Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Diversity in God's Kingdom

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Living in a Perfect World".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

I realize that 'diversity' is a popular word in our society, and it usually refers to the virtue of variety among the people in a society, whether it is ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, or religious diversity.  I agree that the flavor of a society is enhanced by diversity, though my devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates a desire to eliminate religious diversity.  Yet, as I finish the study of a great chapter like Isaiah 11, I can't help but think about diversity among the people of God...diversity in the church...diversity among Christians.

Linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity (and more) all exist in the people of God.  The vision of Isaiah 11 is that the Messiah is a signal to all the peoples...that all nations will inquire of Him (v. 10).  However, at the same time, the nations of Israel and Judah will not be fully cut off.  Jews who trust and follow the Messiah, Jesus, will also be included in His kingdom (v. 11, cf. Rom. 9-11).  Thus, people from every tribe and tongue and nation...from the four corners of the earth...make up God's kingdom (v. 12). 

This vision of Isaiah is echoed in the vision given to the apostle John in Revelation 9:9-10...a vision I often visit.  John writes, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"  What a beautiful picture of diversity around the throne of God!

While I long for this king of "tribes and peoples and languages" diversity to appear more in my own local church (and other local churches), there is still God-given diversity to celebrate in simply looking around at those who belong to the people of God.  The church is a beautiful tapestry of humanity.  Let me tell you of the people I've interacted with and heard of in the last 24 hours, just to give a few examples.

Yesterday, I sat and talked with a man who is working on his Ph.D. in biochemistry.  He is studying a protein whose activity affects the development of long-term memory.  As he works in the IU School of Medicine, the end of his work could ultimately mean the development of a drug that stops brain deterioration after a stroke.  I have to admit...while I followed most of the conversation, there were moments where I was scrolling through my mental glossary to try and locate some of his terms.  I didn't find them all, but I was in awe of our Creator and found myself later reflecting on his study and glorifying the God who made our brains in this way.

This morning, I sat down with a completely different individual.  He is a writer...at least, by night, he is a writer.  I listened as he read part of his work to me, and I was enamored by his use of language and imagery.  To be honest, I had to fight against my own envy of his ability to use words to create mental images.  This brother wants to write fiction in such a way that it reaches into a mostly unreached and isolated sub-culture of our society...prompting questions that would ultimately lead them to the gospel.  I encouraged him to persevere in it because he really seems to be on the right track to reach this goal.  As he left my office, I thought about how men like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were used to do much the same thing, and I found myself praying that God would give my brother such a platform.

Later, I heard the story of a man whose life had virtually fallen apart.  Because of the choices he had made, he was in a maximum security prison believing he would be there the rest of his life.  He spent the first 18 months  of his sentence in a place of solitary confinement simply called 'the hole.'  Having grown up in a Christian home, he was constantly exposed to the gospel, but he rebelled against his parents and against God.  It was in 'the hole' that he found himself faced with two distinct options.  He was going to kill himself, or he was going to die to himself and live for God.  Praise the Lord...he chose the latter.  The man was saved in that hole, and he was prepared to glorify God for the rest of his life in that prison.  God's providential hand saw fit to do otherwise, and he is now out...on probation...and serving the Lord.

Three more different men one could not meet if he tried (I have not yet met this third man but plan to soon).  Yet, the analytical biochemist, the creative author, and the ex-con all have the same Savior.  It was the same blood of the same Christ that has redeemed each man from his sin.  Each of these men has crossed over from the same death into the same life...they have made their exodus from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus and His light.  It has been said that the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and the brief portraits of these three men demonstrate that truth.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:28-29).  The biochemist, the author, and the ex-con all come from different physical families...in that sense, they have different ancestors.  Yet, the truth is this...they have the same ancestor.  They are all Abraham's offspring because they have the same faith as their ancestor.  They have believed, and it has been counted to them as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).  Each of them, as Gentiles, has seen the signal raised for the nations (Is. 11:12), the Lord Jesus Christ.  They have been brought to His banqueting house, and they now live under His banner, which is love (Song of Sol. 2:4). 

In the kingdom of God, those who might be naturally separated are brought together in one family.  What a beautiful, God-glorifying diversity!  In our day, we live in a 'Christian sub-culture' whose 'experts' talk about 'blue-collar churches,' 'white-collar churches,' 'white churches,' 'black churches,' etc.  I know this is probably helpful for sociological studies and the like, and in our fallen world, this kind of division is and always will be present.  However, knowing what the future holds and knowing the diversity of those with whom we will share eternity, we should be a bit malcontent.  We should long for more kingdom diversity to show itself in our churches...where it's hard (if not impossible) for socioeconomic, ethnic, or cultural labels to stick.  And if God should grant it, may we cherish it as a foretaste of eternity!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Pride Is Not

[This entry follows a sermon called "Pride and Faith: Polar Opposites".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Generally speaking, Charles Spurgeon was not a preacher who systematically worked his way through books of the Bible.  He didn't preach through Romans, then Job, and on and on.  He selected texts from week to week.  In fact, Iain Murray once said that Spurgeon had to have a text 'bite on' him before he would preach it.  The point was that he wanted to really feel the urgency and weight of the text in his own soul before he stood in front of his congregation to preach.  This is a good and wise desire, and some weeks, I definitely feel more 'bitten.'  This past week was one of those weeks, as I studied Isaiah 9:8-10:34 and was confronted, once again, with the Scripture's teaching on pride.

I've heard that water can penetrate buildings because it can find the smallest crack...the slightest breach...and enter.  It seems that pride is that way as well.  The temptation to exalt oneself over others (whether in our own minds or in our words/behavior toward others) comes in all shapes and sizes.  I want to reiterate some of the places it comes...for our further meditation.  We take pride in our morality...we take pride in our immorality.  We take pride in our close family life...we take pride in distancing ourselves from family.  We take pride in educational degrees...we take pride in being smarter than people with educational degrees.  We take pride in our denomination...we take pride in being nondenominational.  We take pride in a big income...we take pride in not having or needing a big income to be happy.  We take pride in going green to conserve natural resources...we take pride in using up natural resources simply because we can.  We take pride in homeschooling because we feel like we're better parents.  We take pride in sending children to public school because our kids are 'missionaries.'  We take pride in sending them to Christian schools because we get 'the best of both worlds.'  Like water seeping through the smallest of entries, pride can get in and infect our lives.

Now, in saying all of this, I think it's important to think about what pride is not.  So, having thought about it, here's a brief list of things that pride is not:

1. Recognizing the Lord's work in our lives is not pride.  I am currently reading The Masculine Mandate by Richard Phillips, which talks about what it means to be and live as a man, according to Scripture.  So far, I've really enjoyed it.  In one of the chapters I read last night, Phillips talked about the habit of chewing tobacco, which he had in his twenties...in his 'Army days.'  He writes, "By the time I was thirty, the age at which I was converted to faith in Christ, I was seriously addicted" (40).  While in seminary, he came to the conviction that the tobacco "had great power over" him, and he decided he would quit.  Phillips would go cold-turkey for weeks, but then he would have a bad day and find himself buying and chewing it once again.  He eventually gave up on his self-willed attempts, and while he still fought hard, he sought the Lord's help in breaking tobacco's power over him. 

The result?  God helped him.  Here are Phillips' words: "So it was that God delivered me from the addiction of chewing tobacco.  God did not enable me merely to cope with this addiction.  Instead, over a period of time during which He called me to be persistent in prayer, the Lord removed the addiction" (41).  Did you notice the language?  He didn't say, "Look how I kicked this nasty habit"...taking the credit as his own.  He says "God delivered me,"  "God did not enable me," "He called me," and "the Lord removed..."  This is a recognition of spiritual growth...a spiritual breakthrough...in his life.  Yet, it's not prideful.  He turns his eyes away from his own efforts (which were futile) and toward the One who gives strength to fight against sin.

When we look back over our lives and say, "This is who I was, but the Lord has grown me in X, Y, and Z," we are not expressing pride.  We give glory to God for His gracious work in us, to will and to do His good purpose (Phil. 2:13)...and we ought to do so.  Paul does it over an over again in his letters.  This is who I was --> this is what the Lord has made me.  In doing this, we recognize and honor the God who makes things (like us) grow (1 Cor. 3:7).

2. Evangelistic zeal is not pride.  Unbelievers today say quite the contrary.  Our relativistic culture believes that any religion that proclaims itself as the only real religion is arrogant.  Such is the message of Christianity.  We proclaim Christ and Christ alone because Jesus proclaimed that He is the only way, truth, and life (Jn. 14:6).  It is true that some evangelism can come off as arrogant (and this must be avoided because our goal is to exalt Christ, not ourselves), but zeal, in itself, is not arrogance. 

When a cancer patient has been cured through some new medicine, he longs to share that medicine with other cancer patients...that their suffering might come to an end.  Imagine a man, dying of cancer, looking at this cured man and saying, "I can't believe you!  How arrogant to say you know about the cure!  Like I can't find my own cure.  All cures are essentially the same, and each person determines which cure is right for them."  Though the analogy breaks down if you take it too far, you get the point.  Those whose eyes have been opened to the truth want to make that truth known to others.  They are zealous to have their families, their friends, their co-workers...all of humanity...know about what Jesus Christ has done for the forgiveness of sin.  Zeal is not pride.

3. Seeking to correct a brother in error is not pride.  Now, it goes without saying that this, too, can be a crack through which pride can seep in.  One can certainly take the attitude of superiority because he/she has 'obviously studied more' than the other.  That being said, doctrinal corrections are not, in themselves, pride.  Paul is constantly correcting errors in the New Testament.  He longs for the people of God to live in a manner worthy of the calling of the gospel (Eph. 4:1), but he knows that you can't live according to the gospel unless you have the right gospel.  Paul tells Timothy that, as the Lord's servant, he "must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil" (2 Tim. 2:24).  Well, says one, doesn't that just prove that he shouldn't be going about correcting people?  Should he patiently endure?  Shouldn't he be ready to teach only if someone asks?  Unfortunately, I could see a small group discussion going in this direction.

When one reads the next verse (hint: context is always important), you get the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.  Paul goes on to say that the Lord's servant must be "correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" (v. 25-26).  Whoa!  That's serious!  False doctrine is not simply a matter of a differing opinion...there's a need to repent and escape the clutches of the evil one.  No wonder Paul tells Timothy to "[correct] his opponents."  The humility comes as he corrects "with gentleness."  The reason that humility, rather than arrogance, is called for is to remove any grounds for the person listening to ignore what you say.  Arrogance can shut a person's ears, while humility can be the avenue God uses to opening their hearts.

4. Church discipline is not pride.  My English professor in college once said that his favorite verse in the Bible is Matthew 7:1 - "Judge not, that you be not judged."  He said this not to justify his lifestyle but to seek to shut the mouths of those who would speak against it.  This has almost become the mantra of modern church life.  Pastors and congregations feel paralyzed because they don't want to be seen as judgmental when it comes to sin.  They want to be "gracious," and they define this word as overlooking anything and everything that goes wrong.  However, this is not the way of the New Testament.  We are to discipline for the good of the person in sin, for the good of the congregation, for the good of our testimony to Christ, and for the glory of God (with this being our supreme motivation).

To be transparent, pride can creep its way in and take over.  Abuses certainly happen, and even where abuses don't happen, individual church members can feel a sense of superiority over the disciplined brother or sister.  It shouldn't happen...it's sinful...but it would be naive to say it never does.  Yet, this does not remove the need to do church discipline...to lovingly pursue those caught in sin with an eye toward restoration (Gal. 6:1).  This can and must be done, as Galatians 6:1 says, in a "spirit of gentleness."  Humility must permeate every step of the way because none of the persons active in the discipline process are free from the possibility of being disciplined in the future.  None of us are above the kind of sin we see in another.

My English professor could have used a brief session in hermeneutics (i.e.- the art of interpreting the Bible).  I was very timid as a college freshman, so I didn't give him that lesson.  However, if we keep reading, we see that Jesus goes on to say more.  He commands that we avoid hypocrisy, but we don't avoid it by avoiding the correction of a brother altogether.  No...we avoid hypocrisy by first examining our own lives.  "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Mt. 7:5).  We still must take the speck from our brother's eye, but we must do so only after we have seen the log in our own eye and been humbled by it.


Whatever the situation, it is important to constantly examine our own hearts and ask questions like these: "Am I seeking to exalt myself?  Am I seeking to degrade others (which is just the other side of the first question)?  Do I feel superior to others, or am I trying to establish my superiority over them?  Do I long for (and even subtly ask for) compliments or affirmation from others?"  While it is to beware of pride's pervasive influence, it is also important to know that not everything is pride.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

So...What's Your Story?

This week's entry was contributed by Chad McFadden.  I hope you will read and be encouraged by his words.

“Your life may be the only Bible that some people will read.”

This statement has always bothered me. Maybe it is because it is often used as a sort of cop out of engaging an unbeliever with the truths of God’s Word. Maybe it is because I live in America where the Bible is always the number one best-seller, and yet there remain individuals who have never read it. Maybe it is because of the fact that one must hear the good news in order to be changed by the good news, or maybe it is a combination of all these reasons that I avoid repeating this adage.

Even though I am not depending upon my lifestyle to convince someone to become a disciple of God, I am aware of the necessity for my life to reinforce the Word of God that comes out of my mouth. There is another adage that says, “What you are speaks so loudly that others can’t hear what you say.” Does the story of my life reinforce the message I give? Can I testify to the veracity of God’s Word in my personal life?

Moses instructed the children of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy that God’s message to future generations should be given both verbally and symbolically.

Moses begins the book by recapping the history of Israel (from the exodus through the wilderness wanderings) and of the Law, and the admonition not to repeat the past (chapters 1-5). This provides a backdrop for the discussion with the second generation of exodus Israelites concerning her relationship to God. Not only does the history lesson show the faithfulness of God and the worship He deserves, but it also shows the unfaithfulness of man and the need for God’s provision of a Savior.

Moses details to the Israelites throughout the rest of the book exactly how they can avoid the mistakes of their ancestors and enjoy God’s presence forever. The first set of instructions focuses on teaching future generations the commandment of the Lord by telling future generations the story of their ancestors. (6:20-22).

Notice how Moses structures the first section to bring out the emphasis of passage:

The Great Commandment: Love Yahweh your God! 6:4-9
   Fear Yahweh for He is a jealous God 6:10-15
      Be careful to keep the commandment 6:16-19
         Tell your children of the Exodus from Egypt 6:20-22
      God will preserve if we keep His commandments 6:23-25
   Destroy your enemies for you are a holy people of a jealous God 7:1-10
Keep the Commandment 7:11

Moses comes back to this idea in the middle section of the book when detailing instructions on keeping the Passover. “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes” (16:12). He also mentions the importance of reviewing their history at the end of the book in the Song of Moses. “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you” (32:7).

Moses was not the only biblical author who taught that the story of generations gone by was important for future generations to regularly rehearse. In 1 Corinthians 10:1–13, Paul emphasizes that the same historical events of the Israelites recorded in Deuteronomy were recorded for the benefit of New Testament believers as well! “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (verses 6, 11).

God placed importance in remembering key events in history to highlight His faithfulness to generations. However, I find that present generations rarely take time to consider the past. Is this because they fail to see the significance, or have we also failed to demonstrate the connection between the past and the present?

If God is truly faithful and man is truly depraved, then we should have no trouble looking through history to find examples and testimonies reinforcing these truths. In fact, we should have no difficulty finding examples in our own lives giving testimony to the faithfulness of God and man’s total depravity.

As I have gone through life, I have collected an odd assortment of mementos, including journals, pictures, letters/cards, books, and even an old, plastic piggy bank. Some might say that these things are worthless junk, and I guess if I get too carried away, I might need to purge my collection. However, I have chosen to display some of these “odd” pieces of my past around our house and occasionally, my office. They stand as a sort of memorial to me and a topic of discussion with my kids and others who might see and ask concerning them. There is a story behind every piece that demonstrates God’s faithfulness over the few years that He has allowed me to live on this earth.

I not only use these little mementos from my own personal life to teach my children of God’s faithfulness. I’ll even use different American holidays to initiate a discussion on the faithfulness of God. Memorial Day is coming up and is one of my favorites. We typically will watch the national Memorial Day celebration and end with a discussion on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. On the fourth of July, we celebrate not only our national freedom, but also the freedom that God gives in Christ from our sins. Thanksgiving provides an obvious time for celebrating the faithfulness of God as well.

Throughout the rest of the year during our time of family worship, we will read the biographies of various Christians. Many of those biographies will be about missionaries and pastors, but some of them will also be about doctors, businessmen, governmental leaders, and people from other various occupations. As we read each of these stories, we will seek to learn from their past to impact our present.

When my family is faced with a crisis or doubt concerning God’s goodness, there are plenty of reminders in front of our eyes that serve to bring us back to the truths of God’s Word. Those little reminders are not enough in and of themselves to draw my kids into a relationship with God, but those little reminders set up alongside the teaching of God’s Word present a very strong case for the validity of God’s Word and God’s faithfulness to every generation.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Isaiah 8 & The Death of the Wicked

[This entry follows a sermon called "Do Not Be Conformed To This World, Part 2".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Once I heard the news of the death of Osama bin Laden, I was quite certain that the first sentence of this week's blog entry would read, "I am going to veer off my normal course of gaining my topic from Sunday's sermon due to the news of Osama bin Laden's death."  Yet, the more I thought about this moment in our history along with the text from Sunday, I couldn't help but think that we have a providential match.

In Isaiah 8, the call from God to Isaiah is that he must not be conformed to the world in which he lived...a call which was not limited to that day but remains even now (cf. Rom. 12:2).  The threat of allied forces coming from the north left people in fear and filled the national atmosphere with speculative conspiracy theories.  If Twitter and Facebook existed in that day, no doubt they would have been filled with such statements.  Yet, God speaks to Isaiah that he must not go the way of the nation.  Isaiah summarized God's words this way: "For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people..." (8:11).

The fact that God's words came "with his strong hand upon" Isaiah means that God's power was felt as His words entered the ear and heart of the prophet, and God's powerful word was that he must "not...walk in the way of this people."  His response to world events must reveal the fact that he fears his holy God (8:13) and that God's Word is bound up in His heart (8:16).  Not only that, but when others are making inquiries of the dead (or anyone else, for that matter) to find hope and help, Isaiah must go "to the teaching and to the testimony" (8:20).  If people don't speak according to this word, says the second half of that verse, it is because there is no light in them...their hearts are dark.

With that brief synopsis of what God says to Isaiah, it is easily seen that these verses can be applied to the historic events of recent days.  The situation is only different...allied forces are not clamoring on our border, and fear is not sweeping the nation as the worldly response to such things.  Rather, a major terrorist has been killed as part of a military action, and celebration is sweeping the nation.  The question we must ask is...how are we to respond to such things?  Are we free to respond however we feel like responding?  Or, is there a right way to respond, and how does the Scripture inform our response to the death of Osama bin Laden?

Before we get to that, it seems appropriate to say that human beings are prone to immediate, emotional responses to things of this nature.  Do you remember the movie Pearl Harbor?  It portrayed the Japanese attack which precipitated the United States' entry into World War II (with artistic license).  I remember sitting in the theater and watching this movie, and the actual attack scenes seemed to go on forever!  By the time the movie was over, my sense of patriotism was very high, and I had a renewed appreciation for those who were there.  Yet, there was something else...I struggled with anger toward the Japanese.  It took a few days before I could honestly look at anyone of Asian descent and not need to fight off feelings of animosity.  I imagine it was far more difficult for those who lived through the attack and particularly those who were connected to Pearl Harbor in some direct way.

The same kind of rise in patriotism sprung  up in many people upon hearing the news of bin Laden's death.  Finally, that chapter was closed, and "public enemy #1" was no longer a threat.  Spontaneous rallies and celebrations took place in a variety of locations, and Monday morning news shows focused their time and energy on the story...covering every possible angle.  Joyous statements flooded cyberspace and newspaper headlines.  It seemed that the natural way to respond to this important event was to immediately celebrate.  Is this the way a Christian responds to such an event?  Let me give you a few things to chew on.

First, one has to acknowledge that the evil of Osama bin Laden was very visible.  From the 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Kenya to the attacks of September 11, 2001, his evil schemes are well known to us all.  If they weren't before Monday, they have been explained once again.  In the minds of many, evil is distinctly linked to the name of Osama bin Laden.  Second, we do want to acknowledge that through this military action, we can certainly say that no more innocent people will die at the hands of this terrorist.  I am glad for this.  However, it is very naive to think that evil has taken any kind of real hit here.  Satan was not defeated in the death of Osama bin Laden.  Not only that, but the human heart is as dark now as it was Sunday afternoon before bin Laden died, and history tells us that there is always another evil man waiting to step into public action.  So, there is a sense in which I am glad that no more death will come through his schemes and at his hands, but that cannot be where we end our thinking.

If we are to be distinct from the world, then we need to consider what warnings or affirmations the Scripture would give us to shape our thoughts.  The first thing that comes to mind is that the Scripture would not have us celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden.  In Ezekiel 33:1-6, God tells the prophet that within any people, there must be a watchman...to warn them of the impending danger of an attacking army.  If the people ignore the danger and die, then their death is their own fault.  If the watchman doesn't warn them, though, their blood is on his hands.  Then, in verses 7-9, God takes this societal example and points the prophet to a spiritual truth.  God tells Ezekiel that he is the spiritual watchman for the people of Israel, and when God speaks a word of spiritual warning...that sin will lead to destruction...Ezekiel must pass it on.  If they hear his warning and won't repent, then their suffering at God's hand is their own choosing.  However, "If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand" (v. 8).

After giving this instruction, then God gives Ezekiel the message.  He is to tell them that their sins will lead them to destruction, but even if they are destroyed for their continued sin and unbelief, Ezekiel is to make sure they understand this: "As I live, declares the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (v. 11).  God established that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and yet God was not prepared to celebrate or take joy in the death of those who would die because of their persistent sin.  Why?  This verse says that He longed for them to turn and live.  Yet, there is a bigger, governing principle here...God is holy.  He is separate and distinct in everything He does.  Mankind proudly and joyfully looks at the death of the wicked and says, "HA!  He got what was coming to him!"  God looks with sobriety at the fact that the person could have turned and lived, yet because of his unbelief, he had to receive the penalty of his sin.  In Isaiah 8, God says, "You respond to world events in the understanding that I am holy...and you be holy because I redeemed you to be holy."  A holy response to the death of the wicked is not celebration, rallies, and chants of "USA! USA! USA!"  (Also, see Proverbs 24:17-18 for further study.)

The second thing that comes to mind is that no Christian should ever rejoice in a man or woman's entrance into eternity apart from Christ.  This follows along the same line as the first point, but when we maintain a biblical picture of hell in our hearts and minds...of eternal, conscious torment...then sobriety should engulf our souls at the possibility of one entering that place.  To think of hell as if it were our place of vengeance for those we consider evil is wrong.  Christians must not rejoice when anyone enters a Christless eternity.  (By the way...if you'd like to read a book which gives a pretty thorough...and scholarly...treatment of the doctrine of hell, I recommend Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment.)

Third, thinking in this worldly, celebratory way can lend itself to a works-righteousness view of salvation.  Over the last 36 hours, I have heard people say things like, "He's answering to GOD now!"  Yet, it is said in a way that is arrogant...as if the one saying it will not one day face the same God.  My greater fear is that those who are saying these things believe they are in a better standing with God because they are not like Osama bin Laden.  They are good citizens, pay their taxes, raise their children to be good citizens, do good in their community, etc.  This works-righteousness just 'feels right' to the lost man or woman because it makes sense in his/her view of justice.  Yet, we too often forget that though we do have an inherent sense of justice, it has been marred by sin. 
This temptation is in all our hearts.  As Christians think about the death of the wicked, there is a Satan-originated temptation to think, "I am so much better than _________."  Or, in the paraphrased words of the Pharisee in Luke 18, "God, thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this [terrorist, Osama bin Laden.]."  Brothers and sisters, our righteousness is like filthy rags before a holy God, and in times like these, it seems very necessary to remind ourselves of that fact.  Otherwise, we will convince ourselves that our non-terrorist way of living somehow contributes to our good standing before God...such thinking devalues the work of Christ on the cross and must be shunned.

Fourth, making light of the death of the wicked is inappropriate for Christians.  Again, this is just a little further down the same line of thinking as the first two.  No doubt, Facebook and Twitter will be flooded with songs, one-liners, and jokes regarding the death of Osama bin Laden.  Late night talk show hosts will have new material for a while.  Yet, if we are going to be those who do not rejoice in the death of the wicked (point 1) and those who take hell seriously (point 2), then it should follow that we will not allow ourselves to publicly or privately involve ourselves in such things.  Too often, my mouth engages in witty banter before my brain engages fully, and while I can see God granting grace and progress in the battle, it still rages on.  Just recently, I made a comically-intended comment to a friend about a subject that should be serious.  I was immediately cut to the heart and had to repent...seeking forgiveness from my friend and confessing to God.  Those of us given to sarcastic humor may struggle the most with this idea (in any situation, not just this event), but it is a necessary battle to fight.

Finally, the conquering of evil hearts comes with guts not with guns.  What I mean by this is that in these areas where radical Muslims live, it is going to take courageous believers to go and speak the gospel of grace.  I read the story of a pastor in Algeria whose church has been burned to the ground twice by radical Muslims.  His congregation of 300 has been diminished to 10 through continual threats and attacks.  The pastor's statement was this: "Even if it was just me, I would be here until death in this church."  I am a comfortable American pastor, and I know that I write these words as a comfortable American pastor.  However, if radical Muslims are going to be converted, then believers in the US (and other countries) will have to literally lay their lives on the line for the sake of the gospel.  Praying for unreached people groups is an absolute necessity, but prayer alone doesn't take the gospel to unreached people groups...people who are being prayed for take the gospel to unreached people groups. 

Acts of evil and violence will not end until Jesus returns and sets right all that is wrong, but men and women and young boys and girls may be saved from lives of evil and violence if we will be more steadfast in our gospel mission.  This doesn't mean that governmental restraint of evil...and military restraint of evil...should cease.  What it does mean is that we cannot look to the government or the military to provide a peace that only Jesus can bring...to individuals and to the world.

I'm certain that more could be said about these things, but let me end with a general principle from Isaiah 8 that should govern how we respond to world events...no matter the nature of the news.  May God's Word come to us with the powerful hand with which it first came to Isaiah, and may we heed the warning "not to walk in the way of this people..." (8:11).  May we not think as the world thinks about this historic death...may we not respond as the world responds to this historic death...may we not celebrate as the world celebrates this historic death.  Instead, by God's grace and in the power of His Spirit, let us be holy, for the One who saved us is holy.