Heaven is for Real is not for Real

I had an interesting twitter conversation with a kind man named Brian today. It was predicated upon my shame that one of the leaders of a ministry called AWANA is publicly endorsing the Heaven is for Real garbage movie. You can read the thread here, click the links I provided in my tweets and, hopefully, see the problem that Brian had even defending his endorsement.
Here’s a snippet:
4-17-2014 12-47-36 PM

Click here to see the ENTIRE thread.

May I commend Brian for what I would call decent behavior in a world where online disagreements “escalate quickly.”

As a side note, EVERYONE is teaching something, and directly teaching something falsely about God is WAY worse than teaching me falsely about diet or rainforests, etc. Let me know what you think of the thread and if you read the book or saw the movie what you think.

If you think I cannot judge this book or movie because I haven’t read it, then I’d challenge you to go watch every porn video on sale at the local pervert adult bookstore and not judge the contents until you’ve watched.

And if you are one of the people who claims to be a Christian and cannot find what is wrong with this movie or book, contact me. I will help you. I’ll get my pastor to help you. I won’t mock you for ‘missing’ it. It is OK to not be very discerning, IF you have the humility to admit it and the desire to be taught. Don’t make the same mistake as the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-33).

God’s Word is sufficient. If that statement bothers you, your problem is not with me. :)

A Little Adds Up

For anyone who is interested in being a better steward of what God has given them, I’ll share that I’m on the journey with you. My wife and I have been learning, failing, trying again and re-learning about money for most of our 5 year marriage together.

So if you are looking for in depth teaching about money, this post isn’t for you. But, I have prepared a presentation about money and am ready to look over what the scripture says if you are ready to learn about debt, investing, giving, etc. Click here.

The purpose of this post is to offer a few “quick tips” which I believe to be wise and within biblical guidelines (read: allowable for Chrsitians). As with all areas of life, it would not be wise for you to violate your conscience so seek wise counsel before jumping into something new. Not every example I use below will apply to you or your financial situation.

With that said, here’s the list.

1. Take advantage of tax deductions for charitable giving.

I know. I’ve heard the arguments. If you are donating money in order to get something, that isn’t the right kind of giving. I agree with that. If you only support ministries/churches/charities which allow you to take a tax deduction, I’d probably disagree with that if the tax deduction is the reason.

But let’s take a look at what a tax deduction is. The US Federal government taxes me based on my gross income. What that means is that my wife and I pay, for example, 15% of our AGI (adjusted gross income). So if I make $60,000 in a year, I would pay

60,000 x .15 = $9,000 in federal taxes for the tax year.

I get 51,000, the Feds get 9,000. But after I gave my church $6,000, I actually only had 45,000 to spend that year.

Now, let’s say I gave my church an even $6,000 in donations for that calendar year. The federal government allows me to deduct that amount from my taxable income. If I claim the deduction, my taxes look like this:

60,000 – 6,000 = 54,000 x .15 = $8,100 in federal taxes for the tax year.

So I end up with 45,900 in my pocket, my church still got the same amount of money though!

In this case, by simply changing a number on my tax return, I legally save $900 in taxes paid, a benefit my government allows.

Now, you are free to continue to send that $900 to the government. It is your right. But I actually believe I can find a better use for that $900 which is legally mine. Now consider this. Let’s say I sent that $900 to a few ministries. For example, I feel so bad about “profiting” from the entire exercise, so I sent $300 to an open air preaching in Southern California, another $300 to a church plant in New York and then give $300 to some Christian friends who use the money for tracts.

But let’s say $600 of that money is now tax deductible. So I have a new calculation:

54,000 – 600 = 53,400 x .15 = $8,010 in federal taxes for the tax year.

Uh oh! Now I have another 90 dollars to use. But where’s the uh oh? Where is the guilt? I have $90 more dollars, supplied by God through legitimate means to use for the kingdom, to bless those in need or to use for my family. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I would argue that doing what I showed above is, in fact, a more wise use of God’s money than sending it to the federal government. Let’s assume for now I give that 90 dollars to the evangelist at my church by buying him $90 in tracts.

Note, in each case the end result was the same for me. I had my salary, minus some money. What happens when I use the deduction is that I have more money to use for the purposes God has placed on my heart…which do not always agree with my government’s ideas. If you feel really terrible about having more money in your pocket, calculate your taxes with and without the deductions claimed, then give the difference away.

In fact, this is very much what we do. My wife and I are able to give at least 15% more because of our use of this benefit. And I hope that those to whom I give are wise in this way as well!

2. Use credit wisely if at all.

Most Christians understand that debt is not our goal. Eliminating debt is, frankly, a prerequisite for this post. But I’ve learned that not all debt is bad debt if understood properly and managed well. Consider this real case.

My wife and I learned to budget our money using the YNAB software. Click here to try it for free. It is worth every penny. But really, get the free trial first and see for yourself. Moving on, what I liked about this software is how it consolidated all my accounts so that each transaction I make feeds the same budget. I had an idea. After not having a credit card since 2005, I decided to get a credit card. Here’s the key: the credit card must have a grace period. This is the period of time that the card allows you to have a balance and not be charged interest.

So, I got a credit card a few months ago with the intention that I would make any purchase I could on the card. In the process the following benefits ensue:

1. My savings balance is always higher. Last month my wife and I earned 5 dollar more in interest in our interest bearing accounts than average. That’s $60/year I can use for other purposes.
2. I got a rewards card for things like gas and groceries which we buy anyway. If my calculations are correct, I am expecting a few hundred dollars a year in rewards. I opted for cash rewards instead of “points.”
3. Like it or not, if I end up with a crzay unexpected expense, I do have a line of credit available now. But our intention is not to use it except for purchases which are backed by cash in our checking or savings.

Long story short, by getting a credit card, only making purchases which I could make with my budgeted cash anyway, and moving money around wisely I am expected to have about $400 more dollars this year than I would have otherwise.

3. Find coupons, look for discounts and promotions.

I can’t even begin to explain how much money I’ve saved just putting in some effort to looking for discounts. I joined freecycle.org where I’ve gotten a lot of free items I’d have never been able to purchase (and I’ve helped others, too). I used my Verizon Smart Rewards points to buy gift cards to a restaurant we go to anyway and saved 40%. The list is on and on. I have a few websites bookmarked where I check for online deals. Last week, I was looking at stovetops and ranges around 950-1300 dollars at Lowe’s. I ended up buying an out of the box scratch and dent model for $450 which retailed new for $950. Guess what? It works just fine and you can’t see the dent. It would have been over $500 but I politely asked for a 10% additional discount in the store and it was granted to me (after some persistence).

I had part of my tax refund given to me in the form of an Amazon gift card this year and received an instant 10% return on my money. That’s unreal. As long as I make wise purchases I would have bought anyway on Amazon, I’m the winner!

Let me know if you have any good ideas or want some help understanding these things. A lot of it is just being willing to do math and be patient waiting for something you want.

You Really Should Blow Some Money on Today’s Noah

If you haven’t read enough reviews of the Noah movie which is in theaters starring Russell Crowe to know that no Christian needs to see it, then that isn’t my fault.

Here are the three best reviews (possibly ever) for the movie. (Links will open in new tabs)

Matt Walsh (witty) | Dr Brian Mattson (deep) | Lyndon Unger (No Holds Barred)

If your hermeneutic forces you to interpret the Bible in such a way that you can only see the Noah movie as a good thing because the cinematography is something Christian film-makers need to emulate, then the problem is how you interpret scripture.

Now, maybe what you really plan to do is go see Noah, then give it a really scathing review. That way, everyone will know how much more you know about Genesis than the atheistic maker of the movie. Or maybe you are thinking you will evangelize your friend or family member.

Stop. Just stop. Stop lying to others and to yourself.

Share the gospel with your friend or family member. Stand outside the theater and hand out tracts to people or The Biggest Question. Be sure to click those links they will open in new tabs. Both the organizations at the end of those links need your $10 more than the makers of the Noah movie.

And then, take your $8 for the ticket and the other 8-12 dollars for snacks, lunch, whatever and send it to someone who is actually laboring for the gospel. I don’t care if you boycott Hollywood or Starbucks for the sake of a boycott.

But let’s face it: you have nothing to add to the internet when it comes to evaluating Noah. Your review is already too late, and it won’t be more sarcastic, smart or biblical than the articles already published.

No, dear Christian, don’t be fooled and don’t even let a postmillenial hope bring you to be such a poor steward of what God has given you that you would waste your $20 on this experience. Instead, give it to your local church or one of these faithful evangelists listed below.

Bobby McCreery | Tony Miano | Mike Stockwell & Robert Gray

Yes, these men are today’s Noahs: Preachers of Righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). These are the Noah’s who you ought to support. You really should blow some money on today’s Noahs!

Click their links and read their statements of faith, watch their videos. And if you really want to part with your money to support a 2014 version of Noah – click the paypal link on one or all of their sites.

Is God Pleased Fred Phelps is Dead?

By now, anyone reading this post has likely heard of the passing of Fred Phelps. If you weren’t familiar with the name, he is most known for being the leader of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).

Let me give you an example to help you see just how irrational and aberrant WBC is. My brother-in-law, (with whom I have almost no theological agreement), and I have a rule of engagement when we argue debate whereby we’ve each agreed to never compare the other to WBC. They are, effectively the new Nazi.

So the death of a man such as Fred Phelps elicits several responses. Sadly, but not unexpectedly considering the depravity of man, it appears many people who were most offended by Phelps have responded in kind: returning to him even in his death the hatred they so claim was wrong when he exercised it. And of course, there are groups who are shouting for compassion – even proposing the usual “deathbed conversion” argument to suppose possibly that Christ’s sacrifice was applied to the sins of Phelps.

And, as is usual when a wicked, God-hater dies, Christians and non Christians are posting Ezekiel 18:23 – as if God does not work all things to His own Good Pleasure.

Consider the following:

  1. Psalms 115:3 ESV3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
  2. God took Fred Phelps life.
  3. Therefore, God is pleased in the death of Fred Phelps.

Carefully read Ezekiel 18 sometime and you will notice that God’s apparent lack of pleasure is contrasted with God’s desire to see Himself glorified through the exercise of His mercy to repentant sinners.

Ezekiel 18:23 isn’t an absolute statement of fact without context. Consider Luke 14:26 ESV, which, out of context implies an idea no true Scotsman Christian actually believes about following Christ.

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Both these scriptures are relative statements contrasting two ideas. Dig into the scripture yourself and consider if these things are so.

I have rounded up a few articles that I found noteworthy. They are all worth your time, IMO.

You can click each to open in a new tab and read.

God Hates Phelps? – This was the best article outlining the proper Christian response.

I really enjoyed this convicting post by my dear brother, Webster.

Al Mohler article – Al is always worth reading…even if he throws in a few opinions with which I cannot agree.

IMPRECATORY PSALMS AND FRED PHELPS A thoughtful post by Rhology.

Click the link in the tweet and read the main comment. Then save time and avoid reading the fast degradation of internet commenters by closing the tab!

Continued Conversation with a HyperCalvinist?

If you did not read this post then the post you are currently reading may not make sense. A couple weeks ago, I received an email from someone concerned about the gospel I proclaim and how I declare it. Herein is the next installment.

My words are marked by the offset.

Mike,

I appreciate your lengthy reply. This is commendable. It shows me that this is something extremely important to you, since u invested valuable time to communicate it. This is not insincerity on my part.

I do not doubt your sincerity, although you will see I think we have found some disagreement. Thank you for the time you took to love me from your heart and share what you think is good for me, even if I am not convinced.

Now let me say a few things about the first link (your gospel tract) and I hope you will read my email with interest as I did yours:

I spent much time on it and took careful interest.

This excerpt is from my tract and was referenced by the writer: “What if I told you there is good news? That you can go to Heaven and live in paradise without any effort or commitment on your part. Like 2 minute abs, but better! Of course that is foolish. So what does it take to get to Heaven? It takes total commitment! ” You can read the entire tract by clicking here. It will open in a new tab.
1. Mike, the Bible (I think u will agree) is the only standard for faith and life. And the Bible clearly tells us that “there is none that seeketh after God”(Rom 3:11-12). Your question assumes that unconverted men are interested in heaven. But heaven is complete reconciliation to God. Sinners hate God and would much rather be in hell than heaven if it weren’t for the torment.

No, my question does not assume that anyone seeks after God. My question was partially rhetorical. Nevertheless, if I assume anything, it is that people generally would like to avoid punishment for their sins. In our modern vernacular, no one translates “go to Heaven” as “reconciliation with the God of the Bible who I hate.”

“Go to Heaven” means “not be judged for my unrighteousness” in 2014 or “go where I think I deserve to go because I’m already good or I’m a universalist.”

You actually contradict your own self when you say “if it weren’t for the torment,” and you prove my point. No one wants the torment. My tract analogy does not fail because it rings true that people who think it is good news to be able to go to Heaven (avoid punishment) without any commitment is analogous to people who want to sit on their couch, watch TV and lose weight.

Common sense tells us that we do not offer a man something he does not and cannot desire.

As you stated, the Bible is the only standard for faith and life. If the Bible commands that I offer a man something that I know he cannot practically desire, then I still do it – because God’s wisdom is above my own (and yours, Person’s name).

That is why I preach the gospel to all men, even though I am aware that they will not all be saved by God from His wrath through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Common sense says “don’t obey God’s command to preach, because He will save His elect anyway!” Yet I still preach because I would rather obey God than the fallible logic of men like you and me.

Common sense says to stop preaching when folks pick up stones to kill you, yet Stephen did not have that type of sense. Common sense says to stop prophesying if it costs you everything, yet Jeremiah could not quench the fire in his bones.

And common sense says call down legions of angels to protect you from a mock trial where you will be killed even in your innocence – yet thanks be to GOD that Jesus was more concerned about obedience to the Father than common sense.

Here are some scriptures to support the public proclamation of the gospel:

Acts 10:42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

John 6
Matthew 5-7
Luke 18:18-23

Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Genesis where Noah was a preacher of righteousness

I would be very concerned that your doctrine would disqualify all of God’s prophets and even our Lord Jesus Christ from being adequate preachers due to the fact that their message contradicts yours.

2. Secondly, there is nothing that a sinner can do either to reconcile himself to God or to participate in that reconciliation.

The gospel is a command to be believed. Mark 1:15 states ‘and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”’ Although it is God who must first regenerate a sinner, and that call is, in fact, effectual, there is still a required response by man to exercise faith, even the faith which was a gift of God. Absence of exercising saving faith keeps a man in condemnation. See John 3:14-36.

Ironically, it is common sense which would dictate: if faith is the instrument of salvation, preaching to people to exercise said faith would be the best and most loving thing we could do for them – despite their ability.

Not to mention, Person’s Name, you don’t know who the elect are, do you? You propose they are revealed to you by the preaching of the law. I do not see that as the pattern in scripture although I am aware you can cherry pick instances where it would appear to have occurred that way.

And our proclamation must reflect this fact. What good does it do to tell a man that it takes total commitment to get to heaven if total commitment is completely out of the question with respect to him?

In fact, it is my understanding that God uses the proclamation of His gospel to those who will deny it to bring further judgement on them.

As well, Romans 1:16 says it is the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation and Romans 10 states that it is faith that comes by hearing which God uses to save men. So again, you are contradicting yourself in a sense and God when you state this. Especially since you are nit-picking sentences of the tract out of context. Because the ability will only exist as the result of the hearing of the gospel, to withhold that until a person calls for it is to shut them out from it.

The tract clearly pointed out that it was Christ’s total commitment that saves. And then the tract attempts to fight the easy-believism, “sinner’s prayer salvation” epidemic in our culture by commanding total commitment to Christ which would encompass things like doing works bearing fruit of repentance. Look at Luke 3:7-8 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

Here is God almighty (through JTB) commanding many who would later crucify Jesus to bear fruits worth of repentance – something he is aware they will not do.

Let me explain. Ez. 33 tells us that unless the servants of God warn the wicked, they will end up in hell with the wicked. And verse 8 tells us the content of this warning.

I’m glad you brought that up. Considering verses 9 and 10 completely contradict your stated position above See:
9 Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

Here is God Himself, commanding Ezekiel to warn people to turn who will not turn.

Many people refer to this passage but few point out the exact content of the warning. IOW, we must not only warn the wicked, but we must warn him with the warning the God gives him. Otherwise we are not warning him and again, we ourselves will end up in hell. This is extremely serious, as you know. So here is the content of the warning: “O wicked man, thou shalt surely die!” That’s it. Notice that the warning is not, “You will surely die unless you give your heart to Jesus,” or “You shall surely die unless you commit your life to Christ.” NO. “O sinner, thou shalt surely die!” And the reason this warning is so important is that it (when accompanied by the Spirit) drives the sinner to total despair of being able to do anything to reconcile himself to God. The orthodox divines of old used to say constantly, “The law and the gospel, the law and the gospel.” What did they mean by that? They meant that in evangelism we must use the 10 commandments. And we must use them with a view to “slaying” the sinner. IOW, with a view to causing the sinner to see that he is dead. He can do nothing. He is as sure for hell as if he were already there. Hell fits him. Heaven does not fit him whatsoever. And then after the proclamation of the law there is the word “But!” “But God has sent Christ to die on the cross for completely wicked and profligate sinners and to work out a perfect righteousness on their behalf. This is just exactly what you are–a completely and utterly wicked, profligate, and worthless sinner infinitely deserving of eternal hell torments. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your only hope for acceptance in the sight of an infinitely holy God! (Here is a key. We command the sinner to believe, as our Lord did Lazarus. And we command him to believe with no illusion that he is able to do so. But the true gospel which I communicated above is itself the power of God unto salvation and when accompanied with the HS regenerates him as was the lifeless body of Lazarus regenerated.)

Yes, ironically at this point you have spent an entire paragraph summing up exactly what I preach and my tract states. So we are either in agreement and you are sorely misunderstanding – or you are simply argumentative and quarreling about words. My tract points out several of the sins from the 10 commandments and points out that Jesus did not commit them and that we do and that the punishment we are owed is eternal. I then issue no less than 2 commands to repent and trust Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. There is no room on the tract for self-reliance or easy believism to be the justifying force in the heart of a sinner.

But if your concern is that the tract itself is light on sin – then I’d maybe agree with you. Part of the problem with tracts is sufficient space. But I don’t think you can argue that there is not sufficient information on this tract for a person to be saved from God’s wrath – and if you think you did – then you did not as I proved above.

Mike, the above is the biblical gospel. It is the only gospel there is. It is an announcement that man is completely and utterly destitute. IOW, it is an announcement of Total Depravity. “Calvinists” in our day are redefining Total Depravity to say that it does not mean what the words say, i.e., that the sinner is as wicked as he can be. But this is exactly what it means.

Not exactly. Total Depravity refers to the utter inability for man to believe unto salvation without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit primarily. In the sense that you are arguing, total depravity refers to the fact that all our works are stained with sin and earn us no right standing with God.

But it does not mean that men always do the worst possible thing all the time. If that were true, then you would never go out to eat at a restaurant because you would be poisoned by the food if the host did not slaughter and rape you first. You would not use yahoo email because certainly one of the unregenerate yahoo employees would steal all your information and use it against you after committing adultery with small children.

No Person’s Name, you do not believe in the total depravity as you’ve defined it. No one does. What you believe and what we all know and what the Bible declares it that man is utterly incapable of pleasing God and reconciling himself to God. We believe that man, by nature, is a sinner and God hater and that, by His mercy, men sometimes actually do things that are outwardly in line with His revealed righteousness through His law. The fact you are alive today indicates your own mother gave birth to you and did not eat you shortly thereafter.

The WCF says that man in sin is “Utterly indisposed to all good, utterly disabled to all good, made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.”

Irrelevant to me. Thought the Bible was your guide to faith and life? Either way, this statement does not mean what you want it to mean as explained above.

The above message says that since man is completely wicked and helpless God the Father loved some of them and determined to save them, Christ came and worked out a perfect righteousness in their behalf, and the Holy Spirit applies the work of the Son to all the Father gave him and they believe!

Amen. Praise God for that. Note you include the sinner’s required response that they believe – forget whether it is caused by God, it is essential.

And since salvation is of the Father’s Election, by the Son’s redemption, and through the Spirit’s regeneration it is and must be an everlasting salvation. Hallelujah.

Amen again.

I give you my full permission to use anything and everything above.

Thanks, I believe this will be a good learning tool for others.

Your tract is a fatal mistake, as it gives sinners the impression that they can do something that will benefit their souls.

Fatal mistake is a strong sounding phrase. It would imply that no one can come to know Jesus through this tract. I find you to be mistaken in this point. Maybe I misunderstood you.

If I did not misunderstand you, and if the gospel I preach and wrote on that tract is the true gospel, then you may be denying the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and making another gospel. In that case you would be considered anathema by Paul according to Galatians 1 and we could only hope that God would have mercy on your soul and cause you to repent.

I hope this is not the case and you were simply too harsh concerning my tract and have a teachable spirit. If you would like to use the excuse that I was not kind or loving enough in my response to justify your unbelief don’t bother letting me know; I’ve heard that one enough.

Nothing could be more loving than the time I took to address your objections and care for you enough to tell you the truth. I hope I do not become your enemy because I tell you the truth.

You also used the word “share.” The gospel cannot be shared.

Sharing is when you give something to someone. Proclaiming the gospel to people is sharing it with them.

It must be declared.

I agree. The tract clearly declares the gospel along with commands to believe it.

1 John 1:5 says, “This then is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you.”

Out of context. I am not convinced this is a universal command to all Christians that they cannot “share the gospel.”

Sincerely,

Person’s Name

Thanks, Person’s Name.

What do you think? Was I right? Am I unnecessarily harsh?