Philosophy of Missions – Sermon 2010

Below is a link to a sermon I preached for Command Baptist Church’s missions conference a couple of years ago (the first sermon I ever preached). Much thanks goes out to Pastor Tony Fox for the opportunity. It was a learning and growing experience.

In it I attempt to outline a (basic) biblical philosophy of missions (the what and why). Right click, and choose the option to download or save. It is roughly 30 minutes long.

Download Here

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Is God Mad At You?

Earlier this year the Christian band Pocket Full Of Rocks released the hit song “Come As You Are,” and has ranked fairly high on Billboard.com’s Christian chart ever since. I know nothing about the theological convictions of the band, but have found the opening two lines of “Come As You Are” concerning. They read, “He’s not mad at you. He’s not disappointed.” God is surely a loving God, but telling an unsaved person that God has no wrath towards him does not line up with the Bible.

The wrath of God is not popular today. It’s a topic that many Christians are eager to sweep under the rug. I venture that it is an effort to clean up the Gospel—or maybe even the reputation of God Himself!—in an attempt to make the Gospel more appealing. This is a fatal mistake; it undermines and destroys the Gospel itself.

No doctrine stands or falls alone. The doctrines of the Bible form a web in which each doctrine both supports, and is supported by other doctrines. It frightens me to see Christians pick away at doctrines which (maybe to their ignorance) are vital to the Gospel of Christ. Remove the wrath of God, and you lose the holiness and justice of God, or the sinfulness of man, and ultimately the substitutionary atonement—in essence, you lose the Gospel.

The wrath of God is necessary because of who He is (holy and just), and because of what we are (common sinners). To eliminate the wrath of God, you will either have to dethrone God, or elevate man. The Scriptures don’t allow for either.

In John 3:36 (just a few verses past the oft-quoted 3:16) John writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

Christ came to absorb the wrath of God for us! Propitiation (Rom 3:25). That is the Gospel! To remove the wrath of God (as “Come as You Are” seems to do) yet still profess the Gospel, creates a huge problem. “Jesus died for your sins” means nothing outside an understanding of God’s holiness and wrath.

Michael Horton is dead-on, when he writes,

“Where God’s wrath is no longer a problem, Christ’s cross is no longer the solution” (The Gospel-Driven Life, 52).

Let’s not try to restructure God’s PR, but let Him speak for Himself. If you have not placed your faith in Jesus Christ then God is “mad at you” (so-to-speak), but in His great love has also provided the sacrifice to make Himself favorable toward you through faith (“propitiation”)! Praise God for His grace!

The God-centeredness Of Eternity

What comes to mind when you think about Heaven or eschatology? Because you have undoubtedly read the title to this post, you will see where it is headed. Nevertheless, if we honestly examine our thoughts about Heaven and our culture’s ideas about Heaven (including church-culture), we will see a fundamental—yet hugely problematic—shortcoming; often, when we think about Heaven, we simply think about Heaven.

John Piper asks a crucial question of all Christians:

“If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?” (John Piper, God is The Gospel, 15).

I’m afraid that many in our churches would—though maybe silently—answer “YES!” Part of the reason for this, I believe, rests on our shoulders (as teachers and preachers) when we preach Jesus as simply a bridge or ladder to heaven. Our invitation is, “here, step on Jesus. He will take you somewhere awesome!” (only to leave Jesus, our “bridge,” lying there). Will we be disappointed to find that Jesus is the “treasure” we have been storing up?

Much of our Christian music reflects this flaw in thinking. Just think of how many songs speak of the “crystal river” or “street of gold” but never really get around to talking about the glory of God. Or, if they do, He comes across as an item in a list, rather than its shining center. The last chapters of Revelation (where these images arise) show us vividly how these images are not the point, but show us something greater! Revelation 22:1-2b says,

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city [presumably the street of gold based on 21:21]”

So the river, and the street of gold which the river somehow runs in the middle of, lead directly to (or “flow from”) the throne of God Himself! He is the point! If you were to attend the Oscars only to return with snapshots and close-ups of a vacant red carpet your friends would think you went crazy, yet this is what we do when we focus on the material splendors of Heaven as ends in themselves (I use that word Heaven broadly—I understand that Revelation 21-22 is not speaking of “Heaven” per se).

We don’t make much of the red carpet because there is something inherently spectacular about carpet which is red. We make much of the red carpet because of the fame and glory of those who walk on it. Without those who walk on it, saying, “red carpet” would mean nothing more to us than “white carpet” or, “soft carpet.” The inherent beauty then of a ‘river like crystal’ or a ‘street of gold’ only magnifies, all the more, the beauty and glory of Him to whom it leads.

When we speak of eternity we must present God as its ultimate good. Not streets of gold, or “mansions,” or health, or family reunion. This only diminishes the glory of God to our hearers. God is the point, and ultimate end of the Gospel! Even the landscape of our future home reflects this!

Seeking The Superior

Why, seeking the superior? The new name of my blog arises from a new awareness of what the Christian life is made of. The past year has taught me a lot. God has been teaching me of His superior beauty, glory, and love (especially as found in the Cross of Christ)! As a kid, I think I viewed God as a necessary evil; God was the brussel sprouts that your mom forced you to eat because they were, “good for you,” while sin was the chocolate bar that really tasted good, but probably wasn’t as healthy. Of course, relationship with God is spiritually healthy (the definition of spiritual health!), but I’ve come to learn that it is also the chocolate bar to be desired.

Which view of God we have will be revealed by how we view our “Christian walk.”  Our “walk” is consisted of many decisions; to sin or not to sin, to spend time in prayer and the Scriptures, or not, to pour our energy and resources into material things or to focus more on ‘storing up treasure in Heaven’ (etc, etc). If we aren’t careful these decisions can turn into a list of rules that we grudgingly muster up the willpower to perform, simply because we view them as “what we ought to do.” The problem is that sanctification becomes our product. Whoever has the strongest will becomes the most Christlike. Paul rebukes this strongly; “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3).

The root of all our sin is a heart issue. I know that sounds trite, but it is actually a deeply rooted theological truth. Consider Jesus’ words in Mark 7:21-23; in this passage, Jesus says that sin comes “from within, out of the heart of man.” In fact, it is possible for a person to live a sanctified-looking life through human effort, and willpower, but, in the end, this person is as far off as the next guy. It is the position of the heart that counts. Even if you can pull off a tidy, Christian looking life, but still not love God, you have failed to keep the “great commandment” on which all the others hang. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 to demonstrate that worship is the position of the heart, not merely our actions. He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

I have said all that to say this: the true Christian walk is about the affections of our heart—what we love and desire. It’s not merely about mustering up the willpower to do right, but about having our affections renewed so that we will want to do right for the glory of God! It takes faith. It takes believing that God’s pleasures really are better, that his joy really is greater, that his way really is superior (Psalm 16:11). For this reason we can say that we are not only justified by faith, but also sanctified by faith!

Consider Jeremiah 2:13. “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” This is what happens when we sin; we exchange our glorious God for something inferior—something that “can hold no water.” C. S. Lewis would say we need to stop “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, [we are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

Jesus offers us a superior life to that of the world. He offers us superior joy and pleasure. What will you seek? Will you seek the superior promises of God, or will you settle for the inferior life that the world has to offer?

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Loitering Outside The Holy Of Holies

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” I Peter 3:18a

Im quick to rejoice in the Cross—the forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation to God Almighty. The Gospel is an awe-inspiring thing. The curtain was torn! The insanity is that I often stand outside the Holy of Holies simply to admire the tear.

Although I’m not a fast reader, I love to read. I have a stack of books that I am either reading or eager to crack open. I like to study theology, and since the inspired Paul wrote that the Gospel was “of first importance” I have decided that my studies should reflect that.

God routinely brings my idols into the light. Idols in a Christian’s life are rarely bad things. An idol is, as Driscoll has said, “a good thing that becomes a God thing.” Theology is hardly a bad thing, but when I would rather study God than communicate with Him, I can’t help but think that my priorities are wrong. Am I loving Christology instead of Christ?

If you would rather look at a friend’s facebook page than hang out with him, there is something wrong with that relationship.

Recently while considering specifically the reconciliation that took place at the Cross, I was taken back with ironic behavior I often drift into. I will read and study books on the atonement, speak and write of the beauty of the Gospel, try to fill my head up with all the doctrines surrounding it—all the while I’m ignoring it’s point! All the historical events we call the “Gospel” happened to restore a right relationship with our creator!—we were “enemies” (Rom. 5:10), but now we are “heirs” (Rom. 8:17)! “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51) allowing us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16 KJV), yet day after day I just stand outside and admire the tear. I may spend hours reading about the atonement, and only 5 minutes taking advantage of the access it gives me to my Father! This is the paradox that too often describes my Christian walk.

O God, smash my idols.

The Gospel of Idolatry?

This is really an elaboration on something I said in an earlier post called, Has Popular Christianity Forgotten the Point of The Gospel. I said this:

“…is this how we present the Gospel to others—as the good news of reconciliation to God!—or is it a get-out-of-Hell free card? Or is it our own version of “your best life now”?

In the sphere of evangelism I have seen this screwed up again and again (and have done it myself)!”

Reflecting on this thought in the subsequent days, I began to think of it in a whole new way. What does presenting the gospel as a ‘get-out-of-Hell-free card’ really amount to when you boil it down? I arrived at this conclusion (please correct me if I am wrong): in essence it is nothing more than presenting the gospel as a means of idolatry! Let me explain. If God is of foremost value, preeminent, and supremely glorious (which He is), that would necessarily mean that everything—including the absence of Hell—is inferior to Him (pardon me stating the obvious here).

So when someone preaches the ‘gospel,’ but presents missing Hell, or gaining Heaven, or whatever, in a way which makes it out to be the culmination, or ultimate good of the gospel, than what they are saying is that this particular truth, or gift of the gospel is better than God himself. The person preaching has two choices in presenting this good news: in one hand he has all the good gifts of the gospel—eternity in Heaven with loved ones, missing the torments of Hell, gaining a Helper, and a peace that passes understanding—and in the other, he has the glory and splendor of God Himself! Both are good, but only one is God-good. If this preacher were to pick one of the gifts in the first hand (let’s say missing Hell), he would effectively be saying, “I believe that this is better, or will be more convincing to the lost that they should put their faith in Christ, than the glory of God and eternal relationship with God Himself.” How could this be anything but idolatry? Now I know that I could have worded this is a much simpler, and more convincing way, but sometimes I am not much with words. I think that if you look it over you will get what I’m trying to communicate.

In Isaiah 42:8 God says,

“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other…”

“my glory I give to NO OTHER!” I can’t help but think that includes Heaven, the absence of Hell, and every other good gift of the gospel.

Of course Im not suggesting that we remove Hell from the preaching of the gospel—Jesus, as well as the apostles, mentioned Hell many times—but am saying that if we go through “the plan of salvation” with someone, and emphasize faith in Christ as a means to escape Hell, than we are doing nothing less that presenting the gospel as a means to idolatry. Just a thought. If anyone has a thoughts or disagreements, please comment.

American Idolatry

Mark Driscoll, during the 2007 Creative Church Conference in Dallas, preached a message called “Examining Two Enemies of the Gospel.” During the sermon he recalled an occasion when he was in Visakhapatnam, India, speaking with one of the natives beside an alter where chickens were sacrificed. Driscoll says that while he was there he asked the native women, “do you think you will ever come to the United States and visit my country?” to which the women replied, “I did once, and I will never come again.” After questioning why, the woman answered, “I cannot stomach the idolatry!” She went on to say, ‘Your god is your stomach, and you have restaurants everywhere. Your god is your sports teams, and you build multi-million dollar stadiums to house them. Your god is your television, and all of the chairs in you home are lined up so that your family can gather around the alter and worship that god.’

Clearly Idolatry is not something limited to wood, stone, and gold statues, but manifests itself in everyday life. Rather than set up more mock situations of modern-day idolatry, let’s look at the deeper issue of the heart.

What is idolatry?

We were created to worship. God put us on this earth to glorify Himself — to make God look great (Isa 43:6-7)! Not as if we are making Him beautiful, but revealing what is already there. We glorify God by worshiping Him; by being utterly satisfied in Him and displaying Him to the world!

Idolatry is worshiping anything other than God. Jesus said that the most important commandment was to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The fact is that all humans worship something; we all find (or look for) our satisfaction in something. It could be money, fame, music, a significant-other, sports, or hopefully God. Worship is a heart issue, not just something you do with music. However, true satisfaction will not be bottled up inside us, but will reveal itself in our actions. This is why worship, even though it is a heart issue, will always have outward manifestations. Worship of God will manifest itself in service of God, worship of sports may manifest itself in skipping Bible study for a sports event, worship of money could manifest itself in taking a job which would cause one to miss church every week; the list could go on. The question is: are we worshiping God, or are we idolaters? Tim Keller writes,

“The Ten Commandments’ first two and most basic laws (one-fifth of all God’s law to humankind) are against idolatry. Exodus does not envision any third option between true faith and idolatry. We will either worship the uncreated God or we will worship some created thing (an idol). There is no possibility of our worshipping nothing.” (Tim Keller, “Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age”)

What are you worshiping? This is a question we all have to ask ourselves regularly. You were created for God’s glory — created to savor Him and magnify His glory throughout the world! This is worship, and anything less is idolatry. Only God warrants our worship, and only the worship of God will satisfy the void in our heart; the void that is there simply because magnifying His glory is what we we’re created for!

A true worshiper
For me, the person who comes to mind when thinking of worship is David. David treasured God supremely, and made that obvious! When I read David’s songs I can’t help but be drawn to God, and His amazing glory. Listen to David’s words in th 63rd Psalm:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,” (Psalm 63:1-5 ESV)

For David, God was the satisfaction of his soul, and His love was better than life! What an amazing example of true worship!

Check out D. A. Carson’s video on idolatry: