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Rev. Dan Hawn
Senior Pastor

This is Chilling

posted Sep 19, 2017, 10:22 AM by First Baptist

 

Officials in Iceland, a small yet prosperous country in Europe, is boasting of the near elimination of Down Syndrome from its population.

 

How did they do that? Did they find a cure that we somehow missed hearing about?

 

No, Iceland isn’t eliminating Down Syndrome from their population, they’re eliminating Down Syndrome PEOPLE from their population!

 

You see, Iceland has gotten to the point where nearly 100% of expectant mothers who are carrying a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome are “choosing” to have an abortion. I put the word “choosing” in quotation marks because many women report being coerced into terminating their pregnancy.

 

Other Countries

 

Iceland isn’t the only country working to eliminate Down Syndrome via abortion. In Europe as a whole, 92% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. In the United States, it is somewhere between 67-90%.

 

Recently, in France, a pro-life group produced television commercials featuring persons with Down Syndrome talking about their happy & productive lives. What did the government do? It banned the showing of these commercials.

 

Human Life is Sacred

 

As we were reminded Sunday from Genesis 1, human life is sacred. The reason human life is sacred is because we are made in the image of God, including those born with Down Syndrome or any other abnormality.

 

In Genesis 9, God prohibits killing another human being ON THE BASIS THAT HUMANS ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.

 

I guess we are at the point in Western culture where humanity is taking upon itself the authority to decide who is fit to live. That’s a scary proposition and harkens back to Nazism.

 

A Slippery Slope

 

This manner of “dealing” with the problem of Down Syndrome puts us on a very slippery slope. This is because, eventually, we will have pre-natal tests to determine all kinds of abnormalities or conditions. Does this mean we’ll start aborting babies projected to have a lower IQ? What about those projected to be obese or diabetic?

 

As Christians, we must advocate for the dignity of ALL human life – from conception to natural death. We must also, when given the opportunity, offer our loving support to couples raising a handicapped child. Oh wait . . . God has already given us that opportunity!

 

 

Pastor Dan

What is God Saying to Us?

posted Sep 12, 2017, 10:18 AM by First Baptist

 

This is a question a lot of people are asking in response to the recent series of natural disasters afflicting the United States. Yet a 3rd hurricane is brewing in the Atlantic.

 

Even the secular New York Times was asking this question in a front-page article on September 8

 

The Times was careful to point out that storms and wildfires are common this time of year, but then they added, “But still.”

 

I’ve heard a number of Christian leaders insist God is judging America, or perhaps more specifically, judging Texas & Florida (plus several western states in the case of the wildfires).

 

This is irresponsible and cruel.

 

Now, it is true that God speaks through nature and acts of providence. Psalm 19:1-6 makes this clear. But, as to what God is saying specifically, if anything, we need to go to Scripture. Martin Luther offered wise counsel when he said,

 

“Let the man who would hear God speak, read holy Scripture.”

 

Luke 13

 

Perhaps the best passage for interpreting natural disasters is Luke 13. This is part of the “journey section” of Luke’s gospel, in which Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem and the crucifixion. Along the way, he does a lot of teaching, much of it in response to questions.

 

One day, Jesus is informed about a natural disaster. He’s told that 13 people died when the tower in Siloam fell on them. Most likely the tower was knocked down by a weather event of some kind.

 

So, what about this Jesus?

 

Here’s what Jesus says:

 

“Do you think they [the 13 who died] were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

                                                                                                Luke 13:4-5

 

No More Deserving

 

I think Jesus is saying two things: First, don’t think those who suffered are worse sinners than those who did not; they are no more deserving of suffering than you are.

 

This means then that the people of Florida & Texas aren’t worse sinners than the good folks of Iowa. They don’t deserve a natural disaster any more (or less) than we do. We mustn’t think that way.

 

How then should we think?

 

A Call to Repent

 

This is Jesus’ second point: In the wake of tragedy, Jesus calls upon ALL people to repent (i.e., to turn away from their sin & unbelief and to God).

 

It turns out then that hurricanes and other natural disasters are warnings to us of the eternal judgment yet to come. They are like warning shots fired across the bow of ships that are sailing in rebellion to God. The message is that a far greater disaster awaits those who persist in their rebellion.

 

One author writes:

 

“Christ is the only safe refuge from the coming Day of Judgment – a day that will make Hurricanes Harvey & Irma seem like arguments on a playground in comparison.”

 

This is what God is saying to us. These storms, together with every other tragedy in life, are calls to repent of sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord give us ears to hear this message.

 

 

Pastor Dan

 

Adapted from an article by Tom Ascol

Burial or Cremation?

posted Sep 5, 2017, 10:10 AM by First Baptist

 

The Cremation Association of North America (who knew?) recently reported that, for the first time in American history, more Americans are choosing cremation over burial (51% versus 49%).

 

By 2025, the percentage choosing cremation is expected to rise to 65% -- and to 80% by 2035. That’s a big shift in American culture, especially when you consider the cremation rate was only 3% as recent as the 1960s.

 

 

Reasons

 

Obviously, cost is a big factor. Cremation typically costs about a third of what burial costs.

 

Another factor is increased mobility. More-and-more Americans live far from their hometowns and family burial plots. These families tend to want more flexible options for end-of-life decisions.

 

 

Spiritual Considerations

 

The Bible does not prescribe what is to be done with the body upon death. Thus, Christians are free to choose burial or cremation. Either is acceptable; neither is wrong or sinful.

 

However, as cremation becomes the “go-to” choice in America, Christians may want to give burial extra consideration. The reason is that the practice of burial has its roots in a Judeo-Christian worldview.

 

Within Judaism, there was always reverence for the body. This was over & against those competing worldviews that considered the human body inherently sinful or merely a temporary (and disposable) dwelling place for the spirit, which is the “real” person.

 

Christianity takes reverence for the body a step further, of course, with the promise that the body will be gloriously resurrected.

 

The Old Testament hints at resurrection, but not until the New Testament, is the promise explicit. With the coming of Christ, the dead will rise!

 

The New Testament also declares the body (of a Christian) to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. That is further evidence of the importance of our bodies. Finally, in Christ’s resurrection, we’re given an example of what the resurrected body will be like.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Again, it’s certainly not a sin to be cremated. That’s not the issue. Rather, it’s a matter of Christian judgment, informed by the fact that burial has very deep theological & biblical roots in both the Christian and Jewish tradition. Burial can be a powerful (and final) witness to what we believe.

 

 

Pastor Dan

Should Christians Watch “Game of Thrones”?

posted Aug 29, 2017, 11:29 AM by First Baptist


 

I understand Game of Thrones, now in its 7th season on HBO, is absolutely riveting television – full of compelling characters, an engrossing story, and excellent writing & acting. The series has received 38 Emmy awards and carries a 98% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. 

 

I also understand the series is full of graphic sex & nudity – as in LOTS of it – including numerous (and explicit) rape scenes.

 

Despite this, there are Christians (both men & women) who consider Game of Thrones “must-see” television. Oh, how this must grieve the heart of God.

 

I Don’t Get It

 

As pastor & author Kevin DeYoung recently wrote: “I don’t get it.” He went on to write:

 

“Does anyone really think that when Jesus warned against looking at a woman lustfully, or when Paul told us to avoid every hint of sexual immorality and to not even speak of the wicked things the world does, that somehow this meant, go ahead and watch naked men and women have sex?”

 

Justifying Sin

 

Some will insist their conscience isn’t bothered by what they see on Game of Thrones. This is the same justification many women used after flocking to see 50 Shades of Grey a few years back. However, the conscience can misfire (Hebrews 10:22) and we don’t always feel conviction of sin when we should (I Timothy 4:2).

 

Others might object that I’m being legalistic and turning Christianity into a list of do’s & don’ts.

 

While it’s true that we live in the age of grace, God’s law still applies. The difference (for Christians) is that we obey God, not to earn His favor (which we already have through Christ), but as a grateful response to all He’s done for us. Moreover, the grace God gives us is for obedience (i.e., the ability to obey).

 

Questions to Ponder

 

John Piper offers some questions to think about with regard to sex & nudity as “entertainment.”

 

1.      Am I re-crucifying Christ? *

2.      Does watching this express or advance my holiness?

3.      Is it not satisfying for me to view that which is good & honorable?

4.      Do I care about the souls of the actors I’m watching?

5.      Would I be glad if my daughter or son played this role?

6.      Am I compromising the beauty of sex in marriage?

 

These are good questions. I know my own entertainment choices need to be constantly evaluated and I’ve found that making good ones is a never-ending battle. The thing is, we battle together!

 

 

Pastor Dan

 

*Note: Piper suggests that by choosing to “endorse or embrace or enjoy or pursue impurity, we take a spear and ram it into Jesus’s side every time we do.”

The Spiritual Significance of an Eclipse

posted Aug 23, 2017, 11:34 AM by First Baptist

 

Did you see the eclipse yesterday? Pretty amazing, wasn’t it?

 

In TV interviews, several people referred to the Great American Eclipse as a “spiritual experience,” although it struck me that not a single person mentioned God or gave glory to Him.

 

Romans 1 tells us that fallen humanity refuses to glorify God & give Him thanks, but instead worships “created things rather than the Creator.” I wonder if that’s a lot of what was happening on Monday. (I’d also like to meet the guy who paid $1,000 on eBay for a pair of solar glasses.)

 

About Eclipses

 

Solar eclipses are actually quite common: 2-5 each year somewhere in the world. And they’re easy to predict. Ancient stargazers learned how to predict eclipses as early as 2300 BC.

 

Despite early knowledge of what eclipses are and when they will take place, eclipses were often considered to be a sign that something bad was going to happen. This was true not only in pagan religions, but also Judaism. For example, the Talmud (or body of Jewish law) states:

 

“When the luminaries are stricken, it is an ill omen for the world.”

 

A Prophetic Sign?

 

Throughout history, Christians also (not all, but some) have interpreted eclipses to have prophetic significance, usually a prediction of impending judgment. They base their interpretation on such verses as Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31, Joel 3:15, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24, Revelation 6:12 and Revelation 8:12.

 

These verses all refer to the sun being darkened and are in the context of God’s judgment.

 

However, while it’s true that eclipses have been associated with several catastrophic events in world history (World War I, for example), their prophetic significance is diminished (if not eliminated) by their frequency (2-5 per year, as I mentioned), as well as the fact that most catastrophic events in history were not in any way presaged by an eclipse.

 

Rather than a sign of impending doom, I would suggest we consider the religious significance of eclipses to be that they reveal the majesty of our Creator. I think David had it right when he wrote:

 

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  (Psalm 19:1)

 

 

Pastor Dan

Another Anniversary

posted Aug 1, 2017, 9:41 AM by First Baptist


This month, we’ve been studying the Reformation, to commemorate its 500th anniversary.

 

But, 2017 marks another anniversary: the 50th anniversary of Joni Eareckson Tada’s diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. (The exact date was July 30, 1967.)

 

In 1976, Joni’s memoir about her accident and rehabilitation (entitled Joni) became a bestseller. Since then, Joni has written over 40 other books and has been a tireless advocate on behalf of the disabled.

 

Perhaps most important, Joni has written extensively on the subject of suffering from a Christian perspective. Here is a quote from Joni that sums up her attitude about suffering after 50 years:

 

“I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without Him.”

 

Joni lists the following blessings or benefits of suffering:

 

1)      God uses suffering to shape our character

2)      Suffering produces patience

3)      Suffering refines our faith like gold

4)      Suffering gives us a livelier hope of heaven

5)      Suffering knocks us off our pedestal of pride and shows us our need of God

 

Joni insists that suffering isn’t a killjoy, but rather teaches us to find our joy in Christ.

 

As you might expect, Joni has studied the book of Job extensively. She expects Satan says the same thing to God about her as he did with Job: “Test her with more pain and you’ll see her true colors. She doesn’t love you for YOU.”

 

You see, the devil insists that we love God only for what He does for us. However, Joni says she has the high honor of proving the devil wrong. She loves God simply for who He is!

 

God has used Joni in a powerful way to brings hope & encouragement to literally millions of people. Maybe you need some hope & encouragement today for the suffering you are experiencing. If so, read one of Joni’s books. Most of all, know the One whom Joni has come to know so well: Jesus Christ, who himself is well-acquainted with suffering.

 

Pastor Dan

More on Augustine & Pelagius

posted Jul 25, 2017, 9:58 AM by First Baptist


As noted last Sunday, Augustine (354-430 AD) is one of Christianity’s most influential theologians and is widely considered the “Father of the Reformation.”

 

However, it wasn’t easy for Augustine. For 25 years, he waged a theological war with Pelagius, an influential British monk.

 

Pelagius taught that when Adam fell, he fell alone; his sin was his alone, and the consequences were his alone. This means that Adam’s children (including us) are born innocent with the God-given ability to live lives fully pleasing to Him. We can either choose obedience, or we can follow the errant example of Adam. Either way, it’s up to us.

 

Many people followed Pelagius. His views were like a plague upon the Church and they spread quickly from Britain to Rome and then to North Africa.

 

As mentioned, Augustine fought with Pelagius for a quarter century. He argued that Adam’s fall in the Garden resulted in original sin and the total depravity of humankind.

 

Pelagius conceded that sin appears to be universal, but only because people give in to the example of others. He claimed that it was possible to live a sinless life (as Christ did) and thus earn one’s way into heaven. In short, humans have complete freedom of choice and hold their own fate in their hands.

 

Augustine countered that God alone called people to salvation, and that none can believe or obey apart from God’s wooing grace and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. He argued that God’s sovereignty and election are the “first cause” of each person’s eternal destiny.

 

The rancorous debate continued until a group of 64 bishops asked the pope to excommunicate Pelagius. This was done in 417. Pelagius was also censured by two separate councils, one in 418 and the other in 431.

 

Unfortunately, Pelagianism eventually gave way to Semi-Pelagianism in the Roman Catholic Church. This was what the Reformers fought against, basically using the same arguments as Augustine.

 

Pastor Dan

Christianity & the American Dream

posted Jul 11, 2017, 10:06 AM by First Baptist

 

On Sunday, I mentioned that Protestantism has its own history of corruption & theological error – perhaps never more prominent than it is today.

 

One example is the degree to which Christianity has been made to accommodate (and indeed assist with) our pursuit of the American Dream.

 

The American Dream is defined as:

 

“A national ethos [philosophy] of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”

 

Many Christians today, especially Protestants, see Christianity & the American Dream as working nicely together, with Christianity (truth be told) taking the subservient role.

 

However, Scripture presents quite a different picture of the Christian life. Consider these three images of what it means to follow Christ:

 

 

Image #1: The Christian Life is a Daily Battle

 

The Bible wants us to know that the Christian life is hard, really hard. Paul reminds the Ephesians:

 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power s of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 6:12

 

 

Image #2: The Christian Life is an Endurance Race

 

Two years ago, Rich Freml & I ran a half marathon together. At about the 6-mile mark, my mind & body were screaming at me to quit. The same thing happens in the Christian life.

 

Hebrews 12:1 says:

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 

 

 

Image #3: The Christian Life is Like Childbirth

 

Obviously, I’ve never experienced childbirth, but I’ve seen it three times. I can only say wow!

 

Paul uses this imagery to explain our groaning as we await our redemption:

 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  Romans 8:22-23

 

 

The Hope

 

As we consider the battle, the race and childbirth, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If this is the Christian life, how can we be a people of joy, peace and hope?

 

Consider this:

 

§  A battle is fought in the hope of peace.

§  A race is run in the hope of a victor’s crown.

§  A mother labors in the hope of new life.

 

Jesus explains:

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

 

 

Pastor Dan

 

Adapted from an article by Melissa Kruger

Where Did Jesus Go After He Died on the Cross?

posted Jun 27, 2017, 10:18 AM by First Baptist

 

During Core Connect on Wednesdays, we’ve been studying the Apostle’s Creed. One of the statements we haven’t had time to focus on is the statement that, following His death, Jesus “descended into hell.”

 

Is this right? If so, what did He do there?

 

 

Relevant Scripture Passages

 

It should be noted that the Bible isn’t crystal-clear on this. Perhaps the passage that deals with the matter most directly is I Peter 3:18-20, where it says:

 

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

 

Another possibly relevant passage is Ephesians 4:8-10. Here Paul writes:

 

‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?)

 

Finally, a third passage of note is Jesus’ conversation with the thief who was crucified next to him. The thief said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied:

 

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

 

OT Background

 

In trying to sort all this through, it’s important to note what the OT teaches about the afterlife.

 

From the OT, we know that when a person dies, the body decays while their soul goes to sheol. Sheol is a Hebrew word that means “place of the dead.” The Greek (or New Testament) equivalent of sheol is hades. Hades is sometimes translated as hell.

 

Sheol/hades evidently has three compartments: (1) the abyss, or place of confinement for the demons who sinned in the days of Noah; (2) torments, or place of suffering for the unrighteous; and (3) paradise (also called “Abraham’s bosom), or place of blessing for the righteous. “Abraham’s bosom” is where Lazarus went to in Luke 16.

 

 

Putting It All Together

 

Among theologians, there is nearly unanimous agreement that, upon his death (and prior to his resurrection), Jesus went to sheol/hades. However, to which compartment he went, and what he did there, is subject to much debate.

 

I think a good case can be made that Jesus visited all three compartments. Based on the 1st Peter passage, to the fallen angels & unrighteous, Jesus “preached” or proclaimed his victory to them. (He didn’t seek to evangelize them.) As to paradise, the Ephesians 4 passage suggests HE EMPTIED IT, meaning he took the souls there with him to heaven.

 

Eventually, the demons in the abyss & the human souls in the place of torment will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the final hell. Meanwhile, the righteous in Christ will receive their resurrected bodies and will live forever with God in the new heaven & new earth.

 

Pastor Dan

More on the Providence of God

posted Jun 20, 2017, 10:08 AM by First Baptist


Judging by the Q&A time in both services last Sunday, I think many of us were challenged by our discussion of God’s providence.

 

One theologian defines providence as “the continuing action of God by which He preserves in existence the creation which He has brought into being, and guides it to His intended purposes for it.”

 

And so, there are two aspects to God’s providence: (1) His preserving or maintaining of creation; and (2) His governing of it.

 

It was this 2nd aspect that was the focus on Sunday’s message.

 

The Extent of God’s Governance

 

God’s governing activity is universal; it extends to all matters, including that which is obviously good and even that which seemingly is not good.

 

The Bible speaks of God’s governing activity as applying to the following:

 

1.      Nature (Psalm 135:5-7)

2.      The animal world (Psalm 104:21-29)

3.      Human history & the destiny of nations (Daniel 2:21)

4.      Personal circumstances (I Samuel 2:6-7)

5.      The free actions of human beings (Exodus 3:21, 12:35-36; Psalm 33:15)

 

God’s governing activity even extends to seemingly accidental or chance occurrences. Proverbs 16:33 says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the LORD.” Wow!

 

The Paradox

 

The difficulty comes when the reality of God’s governance bumps up against the reality of human free choice, which often results in sin & evil. Despite the difficulty, the Bible affirms that: (a) God is not the cause of sin; and (b) humans have meaningful choice for which they are responsible.

 

The Westminster Confession

 

In the 2nd service, I referred to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). Confessions & creeds are not infallible, but are helpful resources for understanding the teaching of Scripture. Here’s what it says in Chapter III:

 

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty of contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

 

That God ordains all things is not simply the result of His knowing all things, as the Confession makes clear. Chapter III also says:

 

“Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, …”

 

 

What It All Means

 

The same theologian I quoted earlier sums up the importance of this doctrine:

 

“Providence is certain ways is central to the conduct of the Christian life. It means that we are able to live in the assurance that God is present and active in our lives. We are in His care and can therefore face the future confidently, knowing that things are not happening merely by chance.”

 

Amen.

 

 

Pastor Dan

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