Tuesday, February 28, 2017
I'm presently in California for the Shepherd's Conference held at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. The theme this year is in honor of the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation. Speakers include John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Steve Lawson, and many others. It's going to be a great week of teaching and fellowship with other pastors.
I wasn't in California for very long before I was exposed as "not from around here." Yes, the "You're not in Kansas anymore" jokes abound. I've been all over the U.S., having set foot in about 40 different states, but I guess there's just something different about California.
When I got to my hotel, a gentleman recommended to me that Uber was the best way to get a ride, much cheaper than a cab. I'd never used Uber before, so I downloaded the app and scheduled my first trip. The Uber map put me in a weird place to rendezvous with my driver, but we managed to find each other. I apologized and told him this was my first Uber experience, and he explained to me how it all worked.
My destination was Grace Community Church. How I ended up there is a story in itself. The short version is that Nate Pickowicz and I need to work on our communication skills. But since I was on the GCC campus, I figured I would look around. Everyone was getting ready for the conference. There's tables and tents and more tables and somewhere there's surely chairs.
I found my way to the Master's University library. There in a display case under glass are Dr. John MacArthur's first sermon notes -- on the book of Philippians! That's also the first book I preached through. I had no idea it was Dr. MacArthur's first as well. When was that, 1878? Did he ever meet Charles Spurgeon?
Anyway, once it was dark, I figured it was time to head back to my hotel. For some reason, my Uber app didn't want to work. I became concerned I wasn't going to be able to get back to Burbank. I was just about to start fasting and praying when suddenly a car pulled up in front of me. The driver rolled down the window and said, "Gabriel Hughes?"
"Yes?" I replied.
He said he was my Uber driver. We were both kind of stunned because my app wasn't working and he said his was acting up, too. But he did get a notice that a Gabriel Hughes needed a ride from my current location. Because I'm a trusting person, I hopped in and off we went back to Burbank.
He asked me if I went to church there at Grace Community since that's where I was coming from. I said I was in town for a pastor's conference. I asked him if he was a Christian and he said he was an Armenian Christian. Well, I thought he said he was Arminian.
Now, I've never had anyone just outright say to me that they're an Arminian. But this was in a certain context. I was just coming from John MacArthur's church, after all, a famous Calvinist preacher. In my brain, I thought this driver knew of the church and its Calvinist teaching, and he found it necessary to clarify that he was Arminian.
So I started explaining to him the doctrines of grace. I explained that mankind is inherently sinful. In fact, he's so depraved that he can do nothing righteous before God. Romans 3 explains that no one is righteous, no one understands, and no one seeks for God. We cannot will ourselves to believe in Him. But we also can't resist His will when He calls us to Himself.
In God's infinite grace and mercy, which He predestined for His children, He regenerates our hearts to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. We turn from our sin and believe on His name. His sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd and they follow Him and no one is able to snatch them out of His hand. In the Spirit we are sealed for the day of redemption. That's the short version, anyway.
The driver was rather confused. Somewhere in his attempt to clarify, he said that Armenians were the first Christians. I thought he said that he was First Christian; as in, the First Christian Church denomination. So I asked him, "Is your church like a non-denominational First Christian church, or are you Stone-Campbell and teach baptismal regeneration?" Now he was really confused. (You can look up what he meant by "first Christians" on your own.)
I was eventually able to figure out that he was saying that he was an Armenian Christian, not an Arminian Christian. He explained he had never heard these terms before: Arminianism and Calvinism. So I explained to him that Arminianism was named after Jacobus Arminius from whom the doctrines were derived, and Calvinism was a response to Arminianism named for the teachings of protestant reformer John Calvin.
So this unassuming Uber driver got a theology lesson in the short distance from Grace Community Church to Burbank,. We also managed to get the difference between Baptists and Presbyterians in there. I told him that while there are different perspectives of covenant, we're still brothers and sisters in Christ and Him crucified. That was probably another confusing reference.
It wasn't until the end of our trip that I figured out he considered himself a Christian because he was Armenian, but didn't actually know the gospel. Sometimes he went to church and lit candles, he said. Though I'm sure I gave him a very confusing gospel message, I pray that the Spirit will make sense of it for him. Maybe he knows he can always go to Grace Community Church.
I'm a stranger here in more ways than one. It's all Nate's fault.
Monday, February 13, 2017
This morning I shared a quote from J.C. Ryle, former Anglican Bishop of Liverpool. He was big on evangelism and critical of ritualism. From his book Practical Religion, he wrote, "Give me a candle and a Bible, and shut me up in a dark dungeon, and I will tell you all that the whole world is doing."
One of the most common criticisms I face as a preacher, and perhaps any Christian faces today, is that I don't have the right to judge anyone (the accuser always misses the irony that they are, in fact, judging me). I'm reminded constantly that judging a person's behavior is contrary to the Bible which commands Christians not to judge (news flash: it doesn't).
But I don't have to judge anyone. The Bible has already judged everyone. All I need to do is repeat what the Bible says.
Recently, I was invited over to someone's home to share the gospel with a young man. His parents were of a false religion, but he said he didn't believe any of their religion or mine. I knew nothing else about him but his first name and that he needed to hear about his sin and the One who died for sin. So I simply went to the Scriptures.
I told him the Ten Commandments and he said he was familiar with them. I said that this is the Law of the God who created the whole universe. Everyone is guilty of breaking God's law. None of us can keep it. None of us have. I asked him if he'd ever told a lie before. He said he had, sure. Everyone has. Who hasn't? I asked him what you call a person who tells lies. He said, "You call them a liar."
I asked him if he's ever stolen anything before. And he hesitated. There was clear guilt in his face. I wondered later if he had stolen merchandise on him at that moment. But he answered, "No." I replied, "Are you sure? Because you just told me you're a liar." He sat back and said, "Okay, sure. I've stolen something before." I asked him what you call a person who steals and he said a thief.
I asked him if he's ever taken the Lord's name in vain before, like saying "Oh my God" or "Jesus Christ" as a swear. He said he had. I said, "Have you ever thought about what you're saying when you cuss like that? Who's name you're using?" He said he hadn't given it much thought. I said, "This is a sin called blasphemy. It's very serious. The Bible says God has exalted above all things His name and His word, and you exalt yourself above that name whenever you misuse it."
I asked him if he's ever looked at a woman with lust in his heart. He admitted he had. I said, "In Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if anyone has ever looked at someone with lust, he's committed adultery with that person in his heart."
I asked him if he's ever murdered anyone before. To that he kind of chuckled and said he hadn't. I said, "Same sermon, Jesus said if you've ever called anyone a person names or had hate toward them, then you've murdered them in their heart and you are worthy of the fires of hell. Have you ever hated anyone or called them derogatory names?" He said he had.
I said, "Okay, then by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving" -- he squirmed -- "blaspheming, adulterous, murderer. That's just five of the Ten Commandments. So if you were to stand before God today, and He were to judge you just based on these commandments, would you go to heaven or to hell?" He said he would probably go to hell.
Now that he had heard the truth about his sin, and now that he was clearly uncomfortable about it, I could tell him the gospel. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the Bible says, and the wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 3:23-24, 6:23).
God so loved the world that He sent His Son, Jesus. The Son of God became a man and perfectly kept the law when we could not. He is the only good man who ever lived. But the people hated Him and committed Him to be crucified. The wrath of God that we deserve because of our sin was poured out on Christ instead, and by His death on the cross we can be saved.
For all who turn from their sin and believe in Jesus, their sins are atoned for. You are no longer guilty. The debt has been paid. God looks at you as innocent. But if you do not believe in Jesus, there's still blood-guilt on your hands. And on the day of judgment, you will stand before the throne of the Creator of the universe. He will judge you for your wickedness, for thinking you're better than He is and you are above the Creator's law, doing what you want to do instead of worshiping the King.
For those who are followers of Jesus Christ and do the things that Christ did, they have been made fellow heirs of His kingdom, and they will live forever with Him. But those who are against Christ will be sent to a place of eternal torment. They will be judged to hell. You have this life only to repent and believe. After this comes judgment.
I asked him if he understood what I was saying, and he said that he did. I asked him what his thoughts were, and I believe he said something to the effect of, "Well, it's a nice story." I assured him that it was all true and talked to him about the trustworthiness of the Bible. I said that in the cross of Christ, we see the wrath of God and the love of God. Our sin is so serious, it required the sacrifice of God's own Son for us in order to pay for it.
It was a friendly chat. After a little more talking, our host was treating us to lunch which was waiting in the kitchen. The young man said that he needed to make a phone call. As we were standing in the kitchen preparing our plates, he suddenly and strangely got choked up and escaped rather hastily through the back door.
I would find out later that he went immediately to a friend of his (who came and talked to me) and said, "That was total [expletive], man. All they did was sit there and judge me. Told me about how I was a liar and a thief and how I was going to hell." I told his friend all we talked about was what the Bible says.
Jesus said, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." I hear that verse repeated a lot as another reason I don't have the right to judge anyone. But have you ever asked why Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, didn't come to condemn the world? It's because they're already condemned. Every person condemns themselves.
The next verse says, "Whoever believes in Him," meaning Jesus, "is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light," again, referring to Jesus, "has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:17-21).
The Bible tells us the condition of every person in the world: that without Christ they stand condemned before a holy God. The Bible tells us the direction the world is heading: into more and more depravity, further and further away from God (Romans 1:18-32).
It's a good idea to read the news and keep up on current events. But in doing so, what we will observe in the condition of whatever culture we live in, wherever we live on the globe, whatever time period this is happening in, an affirmation of what the Bible has already told us a long time ago. And that the only remedy is Jesus.