November 2009

This is atheist Penn Jillette of the popular magician duo Penn & Teller.  Take a look.


Skipping ahead in the book of Acts to chapter 20, we see that the gospel has infiltrated one of the big business cities in the ancient near east–Ephesus.  Paul had planted a church there that boomed with gospel fruitfulness.  Paul stayed for years, building up the Ephesian church.  In Acts 20, we see how Paul leaves the Ephesian church.  This is of particular importance to this youth group and to me, Jordan, and Alex right now.  Paul goes about this endeavor in a very noteworthy way that I hope to imitate.

First, Paul convinces the Ephesians that he is leaving out of obedience and not desertion.  Though the church would have loved to have had an apostle hang out for a long, long time, building up and teaching in their church.  Who wouldn’t want Paul in their church?  However, Paul considers the gospel of higher value than building a flawless ministry.  The Ephesians had heard the gospel and many have embraced it.  It was time to bring the gospel elsewhere. 

Paul then issues a warning, “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock…after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  When healthy doctrinal teaching leaves a church, and there are leaders who are not valuing the gospel above their ministry, those feelings of desertion birth bitterness which births spiteful and twisted teaching, which is the bullhorn of Satan.  We see that some years later, Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to correct and rebuke false teachers.  And in Revelation, Jesus warns the Ephesian church to “repent…If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand”. 

Thirdly, Paul blesses the Ephesian elders, ““And now, I commend you to God and to the word of grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

That is, though now you may be concerned about your church and your leaders, know this—God holds you, his word builds you up and you will inherit the reward of eternal life.  It was never me or Alex or Jordan.  It was God, it is God, and it will always be God who takes care of you, his word that instructs you, and his grace that sanctifies you.  You have godly leaders to look to who understand this: Sonja, Deanne, Heather, and Lydia.  Pray for more godly leaders to come, specifically men.  God gives leaders a gift to his church.  Churches do not function without biblically qualified leaders who submit to Jesus.  So pray for leaders.  It may be some of you whom God raises up to lead in different roles.  All of you are capable. 

Here is my plea: Support the advance of the gospel message.  Do not allow bitterness or a sense of desertion to creep into your heart.  Be alert, stop unbiblical truths from finding any place in your youth group.  And be blessed, trust God, be built up by his word, be sanctified by his grace.

Now, if you remember one thing from all of the Wednesdays that I have spoken you will understand the singlemost prominent truth of the entire Bible.  Some of the most renowned biblical scholars do not understand this:  IT IS ALL ABOUT JESUS.  Everything, all things, anything contributes to Jesus’ glory.  It is not about us, it is about Jesus.  I don’t care what situation you tell me about to try and contradict this point–it is all about Jesus.  There is nothing that does not concern Jesus’ glory:  “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

We love all of you.

The Internet is a neutral weapon that can be either incredibly destructive (pornography, slander, “e-bullying”), or incredibly God-glorifying in equipping the saints.  Here is a list of blogs and resource websites that I frequent for a daily dose of sound doctrine or for when I have questions.

HUGE resource library.  Just type in the search any topic you are wondering about and WHAMO!

J.D. Greear is a pastor in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina

A very fruitful church planting network

The blog of Mars Hill Church

Acts 29 church in Omaha

Your’s truly!

Why Do the Peoples Plot in Vain?

This passage is one of those points in the Bible that convince me even further of my conviction that God is totally, and completely in control of every miniscule thing that happens in the universe.  Some call it Calvinism, or predestination; however, I just call it biblical.  

Some say that if God is totally in control, why do we need to evangelize? Won’t people whom God has chosen get saved either way?  What I want to argue is that a high view of God’s glory (aka His total sovereignty) gives us all the more reason to share the gospel.  After all, that is what this passage is all about.  The believers praised God for his sovereignty, and then proceeded to ask him for the boldness to continue speaking His word. The believers recognized that God is both totally sovereign and a totally just judge who will judge them for their works of obedience.  God is sovereign and we have responsibility.  I’m not going to pretend to be able to satisfactorily explain that, we just have to realize that both truths are clearly taught in Scripture.

The prayer starts out with a declaration of who God is, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them”.  It is important to know who God is, and to declare it in praise.  We don’t declare who we wish God was, but declare who He is according to Scripture.

The prayers go on to reiterate what God has already said in his Word, “through the mouth of our father David, your child, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed (or Christ).’”  They are quoting Scripture in their prayer; we would do well to do the same.  Notice that they are quoting a Psalm, which is an Old Testament poem, and they say it is all about Jesus. 

Did God kill Jesus?

“in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28)

“Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed…” (Acts 2:23)

“it was the will of the LORD to crush him…to make an offering for sin”. (Isaiah 53:10)

God had planned all things–even the murder of his Son by the hands of lawless men.  These men “plotted in vain” because while they thought they were putting an end to Jesus, they walked right into a trap! By killing him, they actually fulfilled God’s mastermind scheme of saving his chosen ones from his wrath.  Our sins are forgiven because our Messiah was murdered–and rose from the dead!  At times when we feel as though the gospel is losing (ie. the death of the Messiah), we can rest assured that God is in control and everything contributes to His ultimate glory!

So, if God predestined all things—even the murder of his Son—we can know that anything we face today is within God’s plan.   It follows then, in our perverse and sinful minds, that we get screwed out of our free will, right?  Yes and no.  The danger for our sinful minds is to emphasize God’s sovereignty or to emphasize free will.  Both are an oversimplification of Scripture.  The two truths are not in opposition, however.  They are actually close friends, they work together.

Functional Calvinism?

Calvinism (or belief in God’s total sovereignty in the salvation of his chosen people) is totally and completely functional in evangelism.  The misuse of Calvinism is to overemphasize God’s sovereignty and thus become one who ignores our biblical mandates to make disciples.  This bad theology labels people the “Frozen Chosen”.  Another way to skew Calvinism is when believers begin playing “duck, duck, damn”.  We do not choose who is God’s elect–God does.  We do not know who is God’s elect–so we share the gospel with everyone. 

The great guarantee of Calvinism is that as we share the gospel with everyone, there will be those who repent and put their faith in Jesus.  It is a guarantee because God is totally sovereign, and so, conversion is not left to your ability to manipulate or the individual’s ability to rightly choose life.  The responsibility for converting people is totally God’s.  Our responsibility is to share the gospel.

The believers were facing opposition to this message.  When we face opposition, our tendency is to run and hide (facebook, videogames, sleep, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc).  The example we get in this passage is to pray for God’s help in encouraging us to stay engaged in mission.  We tend to escape from things such as: standing up for biblical convictions, standing up for someone who is being bullied/gossiped about, sharing Jesus with a hurting friend, or pioneering forward in a youth group under an uncertain transition.  What if, instead of escaping to ride out the storm, you  prayed for God to “grant you to speak his word with all boldness”?  You pray for help in staying engaged in the mission.


1.) How does God’s total sovereignty comfort you in times of uncertainty?

2.) What do you need to ask God to keep you engaged in?

3.) What responsibilities are you trying to escape from?

Check out this excerpt from Pastor Mark Driscoll out at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.

The next day, after a night in prison for preaching Jesus as the Christ in hostile territory–the Temple.  Peter and John are put on trial by the rulers and elders and scribes of the Jewish religion. 

The prosecution: “By what power or by what name did you heal this man?”

The defense [filled with the Holy Spirit]: “by the name of Jesus…whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…[who] has become the cornerstone…And there is salvation in no one else”

That is some heavy stuff!  The defendants have become the prosecutors “You crucified the Author of life!”  What we need to glean from this trial is threefold: 1) the Spirit works in times of adversity 2) Jesus is the cornerstone upon whom all things stand or are crushed and 3) There is salvation in no one else.

1) The Spirit works in times of adversity. So p(r)ay attention!

Peter and John are on trial for preaching Jesus (the radical capitally-punished rabbi) as having equal status with Yahweh.  These guys are in deep trouble.  That is not a light thing to do.  It is a similar thing for a Christian to go to Mecca and saying, “Jesus is the only begotten son of God whom God has annointed and raised from the dead. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  That would not go over well…at all.  It is an extremely offensive idea.  But Jesus was regarded as a heretical, delinquent, cult leader in the minds of most Jewish leaders.  So how did Peter and John end up preaching this gospel while on trial?  Answer:  the filling of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit can and will empower believers to withstand adversity and bear witness to Jesus in the midst of it.  However, sometimes we are not filled with the Spirit.  What then?  We speak the gospel.  In Acts 10:44, Peter is preaching to a group of Gentiles and while he is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on them.  The point?  We need to be speaking and sharing the gospel at all times.  However, no one will be saved unless the Spirit falls.  We can’t control the Spirit, he is like the wind. Put your sails up!

2) Jesus is the cornerstone upon whom all stand…or are crushed

Think Jenga.  Jesus is like the bottom corner.  If you remove it, the whole thing is going to crash.   Likewise, without it nothing can be built. 

Your whole life must be built on this one stone: Your identity, your pursuits, your relationships. 1 Peter 2:5 calls all believers “living stones” being built up to be a holy priesthood.  We, as a body of believers are a wall.  Jesus is our cornerstone. When Jesus is truly the cornerstone of your life, your family, your church — Christ’s mission will be carried out.  The Body will function correctly, and when the Body functions correctly, it catches the wind of the Spirit and people get saved.  However, sometimes we have to take a look at our wall and make sure Jesus is our cornerstone.

3) The message of the Spirit: “There is salvation in no one else”

Basically, there are two ways to expound on the exclusivity of salvation.  One way is to talk about it in light of other religions.  No one worshipping Allah, Buddha, Mother Nature, or any other idol will be saved.  Even the Jews, who worship Yahweh, will not be saved apart from Jesus.

The other way to talk about this is in striving for salvation by our own good deeds.  Salvation is possible ONLY by what Jesus has done, it has NOTHING to do with what you have done.  Even repentance is a gift from God.  We can’t even repent unless God grants it (2 Timothy 2:25)!  “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  How is one saved? By God enabling us to put our faith in Jesus’ atoning death for our sins.  No credit is due to us whatsoever. 

Ask yourself this…

1.) How can you have the gospel on your lips in times of adversity?  Put your sails up to catch the wind of the Spirit.

2.) What is the cornerstone of your life? Family? Church?  What kind of fruit is being born?

3.) Do you need to refine your thinking of the exclusivity of Jesus?  Get ready to be intollerant.


– Talk with your teen about the cornerstone of your family.  Demonstrate repentance if the cornerstone is not Jesus.

– Teach your teen how to respond to questions like, “How can you be so intollerant?”

In this passage, Peter continued preaching the gospel to a bunch of Jews in the Temple.  He does three things that we should pay attention to.  He appeals to the authority of the Old Testament, he appeals to need for repentance, and he and John persevere in the gospel amidst adversity.

Authority of the Old Testament

It is way to easy to ignore the Old Testament because of its seemingly boring stretches.  But this was the Bible for Jesus.  This was it.  This is what Peter and John had for Scripture.  The New Testament was still being written.  So, they had to know the Old Testament well.  They had to reconcile Jesus with the Prophets–and in doing so, it became clear that “what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18) in Jesus.

Again, in verse 21, Peter says that Jesus will come back to restore all things according to that which “God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” 

He is still not done, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him  in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every sould who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:22-24).  That is a lot of Old Testament talk.  When we can recognize that the Old Testament is ALL about Jesus, it will be a lot more exciting and we will understand a lot more about our Lord Jesus.


“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come…” (Acts 3:19-20).

When these Jews heard that Jesus is supposedly the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament, they put it together that Jesus would also be the Messiah that would come to judge and restore the earth.  They knew the consequences because they knew their Bible.  Peter then says, “Repent that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come”. 

“Times of refreshing…”

The Greek word translated as “refreshing” actually carries with it a more descriptive nuance of what Peter is talking about here.  It carries with it the notion of breathing space or relaxation.  This breathing space is such that when Jesus does return to throw-down WWE style, those who repent can have some breathing space and relax.  Those who repent can rejoice when Jesus returns rather than dread it.  Why?  Because genuine repentance results in our sins being blotted out!  I say genuine repentance, because there exists several avenues of counterfeit “repentance” which do nothing for blotting out sins. 

1.) Mere Confession – This is “oops, my bad” repentance.  Mere confession apart from a real turning away from sin, is not genuine repentance.  Imagine brother Billy, who just pulled sister Sally’s hair.  Billy gets caught and is forced to apologize.  You get mere confession, “Sorry Sally”.  This is also where we get a false “theology” of struggle.  So many Christians merely confess pithy, church-acceptable sins; when in reality, dark and dirty, yet proud, sinful natures lay beneath.  This is the guy who struggles with pornography but his confession is about procrastinating on his homework.

2.) Selfish Repentance – This is when someone says “Sorry, God” in hopes of receiving some sort of earthly blessing.  Maybe you have been doing poorly in math class, you infer that it is because of an unconfessed sin-issue.  You tell God you’re sorry in hopes that He will magically raise your GPA.  The blessing of repentance is sins blotted out and breathing space when Jesus returns.

3.) Religious Repentance – This is the really vocal church kid who always confesses the sins of others, but never his or her own.  They may know their Bible really well, be in the worship band, be really good contributors in small group, and be on a Log-shoot ride into Hell.  Why?  Because someone who always confesses the sins of others (and never their own), always offers prayer (but never asks for prayer), always offers advice (but never seeks it), is creating an entirely false and prideful front for other Christians to bow before.  The other side of this coin is  merely confession.  Be someone who others can confess to, also be someone who confesses sin to others–not to anyone and everyone thought.  Find someone who takes sin seriously and will hold you accountable to turn from it, and will praise Jesus that he has died for you.

Gospel Perseverance

Peter and John got arrested for this bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Are you willing to risk an awkward moment?  Losing friends? Reputation? How much do you really believe that the Gospel is good news?  There is no loving act for a lost soul apart from sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her. Persevere in sharing the gospel.