sociologists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, refer to as moralistic, therapeutic deism.  In other words, many Christians came to believe that:

  • A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

The results of this belief are disturbing.  Essentially, Christians learn to follow a rigorous set of rules with hopes of pleasing God and thereby experiencing good circumstances in this life, as well as eternal reward.  The purpose of obedience, then, has little to do with God and much to do with man.

So, what is the place of obedience?  I think it can be summed up in two words: God's glory.  We obey because we want to bring glory to the One who created us and saved us from certain damnation.  Through the work of Christ on the cross, God chose to redeem mankind.  He made the impossible possible.  While we were content to dangle our feet over the flames of hell, He stepped in and rescued us!  In response, it is only fitting that we do as He has instructed us to do in His Word.  As those who have been shown sacrificial love, it is only fitting that we show sacrificial love.  As those who have been extended grace, it is only fitting that we should extend grace to others.  When we honor God in this way, we bring Him the glory He deserves.

Although our primary focus in obedience is the glory of God, it is helpful to consider some other elements of obedience.  Below is a list of 3 reasons to obey God that may encourage you as you seek to glorify Him:

1.  Obedience confirms regeneration (1 John 1:5-6, John 14:21, 2 Cor. 5:17).  This does not mean that you can earn your salvation through your works.  Furthermore, it is not fool proof.  It is possible to do good works with the wrong heart and deceive ourselves.  However, the appropriate response to the Gospel is to do good works.  If you have been saved by God, you should see evidence of that salvation in the way you live your life.  

2.  Obedience encourages your brothers and sisters in Christ (Philippians 2:1-2, 2 Cor. 9:2).  Christians have been set apart by God and no longer live according to the pattern of this world.  Still, it is sometimes difficult to live in the world and not become part of it.  Thankfully, God did not leave us alone, but called us to join together with other brothers and sisters in a Biblical community called the church.  When we choose to obey God, we encourage others who are trying to do the same.  As iron sharpens iron, so should we sharpen one another by living in obedience to the Word of God.

3.  Obedience clarifies disobedience (Rom. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:17-34, Gal. 3:27).  Although society teaches acceptance and tolerance, the Word of God does not agree.  God has always made a clear distinction between those who are His people and those who are not.  There has always been a clear inside and a clear outside.  There was an inside and an outside the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8, 3:24).  There was an inside and outside of Noah's ark (Gen. 7:16). The ceremonial laws of the Jews separated people as inside or outside the camp (Lev. 13:46, Num. 5:3).  Today, those who obediently submit to Christ (as illustrated through baptism and communion) demonstrate a distinction between those who are in the faith and those who are not.  We serve those outside the faith well by living in such a way that they recognize their lifestyle as sin.  Until they see the bitterness of their own sin, the grace of God will not be sweet!

I pray that we will be a people who obey God because we know that all glory belongs to Him. May God use these words to encourage you as you serve the One who rescued you from the grave.  Obedience may not be the very best way to show that we believe, but surely it is an important aspect of our faith.  What do you think?