Revelation

Then, there’s the Book of Revelation.time

Studies have shown it was written about 67-69 AD. That it was before the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD) is clear since in the book the temple is still standing, and one of the major portions of the Revelation is devoted to the description of the Roman invasion of Palestine that ended in the destruction of the temple and the city. During this horrible event over 3 million people were killed. No wonder Jesus spoke of it as a time that was not like any other before or after!

At the outset, the book tells us that the “time is at hand.” The same words were repeated in the final chapter. The book was not to be sealed as was the book of Daniel (in direct contrast to what was said there in the last chapter of his prophecy). Daniel’s material, in part, was for the far off future. So it was sealed until “the time of the end” (of the Old Testament period). Because, in contrast, Revelation spoke of times that those who first read it would live to see, John was instructed not to seal his book—and, note the reason given: “for the time is at hand!”

The list of Roman rulers, culminating in Nero Caesar (666), was contemporary. The angel tells the reader that the woman was sitting on the city of seven hills (everyone knew Rome that way). Moreover the angel calls it the great city that is reigning over the rest of the earth. That the book is contemporary, and (except for the 20th and 21st chapters) not still future, is clear from the internal evidence.

If you want to learn more, read my book, The Time is at Hand.

Tramping

The words “church tramp” may immediately conjure up an image of people you have known who don’t seem to get along very well at any church and who are constantly on the move from congregation to congregation. I am not talking about those who move for legitimate reasons, such as a dramatic change in their doctrinal beliefs, because their congregations have turned liberal, or because they have been taken over by some schismatic faction. I am talking about those who, like the hummingbird, hover for a while at one flower and then another but never stop their wing motion long enough to settle down anywhere.

People like this often cause trouble wherever they go. They may come declaring that the church they left is full of heresy or problems and that they are so glad they have finally found a church (yours) that stands for the truth. But it is not long before they are somewhere else in town telling someone else the same story about your church. What can be done about this problem?

Are we to everlastingly be plagued with such people and the trouble and distrust they bring, or is there something that can be done to stop this flitting from church to church? And, is there some way to minister to them so that we can reclaim them from this life of ecclesiastical vagrancy? Yes, there is an approach that will do both. The only difficulty is in getting enough congregations to begin doing what needs to be done. I often speak about this topic when I meet with a ministerial group in a community. There I propose a biblical solution and urge the group to adopt and follow a policy that, if enough pastors and people agree, will virtually put an end to the practice.

If you are encouraged by the policy I set forth, you may want to share this article with your pastor, who, if he thinks it has merit, may in turn wish to share it at the next evangelical ministerium. At the very least, he may wish to work out an arrangement with those pastors in town with whom he already has working arrangements.

A deceptive, flattering temptation faces a pastor and church whenever someone defects, declaring that the former church has serious deficiencies he at last finds remedied in yours. How glad he is to be with people who mean business! It isn’t easy to think objectively when someone is feeding you such heady stuff, but if you follow this policy, you will be able to keep your senses, and not even that kind of obsequious prattle will affect you. But first, let me tell you about an incident that happened when I was pastoring a church.

I had no more than arrived on the scene as the pastor of a new congregation when I received a call from a neighboring pastor. He said, “Mr. and Mrs. I. M. Tramp have been attending our church for several weeks now and want to join. I understand they were members of your congregation for a while; can you tell me anything about them?” Because I had so recently arrived, of course I could not. I replied, “No, I don’t know them; I just arrived in town about a month ago. But I’ll talk to my elders about them and let you know what I find out.”

When I did, the elders said, “Oh, the Tramps, eh? Yes, they were members here; but they caused all kinds of trouble, and after working patiently with them for over a year about their schismatic activities, we were forced to excommunicate them.” Hearing this, I immediately called the neighboring pastor and told him the story. “Thanks,” he said. “I had no idea.” About six or eight months afterwards, I bumped into this pastor at a meeting, and I asked him, “Whatever happened to the Tramps’!” “OOOH,” he replied, “I hate to talk about it. We took them in, in spite of what you told us, and just last week they split our church and walked off with half a dozen families.”

Church tramps are no bargain. They are a Jonah in your boat!

A minister of the gospel has no business welcoming a church tramp into his congregation in the first place. If he has wandered out of the fold of a true shepherd of Jesus even though that shepherd doesn’t teach every jot and tittle correctly, you should lead him back. Now, understand, I am not talking about sheep that have left the fold of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. Take them in immediately. In fact, you should do all that you can to lure them away from any place where the gospel is undermined and the Word of God is despised. But what I am talking about is a straying sheep from a sheepfold that is under the care of a true shepherd of Christ.

When you discover a stray appearing regularly in your services, you should speak with him, saying something like this: “It’s nice to have you here, but you tell me you are a member of the congregation pastored by Bob Greene?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that puzzles me. Bob preaches the gospel. What has happened; have you changed your doctrinal beliefs or something?”

“No, I just don’t seem to fit in there very well. I have had problems with some of the people. But, even after only two weeks here I can tell I am going to really get along well.”

At this point you say, “Well, I’m glad you have enjoyed our services and like our people, but the reason you give for leaving Bob’s church and coming here isn’t biblical. What you should do is work out your problems over there. In cases like this Bob and I have an understanding. This is what we do. I shall call Bob, and we will all meet together to discuss your problems thoroughly and to figure out what God expects you to do about them. I will be glad to offer any help you request in this matter.”

If the potential tramp agrees, perhaps you will save him from making a career of tramping. If he is already making a career of it, perhaps you will be able to turn him from it. At any rate, you have done the right thing before God and before him, regardless of how he responds; and don’t forget, a church tramp is no bargain.

“What you say may be right, but won’t he just go to another church?” Doubtless, that is what will happen in a number of cases, but consider:

  1. You must do the right thing regardless of the outcome.
  2. You don’t know what the outcome will be; perhaps he will respond properly. After all, no one has ever confronted him this way before.
  3. You will have saved your own church future heartaches.
  4. After he causes trouble at the church that accepted him, the pastor of that church may wish to join in the agreement with you and Bob.

Of course, you won’t get all of the Bible believing churches in town to agree to follow this or some similar policy right away, if ever. But the better churches are likely to respond favorably, and when more and more churches agree, it will become increasingly difficult for tramps and potential tramps to run from church to church. How exciting it would be for church after church to respond in the same way whenever a stray attempts to flee from place to place.

Think this over carefully. Doesn’t something like this need to be done in your town? Think of the last bad experience you had with a church tramp. Do you want that again? And think of him. But most of all, remember the proper processes set forth in the Bible for handling interpersonal problems (Luke 17:3 ff.; Matt. 18:15 ff., etc.). The practice of receiving such persons cannot be justified biblically, and it is time that pastors and congregations stopped encouraging these tramps to sin by doing so. Aiding and abetting sin is sin. Think. Think and act.

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What Does It Mean to be Saved?

In the deep South, in most churches, people talk about being “saved.” But, when you ask them what they mean by that, the answers vary—sometimes quite radically. Some groups say you must be baptized by them and join their church to be saved. Others claim that you must walk down an aisle. Still others say things like “take Jesus into your heart and He will save you.” What is it to be saved, and how does the Bible say that you can be?

The biblical usage of the word translated “saved” is precisely the same as ours. A newspaper headline that reads “Child Saved From Drowning,” means he was rescued. To be saved is to be rescued—rescued from sin and its consequences. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (that’s what Romans 3:23 has to say about everyone, including you). When God saves someone He rescues him from the penalty of sin, which is eternal punishment in hell. He also gradually rescues him from the power of sin in this life. And, ultimately, He rescues him from the very presence of sin by taking him to heaven. That is what it means to be saved.

But, it is of the greatest importance to know how to be saved. About this matter, as I have already indicated, there is no unanimity. What does the Bible say?

In Acts 16:31, in response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your house.” Salvation is received by faith. When Scripture says that you must believe “on” (or “in,” or “upon”) Jesus Christ, it is talking about something more than mere assent. The Bible is clearly saying that you must depend upon Jesus Christ. But, what does that mean? It means that you must entrust your entire life, here and hereafter, to Him. It means that you must depend wholly upon what He has done, to be saved.

But what has He done in order to save? Jesus Christ died on the cross, bearing the punishment that was due to all who throughout the ages will believe on Him. He rose from the dead, giving evidence that God accepted His penal, vicarious sacrifice. The wrath of God fell on Him instead of them. All who trust Him as Savior have their sins forgiven. This is the “good news” that the apostles proclaimed around the Mediterranean world and that you are now learning in this blog. If you depend upon the saving work of Christ on the cross you will be saved.

Notice, the “gospel” is good news to be believed; not good deeds to be done. News has to do with something that has already happened; not with something yet to be done. You cannot be saved by depending upon your good works, on ceremonies like baptism, or church membership. Nothing you have done or ever could do will save you. You must look away from yourself and others and look in faith to Christ alone. It is depending on the Lord Jesus Christ alone that saves. You cannot be saved by some vague invitation to “come forward,” or to “let Jesus come into your heart.” There must be an understanding of the good news that Christ died on the cross for guilty, condemned sinners like you, and a willingness to depend on His death and resurrection to save you from your sin.

And, in trusting Christ as Savior, you must be willing to admit that you are a sinner. When the Bible says that you “have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” it means that, apart from God’s forgiveness, there is no way in which you can have eternal life. He will not allow unforgiven sinners to live in His perfect heaven. You must change your mind about yourself (apart from Christ you are unacceptable to God), about God (He is not a Santa Claus who accepts all into heaven) and about Christ (He isn’t just a great man; He is God come into the human race to save sinners).

Is God at work, convicting you of your sin and the need for a Savior? Then repent, change your mind; submit yourself to Jesus Christ and He will make you a new person and change the direction of your life. Trust Christ today.

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Forgiveness After Forgiveness?

The Lord’s Prayer is confusing. I have understood that once forgiven by Christ, you don’t need to be forgiven again. But in that prayer, we are to pray for forgiveness of our trespasses. And in the footnote to it, we are told that if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven. How come?

That the prayer is for believers—once-for-all-forgiven people—is clear: they are to pray to God their Father. They are His children.

What’s with this asking for forgiveness, then?

There are two kinds of forgiveness:

  1. Judicial forgiveness:

When you trust Christ as Savior, you are eternally forgiven—a forgiveness that needs no repetition or addition.

  1. Parental forgiveness:

Once in the family, God never kicks you out. But, when you do wrong, the Father (note the recurrence of this word in the passage) expects you to ask for forgiveness, and as Father He gives it. The footnote is like a child asking for the family car keys and the Father saying, “You’ll get them when you ask you brother for forgiveness for the wrong you did to him. That’s fatherly (parental) forgiveness.

Does this help?

Yep. Thanks.

There’s Always a Way

That’s what people say when they don’t know what it is! Then, they unsuccessfully try this and that to no avail, and finally say, “It’s too much. I can’t handle it.”

The strange thing is — they were right about it at first: there always is a way—God’s way!

That way may not be one to our liking, it may not be one that we find easy, but He has an answer to every problem that a Christian ever faces. That’s what He told us in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

Look it up. You will find three things that He says about tests that come a Christian’s way:

  1. No problem overtakes a believer but what is common to other believers. That is to say, no one’s trial is unique. People are always complaining “Nobody has ever had to face what I’m facing”—or words to that effect. They are wrong. Many have before—and have (by God’s grace) been able to overcome it.
  2. God will not allow a Christian to be tested beyond what he is able to handle (if he handles it God’s way, of course). God promises: though the problem isn’t unique, it is uniquely suited to each individual believer.
  3. God will, with the test, also send the way out in order that one may be able to handle it.

What wonderful promises!

Everything = Nothing

Recently, someone who knew that I was concerned about the matter, sent me a book in which the word “Gospel” (undefined, but grossly overworked) was used in conjunction with practically everything possible. In it the author speaks of “gospel mission, the gospel message, gospel change, gospel dynamic, gospel intentionality, gospel territories, the mission of the gospel, gospel community, gospel life, gospel-driven interactions, gospel truths, gospel care, gospel realities, gospel confrontation, gospel opportunities, gospel relationships,” etc. My friend wrote on the title page “When everything is the gospel, then nothing is the gospel.” How right he is!

In the book the writer states that the “gospel interprets, directs, and changes our lives.”

He writes of “experiencing the gospel.”

And one of his repeated phrases is “live out the gospel,” whatever that means!

He believes “Everyone needs Jesus and His gospel every moment of every day.”

He says, in one paragraph, “We need to correct and instruct others with the gospel so that we might grow in Christ and equip others to do the same.”

This book is symptomatic of what is going on all over the Christian world— people are obsessed with what they call the “gospel,” and believe that reflecting on so-called effects of their “gospel” (as they understand–or misunderstand—it) will help them grow as believers. People (in such contexts) are rarely called to “good works.” The work of the Spirit in the heart to produce His fruit is neglected. The gospel has been greatly misunderstood in their confused thinking. Reflection upon it, and other strange ideas, are being set forth as the means of sanctification.

The gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15: 1ff as containing two points:

  1. Christ’s death in the place of guilty sinners (upper ton hamartion hemon)
  2. His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Paul says that believing these facts “saves.” While the Gospel must be proclaimed in clarity, it must not be misunderstood or misused. Otherwise, it no longer is the “good news.”

Bridge Building

“I want to be a bridge builder.”

Didn’t know you’re in the construction business.

“I’m not. I mean between people with different views.”

For what purpose?

“To bring them over it to the truth.”

Oh! That’s interesting. I believe in trying to bring people to biblical positions. But why do you need a bridge for that?

“Well, I had in mind the counseling integrationists. Can’t see any other way of doing it.”

Really? What makes you think that’s possible?

“The fact that many of them are Christians.”

Can’t you have a proper relationship to them as brothers and sisters in Christ without building bridges? Isn’t the Gospel already the “bridge” if you want to call it that?

“Sure, but it’s a matter of building bridges with them about our counseling differences.”

Who’s going to cross over the bridge when it’s built?

“Uh . . . I’m not sure. Other Christians, I suppose.”

So you want to make it easier for Christians to find their way to integration land?

“Well, no. That’s not exactly what I have in mind.”

What, then do you have in mind?

“Well, I’m not sure. Being nicer to integrationists, I guess.”

You mean you can’t be nice to them without building a bridge to integrationist land?

“Well, no. . . uh, I mean ‘yes.’ Oh . . . I guess I just don’t know what I mean.”

Better be careful about building bridges until you get it all sorted out, then, don’t you think?

“I suppose so . . “

You see, you can only build a bridge when there is solid ground at each end of the bridge to rest it upon.

Provision Needed

The modern church, while excelling in every other convenience, has overlooked one that ought surely be supplied. A cloakroom for brains. Many people like to check their brains at the door when they enter a church.

This is understandable, of course. All week long they have been stretching their brains at work and home and its time they found a place where they could rest them. Since the average sermon preached today requires little or no thought, this is the ideal place to give your brain an hour’s rest once a week.

Unfortunately, there are those old fogies who want the preacher to stretch their brains even more, when everyone knows that isn’t the reason for the sermon. The smooth little essays, or the repetitious Gospel message wrung out of every passage preached from, is designed to relax and sooth the brainless.

Moreover, the songs sung are not composed for brains to tackle. Having but three or four notes, and messaging-like words that were chosen for rhyme rather than sense, they help lull one into unconsciousness. After all if emotion is the order of the day, every part of the service should aptly contribute to this end.

It is most disconcerting to go to church and discover that there is no place to park the brain, that there are others also looking for such a place. It disturbs the entire purpose of the service when one has to stuff his brain into the pew rack, and keep picking it up when it falls out! Brain rooms aid composure.

The invitation at the end of the service can be disrupting too, unless it is carefully orchestrated. The preacher must use it carefully to determine how well he is doing. But the church officers will use it too, to determine how long they want him to remain. If he doesn’t want to undergo the inconvenience of leaving every three years, he must encourage them to leave their brains home (in the absence of a cloakroom). But, if he is truly wise, he will lobby for the cloakroom, and then urge them to set a good example for the congregation by checking their brains there.

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