Monday, October 8, 2012

Notes from Peru

More excerpts from recent missionary updates from our friends Sean & Amber & Patience DeMars in Peru... (as always, if you want to get on their list to receive the full updates, which I recommend, let me know)... 

By the way, the DeMars have a new mailing address, good from now until December:

Sean and Amber DeMars
Castilla 1898
Arequipa, Peru

I don’t believe that we believe in hell. I really don’t. We don’t believe what the bible says about God’s wrath. We don’t believe it’s eternal. We don’t believe it’s devastating. So devastating that the fire metaphor is only a shadow of what’s to come. We don’t believe eternal wrath is the only end for all men who reject Christ. We affirm it in our creeds and statements of faith, but our orthopraxy is considerably more than a stones throw away from our orthodoxy.

You see, if we did believe what the Bible says about hell, our lives would look different. Much different, in fact. We would through a continent's worth of broken glass to preach the gospel to the unsaved world. We would pray for our family members, who are dead in sin, every single day, almost as if their eternities depended upon it. We would study more. We would watch t.v. less. We would stop wasting our lives on trivial things this world offers us. We would, to “borrow” from C.S. Lewis, stop chasing these “lesser pleasures”.

If we really believed what God has to say about his wrath, poured out on unrepentant sinners, our bank accounts would look different. Our check books would look different. Our homes would look different. Our children’s education would look different. Our time management would be different. Oh, how different our lives would be if we believed what we say we believe! Oh, the costs we would count. The crosses we would carry. Men would hate us, like they hated our master. Men would try and kill us, like they killed our master. We would partake in the sufferings of Christ with a depth greater than most of us from America have ever experienced in our lives.

Hell would never be far from our thoughts, if we believed this, and neither would heaven. The Gospel of Grace would compel us to pray more, pray harder, and pray with millions of more tears. We would see ourselves for what we really are, in light of who God really is, and we would be broken. We would lay our lives down “for the surpassing worth...”. Our time, talents, and treasure would all be counted as rubbish. Missionaries wouldn’t have to beg for money. Forgiveness would be given in the blink of an eye, because we would truly see what forgiveness has saved us from. Love would be crashing over us like a tsunami of joy in the perfect tense...

I could go on for days about how things would be different if we really believed in hell, but the fact is, pontificating doesn’t make us believe. And yet, there is more grace. You see, the unbelief that even the most stalwart of Saints struggle with, that too is forgiven at the cross. The Christian who does all of the good deeds he ought (care for the widows and orphans, evangelism, discipleship, etc.) still fails to love like God has commanded him to. He still fails to meet the standard. But there is more grace. And that truth, my friends, should compel us even further. You see, grace is a vicious cycle of forgiveness: We fail to do what we ought, yet we are forgiven. That forgiveness should then compel us to pray more, try harder, love better. And then we fail again. This time the fall is much harder. The grace, though, is that much sweeter. That joy compels us again...

That’s the cycle until we are called home. My friends, let the gospel of grace drive you to go hard after Jesus. You have been given much, if you’re an American. And you know what that means, don’t you? Brothers and sisters in Christ, the world is dying. The world is suffering. Hell is real. God is good, and he is calling all men to repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation. God is redeeming the cosmos, and he has called you to proclaim his reconciling deeds. You are Christ’s ambassadors. Fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Take up your cross. Count your life as nothing at all. Declare with the Psalmist that there is nothing on earth you desire but God. Our flesh will fail, and so will our hearts. But God, he is our portion forever. Let’s live like we believe that while we live in these bodies of death. Let us spur each other on to good works. Let’s love harder, pray more fervently, give more generously, repent more vigorously, fear God more, fear man less, care for widows and orphans, keep ourselves free from the sins of this world, preach the word, live the word, make disciples of all nations, run hard after the prize (God), and let’s do  IT ALL for the glory of our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From A Separate Newsletter... 

N.D. Wilson (quoting his father, I believe) once commented that he prefers philosophy where someone ends up with a bloody nose. I agree. That statement was in reference to his time in a particular philosophy class where he observed the status quo in most universities. He observed men pontificating on philosophies as if they were beautiful butterflies (my metaphor, not his), winging their way to and fro throughout the atmosphere. These butterflies are beautiful, gentle, and most importantly, they are perfectly harmless.

Yet, any careful thinker/observer of history, will note that philosophy is anything BUT harmless. Rather than viewing our philosophical positions as butterflies, they ought rather to be seen as wasps. You see, wasps are still beautiful. They’re intricate. They’re incredible when observed in detail. They are truly the result of a God who creates beauty (although, I myself see them as the spawn of satan). Ah, but are they not dangerous? Of course they are. Most ideas are not butterflies, they’re wasps. And they’ll sting an entire race/class/gender of people if you’re not careful.

The same can also be said about theology (where the two become betwixt, I do not know).

Disclaimer before moving forward: I know that in America, the problem isn’t too much thinking, it’s not enough. With that being said, there are tiny circles within the larger, yet still tiny, circle of doctrine lovers. Some of these smaller circles-within-a-circle, and the people they are composed of, treat theology like a butterfly. They like to pontificate upon grand ideas with marshmallowy words. They observe their own observations and applaud themselves with chests full of air. They develop bedsores from all the sitting required to work their way through the grand works of a dead dutch guy. There’s no problem with studying dead dutch guys, of course, but the dead dutch guy studying is for the end of self glorification, not the distilling and distribution of theological wealth.

Just like most “Intro to Philosophy” classes, theological truth can become impotent in several ways, and for several reasons. Allow me to list a few:

  1. If theological truth is merely observed and agreed upon, without love empowered action pulling clean up.
  2. If theological truth is ignored.
  3. If theological truth is held with an embrace that kills it, like a little boy hugging a puppy to death.
  4. The first three can cause the fourth, wherein observers see the first three and decide they’d rather ignore doctrine altogether.

In my few years as a Christian, I’ve most certainly missed the mark, on either side, more than once. If I were a bettin’ man, I’d bet that you have too. I’d double down on that bet, (if I were a bettin’ man, that is) and bet that you’ll miss the mark again. So will I. But failure doesn’t excuse us from pursuing a robust and deeply rooted knowledge of God, sin, man, hell, heaven, etc.

 Brothers, let us leave behind our paper thin convictions. Study God’s word to know who God is, and then tattoo it on your heart. Study God’s word and observe the people around you to understand the damnable depravity and immeasurable beauty of the thing God created in His image: man.

 I know, this can be dangerous. Men can cling too tightly to the wrong truths, or lies for that matter. I know. But aren’t all good things dangerous when handled by the heart of man? Of course they are. That doesn’t mean that we reject them, does it? If that were the case, no one would have sex or use the internet. But danger is the name of the game, from what I can tell. Just look at the life of our savior. The physical danger he faced pails in comparison to the spiritual danger he faced every day of his life.

 Some things are dangerous, and hard. We don’t run from those things, though. We embrace them. We are careful. We are vigilant. We are brave. We trust in the God who delivers. The God who builds and preserves his church. The God who works all things together for our Good. The God who doesn’t give us more than we can bear.

 I said all of that to say this: Brothers, get a nose bleed. Or, better yet, give one to someone else (a wolf would be preferable). Let’s repent of our butterfly theology. Let’s handle the wasp, ever so carefully. Why? Because people are dying. Because hell is real. Because God is the reward of all men who repent and trust in Christ, and because you have that reward. Let’s start treating our theology like peoples lives depend on it, because they do. And not just their vapor of a life on earth, either. No, their eternities depend on it. The descent into heresy is a gradual one. The drift into soggy, soft, and superficial Christianity is is even more so. Every single thing you do is, in some way, the result of what you believe about God, man, eternity, and more. Do you realize that? There’s no escaping theology, but there is escaping flaccid doctrine; exchanging it for God glorifying, soul saving, heart refreshing, life giving truth.

 I’m not talking about preserving a robust orthodoxy for the sake of preservation, like my wife’s memory box. I’m talking about a preservation of robust orthodoxy for the glory of God and the eternal joy and good of our neighbors. The Lord will not let the gates of hell prevail against his church, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back and watch the enemy work against our walls.

 Some of my doctrine disenfranchised friends might be asking “Sean, that’s all well and good, but where’s the love?” Oh my friends, if you could only see how this is love! It’s a love ten thousand times stronger than blanket acceptance of all sin, simple platitudes, and smiles ‘round-the-clock. It’s a deeper kind of love. It’s a stronger kind of love. It’s a love more enduring. It’s a love that summarizes the law. It’s a love that loves sinners while they’re still dead in sin. It’s a saving love. Ask me how I know...

A little more from John Owen

I was reading “The Glory of Christ” by John Owen, today. Of course, when you read Owen you have to read him with highlighter in hand, and that’s what I was doing when I came to this particular passage:

 “Since men fell from God by sin, a great part of their misery and punishment is that their minds are covered with thick darkness, and so they are ignorant of the true nature and glory of God”

I highlighted this particular passage until my sharpie went dry. This quote is from a larger portion of argumentation, wherein Owen makes the case that the true punishment of sin is that man is kept from seeing the glory of God. I think I “knew” that before reading it, but it hit me like a lead pipe when I read it aloud. It makes perfect sense, of course. The true reward for all men who repent and believe on Christ is that they will see God in the glory of Christ for all of eternity.

Some might feel that this lessens the severity of the doctrine of hell, but I think it actually intensifies it to the umpteenth degree. An eternity separated from the goodness and glory of God is an unquantifiable suffering. It makes perfect sense of the allegorical language the bible uses when referring to hell: nothing in our finite vocabulary can actually describe it. Like most truth, you actually have to experience it to understand it rightly.

Think about it: ponder the suffering and agony you’ve dealt with in your life, that’s the result of a world where the glory of God can only be understood the way a blind man understands his home. The above quote from Owen is talking about this temporal life, but I think C.S. Lewis (someone I don’t particularly agree with on the doctrine of hell) really brings this home when he writes about hell being the natural end of God giving men what they really want. The initial phase of the wrath of God towards unrepentant sinners is a darkening of the mind and a dullness to the perception of the glory of God, but the end result is God giving men that which they truly existence devoid of the fullness of his glory of God. It doesn’t sound as scary of fire and teeth gnashing, but the truth is, it’s much MUCH worse.

And maybe heaven doesn’t sound as awesome when it’s talked about this way, but I promise, an eternity basking in the fullness of the glory of God...radiating on you with the fierce intensity of a thousand suns...that will be infinitely better than a cloud with cold apple juice on tap.

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