Worth Repeating

“…if the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. For the good news is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life for us, or even that death, the great enemy, is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (of which the resurrection is a proof); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; and that therefore all who believe in him can look forward to heaven. …Emulation of Christ’s life and teaching is possible only to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death (though it is that) but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father; and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.

Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the ‘one mediator’, who gave himself for us.”

James Montgomery Boice, The Centrality of the Cross

Good Friday : The Day Death Died

Good FridayToday, the Christian community celebrates Good Friday. The Friday before Easter Sunday is the day that the Christian faith stops to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. What makes it so “good”? It is the day that death died.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. Paul’s words in verse eight sound so simple, “Christ died for us”. This verse is pregnant with truth, love, and forgiveness. It is not until we understand the manner in which Christ died that we can even begin to appreciate what He did for us. For six hours that Friday, Christ’s body hung on the cross bleeding with nails in His hands and feet. His blood spilled that we might be saved.

I don’t believe anyone would consider Roman crucifixion to be “good”.  At the time of Christ’s death, crucifixion was considered to be the most brutal and painful manners in which a person could die. The Roman soldiers were good at death; they ate it, they breathed it, they slept it; they even seemed to enjoy it. They seemed to think nothing of it. On one hand, the Jewish religious leaders claimed to be the spokesmen for God and knew what it took to please Him. They were “good” people. On the other hand, they hated Jesus because He spoke of God and for God. The leaders missed the fact that the Son of God was with them; He talked with them, He walked with them, He brought to light their sinfulness. If anyone should have known Jesus was the Messiah, it was them. The actions of both groups seem unimaginable.

What happened to Jesus was not “good”. However, a great good came out of it. Left alone and to ourselves, we are lost. Left alone and to ourselves there is a relationship that is broken. Left alone and to ourselves, there is a purpose in life we will never recognize. On the Friday Jesus died, the way for the sinner to know forgiveness and redemption was made straight; straight from the veins of Christ to the very throne of God. In our lost state, God still loved us. Paul said it so right back in verse eight, “God demonstrated His love toward us”. The good that happened on Friday was salvation, a rescue.

Jesus left us a command to remember Him. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is for such a remembrance. We take to time remember His broken body and His shed blood. Isn’t it sad that we need to be reminded to remember the One who gave His life for us? The actions of that Friday were certainly not “good”. However, the results of that day are priceless. As a wise pastor once said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

Book Review : Killing Jesus

killingjesusThis week is what is known as Passion Week within the Christian community. This week represents Jesus’ last week on earth. Within these seven days we see Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday. We see Jesus observing the Passover meal with His disciples and the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper. We see His passionate and burdened prayer to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. We see His betrayal by one of His own and His subsequent arrest. We also see His mock trials before the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas and the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Within this week we also see His scourging, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Questions surround Passion Week. Questions such as “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?”, “Why did Jesus have to die?”, “What part did Rome play?”, and many others like these are asked, some deep within ourselves. In his new book, “Killing Jesus; The Unknown Conspiracy Behind the World’s Most Famous Execution”, New York Times Best Selling Author Stephen Mansfield has written a monumental work that sets the stage for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mansfield’s approach to this book is unlike any I have ever seen in this subject. In his introduction he writes, “The execution of Jesus was a crime born of the streets, the barracks, the enclaves of the privileged, and the smoke-filled back rooms of religious and political power brokers.” This simple sentence will be fully developed as the book unfolds and the reality of Mansfield’s conspiracy comes to light. He writes as if he is putting onto paper what the characters and onlookers might have been thinking. His brilliant symmetry of four different languages, three different calendaring systems, and lesser known historical accounts make this book work, and work well. In his twenty-one chapters, Mansfield introduces the players in the conspiracy, the cultural contexts and nuances, and the motives behind the conspiracy to put to death the Son of God.

Killing Jesus is an all-out assault on the senses. Mansfield employs a writing style that mimics that of a painter. He enables the reader to feel as if they are part of the crowds at the arrest, the trials, and the crucifixion. His style of writing lets the reader taste the disgust that the High Priest had for Jesus and see the disappointment in Jesus’ face at the betrayal. The reader can hear the bleating of thousands of lambs being slaughtered on Good Friday and the smell the blood that was subsequently shed. He writes, “Then, in that otherworldly voice that has come from him just moments before, he shouts, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’. It is more than a shout. It is a scream, really. And since it is three in the afternoon on the Day of Preparation, his scream blends with the screaming of the lambs. And he is gone.” This book is more felt than read. Mansfield has a winner here. This book is powerful, convicting, sobering. I would dare say it is a must read for all who wish to better understand Jesus’ Passion.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Worthy Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Exploring Christian Theology

exploreWhen it comes to the word theology, images of dusty books, seminary classes, and Greek/Hebrew translation come to mind. Volumes upon volumes have been written in an attempt to explain and understand the nature of God. Dallas Theological Seminary professors Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel has offered a contribution with their joint effort, “Exploring Christian Theology; The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times”. The goal of their book is to make the very basic tenets of theology available to everyone. Their choice of doctrine to explore includes the church, sanctification, and end times study.

Exploring Christian Theology is written in two parts: Spiritual Growth and the Church (Holsteen) and End Times (Svigel). Each part is subdivided the same way containing the following elements: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past, and Shelf Space. What I enjoyed most were the Retrospect, High Altitude Survey, and Passages to Master sections in each part. The authors did a nice job of laying the proper historical groundwork so that a modern application could be made. Holsteen and Svigel’s commentary on the most prominent and familiar scripture passages within the section of writing was very helpful. Although this is a theology book, the authors chose not to use difficult language which makes the books very readable. This is a plus.

I had some minor issues with the book. The format of the book is counterproductive. It appears the authors desired to include as much information on their material as possible. The inclusion of unnecessary peripheral material takes away from what they set out to do. For example, there are 31 pages of quotes from authors, scholars, and church leaders from the time periods of their writing. The section on recommended and further reading could have been left out as well.

My greatest issue with this book is the simply the choice of subjects to be covered. Their goal was to cover the basic tenets of theology. For the time, space, and length of work the authors chose, I believe the three that were chosen are not the most basic of tenets. Doctrines such as Theology Proper (God), Christology (Jesus Christ), Harmatology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), and Pneumatology (Holy Spirit) would have been preferable if the goal was to provide the basics. As a pastor, if I were asked to recommend a theology book, it would not be this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Publishing as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Worth Repeating : James Dennison

“The scene is one of the most breathtaking in all of Scripture. An itinerant Galilean carpenter stands surrounded by twelve very ordinary men. At the moment, the leaders of nations are plotting to destroy him as a dangerous heretic. He stands in an area which illustrates the conflict and power of religions more than any other place in the world – Caesarea-Philippi, north of Galilee.

At least fourteen temples to Baal lay scattered about the area, reminders of Canaanite paganism. Nearby is a deep cavern where the Greeks said their god, Pan, was born. The entire region is symbolic of Greek mythology. Adjacent stands the great temple of white marble built to the deity of Caesar by Herod the Great, emblematic of Roman emperor worship. And the Jews believed that their sacred Jordan River originated from beneath this very mountain. Behind Jesus stands a gigantic rock formation, with a cave which is deeper than we are able to measure to this day. It was called the “gates of Hades,” and was widely believed to be the doorway to the underworld.

It was and is an intimidating place. I’ve stood at this spot, and I remember it well. But here Jesus uttered words which astounded his followers: ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). Hades would not attack the church – this small band of men would attack Hades. And neither Hades, the pagan religions, nor the power of the Roman and Jewish rulers would prevail. Jesus’ church would assault the very gates of hell with the gospel – and win. The church was Jesus’ strategy for reaching a lost world.

And this strategy worked, amid some of the greatest ecotones in history. As Jewish and Gentile cultures clashed, the gospel thrived (Acts 10-11). As East met West, the church grew and prospered (Acts 16). When the gospel came to Rome itself, it took root and flowered (Acts 28). As the Roman Empire crumbled and fell, the church mushroomed in power. The strategy worked.

Across the centuries of ecotonic clashes, the church has remained Jesus’ answer to world evangelization. In a millennium of Dark Ages the gospel spread, and the church grew. In the midst of Enlightenment attacks it experienced Great Awakenings. The Industrial Age saw the greatest missionary expansion to point in history.

And our century, with two world wars and the greatest rate of change in human history, has witnessed unprecedented growth in Christian missions. According to church growth expert George Otis Jr, about 70 percent of all progress toward evangelizing the world has taken place since 1900. Seventy percent of that growth has occurred since World War II.

Now, in another ecotonic time, the church is still Jesus’ strategy for world evangelization. Change is nothing new. Only Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He still intends to reach the world through his church.”

James Dennison, from Missiology; An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions. 1998

Worth Repeating : Leonard Sweet

“When Paul exhorted us to put on the ‘mind’ of Christ, the Greek word he used for ‘mind’ had nothing to do with cognitive skill or intellectual brainpower. To have the mind of Christ does not mean possessing the knowledge of Christ or the intellectual comprehension of Christ but the relational knowing of Christ.

Jesus cannot be separated from His teachings. Aristotle said to his disciples, ‘Follow my teachings.’ Socrates likewise said to his disciples, ‘Follow my teachings’. Buddha said to his disciples, ‘Follow my meditations.’ Confucius said to his disciples, ‘Follow my saying.’ And Muhammad said to his disciples, ‘Follow my noble pillars.’

But Jesus says to His disciples, ‘Follow Me.

In all the religions and philosophies of the world, a follower can follow the teachings of its founder without having a relationship with its founder. But no so with Jesus Christ. The teachings of Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus Himself. Christ is still alive, and He embodies His teachings. This is what separates Him from every great teacher and moral philosopher in history.

This is not to say that other religious traditions don’t focus on a person. Buddhism can’t be imagined without Buddha. Islam can’t be imagined without Muhammad: ‘Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.’ say the Muslim people. Judaism doesn’t so much focus on a person as on a nation – the Jewish people as a whole, and the religion they follow.

Yet in all these religions, a follower can abide by all the teachings of its founder without having a relationship with that founder. Not so with Jesus Christ.”

Leonard Sweet  from his book, Jesus Manifesto; Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ along with Frank Viola

Book Review : Persecuted – The Global Assault on Christians

persecutedWestern Christians enjoy many freedoms when it comes to their freedom. They are free to assemble in the houses of worship unhindered and free from the threat of physical harm. Christian radio, television, and publications stand beside mainstream secular media and is enjoying success and influence. Christians outwardly wear visible symbols of their faith in their clothing and jewelry without fear of reprisal. They are able to carry a Bible anywhere and engage people with the message of Jesus Christ. However, Christians around the world do not enjoy such freedom and luxury. In their new book, “Persecuted; The Global Assault of Christianity”, authors Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea bring to bear on the minds of the reader what the Pew Research Center, Newsweek, and other research authorities have found to be true through extensive research. In their words, “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today.” They show us that the persecutions Christians around the world face are not the western picture of persecution. Western Christians feel persecuted if they cannot pray in school, display their Bible in the office, or are rejected when they present the gospel to a lost person. Again, in the author’s words, “what we mean by persecution in this book is that there are Christians in the countries of focus who are tortured, raped, imprisoned, or killed for their faith.”

“Persecuted” takes a sobering look at the conditions that Christians are living in around the world. They acknowledge that all religions experience types of suffering (natural disasters, disease, famine, etc.). When it comes to persecution, their focus is “solely on the suffering inflicted on people at least in part because they are Christians  – suffering they would not have had to endure if they were not believers in Jesus.” Before the authors share stories and examples of worldwide persecution, they give the causes of such persecution. They write, “Most persecution of Christians springs from one of three causes. First is the hunger for total political control, exhibited by the Communist and post-Communist regimes. The second is the desire by some to preserve Hindu or Buddhist privilege, as is evident in South Asia. The third is radical Islam’s urge for religious dominance, which at present is generating expanding global crisis. The chosen layout of the book is most helpful and interesting. Forms and types of persecution are specific to countries and individual customs. Basically the five primary subsets of the world’s population are highlighted.

The first subset, seen in chapter two: Caesar and God, highlights countries such as China, Vietnam, and North Korea. Christianity is a threat here due to the absolute rule of government leaders. The second subset, seen in chapter three: Post-Community Countries, highlights such countries such as Russia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus. The freedom of Christianity is a threat here due to the practices of rule consistent with communism. The third subset, seen in chapter four: South Asia’s Christian Outcastes, highlights countries such as India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The evangelical nature of Christianity is a threat to the intense belief of Hindus and Buddhists that the people and land are ties to a specific faith. The fourth subset, seen in chapters five through eight: The Muslim World, highlight countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, and Indonesia. Christianity is at odds with the fastest-growing religion in the world today: Islam. The fifth subset, seen in chapter nine: Cruel and Usual Abuse, highlight such countries as Burma, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. In these regions that have a heavy militarized government, Christianity’s desire for an independent church is directly opposed to the wishes of self-serving governments.

“Persecuted” gives dozens and dozens of cases of persecution. There are too many to list them all. Here is a summary of the types of persecution that Christians are enduring simply because they are Christians: torture, rape, false imprisonment, seizure of personal property, homes burned, oppressing registration requirements, church raids, harassment, separate laws for Christians, no benefit of legal systems, church bombings, anti-conversion laws, and public execution. At the conclusion of the book, the authors offer a Call to Action: a list of activities everyone can be involved in to support the persecuted church worldwide. Such activities as prayer, reporting, legal action, and financial support to organizations working to stamp out persecution are offered. “Persecuted” is a marvelous work. It is informative, humbling, well-researched, and convicting. I believe it is a must read for all Christians. By doing so, the reader will be reminded of how blessed the Western Christian church is and how genuine sacrifice and surrender to the will of Christ is being lived out through the persecuted church. Too good to miss.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”