How A Study Bible Introduced Me to R.C.

So much has been written the last 48 hours about the passing of R.C. Sproul and the effect he has made on so many that are a part of the global church. I want to share with you how I was introduced to Dr. Sproul and his teachings.

The year was 2001, and I was a newly converted Christian at the age of twenty receiving some wonderful spiritual nurturing from a brother in Christ. This brother, being new to the gospel ministry, just started feeding me from a plethora of books and sermons he had been reading. When he would finish a book, it would get passed along to me. He even let me borrow his big study Bible, a John MacArthur NKJV of course, and we spent hours just reading and commenting over what I was starting to see and understand. I fell in love with the study notes and absolutely craved for more and more. I was so blissfully ignorant to biblical theology and the gospel ministry that my world seemed to get ripped apart and then graciously repaired almost simultaneously with every turn of the page. I was single and starving! Providentially our devotions and Bible studies became so precious that my heart and mind desired more. This desire and search for the things of God led me to a bible conference about an hour away from my home. I heard they gave discounts to students who attended so I got my $99, sign-up online, and waited for the days to arrive.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I just knew I was going to hear from the guy who wrote the notes in my study bible in person and a Baptist seminary president I heard of since I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. So during my spring break I spent the better part of three days traveling back and forth to attend the Ligonier National Conference. The main theme that year was the Holiness of God. I can remember showing up with my notebook, a small dictionary, and of course my huge study bible.

I was ready to learn some stuff…

I sat in the balcony by myself, but surrounded by a few younger fellas and a few groups scattered about. The main speakers for the conference were Allister Begg, Sinclair Ferguson, Jerry Bridges, R,C, Sproul Jr., R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and Albert Mohler. As I said the last two were the only men I was familiar with and only assumed that if they were speaking then the other speakers had to be worth hearing as well. The first general session I spent the whole time writing as fast as I could, so much that my hand literally cramped up. When the second general session began I gave up trying to take notes and just allowed the preaching to teach my soul. I heard my first panel discussion between these men as a moderator took questions from the audience and I was just intrigued how these champions of Christ answered with such eloquence and wisdom. At some point on the last day, I arrived early for the evening session and on the platform just slightly behind the pulpit was a chalkboard. Little did I know that this trademark symbol was a clear sign that R.C. would be the final speaker for the conference. His sermon was titled, “Worshipping a Holy God” and his text came from Hebrews 12:14-24.

Once he was done reading from the scriptures, he never looked down again and his words just came pouring out like a tidal wave. To this young Christian, I was struck by the way he spoke so clearly and with such passionate authority, not in himself, but confidence in word of God. To an aspiring worship leader, he gave me words that I would never forget. Never in a million years would I have thought that my love could grow faster and stronger from knowing Christ more through His word.

I left that conference with a fire in my belly and a song in my heart. I felt crushed by my finiteness in the presence of holy God at the same time encouraged to boldly stand for the truth, knowing all good and well that His sovereign hand would guide me, teach me, and love me.

In the closing minutes of his sermon from that night in Orlando, R.C. recollected about standing and singing during corporate worship with his late friends, family and mentors back in Pennsylvania. I find it comforting as I think about that night so long ago and the many things I have learned through his teachings, writings, and sermons in the years to follow:

“…all the saints that have gone before us are there [during worship], and guess who else is there? God is there, and the Lamb is there, He’s really there!…we cannot focus on the holiness of God without being led to a hunger and thirst in our souls to-worship–Him.”

-R.C. Sproul, (’39-’17) Theologian, Pastor, & Professor

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The Death Call

We’ve all been on the other side of the phone and heard those humbling words that a loved one has died. The death call is a very sobering reality that drops itself awkwardly into our trivial and entertainment-centered culture.

As a pastor, I’ve been given a front row seat to death it seems. I never spent much time around death until I began in the ministry and just in my short five year pastorate, I’ve received “the death call” over a dozen times. I usually drop what I’m doing and go visit the family, offering them the comfort of presence and being available to hear the stories that will also aid in the fast-paced planning for the funeral. But no matter how many times I’ve rushed to the bedside of a dying or recently departed soul, it has never seemed normal. You can feel the air of death in the room and the body of the person you loved now looks like nothing more than a decomposing corpse. But I’ve learned through these funerals that death can teach us a lot about life. The following are a few things the death call teaches…

It keeps you sober-minded about the things of God

The wise king Solomon said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Everybody loves a good wedding where there are smiles on everyone’s faces and life seems like a blank slate before this new couple, but the atmosphere is totally different at a funeral. Even in our light-hearted culture, most people don’t want to look weird being happy at a funeral. People come to a funeral with a little more openness to God’s Word than they do to the wedding. This is because death reminds us that the only things that really matter are the eternal things. One of my favorite hyphenated Bible words is the word ‘sober-minded.’ Sober-mindedness is not the same as being a stick-in-the-mud or a sourpuss who always views life from a ‘glass half-empty’ perspective.

To be sober-minded is to think rightly about the things of God. The death call often adds a certain gravity to your spiritual disciplines. You pray more earnestly and think more deeply and counsel more seriously because you can see that these things are the stuff of eternality. It’s almost like an invisible portal opens up connecting this temporal world with the eternal.

It was there in the garden of Eden that our first parents chose their will over God’s, and we’ve been dying ever since. But Scripture doesn’t tell us to adopt the mentality of our culture and ignore death altogether. The Bible calls us, instead, to let death’s cold and heavy hand rest on us for a while so that we let it teach us a thing or two about life.

It reveals your vapor-like existence

Moses says in the only Psalm attributed to him, “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy,or even by reason of strength eighty;yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:9-12).

If you long to have a heart of wisdom, let death teach you to count your days. My wife’s family has adopted a popular saying: “The days are long, but the years are short.” Just when we seem to be wearing ourselves out in the busyness of life, eternity comes knocking when we get the call that someone has died.James tells us, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14b). There is wisdom found in learning that, “you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”

It reminds you to be urgent in evangelism

One of the worst feelings a believer can ever have is that nagging guilt that you didn’t share the gospel with a loved one before they died. The death call reminds you to take things seriously and never let a soul leave this world without presenting a clear gospel message and calling for a response.

It displays sin’s true colors

Just recently after consoling a widow in our church over the loss of her godly husband and reading some of his gospel-centered journaling, I was struck by this. Headed home from the new widow’s house, I passed a car blaring the filthiest music from the car stereo. As I listened to the words of the song being sung and its celebration of our culture’s sexual “liberty”, I was shocked by the alarming contrast between holiness and sin. It was as if in that moment, the shimmering and sexy picture of sin became grotesque. The sheet was peeled back for a moment and I saw sin’s truly ugly character and how it deceives us with promises of lasting happiness, but only makes us slaves to guilt and shame and brokenness.

It makes the Scriptures come alive

Funerals are often the pastor’s most fruitful of times in ministry because people are opened up to the counsel of God’s Word and seem to hang on its sweet promises and heavy warnings. Preaching a wedding is very different than preaching a funeral because wedding guests are more focused on the happy couple at the front than on God’s message. When preaching a funeral, pastors stand above the lifeless corpse at the front and give their hearers the raw truth of God’s Word along with the amazing depth of comfort it gives.

Reader, I hope you don’t receive a call anytime soon that a loved one has passed. But don’t be so quick to brush aside the thought of dying in order to get to your next errand. Live each day with the sober-minded reality that death brings so that you’ll make the most of your brief life. As the old C.T. Studd poem states in a constant refrain, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.”

When Tragedy Strikes

On Sunday night, the most deadly shooting in American history by a single gunman occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. As of now, the death toll is nearing 60, with over 500 others injured. Before I begin addressing this tragedy from God’s Word, I must share that our prayers are with those affected by this horrific event. God’s grace be with you all.

The question on many people’s minds after Sunday night’s shooting is, “Why?”

Scripture warns us against putting our own interpretation on tragic events like this and attempting to fill in the blanks that only God knows. But Scripture does not leave us totally in the dark during times like this. While we may never have Christ’s perfect knowledge and know the infinite number of reasons any one event occurs, we can have a biblical worldview with which to make sense of these things.

Why would someone commit such acts of evil?

One of the first things investigators delve into after a shooting tragedy is the issue of the gunman’s motive. Ironically, we cannot even discern at times the motives for why we do the things we do, let alone someone else. The world is full of people who often do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Yet Scripture does tell us that our sinful actions stem from a sinful nature. James says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Scripture doesn’t even stop at that, but gives us a deeper reason into the insanity of our own sinful actions. This sin nature, which we have from birth, is an inherited one. Adam and Eve freely chose to doubt God’s goodness in the garden and believe the lie of the devil over the truth of God’s Word. God’s just curse on His good creation would touch every facet of life, from the microscopic viruses that attack us, to the life destroying storms of nature, to the ferocity of wild animals, even down to the twisted cravings that cause a toddler to yell, “Mine!”

I’ve heard it put this way: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” Yet we can in no way blame God for our sinful desires anymore than a child can blame his parents for leaving the cookies out on the table and making him eat them. James says elsewhere, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Were there no God to stop us, there would be no limit to the evil our hearts could create. This is why it was good for God to interrupt the plans of the people building the Tower of Babel, and this is why it is good God has given us the common grace of conscience, law enforcement, and fellow citizens who know some things are truly evil and aim to stop them.

Why would God allow such evil to occur?

When asked His thoughts on a terrible evil of His day, Jesus gave a surprising response in Luke 13 that we would do well to consider. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). 

Jesus basically says what we should take away from tragic events such as this is the awareness that our lives are a vapor, we will soon face God’s judgment, and therefore we must repent before our lives are cut short. It is not our place to draw false assumptions. It is our place to pray and check our spiritual pulse to make sure we’re ready to stand before God’s judgment throne.

Someone once said, “If God is God, He can’t be good and if God is good, He can’t be God.” But this leaves the definition of “good” in the creature’s hands instead of in God’s. The presence of evil does not negate the presence of God or prove God’s guilt. Rather, the presence of evil exposes our belief in ultimate “right” and “wrong”, in something called justice and righteousness, and clues us into the fact that God’s “ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Or listen to the way the psalmist lays it out: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We cannot know why God allows evil, but we can know that God does all things for the glory and honor of His name. In the midst of the plagues God sent on Egypt, He told the evil Pharoah, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Even Satan himself is just another creature which God will bring into judgment. Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s devil” and another quote attributed to him has him say, “Satan is on a leash, whose length is determined by God.” This should reassure us all that no evil will finally stand a chance to God’s righteous wrath.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The Las Vegas gunman’s brother was reported as saying, he never saw this coming. He said his brother had no history of mental illness whatsoever and said it was like an asteroid that came out of nowhere.

We cannot see the depths of evil that lie deep in our hearts sometimes until they are exposed by our sinful actions. Everyone of us have been surprised by our own evil choices at times. We think or say or do something that shocks even us, and all we can do is honestly repent before God and those we’ve offended. For those who resist the guide of their conscience continually, it becomes incapable of pricking and is so hardened that more intensified acts of evil carry less and less guilt (1 Tim. 4:2). Serial killer Ted Bundy confessed this of himself when interviewed about his actions. Bundy said his sinful trajectory began with lust, was fed by more and more aggressive pornography, and eventually led him to feel little guilt over the horrible murders of his victims. There are many more evil perpetrators out there who have yet to act out their intentions. We may never see them before it is too late, for they look just like us. As we look ourselves in the mirror, we must not think to highly of our own goodness to think we’re beyond evil ourselves.

What hope is there for our broken world?

Thankfully God has inserted Himself into the picture. Astoundingly God didn’t come here and remain untouched by our evil. He didn’t create a bubble around Himself and come to teach a bunch of pithy platitudes. He personally allowed the evil and brokenness of this world to kiss Him in the face as it were. To punch Him in the face. To spit on Him. To mock Him. To beat Him to a bloody pulp. And to pin His naked body to a cross. Jesus asked, “Why?” from the cross, though He knew the answer. God was punishing our sins on His own beloved Son so that all who turn in faith to Him can have life. At the resurrection, the work of Christ was proven successful and His victory over the grave was obvious. But the gospel isn’t just about our personal beliefs. It is also about cosmic redemption (Romans 8:19-25). By taking the curse on Himself, Jesus was reversing the curse and promised that this ultimate reversal would come at His return (Gal. 3:13). All the marred results of life in this world will be burned away when Jesus returns and the creation will once again sing and dance before Him (Isaiah 55:12). After the consummation, there will be no more hurricanes or hospitals, no more shootings or shots, no more wars or wild animals. All will once again be at peace. Christ’s church must continually say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” But for those who aren’t ready for His return, this is a call for repentance and faith in Christ. 

One day, we will all know the answer to the question, “Why?”, but until then, we must only remember who is truly in control of this chaos.

The Reality of Death!

“Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. If there is no other way to live.” – Paul Kalanithi

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”–Jesus

Death is probably one of the most uncomfortable subjects in modern America. It is something we would rather just not talk about, yet it is one of the most common aspects of human existence. Everyone who was born is destined to die and yet we spend most of  our life running from this very idea trying to block it out with entertainment, with work, with sports, some with “religious” and spiritual exercises and yet at the end of the day death comes for us all. This may seem like a grim opening but it is a reality that we all must at some point deal with in this life.

The opening quote that I put on this blog is actually from a book called When Breath Becomes Air.  It was written by a Christian neurosurgeon before he died in his mid-30s. In it he wrestles with the reality of the fact that he has his whole life ahead of him and yet it is all gone in one moment, one doctors visit, but at the same time nothing was taken from him that wasn’t already certain. He wasn’t promised a long life with lots of Kids with his wife. He was never guaranteed that finishing top of his field in medicine would produce the life changing research he hoped would occur. His life had changed and yet it in some way it didn’t.

I just finish reading it a few days before my 32nd birthday, probably not the most exciting time to read a book about death, but it did make me think back over Scripture and what Scripture continually reminds us of the reality of death; from the garden of Eden were they were cast out and death became a reality, through to the Gospels and the book of acts as brothers and sisters of Christ lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus. Death is a common occurrence in Scripture, for it is the result of the fall and the painstaking reality of sin around us and the need for a reconciled relationship with God and for restored creation.

However as we await this great day, death should remind us of the greatness of our God all the more. We are not promised tomorrow as Paul’s quote points out. We all know that tomorrow’s uncertain, all we know for certain is that there will come a points when everything we know and love in this life comes to an end, and yet more and more we don’t think about it. We ignore the idea that it is possible, we let it sit in the back of our minds unattended. However I challenge you to think about it more often than not, not in a manner that leads to sadness put in a manner that leads back to Christ. Each and every day the opportunity remains for us to deny ourselves and the goals of the flesh to pick up or cross to follow Him and make Him the center of all that we do, all that we will be, all that we may love. The reality of death is the true reality that we have life, and as a believer the truest life possible.

Therefore, as Christians we of all people should be most acutely aware of death and all the more the return of Christ. In the Gospels Jesus is continually reminding his disciples that the return is at hand, and they will write to the church to continually seek first the kingdom of heaven, to look for the return of Christ, like a  thief in the night unknown to us. The question though is will we be found seeking, will we be found working, living, breathing for Him or for the world around us. The reality of the return or of our own death on this earth is the reminder that we are not our own we are Christ’s, we are here with the purpose and mission to glorify the name of our God, to seek the welfare of those around us for the good of God, and to call men and women to faith.

We are all aware that our time is coming short whether we were given 30 years or 90 years on this earth is blinking of an eye In comparison to the totality of God’s great universe. What will you do with that time? What will you do with the gift that God has given you today? How will you use that time for the growth of the kingdom. Will you invest in your family for the glory of God? Will you take the truth of God to neighbors and friends who you put off for fear of what they may think?

We have one life to live, one day to die or the return of Christ to come, Let us be acutely aware of that reality and by being aware of it may we live it out.