My friend Rob Ventura has a forthcoming book, Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective, which he co-wrote with Brian Borgman. This volume is scheduled to be released in January 2014. Click here to read Nathan Pitchford’s review of the book.
Here’s Joel R. Beeke’s endorsement:
“William Gurnall once said that the battle between Satan and the saints makes the most brutal war on earth look like child’s play. Yet so many Christians act like civilians on vacation instead of soldiers on the front lines. Borgman and Ventura, like experienced master sergeants, give us the Bible’s basic training on spiritual warfare. Drawing from the classic text in Ephesians 6, their teaching will both clear away false ideas about the spiritual battle, and equip Christians to stand firm to the end.”
Note: Below is the message that my friend Dr. Jim Cowman delivered on the wedding day of his daughter Courtney.
By Dr. Jim Cowman
Wyandotte Alliance Church,
September 21, 2013
When asked how he felt about officiating his daughter’s wedding ceremony,
Dr. Jim Cowman remarked: “Being asked to perform Jake and Courtney’s
Wedding Ceremony was the highest honor of my life.“
Looking at you with a father’s eyes, in all your bridal beauty, I cannot help being reminded of the little girl with dark hair all made up in braids who used to jump on my lap for one of the many viewings of “Cinderella.” And how could I forget how you covered your eyes when you saw the wicked step-sisters. And how you happily jumped off my lap, and joyfully danced around when the prince placed the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot, and it fit perfectly convincing him he had found the girl he had fallen in love with.
At your reception, when you and I dance to the song, “Have I Told You Lately that I LOVE You?” – (something our family asked one another many times), we will close the circle of life on your days in your parents’ household. Now you have found your own `real life’ prince! And in Jake, you have found a godly man who has more than enough charm, and heart to lead you through any future hurt, or harm, without alarm.
Truly this is a day that is life-transforming for you both. You will celebrate it every September 21st. And over the coming years, there will be many aspects of this day that will make a special claim upon your hearts and minds: the beauty of decorations and garments; the love of relatives and friends; the bounty of gifts and toasts; the joy of great food, music, and dancing. So many memories, photographs, records and mementos! But above all these good things there is one higher remembrance to which I would call you both: “Remember Your Pledge.”
Jake and Courtney, in a few minutes you make a very important commitment: one that you have been preparing for, and anxiously anticipating, since your engagement. Next to your commitment to Christ, this is the most important one that you will make in your life-time. God calls the relationship and agreement that secures the union of one man to one woman, a `covenant.’
You may be thinking, “How does the idea of a `covenant’ differ from a `contract’ when it comes to one’s marriage relationship?” I am certainly not a lawyer with legal expertise, but I can bring God’s perspective to bear on this. A `contract,’ you see, is a conditional agreement that is only as good as the parties’ wills and capacities to keep the conditions. When the stipulations of this kind of agreement are violated, the contract is null and void. The end. For example, if a builder contracts to build a mansion, but builds a dog house instead, no one is going to pay him the contract price.
A `covenant,’ on the other hand, is an unconditional agreement between two parties. The special and mutual obligations, to which husbands and wives are called, are not conditions qualifying the validity of the agreement, but positive reinforcements to make better what God has intended to be very good. Thus, there are no conditions that must be kept to secure the continuity of the agreement. Whether due to lapses of weakness or misjudgment, or common misfortune, or genetic predisposition—some difficulties are bound to come and they will tug at the fabric of our union. But such shortcomings, disappointments and failures have an answer: they are absorbed by love and forgiveness: “Love one another as I have loved you,” said Jesus; “Forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you,” said Paul. (Ephesians 4:32); “Love covers a multitude of sin,” said Peter (I Peter 4:8). Jesus, the unfailing example of the Christian life, even forgave his enemies who condemned him to crucifixion, speaking from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
To be sure, the rips in the fabric of our trust we may experience can be very painful, but, they generally fall far short of sending us to a cross. In fact, no matter how strained, pained, or tempted we may become, we are still commanded by God “To keep faith with the wife your youth” (Malachi 2:13-16). The unconditional covenant protects all parties: husbands, wives, children, relatives, friends and society; and it assures them that in their own household they are always accepted and loved.
Remember that the pledge you make today lists no condition, or exceptions to your commitment. You will say, “For better or for worse,” “for richer or for poorer,” “in sickness or in health.” You might add wrinkles, pounds, senility, joblessness, irritability, and cancer. Come what may, covenant keepers you must be. If you are tempted to think otherwise, remember your pledge.
Your parents do not cease to love you because, by your marriage, you begin a new household. The porch light will always be on and the door open. There will always be a place at our table and a bed in our home for both of you and what children may come – but we also realize that from now on, whenever you say, “there’s no place like home,” you will be referring to the home of Jacob Wesley Oosterhouse’s household, and not your father’s house!
May God crown your new home with a permanence, stability, and strength great enough to embrace all of its members in unbreakable unity!
So I say again, “Remember Your Pledge!”
By Annemarieke Ryskamp (guest blogger)
On October 16, 2013 my husband (Richard) and I along with our pastor (Brian Najapfour) attended a meeting hosted by Michigan Family Forum. Given the ongoing discussions on marriage and religious freedom, the theme of the meeting was very relevant— “Defending Marriage and Religious Liberty in Perilous Times.” The guest speaker was Mr. Jordan Lorence, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom. Mr. Lorence is known for his passion to defend religious liberty, sanctity of life, and marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
An expert in First Amendment right and marriage litigation, Mr. Lorence explained the troubling effects of the legal redefinition of the family. For instance, he told the story about the photographer Elaine Huguenin who was sued by a lesbian couple for refusing to photograph their same-sex commitment ceremony. Elaine declined to take pictures because she believed that the ceremony would only promote the practice of same-sex marriage—a practice that she thinks is wrong.
The lesbian couple wanted Elaine to tolerate them in their practice, but they were unwilling to tolerate the exercise of her religious belief. Also, why did they single out Elaine and demand her to take pictures of their ceremony? She was not the only photographer in their area. There were other photographers who would gladly take pictures of same-sex commitment ceremonies. Where was the respect here on the part of this couple for Elaine’s religious conviction? Mr. Lorence rightly observed that madness was a strong factor behind this couple’s decision to sue Elaine. Those who reject the Bible are simply mad at those who uphold it. This attitude should not surprise Christians at all. Haters of Jesus Christ will also hate and even persecute those who follow Christ. But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Nevertheless, while the legal redefinition of the family has caused difficulties among Christ’s followers, it has also produced positive outcomes. First, it has challenged Christians to study and defend their views that are under attack. Those who were once lax are now forced to know what they really believe and why they really hold to their belief. Second, it has brought Christians closer together. In fact, the people who attended the meeting came from various Christian backgrounds. Yet, these Christians of different persuasions work together for the advancement of the biblical principles of marriage.
At the end of the meeting the speaker entertained some questions. When asked what Christians could do in response to persecutions, he admonished everybody to be courageous in the Lord. We need to be willing to step forward and fight for the biblical principles of marriage.
Dear reader, will you join us in defending marriage as defined by God? Satan is actively seeking to destroy our marriages. He knows that once a marriage is destroyed, it will also affect our church, community, and ultimately our country.
Note: A member of Dutton United Reformed Church, Annemarieke Ryskamp is wife to Richard and mother to their two sons (Sam & Tom). She would like to acknowledge Pastor Najapfour’s editorial help for this post.
By Paul Smalley (guest blogger)
People sometimes ask, “When Jesus was tempted, was it possible for him to sin?” All Christians believe that Christ was tempted, and that he did not sin. But could he have sinned? This can be a vexing question.
Some truths are clear in Scripture. God cannot be tempted to sin. James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” God cannot sin. First John 1:5 says, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” He does not change (Mal. 3:6).
Men can be tempted to sin, and are capable of sin (Gen. 3:1-6). God the Son became a man, and was tempted to sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 says, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”
Christ is God and man (John 1:1, 14). I believe that we can therefore say that in his divine nature it was impossible for him to sin, but in his human nature it was possible for him to sin. I am not speaking here of possibilities with respect to God’s decree, but with respect to the inherent characteristics of his humanity.
Where does that leave us on the question of his impeccability? I would make the following tentative conclusions.
First, Christ was not capable of sinning, because he is God. If his human nature sinned, it would act independently from his divine nature, and become alienated from his divine nature, and this is impossible because the two natures are united as one person. How could he be alienated from himself? The unity of the two natures in one person makes Christ impeccable. I believe this statement guards us against the danger of Nestorianism.
Second, Christ did experience temptation in his human nature as a man capable of sin. In other words, since his human nature was subject to temptation and capable of sin (though he never sinned), his experience of temptation was not essentially different than that of other men. He did not “automatically” reject temptation, but suffered and fought against it by the power of the Spirit. This, I believe, guards us against the danger of Docetism. It also offers us a Christ who is fully sympathetic to our temptations.
Paul Smalley is a member of Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. He served as a pastor for twelve years, and presently works as a teaching assistant to Dr. Joel Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, with whom he has written two books, Feasting with Christ and Prepared by Grace, for Grace.
- You can actually see, while you are writing, the progressive development of each part of the sermon and can alternately bolster each one to the highest quality, coherence and effect – regardless of the order of development.
- Any remaining weaker or missing elements will show up distinctly, crying out for corrective attention, in an otherwise completed manuscript.
- You can easily continue improving the sermon – long after initial delivery – by deletion or addition as you become aware of new or better information (e.g. proof-text, winning illustrations, clarifying background).
- The audience’s (or supervisor’s) response, as well as your own self-evaluation, can be incorporated into your delivered manuscript as a basis for continued growth in preaching.
- You can preach the sermon again – in the whole or in the part – in another venue without any loss of content. Making multiple uses of your sermon manuscripts reduces preparation time and elevates the quality of your preaching.
- You can internalize (assimilate) the manuscript content by reading it a few times before you preach it so that the delivery can retain your written wording in an audience-focused presentation. Note: The detriments of being “manuscript bound” in delivery should not be confused with the benefits of manuscript preparation.
- You can assimilate the manuscript and reduce it to a half a page or one page outline that contains all of the essential elements that you will need to recall so that you can leave the manuscript behind and speak more extemporaneously.
- Your manuscript, with all its careful wording, serves to jog the memory in and out of the pulpit about how to best word the Bible’s teaching on that subject.
- You will have a record of illustrations you have already used so that you can avoid repeating them to the same audience.
- The finality and permanence of manuscripts encourages record keeping and calendar planning to avoid duplication and to treat “the whole counsel of God.”
- You may want to publish your sermon manuscripts someday.
- The length of your manuscript will give you a close approximation of how long it will take you to deliver it.
Rev. Dr. Jim Cowman holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. For the past 14 years he has served Lead Pastor at the Wyandotte Alliance Church in Wyandotte, Michigan. This past summer he was honored for his 27 years of service with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, having served in three C&MA churches, including a new church plant near Rugters University, (“Grace Alliance Church”). In addition to being an online adjunct Professor in Crown College’s Christian Ministry department, he has also served 12 years on the Ordaining Counsel of the Great Lakes District located in Ann Arbor, as well as the Ordaining Counsel of Bethesda Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan. He welcomes your emails/comments with regard to his article: “Top Twelve Reasons for Writing Out Your Sermon Manuscript”: email@example.com
Around the globe, countless Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed. This creed includes a line that has discouraged other Christians to read it out loud—“He descended into hell.” Did Jesus descend into hell? There are two major interpretations of this phrase “He descended into hell”—(1) literal and (2) nonliteral.
Proponents of the literal view teach that after his death and before his resurrection, Jesus literally descended into the place called hell. That is, his human spirit went to hell, the place of eternal punishment for the wicked. Note that only his soul went to hell, for his body was buried in the tomb.
A well-known prosperity gospel preacher by the name of Frederick K.C. Price (b. 1932) holds this view:
Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves [criminals] could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God… Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence.
Three observations from this quote:
- Christ’s death on the cross was not enough to pay the punishment of our sin.
- Jesus had to go into hell in order to pay fully the penalty of our sin.
- The penalty of our sin was to descend into hell.
Let me refute Prince’s literal view of the phrase “He descended into hell.”
1. The atoning death of Jesus was sufficient to pay the penalty of our sin.
For this reason the Bible tells us repeatedly—“Christ died for our sins” and not, “He descended into hell for our sins.” Take 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 for instance:
1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Notice the 3 important elements of the gospel in this passage: death, burial, and resurrection. Descent into hell is not an element of the gospel.
2. Jesus did not have to go to hell in order to pay the penalty of our sin.
John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” What is finished? Answer: Everything that is required for our redemption. Going into hell is not a part of the requirement for our salvation.
In Greek that sentence “It is finished” is only one word Tetelestai, and this Greek word is perfect tense and is translated “It [the work of redemption] has been finished.” Jesus fulfilled all the requirements for our salvation.
3. Remember the very last words of Jesus recorded for us in Luke 24:46, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.”
His human spirit went to his Father, and his Father received his spirit. Further in Luke 23:43 Jesus promises the believing criminal, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise [heaven].” That is, the moment you die you will go with me to heaven in my Father’s house, not to hell.
4. Remember also that Jesus did not just pay the punishment of our sin, he also satisfied God’s perfect demand. Jesus kept the law perfectly. Frederick K.C. Price argues, “Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price.” Well, these thieves could not have paid our price, because they were not perfect; and therefore, could not have satisfied God’s perfect demand.
I therefore conclude that Jesus did not literally go to hell. In my next post I will present my view.
Definition of Heaven
- The sky. Isaiah 55:10 reads, “[T]he rain and the snow come down from heaven [that is, from the sky] and do not return there but water the earth.”
- The space where we have the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Take Genesis 1:14-16, for instance, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens [that is, of the space] to separate the day from the night….’ And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.”
- The dwelling place of God. In Kings 8:30 Solomon speaks to God, “…listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place [the temple]. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” Paul calls this dwelling place “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:23), perhaps to distinguish it from the sky (the first heaven) and from the space (the second heaven).
Description of Heaven
In Isaiah 65:17-25 we have a pictorial description of heaven. Here Isaiah, as it were, is painting a picture of heaven. By poetically describing the new heaven and new earth, he is telling us what heaven looks like. Here are four descriptions of heaven from Isaiah 65:17-25:
- A place of indescribable joy (vv. 17-19). Verse 17 says, “[T]he former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” In heaven we cannot and will not remember the sins that we committed that brought sorrow to us in this present world. Verse 19 adds, “[N]o more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” This verse echoes Revelation 21:4, “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” While we can cry because of joy, most of the time we cry because of pain, problems, persecution, affliction, and death. We will not need to cry in heaven in the latter sense, for suffering and separation will be absent.
- A place of everlasting life (v. 20). In heaven we will not grow old, get weak, and die. Death exists because sin does, “[f]or the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Since sin does not exist in heaven, death cannot and will not exist also in heaven. We can therefore sing with the hymn writer Ira Forest Stanphill (1914-1993): “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop/ In that bright land where we’ll never grow old/ And some day yonder we will never more wander/ But walk the streets that are purest gold.”
- A place of perfect justice (v. 22). Note verse 22: “They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.” This verse simply tells us that in heaven crimes, cheating, and injustice will end. Thus, heaven does not need jails, prisons, soldiers, policemen, and judges. Likewise, in heaven there will be no more national or denominational divisions, for we will be under one King—the Lord Jesus Christ.
- A place of absolute peace (v. 25). Bombing, shooting, violence, and war will cease in heaven, for we will be with Christ—the Prince of Peace. And to be with him is what makes heaven the most wonderful place.
- Remember that only those who have the righteousness of Jesus Christ can live in heaven (2 Pet. 3:13). Do you have his righteousness?
- If you are a believer in Christ, remember that this present world is not your home. As one hymn states,
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
That you can’t feel at home in this world anymore simply shows that you don’t belong here, for your citizenship is in heaven. Therefore, set your mind “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “[L]ay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:20-21).
To read part 1 of this post, click here.