Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Do We Know About The End?

When I was a kid, my Sunday School teacher gave me a copy of The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. If you're over 40, you probably remember that as a runaway best-seller in the '70s. Lindsey shared his view of the apocalypse, right down to identifying specific nations that were represented by strange images (beasts, horns, etc) in the book of Revelation and other biblical prophecy. It was all gripping stuff. Reading Lindsey's work, one got the impression we really were living in the Last Days...any moment, we expected to hear that trumpet blast.

We've been studying the biblical information about the afterlife for over two months now, and I hope you've enjoyed it half as much as I have. But there are still plenty of unanswered questions. One of them is, "What happens between now and the New Earth?" It's been over thirty years since Lindsey's book, and End Times speculation isn't nearly as "en vogue" as it was among Christians back then. But Christ is returning to this Earth, whether we're watching the skies or not. On the one hand, we can easily become enamored with our own prophetic scenarios, or those of our favorite preacher or author...I have known quite a few "prophecy nuts" who seem fixated on that subject to the detriment of their overall Christian walk. On the other hand, if we ignore biblical prophecy, we risk not being truly ready when Christ does return. After all, the Lord chose to put information about the End in the Bible for a reason.

So how do we cut through the hype and hysteria and gain a biblical view of the End of this age? That is what we'll try to do this Sunday. My main text will be the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, but I'll spend a lot of time giving an overview of Biblical prophecy before I get to that Scripture. Pray for me, always, I want to be true to the Word. May I decrease so that He might increase...the last thing y'all need is more of me, and the thing we all need is more, so much more, of Him.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Tour of Our Future Home

God gives us hints of Heaven, foretellings of future glory, throughout His Word. There's the Year of Jubilee in the Old Testament Law. There are the dreams of the prophets, like Amos' "let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." There's the consistent Old Testament image of The Day of the Lord. There are the many parables of Jesus that foretell a day of Judgment, when wrongs are made right. There is His prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven," or His favorite saying, "The first will be last and the last, first."

But then, on rare occasions, the Lord peels back the curtain and gives us tantalizing tours of the glittering city of gold. In Ezekiel 40-48, Isaiah 60-66, Revelation 21-22, and a much shorter vision in Hebrews 12:22-24. Some see these stories as an impossible dream. They long for these things to be reality, but have no real hope or assurance. Others see Heaven as a consolation prize. They are thankful to have their afterlife secure, but their real focus is on attaining success in the here and now. And then there are those who long for their future home. For them, Heaven isn't just a future hope, it is a present obsession. They live such outstanding lives, Hebrews 11 says of them, "The world was not worthy of them," and "God is not ashamed to be called their God." This Sunday, we'll take our own tour of the New Jerusalem, and explore what it all means for our future. But we'll also ask which of those three categories each of us fits into. Let it someday be said of you and I, "God was not ashamed to be called their God."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Will Life be Like in Heaven?

The old Baptist preacher Vance Havner once said, "I'm homesick for Heaven. It's the thought of dying that's kept me alive this long."

Since that day 2000 years ago when Jesus promised to "prepare us a place," Christians have clung to His words in their darkest hours. Hope--in the biblical sense of the word--is the one thing no one can take away from us--not oppressive governments, not chronic disease, not financial calamity, not even death. But our hope should motivate us even when things are going well. Even when the sun is shining and we feel good and our bank account is overflowing, we should think, "Praise the Lord for this...but I'd still chuck it all in a heartbeat to go home."

In order for us to have that kind of hope, we need to have something more than a vague notion of what that "home" is like. This week, in a message entitled "What Will Life be Like in Heaven?" we'll talk about the things we KNOW will be there...and how to engage in "biblically responsible speculation" about the stuff we're not clear on.

The importance of children

Our new Minister to Children, Hope McNeil, begins her ministry here at Westbury next week. In light of that, I thought this Scripture was especially appropriate (it came up in my own devotional reading this week):

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

--Luke 9:46-48

Since that visionary old Englishman, Robert Raikes, invented the Sunday School in the late 1700s as a way to keep slum kids off the streets (and out of the pubs), churches have felt a strong responsibility to reach out the children of their communities. Research has shown that the vast majority of people who come to faith in Christ do so while they are in their childhood. Is it any wonder that Jesus urged us to welcome the little child? Not only can they teach us a thing or two about humble, faithful devotion to Christ, but each one is important to the God who created them. Please be in prayer for Hope as she begins her ministry. Encourage her when you have the opportunity. Be ready to volunteer for nursery duty, VBS, Sunday School, or other ministries. Our church already has a wonderful group of people leading our ministry to children. With someone as gifted and motivated as Hope leading the way, I can't wait to see what God will do in and through our ministry in the years to come.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What a great Easter Sunday!

I wanted to thank you all for participating in such a great Easter Sunday! The choir and orchestra were magnificent. They ushered us into the presence of the risen Christ and helped us feel a sense of awe and reverence combined with joyful celebration. I know firsthand how hard Kyle works to prepare us for this, and I am so glad to tell you that the work was rewarded.

I also wanted to thank all of you who invited people to our worship services, or made our guests feel welcome. We had incredible attendance. I’d love to see our church that full every Sunday, so the attendance this Easter just gives us all a foretaste of the excitement we’ll experience when we reach more people for Christ.

I mentioned my son Will and his “Easter tie.” Most of you didn’t get to see it, I’m sure, so I’ve attached a picture to this post. I’ve also attached a picture of my family. What can I say? I’m pretty proud of them.

It’s great to be a part of Westbury Baptist Church. I already can’t wait for next Sunday!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What Sort of Bodies Will We Have in Heaven?

I just read a thought-provoking article on the resurrection of the dead. I wanted to share it with you. I don't agree with the author's views on burial vs. cremation: I frankly don't think it matters what we do with the bodies we now live in. Our resurrection bodies are what matters. But his point--that burial is a testimony to the world that we expect to rise again, like the seed planted in the ground in Paul's imagery from 1 Corinthians 15--is a valid one. If you'd like to read it, click this link. Be sure to scroll to the bottom and read the comments from others who have read the article. There's a very interesting debate going on there, with some good points raised by both sides.

This is an especially relevant issue this week, as we look forward to Easter. This Sunday, we'll be studying the classic Easter text: 1 Corinthians 15. But we won't be using it to defend the historicity of Christ's resurrection, or to talk about how important that first Easter is to us. Instead, we'll talk about a resurrection that stands now in the future, not the past: Our own resurrection from the dead. That, after all, is what 1 Corinthians 15 is really about. Hopefully by now (if you've been attending or following our series on Heaven) you understand that Heaven isn't an ethereal, disembodied existence floating on clouds, but a flesh-and-bone life eternal in a real body on a redeemed Earth. But what sort of bodies will we have? That is the topic we'll examine this Sunday. I hope to see you there, and I hope you're inviting a friend!

Preaching in a time of tragedy

When Carrie and I lived in Ft Worth during our seminary years, we joined Wedgwood Baptist Church. The pastor there, Al Meredith, was a former history professor from Michigan who preached such challenging, inspiring and biblical messages that I still listen to him to this day. He was the last pastor I ever had before I went into the business of preparing and delivering messages myself.

A few years after we left, a deeply disturbed man named Larry Ashbrook entered the sanctuary of Wedgwood on a Wednesday night, armed with guns and a pipe bomb. It had been See You At The Pole day, and the church was hosting hundreds of youth for a post-event worship rally. No one knows why Ashbrook did it, but he stepped into the middle of that rally with his guns blazing. He shot fourteen people, including himself, killing seven. In the days to come, as sad as I was about this tragic event, I said to myself, "I am glad it's brother Al who will be comforting that church, speaking to the media and visiting with heads of state in this time of grief." I knew I was not up to such a task, nor were most ministers. But I was confident that Dr. Meredith was the right man. And he was indeed. He brought hope and healing to his people, and presented a powerful witness to a watching world. Incredible fruit resulted from that tragedy, and Wedgwood is a stronger church today.

The week after Fred Winters was shot to death in the pulpit of First Baptist Church, Maryville Illinois, the church asked Dr. Meredith to come speak to them. In my opinion, they couldn't have made a better choice. If you'd like to hear Bro. Al's words to this grief-stricken congregation, you can find them at this link: Here Just scroll down until you see the sermon titled "There Is Hope."

Al said something in that message that resonated with me, especially in light of Easter and our current series on Heaven: "You haven't lost something if you know where it is. " He said, "we didn't lose those young people ten years ago, and you haven't lost pastor Fred. We know where they are." That is the confident proclamation of the Church. The grave has no victory. Death has no sting.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Philip Yancey: Seeing Easter in a New Light

Note: The following is an article by Philip Yancey that appeared on I offer it for your Holy Week edification:

After years of urban living had ground down my childhood love of nature, I found it suddenly rekindled through my friendship with a young photographer named Bob McQuilkin. I was working as a magazine editor at the time, and Bob seemed determined to drag me out of my stale routine and reintroduce me to the joyous world outside.

Once Bob drove his jeep to my office and insisted that I come see two baby owls he'd just rescued. For months he fussed over those scraggly orphaned owls, chasing barn mice and lizards to feed them, then trying to teach them to hunt on their own, and to fly. (Bob teaching a bird to fly!) They'd flutter in soaking wet from a rainstorm—not wise enough yet to find shelter—and Bob would patiently pull out his electric hair dryer and blow them dry. …

Bob was as fully "alive" as anyone I have ever known. And so when I heard [in the fall of 2000] that Bob had died on a scuba-diving assignment in Lake Michigan, I could hardly absorb the news. Bob, dead? It was inconceivable. I could picture Bob doing anything at all—anything but lying still. But that is my last image of him: a 36-year-old body in a blue-plaid flannel shirt lying in a casket. … I would never ski with Bob again, never sit with him for hours viewing slides, never again eat rattlesnake meat or buffalo burgers at his house.

Susan, his widow, asked me to speak at Bob's memorial service. Without a doubt, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. When I stood before them, the magazine editors and art directors and family and neighbors and friends, they reminded me of little birds—Bob's owls—with their mouths open begging for food. Begging for words of solace, for hope. What could I offer them?

I began by telling them what I had been doing the very afternoon Bob was making his last dive. That Wednesday I was sitting, oblivious, in a café at the University of Chicago, reading The Quest for Beauty, by Rollo May. In that book the famous therapist recalls scenes from his lifelong search for beauty, among them a visit to Mount Athos, a peninsula of monasteries attached to Greece.

One morning, Rollo May happened to stumble upon the celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter, the tail end of a church service that had been proceeding all night long. Incense hung in the air. The only light came from candles. And at the height of that service, the priest gave everyone present three Easter eggs, wonderfully decorated and wrapped in a veil. "Christos Anesti!" he said—"Christ is risen!" Each person there, including Rollo May, responded according to custom, "He is risen indeed!"

Rollo May writes, "I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: what would it mean for our world if he had truly risen?"

I read Rollo May's question the afternoon that Bob died, and it kept floating around in my mind, hauntingly, after I heard the news. What did it mean for our world that Christ had risen? Why were monks staying up all night to celebrate it? The early Christians had staked everything on the Resurrection, so much so that the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

In the cloud of grief over Bob's death, I began to see the meaning of Easter in a new light. …
On Friday Jesus' closest friends had let the relentless crush of history snuff out all their dreams. Two days later, when the crazy rumors about Jesus' missing body shot through Jerusalem, they couldn't dare to believe. … Only personal appearances by Jesus convinced them that something new, absolutely new, had broken out on earth. When that sank in, those same men who had slunk away in fear at Calvary were soon preaching to large crowds in the streets of Jerusalem.

At Bob McQuilkin's funeral, I rephrased Rollo May's question in the terms of our own grief. What would it mean for us if Bob rose again? We were sitting in a chapel, numbed by three days of grief and sadness, the weight of death bearing down upon us. What would it be like to walk outside to the parking lot and there, to our utter astonishment, find Bob. Bob! With his bounding walk, his crooked grin, and clear, grey eyes.

That image gave me a hint of what Jesus' disciples felt on the first Easter. They, too, had grieved for three days. But on Sunday they caught a glimpse of something else, a startling clue to the riddle of the universe. Easter hits a new note, a note of hope and faith that what God did once in a graveyard in Jerusalem, he can and will repeat on a grand scale, for the world. For Bob. For us.

Philip Yancey, "The Great Reversal," Christianity Today (April 2000)

Forgiving Your Husband's Killer

On March 8, Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Indiana, was murdered during his Sunday morning sermon. Days later, his widow Cindy was interviewed on CBS' Early Show. Take a moment to watch will remind you what grace truly looks like, and what it really means to grieve as one who has hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Cindy Winters on the CBS Early Show

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What Happens To Us When We Die?

I only realized it myself in the last few years. Once I did, I was amazed at the irony: The Bible tells us very little about what happens to us when we die. Don't get me wrong; there are scads of Biblical information about where we'll spend eternity, but as we saw in last week's sermon, those two places aren't the same. Notice in John 14:1-6, when Jesus is trying to comfort His disciples who have just learned that His crucifixion will take place in the morning, He doesn't say, "But don't worry about that. I'm going to a better place!" Instead, He says, "I'm coming back for you someday." In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, when Paul is trying to comfort a church who has suffered the deaths of some of their best members, he doesn't say, "Trust me on this one: They are having the time of their lives right now!" Instead, he says, "Christ is returning, the dead will rise then, and we (if we're still alive at that point) will meet up with them."

For centuries, the resurrection of the dead is all most people cared about. But in our times, people want to know what happens beyond the grave. Where are my loved ones today? What will happen to me when I take my last breath? Fortunately, there is enough information in Scripture to give us a sense of relief and hope, even as we face the end of our lives. This Sunday, we'll look at passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, and several others to answer this important question. I hope I see you there.

An Easter Poem

John Updike died recently. One of the truly great authors of our time, he left an outstanding legacy in literature. As we head into Easter week, I wanted to offer you a look at one of his lesser-known works, a short poem he wrote on the resurrection. Even if you're not a poetry afficianado, take a moment to read's powerful.

By John Updike

Make no mistake, if He rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft Spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
It was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
The same valved heart;
That -- pierced -- died, withered, paused,
and then regathered out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
Making of the event a parable,
a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages;
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle
And crushed by remonstrance.

(from "Telephone Poles and Other Poems" by John Updike, 1961. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House.)