Earp Takes Aim | Faith, Culture, Life

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Tapped Out

There I stood, alongside several hundred other Boy Scouts, gazing across the glistening waters of Carlisle Lake.  I was shivering, though the evening was warm.  But I was shivering, cuz I was nervous. 

The camp staff, costumed in glorious Native American attire, was softly paddling their canoes our direction. I stood shivering, yet still— stripped to the waist, wondering who was gonna be chosen this year. 

The Boy Scouts have a somewhat secret organization called The Order of the Arrow, a society called into existence to both honor the more seasoned scout, but even more, to further test his mettle. 

It was Friday night.  And we had gathered along the shore for the beautiful and impressive Tapping Out Ceremony.  As the Indians secured their canoes and began inspecting the long line of candidates, I reviewed in my mind that a nominee to the Order had to:

…spend the next 24 hours in silence,

…invest that day in service to others,

…spend the night alone in the wilderness, with only a handful of food that he’d have to find a way to prepare in order to sustain himself for what would be a very grueling day. 

Can you imagine the shock that ripped through my body when The Chief passed in front of me, spun sharply on his heels, raised his meaty hand into the air and slapped me sharply on the shoulder…not once, BUT THREE TIMES!?

My shoulder was still stinging when two braves pulled me from the ranks, shoved a tiny bag in my hands and pointed me toward the wooded darkness. 

There I was…chosen from among my peers.  Selected as one of my troop’s finest— yet absolutely terrified!  I groped through the darkness [no flashlights were provided], found what seemed to be a suitable place to bed down— and spent the entire night wondering, “Can I do this?”  “Do I have what it takes?”  “And even if I do, what exactly am I supposed to do?”

I was frightened, yet there was no one to turn to.  I needed instruction, but had no one to talk to. 

I felt like the guy who was tarred and feathered and ran out of town on a rail.  He said, “If it weren’t for the honor of it all, I’d just as soon pass.” 

That’s how I felt:

Honored, but unworthy. 

Tapped Out, but for what? 

Selected, but what do I DO now?


A similar event happened in Matthew 10 when Jesus “tapped out” the Twelve disciples.  He had selected them from among the multitudes of those who had been following Him.  But these were Jesus’ select Twelve who would become His very special lieutenants. 

Except they, too, were green, unskilled and woefully untrained.  Sure, maybe they were the pick of the litter, but that’s not saying much. 

That’s why Jesus, rather than handing them a Bible and pointing them toward the Harvest, took the time to give them some pointers for how ministry was supposed to happen.


         “These twelve Jesus sent out…”[1]

Note that:  Jesus sent them.  They didn’t volunteer.  They didn’t step forward and humbly offer their services.  They were “TAPPED OUT!”

**For the rest of the ministry principles given in "Tapped Out," listen to very special message given on 7/17/11.  Use the MP3 player to the right.  

[1] Matthew 10:5



Do you understand that legalism is THE greatest enemy of the gospel?  God hates legalism…primarily because it’s a form of self-righteousness.  It’s a supposition that maybe I can do something to cover myself or correct myself. 

Let’s put it this way:  Legalism says that you become acceptable through doing.  You gain approval by keeping the right rules or upholding the approved standards or enforcing the agreed-upon core-values. 

That’s legalism!  And there are religious forms of legalism and there are irreligious forms of legalism. 

The IRRELIGIOUS OR SECULAR FORM OF LEGALISM says, “If I can do this, if I can improve myself and achieve something great— THEN I’ll be approved by other people.  And maybe even accepted by myself.”  That’s secular legalism.

RELIGIOUS LEGALISM, which Paul directly attacks here, says, “If I can do good, if I can keep all God’s rules, THEN I’ll be approved…by God!” 

Please note:  The vehicle is identical, it’s just the goal that’s different.  The goal is:  I’m either approved by myself and/or others— OR I’m approved by God. 

But both have the same desire:  GAINING APPROVAL.  The problem is: Gaining that approval depends entirely on ME.  It’s me DOING whatever that’s gonna get me the approval I seek. 

But here’s the problem:  You just can’t do enough to get there.  So if you buy into the lie and try to live like a legalist, thinking that if you can manage to do enough of whatever may be on your list— then maybe you’ll be accepted— here’s what’s gonna happen.

You’ll either get PRIDEFUL; cuz you’ll actually think you DID get there on your own.  So you get kinda puffed up about it.  When the Bible actually says that ALL of us are way worse off than we even think we are.  We’re much more selfish and much more self-centered and proud and greedy and arrogant than we would ever even begin to imagine.

Or you’ll become HYPOCRITICAL, cuz you’ll eventually realize you’ll never get accepted, but since you don’t want anybody to know just how bad you are, you pretend that you already did get accepted. 

And by the way, that’s exactly why most people [both inside and outside church] think that doing church is nothing more than one good person telling a bunch of other good people how to be even better people!  But that’s not it at all!

The Bible says that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise [and] the weak things…to shame the strong.”[1]  He chose desperately wicked sinners— like me— just so He could showcase through our weakness His divine strength. 

Don’t you get it?  Our world will never be captivated by a pack of people who are desperately pretending we’ve got it all together— when everybody knows— we don’t! 

What will capture our world for Christ is when a pack of humble, desperate and utterly dependent people acknowledges our sin and trusts in just Jesus as our only rescue…and our only freedom. 

But perhaps the worst thing that can happen if you try to live like a legalist is that you might become INOCULATED from the real thing.  You do understand inoculation, right?  They give you just a tad of the real thing so you don’t get the full thing!  If you get a flu shot, they give a little bit of the flu so you won’t get the full-blown flu. 

Well, that’s legalism.  A little external modification here, a bit of behavioral adaptation there— and it gives us just enough of the real thing that maybe we miss out on the gospel itself altogether. 

Maybe it’ll help you to think about it like this:  What would things look like if Satan took control of a city?  If he really had his way, what would it be like? 

Over half a century ago, the great preacher [Donald Barnhouse] offered his take on what might happen.  He speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where he pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.  There would be no swearing.  The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ was not preached.

And that’s legalism.  It’s a Christless Christianity.  And yet, most of us would listen to that description [all but the last line] and think, “That’s what I want!  I want a town where people smile.  And nobody swears.  And my kiddos all turn out just fine.”  So who cares if Jesus becomes radically irrelevant in the process?  All legalists really care about is behavior modification.

But people, we gotta remember that Jesus came first not to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive. 

Besides, what happens when your performance no longer brings down the house?  I mean, when you’re living out life, and believing that it’s all about your ability to keep the rules, to maintain the standards…whatever.  But then, your finances start unraveling and your kids start unraveling and your marriage starts unraveling…what happens when your whole world starts to crumble— and all you got going for you is that you were the one who held it all together! 

When everything is riding on you— the well-being of your children, the stability of finances, the quality of your marriage— when your whole identity is wrapped up in you carrying the whole load on your shoulders. 

What initially felt like freedom will become a crushing sense of failure.  What once felt like deliverance, is now despair.  And it will happen.  You will, eventually, come face to face with your own weaknesses, even though right now you may be trying so hard to put up a front so that everybody else will believe that you so very strong. 

But down inside, you know:  I am weak.  And I’m not sure I can keep up the charade…not even one moment longer. 

That’s LEGALISM.  It’s endorsing a counterfeit god.  A self-salvation project that is utterly doomed.  Cuz you simply cannot gain God’s approval on your own.

[1] I Corinthians 1:27

This is an exerpt from Get Real!  For more, please go to thecrossroadsaz.com.


Hell Is Real

Recent events have impacted the church I serve and the after effects have proven both stunning and seismic. 

A pastor from Michigan wrote a best-selling book {released in March} decrying the existence of hell— to which the blogosphere {Christian and otherwise} responded with a firestorm of controversial postings and, at times, heated exchanges.[1]

Shortly thereafter, TIME magazine featured a cover story {during Easter week} entitled, “What If There’s No Hell?”  It was written as a response to Bell’s book and helped further enflame what was already an increasingly strident debate.

A few weeks after that, one of our pastors made some personal remarks regarding his convictions about, in his terms, “fear-based methods of evangelism.”  He neither denied Hell’s existence nor did he suggest that Christians should avoid the topic altogether.  He simply stated his personal views regarding how believers should engage the truth of everlasting punishment in our efforts to reach lost people for Christ.

The results of this unfortunate and perfect storm have included sincere misunderstanding, malicious gossip and damaging innuendo.  Only in the last few days have I become aware of just how pervasive this confusion has become.  What I find disheartening, as a pastor who invites biblical dialogue, is that not one person has approached me regarding this issue.  Instead, I’ve learned of it only as I’ve heard, third-hand, about individuals who have decided to leave our church because we “are no longer teaching the truth.” 

So let me be very clear:  Hell is real and a tangible place of everlasting torment.  That Hell exists is the very reason God sent His Son, Jesus Christ.  God sent Jesus to rescue us from the eternal consequences of Hell— “so that everyone who believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life” {John 3:16}. 

That Hell exists is a truth that makes me tremble.  What is at stake regarding Heaven and Hell is everlasting and exceedingly dreadful.  However, as a pastor, if I presume to speak of God, I am obligated to speak such shattering truth— and to do so with unqualified clarity.  Even so, the starkness of Hell demands from me {and all others who speak of it} both the humility of a once-condemned sinner but also the courage of a redeemed-by-grace prophet. 

Whenever I approach the words Jesus spoke, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” {Matthew 25:46}, the once-condemned sinner in me desperately wants to interpret His words in a different way.  I find my human emotions wishing that I could make them say something that’s more aligned with my limited understanding of justice and my “compassion” for those who will experience the destiny Jesus so clearly describes. 

But the redeemed-by-grace prophet in me is so committed to eternal truth that I have nothing to say but exactly what Jesus said.  Even though the specter of Hell does unnerve me, I must bow before it, accept it by faith and preach it with clarity— no matter how painful or unsettling or unpopular it may be for me to do so.

Thirteen separate passages record Jesus’ teachings about the judgment of nonbelievers and their assignment to eternal punishment.  But Matthew 13:49-50 summarizes all of them:  “This is how it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

I am deeply burdened by the implications of Jesus’ words.  So burdened that I answered God’s call into His gospel ministry.  More than thirty years later, I am still passionate as I attempt to tell as many people as I can that Jesus went through the six hours of hell with love so that we wouldn’t have to experience an eternity in hell without hope. 

Virtually every book in the New Testament includes some reference regarding Hell.  Hell, no matter how it may offend the human psyche, is a theologically inescapable albeit personally avoidable reality. 

Here’s the conundrum every believer must face:  If Hell truly exists, yet I’m unwilling to tell people how to avoid Hell because Hell’s reality might violate their sensibilities, then my unwillingness to tell them the truth is a far more appalling cruelty than the truth of Hell itself! 

C.S. Lewis said of Hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of Scripture and specially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”

Dorothy Sayers, another thoughtful Christian, claimed, “We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.”

Hell may not be popular— in fact, it clearly is NOT popular— not even among those who claim to believe in and follow Jesus.  But faithful followers of Christ cannot choose to believe what makes us feel good yet ignore, deny or reinterpret Scripture when it doesn’t fit our culture’s current definition of love and tolerance.

Instead, when we allow ourselves such a luxurious position?  Culture and each individual reader of Scripture become the authority— rather than Scripture itself.  Faith then becomes a collection of fleeting opinions, always subject to generational revision.  And the Christian faith becomes something far different from historic, true-to-the-Bible Christianity. 

Francis Chan has written an amazing response to the aforementioned book entitled, Erasing Hell.  In it, he suggests that rather than apologize for God {by softening the implications of eternal punishment}, we modern Christians should apologize to God for presuming to be wise and more loving than Him. 

I couldn’t agree more.

My heart breaks when I consider the existence of Hell.  Yet Hell is clearly a central Christian doctrine.  I’m not suggesting that we dare not raise our questions.  Nor would I imply that equally sincere Christians will never disagree over how we engage the reality of Hell in our evangelistic pursuits. 

In my humanity, I must confess that I still wrestle, intellectually and emotionally, with how God can be thoroughly loving AND that there is also such a thing as eternal punishment.  But ultimately, my intellect and my emotions MUST bow before the truth of Scripture.  I can still ask, probe and wrestle with Hell’s implications— I learned long ago that God is never diminished by my searching questions— but in the end, I MUST accept what the Bible teaches. 

 Though universalism isn’t the only issue at stake, universalism is a lie.  And since Jesus Himself said that He is “the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” {John 14:6}— whether I like it or not, that is what the church must preach.  Even if it offends cultural sensibilities, the gospel is nonetheless true:  Only through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as the Son of God Who made the complete and sufficient payment for our sins— only through Christ alone can we be successfully ushered into the courts of everlasting life and delivered from the flames of eternal fire. 

Beyond universalism, is this compelling issue:  Today’s current generation of believers lays no inherent claim to the rights of editorial control when it comes to the Christian faith.  Divine truth is not ours to revise.  God’s Word was never meant to be deconstructed into various categories available for our selection.  Such behavior would leave future generations with nothing but our handpicked leftovers— and the church, would become a hollowed-out and empty version of our former selves.  Think about it like this: 

If we 21st century believers abandon the very truths our courageous predecessors gave their lives to preserve— what will be left that is still worth living {and dying} for?

Hell isn’t up for a vote and we have no right to dismantle doctrines we conclude make God look bad in our eyes or our culture’s eyes.  If God is good, but culture doesn’t see Him as good— it’s not up to us to give God a facelift or airbrush his image.  It is not our task to help people see God favorably, but to see Him accurately. 

I believe that God has the power, through the gospel, to touch hearts and to draw people to His love and grace.  As the Apostle rightly said, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance {See Romans 2:4}.  But His kindness is driven by an awareness of what is at stake.  He shows His love toward us, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” {II Peter 3:9}.

So in that sense, Rob Bell is right:  Love DOES win.  But the true hope of the gospel is more than mere love.  Love wins simply because Jesus saves!  But from what does He save us?  He saves us out of sin and into His Body and from eternal judgment. 

And it is that gospel that our church {and every other church where Jesus is Lord} was founded upon, and not merely the more favorable gospel selections.  It is also that gospel that this pastor has given his entire life to preach, no matter whether its various parts are in season or out of season {See II Timothy 4:2}. 

And although elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ are clearly no longer in season, I will neither recant nor retreat from them.  Whether in the face of scorn, ridicule or derision— or even a far greater price— I choose to firmly stand. 

I will do nothing else. 

I can do nothing less. 

 My heart is grieved by the aforementioned events and I have written this brief position letter accompanied by many tears.  This is not an exhaustive theological treatise.  It’s simply the heart of a pastor who wants, more than anything else, to be found faithful in his handling of the word of God’s truth. 

So I “sow” this letter “with tears” in hopes that, one day, I will “reap” {great and wonderful} “songs of joy” {Psalm 126:5}.  As I’ve said so many times before, when I die I want to take as many people to heaven with me as I possibly can. 

Why do I want that so badly? 

Because Hell is real.  And Hell is the destiny of all who do not make Jesus their treasure.  But how can they know believe in Him— and how can they know what is truly at stake— “without someone preaching to them” {See Romans 10:14}? 


I submit this with deep humility and with many tears.

[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, March, 2011.


Burn your Boats!

For centuries, the British Isles enjoyed a natural defense against enemy invasion.  A channel of water separates Britain from the rest of the continent.  And that sliver of water has spared England much of the heartache her European counterparts have suffered. 

But it wasn’t just the channel that kept enemies at bay— it was also the people.  See, English people weren’t always the calm, genteel, and cultured crowd we consider them today.  In the past, Britain as inhabited by savages.  The Celts, the Danes, and the Vikings viciously ruled that land!  And they were CRAZY people! 

So crazy…most Europeans considered them uncivilized brutes and barely more than demon-possessed hell-raisers!

In fact, many an invasion of Britain was cut short when an invading army would get off their boats prepared to fight, only to see thousands of naked savages, bodies covered with paint and heads adorned with horned-helmets— roaring down the mountainside, screaming and brandishing their weapons! 

What would the invading army do?  What would you do?  They scrambled for their boats and headed home!

Until August 55 B.C. when Julius Caesar— General of the Republican Army of Rome— decided to invade.  ‘Cept he was determined to conquer it! 

His advisors tried to talk him outta it:  “You can’t defeat those animals!  Even if you do, you can’t rule ‘em!  Those people are nuts!” 

But Caesar went anyway.  And when the natives saw his armies approaching and the banners declaring the glory of Rome, they donned their helmets, painted their bodies, and charged down that hill! 

‘Cept Caesar didn’t budge. 

They screamed…like crazed lunatics. 

He wasn’t impressed. 

So they waved their weapons…dancing, screaming and taunting. 

What they didn’t realize is Caesar couldn’t leave if he wanted to.  Cuz as soon as the Romans landed, Caesar ordered every boat in the fleet…burned!  Within days, Caesar had conquered the unconquerable land of England. 

Why?  CUZ he burned his boats! 

Wow!  Whaddaya do with a man who burns his boats?  You either surrender or prepare to die!  Cuz that dude means business!  And is committed even to the bitter end!

Remember those 56 men who bravely signed the Declaration of Independence back on July 4, 1776?  Not your average wild-eyed rabble-rousers.  They were men of means, wealthy landowners— educated statesmen.  To the man, they already enjoyed financial security, but…they wanted freedom even more.  So they gathered in Philadelphia and pledged,

“For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” 

most WOULD PAY that pledge.  Of the 56 signers, five were captured and executed.  Nine died in battle.  Twelve had their homes sacked, looted or burned.  Two lost sons in battle.  One lost two sons. 

They paid a heavy price.  But see, they’d burned their boats!  So there was no turning back!  And we are the grateful inheritors of their courage! 

Grab any history book, scan it, and you’ll find that same story line.  Those courageous heroes who led revolutions, who purchased freedom, who brought justice to the oppressed; they were nothing more than regular Joes like us— except this:  they were willing to pay the price. 

To burn their boats…and put it all on the line for what they believed. 


What I want you to see today— is this same principle holds true in the spiritual realm.  Cuz that’s what Jesus did, too.  When He relinquished heaven’s glory and came to earth, He burned His boats.  Then launched His revolution— fully aware that those who would follow after Him would have to burn their boats, too. 

And that’s why, when Jesus started drawing sell-out crowds, He wasn’t at all thrilled about that.  Isn’t that something?  Today’s church pulls every trick in the book to build a crowd, yet Jesus was constantly trying to shrink His. 

For example:

“When evening came, many who were demon–possessed were brought to [Jesus], & He drove out the spirits…& healed all the sick.”[1]

Which prompted even MORE people.  In fact, Mark says that by evening “the whole town [had] gathered.”[2]  Cuz Jesus’ wonder-working power was a convincing proof that He WAS Who He claimed to be.

The problem is, Jesus didn’t come to put on a good show, He came to lead a revolution!  So He took one look at this swelling crowd and realized:

These people wanted healed, but not necessarily changed. 

They wanted entertained, but not saved. 
They wanted in on a happenin’ new revolution, but only for the cool factor of it all.  They had no idea Jesus’ revolution would eventually lead to a cross. 

That’s why: “when Jesus saw the crowd…He gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.”[3]  Some say Jesus did that cuz He was tired.  Or worried the crowd might get out of hand and prematurely force His hand. 

I think He did it as a test of commitment.  Who among these thousands would actually climb into their boats & follow Him?  Please note that word, “follow.”  And mark it well, cuz Christianity, in its purest form, is all about “following Jesus.” 

 “Come, follow Me”[4] was Jesus’ first command when He addressed His would-be disciples.  As He walked the shores of Galilee and through each village marketplace— having made His selections, Jesus said to each potential apprentice, “Come, follow Me.”

And that’s still His clarion call. 

See, a Christian is not measured by how much he reads his Bible or how often she goes to church or even how much money he gives.  Sure, a Christian does DO those things.  But who a Christian IS has NOTHING to do with performance…and EVERYTHING to do with a Person.

When you boil Christianity down to its absolute base, all that remains is Jesus.  So to be a “Christian” is really nothing more {or less} than living like Jesus lived, thinking as Jesus thought and doing what Jesus did. 

God Put You On This Planet To Make You Like Jesus.  And the only way you can become transformed into His likeness…and systematically shaped into a mirror image of Jesus— is by FOLLOWING Jesus. 

True Christian Discipleship is all about having a relationship with Jesus.  It’s not about rules and regulations and religious observances {stuff we’ll review in detail next time}— it’s a relationship with Someone Who perfectly loves us and Who compassionately cares about us and Who willingly died for us— a Person so incomparable that we who wear His name willingly “follow” in His shadow. 

And even more, we make it our goal [& our most noble ambition] to match Jesus— footprint for footprint for footprint. 

We ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”  then we do it!

We follow In His Footsteps.  We follow.  We follow…Jesus. 

And that’s not only who a Christian is; that’s what a Christian does.  We…“follow.”  A Christian is someone who follows…Jesus. 


So…back to our story.  Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet: 

Anybody willing to climb into their boat and follow? 

Anybody willing to leave behind family, friends…even career? 

Anybody willing to suffer ridicule for My sake?


Mark tells us that a few WERE climbing aboard— though most weren’t quite sure what to do.  Matthew mentions two of ‘em.  Luke adds a third.  But all three, though intrigued by Jesus, weren’t quite ready to FOLLOW Jesus.


[1] Matthew 8:16

[2] Mark 1:33

[3] Matthew 8:18

[4] Matthew 4:19

This is an exerpt from Plus....Nothing!


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