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 : 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 Montgomery Boice

“…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

A Lost Person’s Questions

I have been thinking a great deal lately about ministry effectiveness. Over the past three weeks I have experienced highs and lows around the church. I have witnessed meaningful ministry take place. At the same time, I have also witnessed some things that got in the way of meaningful ministry. I have come to the conclusion that there is a very fine line between the two mentioned above. My conclusion? Perspective. The lens you view your Christian service through will ultimately determine what you deem important and meaningful. For example, if you view your Christian service with a consumer lens, the focus will always be on what the church can do for you. On the other hand, if you view your Christian service with an investor’s lens, your focus will always be on what the church can do for someone else. When the focus in wrongly placed we shift the direction and movement of the church into reverse by “majoring on the minor”. In this economy, good is accepted in place of great. Activity becomes a suitable alternative to ministry. Personal agendas become more important than the Lord’s mission. Criticism and fault-finding starve out encouragement and love. Evangelism and missions give way to committees and constitutions.

The lost person is always on the forefront of my mind. Their condition convicts me. Their future frightens me. Their worship is desired by God. They deserve a New Testament church that is not in the business of majoring on the minor things. They deserve truth, not excuse. They deserve love, not a loathsome look. They deserve a verbal witness, not simply a prayer. What does the lost person think of the church today? I have often wondered what kind of questions go through their mind. What would their questions look like? To be perfectly honest, I believe it may look something like this. Consider the following:

1. I am lost. I do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You do. Why do you spend the majority of your time adding and perfecting programs that appear to be designed for those who already know Him? What about me?

2. I am lost. I do not have peace in my life right now. You do. Don’t others have the right to hear about the source of your peace? What about me?

3. I am lost. I do not know why I am here. You do. Why do you choose to build buildings instead of building bridges? What about me?

4. I am lost. If I were to die today, I would enter an unimaginable torment. You would not. Have you forgotten what it is like to be separated from God’s presence? What about me?

5. I am lost. I do not know the good news of the gospel as you refer to it. You do. Why do you spend so much time debating and discussing trivial matters while futures of many like me hang in the balance? What about me?

6. I am lost. The only father I know is my earthly father. You know Him. Are you content with letting me figure out this “salvation” thing on my own? All religions are the same, right? What about me?

7. I am lost. I do not have anyone to intercede on my behalf. You do. Have you considered talking to me instead of talking about me or to me? What about me?

8. I am lost. I will not be held accountable for keeping my mouth shut. You will. Is the fear of embarrassment and rejection more of a concern to you than obeying the God you say you love? What about you?

I am guilty. What about you?

Worth Repeating

“The truth of God’s Word is always countercultural, and the notion of becoming a slave is certainly no exception. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a concept more distasteful to modern sensibilities than that of slavery. Western society, in particular, places a high premium on personal liberty and freedom of choice. So, to present the good news in terms of a slave/master relationship runs contrary to everything our culture holds dear. Such an approach is controversial, confrontational, and politically incorrect. Yet that is precisely the way the Bible speaks about what it means to follow Christ.”

John MacArthur, from his book “Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ”

Not a Milosevic, Manson, or Mengele; but a Sinner Just the Same

Through my years of pastoral ministry, I have had conversations with many people covering  wide array of topics including, but not limited to: family, suffering, service, anger, jealousy, marriage, divorce, children, salvation, and sin. Responses to these conversations have ranged from warm and welcoming to cold and dismissive. Perhaps the most interesting and uncomfortable responses come when the subject of personal sin and responsibility for it are discussed. Sin. Not a topic that many want to acknowledge and deal with. However, an issue that can not be ignored.

One of the responses that I have heard quite a bit is one like this, “I’m not as bad as ________”, or something similar. The problem with that statement is found in the individual’s belief of what “bad” is. We like to think “bad” has a specific face. We like to think we would recognize “bad” walking down the street or sitting beside us in a restaurant. We like to think that we would recognize “bad” sitting in the car next to us at the traffic light or living next door to us in our closed-gate neighborhoods. When we think of “bad” people, certain names come to mind rather quickly. None would doubt that Slobodan Milosevic is a “bad” person. After all, for his part in the ethnic cleansing campaign during the Bosnian War, he was indicted for war crimes and stands as a portrait of hate, violence, and inhumane treatment. That’s bad. None would doubt that Charles Manson is a “bad” person. A convicted murderer, his very name invokes images of hate, depravity, and as some say, is evil incarnate. That’s bad. None would doubt that Josef Mengele was a “bad” person. For his part in the attempted extermination of the Jewish race in a German concentration camp during World War II, his name will always be synonymous with evil, sin, and suffering. That’s bad.

When compared to these three for example, we are tempted to say, “I look pretty good” or “I’m in pretty good shape”. The error here – something I call “comparative righteousness”. This is allowing the conduct and actions of another person to set the standard for how we find approval from and right standing with God. It is easy to lower the bar and look to other sinful humans as our example and try to be one step better. The problem: the example. We are told that “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” 1  The problem is further complicated by the fact that not only have we all sinned, but inherently there is nothing within us that would allow us to stand approved before God. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one”. The prophet Isaiah further reveals our inadequacy, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.” 3

 If comparing ourselves with others is the wrong answer, what then is the correct one? If lowering the bar is the wrong answer, what then is the correct one? The answer is to fully understand that all sin, no matter what scale or degree we attach to it, grieves the heart of a holy God. The sin of murder is equally as grievous as lying. The sin of theft is equally grievous as adultery. The sin of lust is as equally grievous as gossip or slander. The sin of pride is as equally grievous as racism. Because we are all sinners, and all sin grieves the heart of a holy God, our only answer is Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, of Jesus, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”. In Him, contentment and peace are found. Paul again wrote, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” So yes, our names may not be Milosevic, Manson, or Mangele, or any other “bad” name. However, we are all “bad” people for whom the Son of God has willingly laid down His life to redeem, save, and rescue. That is good.

1 – Romans 3:23

2 – Romans 3:10

3 – Isaiah 64:6

4 – 2 Corinthians 5:21

5 – Philippains 3:8-9