Monday, December 30, 2013

The Big Picture

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

I marvel at the encounters that Jesus has with people. Somehow so simplistic, yet layered in complexity and mystery. So Jesus is getting His crew together, and he "decides" to go to Galilee. He finds Philip, and the only thing that is recorded is that Jesus says, "Follow me." How much did Philip know? What was it about Philip that caused Jesus to choose him? We just know that Philip does follow Jesus. Not only that, he finds Nathanael, and shares what he has found with him. But Nathanael is skeptical. When he finds out that Jesus hails from Nazareth (the hood?), he wonders what good can come from there. But he goes to check out Jesus. 
When he sees Jesus, and Jesus sees him, a bizarre exchange takes place. Jesus greets his as one in whom there is no deceit. Nathanael accepts this compliment, and asks Jesus how he knows this to be true, how does he know anything about Nathanael. Jesus tells him he saw him before he came, even as he was under the fig tree. That's all it takes, Nathanael is convinced Jesus is the Son of God. 
Don't they have a lot of fig trees in Israel? Was Jesus comment really that profound?
Jesus probably chuckled. You think that was impressive? Wait til you see what else is in store...

Thought for the Day:  So much is missing from this story. But we really don't need the details. I wonder how many sermons could legitimately come from such a text. This is a puzzle piece to me. So many questions I want answered, so many questions left unanswered. Just an odd little piece in a much bigger picture. Yet it is still important. I don't think God wastes time putting anything in Scripture. I just don't get all of it. And that is true of many things in life. I don't get why they happen, but they do and I don't think God is oblivious to them. If he knows the number of hairs on my head, I doubt anything else escapes him either. So I ask my questions, not always getting an answer. I am okay with that. I have to be.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What's you name?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them,“Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

John was with two of his disciples, one of whom was Peter's brother Andrew. John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God as he walked by, and they followed Him. Jesus noticed and questioned them, saying something along the lines of "What are you looking for?" They returned by questioning where Jesus was staying. Jesus invited them to come and see. Then they stayed with Him for that day. In this short amount of time, whether by John's proclamation or by being with Jesus or both, Andrew became convinced of the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. So he went and told his brother, and brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter (who at that time was called Simon) and said he shall be called Peter.

Thought for the Day: What would you think if someone met you and immediately decided that you should be called by another name? Was this like being called by a nickname, which many wear as a badge of honor, or was it like taking away his given name and changing it, which many would find offensive? Apparently, Peter did not find it offensive, as we know that he followed Jesus from that point forward. So what name would Jesus have for me if he were to meet me today?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Here's the plan...

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Someone sent John to baptize. I can only imagine that to be God, with the message being delivered via an angel. He was sent to baptize and to prepare people for the coming Messiah. He was told how to recognize the Messiah, by the ascending of the Spirit in a form like a dove. And this John proclaims to be the Son of God. 

Thought for Today: As I look at the events in the life of Jesus, I see that God used obedient people (such as John and Mary, and also Paul comes to mind) to communicate who Jesus was and help to understand what His mission was. He still does that today, even though Satan does a good job of muddying the waters with many counterfeits. I want to be one of those people. I struggle with that at times because I struggle to know and understand what God wants from me. He has given me his grace, and I want to live in such a way that shows that to others. Not by eating locusts and wearing camel hair, although if that is what it takes, so be it. But more so just by knowing, understanding, and being able to communicate who Jesus is and what He has done for me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Who are you?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Testimony of John the Baptist

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight[g] the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John came to bear witness to the light, that is, Jesus. His (Jesus') own, those who did not want to associate with Him, went to John as questioned who he was. I don't think they came in honesty, but rather they came seeking ammunition to discredit either John or Jesus. Perhaps they were hoping to stir up some rivalry between the two. But John did not go for it. He made it clear that he was not the Christ. He also stated that he was not Elijah. For their understanding was that Elijah would come again before the Messiah. (He was not Elijah, but did come in the Spirit and power of Elijah).

So who are you, they asked, because we need to give an answer to those who sent us. (Speaks a little to their motivation, doesn't it?) So John told them what he was doing, making straight the way of the Lord. He was making it plain for people, because the way had been so confused and forgotten. The way had become all about following a list of rules to the T, but John's ministry was one of cleansing and forgiveness. It was about a spiritual healing and becoming whole before God once again. That is why he baptized.

But he was not the Messiah. John only baptized with water. There was one who was greater. One whom John was not worthy of. One who would ultimately give John's baptism meaning by his sacrifice: Jesus.

Thought for Today: As we come into this season, do we understand and appreciate the role of Jesus? There have always been things to distract us from that role. The Jews were distracted so much by their legalism, that God needed to send John to set things straight. Doing good things is important, placing a few dollars in a kettle or helping a needy family at this time of year are great things, but they are not salvation. John understood this. He understood that salvation came as a gift from God alone, through Christ alone. And that apart from Jesus, such things do not make us worthy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

There is no absolute truth? Or is there?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

God became a man and lived among men. Sometimes I wonder which was harder, confining Himself to flesh, or living among those of the flesh. But even in the flesh, His glory shone out to those whom God revealed Him to, for He was full of beauty and revealed an absolute truth. John's testimony confirmed His divinity, for though John was born first, he proclaimed that Jesus came before him. 

I love the translation for the word grace that is given in Strong's. "That which brings joy. Moses gave the law, Jesus gives that which brings joy. Joy to the world. And truth is not just truth, it is "truth in any matter under consideration." Not worldly, situational truth, but the only truth. Jesus, in giving us grace and truth, has shown us the Father.

Thought for Today: We long for truth. We watch courtroom dramas, hoping that the truth will come out and the innocent be proven innocent and the guilty be held accountable. Jesus brings us not "a" truth, but "the" truth. And in doing so has revealed His Father to us. In today's world, we have turned truth into a marshmallow. We are told that we must tolerate many truths and that any truth we hold on to is not absolute. In fact, we are told, there are no absolute truths. But look at that last statement. Is that last statement itself not stated as an absolute truth?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Got a light?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

The true light, Jesus, who shines the truth to all, came into the world. A world that he made. Yet the inhabitants of this world did not recognize their own creator. The word inhabitants is not in there, but I take that to be the inferred meaning. Or does it mean the world or universe itself (cosmos) did not recognize him? Even though at times the universe is given such characteristics (the rocks cry out, the universe groans) I find it hard to interpret such a meaning here. We, humans, did not recognize our creator. Perhaps because he did not meet our Godly expectations. He looked like one of us. And not even the greatest one of us at that. Even his own, which I take to mean the Jews, did not welcome Him. 

But some did. Somehow, some were able to see it. I still cannot help but think that that ability is a gift from God. I looked up the words translated "receive" in verses 11 and 12. It is interesting to note that they are not the same words. The first one means something along the lines of "associate with," as in his own would not even associate with him. The second carries the idea of "taking what is one's own," or "making something your own." Add that to the idea of believing, trusting, putting our confidence in Him, and you have salvation, here expressed as a right to become a child of God.

So here comes the struggle for many. This was not accomplished by blood. I take this to mean that salvation is not an inherent right just because you were born human. Throws a wrench in the whole universalist theology of salvation of all mankind. And, this was not accomplished by the will of the flesh (will can also be translated choice) nor of the will of man. I find it interesting that flesh and man are both listed, as if a specific point was being made here. Your flesh did not choose this, neither did you. It was God's choice. 

Thought for the Day: Salvation is more than just a head knowledge, and likely also much more than even a mere association with Jesus (so much for all those Sunday School Perfect Attendance pins!) I, too, like Amy Farrah Fowler, am baffled by the notion of a deity who takes attendance. Salvation is us making Jesus our own. A relationship that has a certain level of depth as well as dependence. It implies a level of confidence and trust. And perhaps that is something that is out of our reach, without the help of God Himself.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Anyone got a light?

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

God sent a man named John. I like that the meaning given for John is "God is a gracious giver." Truly what can be thought of as a more gracious gift, than the gift that John was sent to proclaim. John came to bear witness to the light. I find that amazing. Jesus was light, yet the darkness of man was so deep, that the light itself needed proclamation to be seen. John himself was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

Thought for the Day: How was it that John was able to bear witness to the light? This had to come to John as a gift from God Himself. And Matthew sheds some light on this when he tells us that even before birth, when his mother met the mother of Jesus, John leapt for joy in the womb. It was not an education that led John to do what he did, but the Holy Spirit. We are but human, in darkness. Our only hope is found in Jesus, the true light of the world. Our prayer should be that the Spirit will reveal Him to us, that we would not quench the Spirit, but submit to that revelation.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What if?

What if I could read the Bible without preconception? I find that easier said than done. I have, as I believe we all are, somewhat ruled by how we perceive things to be. But what if I just read the Bible for what I could glean from it in spite of my preconceptions? Maybe along the way I would find some challenging thought that might help me grow. So I want to try and apply this as I read through the Gospel of John. What is God trying to teach me, through the Holy Spirit, as I trust in His word? Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

John 1

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So in the beginning there was the Word, Logos, which I interpret as a manifestation of Christ. This then tells me that Christ has always been in existence, and is in fact God Himself. As I currently understand it, a part of a mysterious trinity that encapsulates who God is. A part of, yet independent of in some way, for it says that He (the Word) was with God. How can I be with myself? So perhaps there is a togetherness along with an independence? Yet there is only one God. Jesus affirms this when He states that He and the Father are one. Confusing. Perhaps I don't need to understand all there is to know about this.

And all things were made through Him (the Word). And also in Him was life, and our very cause for existence. That's how I take the word "light," because light gives understanding. Without light in a dark room, we wander about not knowing if we will trip over something, run in to a wall, or other such happenstance. The Word gives life purpose and meaning, because it gives understanding. 

The light shines in the darkness. When the light is on, the darkness goes away. In this case I take the darkness to be a lack of understanding. Darkness does not overcome light, light overcomes darkness. You can't go into a room and turn on darkness, you create darkness by turning off the light. I like the KJV rendering of the word "overcome." It translates it "comprehended" which leads to a somewhat different understanding of verse 5. Instead of the darkness not being able to overcome the light, the darkness cannot even understand the light. I think of people with whom I have had conversations about many issues, and it seems like sometimes they cannot even imagine things I might speak of. Or I think of Jesus and His dealings with the religious leaders of the day. They just could not comprehend things being the way that He said they were. 

Thought for the Day: I don't want to live in darkness. Jesus has appeared as a light in the darkness. So if I want to escape the darkness of my own self, I have to let go of my humanity and try to grasp what the God of the Universe is doing through His Son. That is not an easy task!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rethinking Church

00:41  What does the word of God say about the church?

Chan offers 4 things that embodies the church of the Scriptures. They are...

  1. Love. Family/sacrificial love
  2. Getting the message out (a priority)
  3. Gathered - focused on communion and community
  4. Equipping and Training took place
Is that the church you see today? 

I love when he compares the church of today verses the church of the Scriptures, saying it is like going to the movies instead of going to the gym. (around 03:50) 

Is there a better way to do church? As one who struggles with the institutional church, I am always interested in hearing new ideas. And I have a deep respect for Francis Chan. But is this a viable answer? Is building house churches and then regularly splitting them up better than what is in place now? The jury is out for me right now. Any thoughts?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Flip a coin

Paul says our salvation "depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 250). Kindle Edition.

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6, v. 44).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 259). Kindle Edition.

These Scriptures seem pretty specific. And to be honest, downright scary. Because as I understand them, they mean that salvation is out of my hands, and I don't like that. I guess I prefer the formulas, the guarantees.

But then there are those Scriptures which seem to say the opposite. Philippians 2:12 comes to mind. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." 
That sounds better, because now I am back in control.

But which is it? Am I in control or not? Perhaps I should just flip a coin. Or not.

Here is my take. Salvation completely depends on God. Not even 1% can be attributed to me, no works, no decision on my part, nothing. I know that many would disagree with me, and I am okay with that. I understand how hard it is to accept such thinking. And even for those who agree, there are many divergent paths from this point forward. Not time to discuss those now.

That being said, I don't know who God has chosen and who is not chosen. Therefore, since I am the instrument of God, I obey and carry the Gospel with obedience and great care. And one of the things that I must be careful of is not to get the big head, thinking more of myself than I ought just because God has chosen me. This is the God of the universe we speak of, and I am but a mist. I should never forget that.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why religion stinks

A church that is deeply aware of its misery and nakedness before a holy God will cling tenaciously to an all-sufficient Savior, while one that is self-confident and relatively unaware of its inherent sinfulness will reach for religion and morality whenever it seems convenient.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 243). Kindle Edition.

Makes sense, because I believe that the same could be said of the individual. Institutions, just like individuals, need humility. I think that is something that is incredibly lacking in the American church. But if you are a regular reader here, you already know that.

There is just something about nakedness that bothers most people. When we are naked, are flaws are exposed. Especially as I grow older, I have a tendency to buy looser fitting clothing. It is as if I think you won't notice my flaws because you can't tell the folds in my sweater from the folds in my flab.

So imagine standing "naked" before God. Not only are your flaws exposed, but they are exposed in the light of his perfection. That is why when we do stand before God, the only confidence that can possibly mean anything is our confidence in Christ alone. Alone. In Christ alone. Notice the clinginess. Like hiding behind the big kid in dodgeball, only better.

Which is why religion and morality ultimately stink.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


If you enjoy great voices in harmony, acapella, then you should enjoy this.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The fate of the church

The kingdom of God is something we are receiving, not something we are building (Heb. 12:28). The Lord of the church did not say, "Build my church"; he said that on the "rock" of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 233). Kindle Edition.

How wonderful to know that the fate of the church is in the hands of God, and not sorry sinners such as myself! I find so much peace in that thought.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The butler didn't do it

We may think that it is we who need to serve God rather than vice versa. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us as he told Peter that this is actually an insult, a form of pride. We are the ones who need to be bathed, clothed, and fed, not God.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 229). Kindle Edition.

Doesn't the Bible teach both? That we serve God (Romans 12:1-2) and that He serves us? I think the key word in the quote is "need." God does not "need" us to serve Him, but we do need Him to serve us.

Now that can be twisted. I am not talking about God serving me by fulfilling my every desire. Yet without the cross, without the sacrificial service of Christ, we are doomed. We need that. Without God's daily provision to keep our bodies functioning, the world spinning, the sun providing warmth and energy, we are gone. We need God, and it is this realization that both humbles and empowers us. At least it should.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pass the butter?

We do not simply remember Christ or rededicate ourselves to Christ in this meal; rather, Christ gives himself to us as the Bread of Life.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 219). Kindle Edition.

I think when it comes to communion, I drift to the idea of works based religion more than any other time. Have I been good enough? Am I worthy to partake. The answer should always be, "No, not outside of the grace of Christ." So perhaps partaking in a worthy manner is not about me, at least in the sense of my behavior. But it is more about me and the question, "Am I willing to accept the gift that Christ is offering?" Am I willing to understand my own sinfulness and partake of the body and blood of Christ, fully understanding that without this sacrifice, I am damned. Those are strong words, but communion is a strong image. One that I believe is intended to evoke a great appreciation in the hearts of Christians.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How can some be forgiven more?

Those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 205). Kindle Edition.

Some might ask, are some forgiven more than others? No, I don't believe so. The context of this quote really goes to the perception of the one who is forgiven. If I think I am an okay guy, if I think I follow all or most of the moral obligations thrown my way, if I compare myself to others and see them as worse than me, then perhaps my level of the perception of my forgiveness is not all that high, and therefore my understanding of the depth of God's grace is not so high either. But if I see myself as a sinner saved by grace, no better or no worse than any other sinner, and I perceive the depth of God's love to me in the giving of His Son, then how can my reciprocation of the love not be great? Not because I want to prove my worth to God, but because I have seen my worth to Him.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What he said...

In the second scenario, the church is its own subculture, an alternative community not only for weekly dying and rising in Christ but for one's entire circle of friends, electricians, and neighbors. In this scenario, the people assume that they come to church primarily to do something. The emphasis is on their work for God. The preaching concentrates on principles and steps to living a better life, with a constant stream of exhortations: Be more committed. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world. Their calling by God to secular vocations is made secondary to finding their ministry in the church. Often malnourished because of a ministry defined by personal charisma and motivational skills rather than by knowledge and godliness, these same sheep are expected to be shepherds themselves. Always serving, they are rarely served. Ill-informed about the grand narrative of God's work in redemptive history, they do not really know what to say to a non-Christian except to talk about their own experiences and perhaps repeat some slogans or formulas that they might be hard-pressed to explain. Furthermore, because they are expected to be so heavily involved in church-related activities (often considered more important even than the public services on Sunday), they do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to develop significant relationships outside the church. And if they were to bring a friend to church, they could not be sure that he or she would hear the gospel.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 190-191). Kindle Edition.

Okay, I think this is a bit of a blanket statement. Not everyone who goes to a specific church believes this, but I think that there are many who even unknown to themselves have this type of belief system. And I think that many specific churches, perhaps unintentionally, promote this type of belief. The list of items in the quote are not bad things, they are just not the end itself. Christ is the end. And sometimes our programs promote this type of belief. We promote slogans like, "Be the Church." Yet instead of telling us what it means to really be the Bride of Christ, we promote specific behaviors. Perhaps what we really need is marriage counseling! We follow slogans like, "Be Jesus" instead of encouraging belief in Jesus. To be Jesus is a heavy burden I cannot bear, although perhaps I would like to think I could. Believing Jesus, on the other hand, gives me hope.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's in your preaching?

Often in popular preaching today it seems that the goal is to get through the interpretation of the passage in order to arrive at the contemporary application, which typically evidences the preacher's own hobbyhorses and recent diet of reading or movies. Usually, application equals law-to-do lists-rather than using the passage to actually absolve sinners of their guilt and rescript them in their new roles as those who have been transferred from the covenantal headship of Adam to Christ.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 145). Kindle Edition.

I think back to most of the in-person preaching I have heard in the past 5 to 10 years. While my opinion of some of it was okay (at that time), I now look back and say to myself, "Where was I really challenged to grow?" or "What did I hear that was not something that most in the audience did not already agreed with?" or "Yeah, I remember reading that book too."

I still go back to inviting my heroine addicted brother to come to church with me, and him actually saying yes. Then, after the service, when I had heard what at the time I thought was powerful, I dared to ask what he thought. He replied, "I thought it was lame." It took me a while, but I think so too now. What we had heard was a rah-rah session for believers. No gospel, just a statement of we as Christians are right! Jesus is the answer for white, middle-class America. Sign-up now for your spot in heaven!

But now that I see that I am a sinner, that is not what I want to hear. I want absolution. I want to know that Christ offers that to me. I can go to the movies myself.

Monday, November 25, 2013

If at first you don't succeed...

When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression. In other words, it will draw me away from my location in Christ and gradually bring me back to that place where I am turned in on myself. If the conscience is to find peace with God, there can be no help from the law; in fact, it is the law that arouses my conscience to my utter sinfulness.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 130). Kindle Edition.

Another interesting thought, one that has proven itself true in my experience. Now I know there are some who can excel just through their will. At least for a time. My brother is a great example. He kicked a heroine habit just by gutting it out. After being homeless, living on the streets, stealing just to get the next fix, he finally gave up and went home. When mom and dad picked him up at the airport, they barely recognized him. He went through the withdrawl phase and did not pick up a needle again...for about 10 years. They say heroine is the hardest drug to overcome, its addiction is so powerful. So ten years is an amazing feat. But once he picked it up again, he couldn't put it back down, no matter how much he wanted to. He went through the withdrawal phase time and again, but soon after was back for more. Finally, in utter despair, he took his life.

The world says keep trying. Or try harder. Jesus says something completely different. He tells us to come to Him. He says surrender. Those are difficult words for folks in our culture.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dad started doing the dishes

We are not called to live the gospel but to believe the gospel and to follow the law in view of God's mercies.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 124). Kindle Edition.

I find this to be an interesting quote. Doesn't living the gospel sound like a good idea? I hear people say things like "Be Jesus," and "What would Jesus do?" Aren't these things okay?

What does God really want from us? Many people would answer "relationship." But I think that depends on your definition of relationship. The Bible says God wants belief. But even that can be a tricky word to define. And then there are James' words that "even the demons believe - and shudder!"

So the belief that we have is not merely intellectual assent. It is a knowledge that leads to an action.

For some reason, I have been thinking about my Dad a lot lately. Growing up he was the bread winner, and Mom took care of the house. He got home from work at 5:00, and dinner was on the table as he stepped through the door. Afterwards, he did the man things that needed done around the house. Or sometimes took a nap on the couch. But after he retired, Dad was often found in the kitchen, cleaning up the dishes, even though Mom told him he didn't need to do it. (But I could tell that she really liked it.)

Why did he do it? Was it an attempt to get Mom to love him more? I don't think so. Was it guilt over all of the years she had done so much in the kitchen while he seldom set foot in there? Nah. I think it was just a deep expression of his appreciation and love for her. Over the years they had done so much for each other. I can still see Mom in the kitchen, making Dad an extra sandwich with the cheese that smelled worse than my socks after gym class. Same thing. She did it out of love, and not obligation or guilt. He worked hard to provide, and this was a way of expressing her appreciation.

So what does this have to do with the quote from today? I think it is the same idea. We don't try to live the gospel, but because we believe the gospel we respond to it in certain ways. I don't have to live under the burden of being Jesus or trying to figure out what he would do. I am not Jesus. I just have to believe in what He has done and respond in deep appreciation, not in perfection or obligation. The demons shudder because that is the part they lack, the appreciation that works itself out in their lives. They believe the gospel, but that very gospel itself makes them angry and in opposition to God.

So maybe that is why Jesus says that when we feed the hungry or visit those in prison "in his name," we have done a great service to him. It is not the action, but the appreciation because of our faith that he enjoys. Likewise, when the action occurs without the belief, it does not impress him. So what I need in my life is not more effort, but more faith that leads to the kind of response lets God know that even though all of the actions in my life could not repay the debt I owe, I deeply appreciate the fact that I no longer owe that debt.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The following graphic is used in the book.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 196). Kindle Edition. 

There is a huge difference between the two approaches. So the question for me becomes, is either one okay? Does God care if we land on one side, the other, or somewhere in the middle. Or maybe this is not a fair representation. I know that many who I consider to hold to the "Law Lite" position do not see themselves in that mold, and would argue that they do hold to the gospel.

Because these positions are so divergent, I don't think both can be acceptable. However, I do believe that God has some in each party, just as Satan has his minions on either side. That's just my opinion. I am not saying the theology is unimportant. I just happen to believe that a heart for God trumps bad theology. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. I believe that if that is done with all sincerity, God will honor that love and provide a way. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Not everything is Gospel.

Not everything in God's Word is gospel; there are a lot of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. They are to be followed. However, they are not the gospel. Not everything that we need is gospel. We also need to be directed. We need to know God's commands so we will come clean, acknowledge our sins, and flee to Christ and also so they can direct us in grateful obedience.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 109). Kindle Edition.

We need to be directed. I agree. But direction without destination is futile. Some focus on the direction, but lack the destination. Or some confuse the destination. I read a quote today, and it sounds so good. It was on a preacher's Facebook page.

"There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. All he is waiting on...for us to ask. Dream big, PRAY big."*

I want to believe this. Trouble is, the Bible doesn't bear this out. David's son died. John the Baptist was beheaded. Jonah's shade was withered. Stephen was stoned. Paul was imprisoned. Jesus asked that the cup be taken from Him. I could go on. If God is all about fulfilling our dreams, didn't some of these men have a place at the front of the line?

There is nothing God loves more than His Son. Yet God allowed Him to suffer to keep His promise to Abram and to us. He has answered the prayers of the suffering, by giving them a vision that their suffering will not be eternal as they call out to Him. His greatest joy is to see that His Son's sacrifice was not in vain. That is the miracle of miracles. That is the fulfillment of the greatest dream ever, not to avoid the certainty of Hell, but to spend eternity in the presence of God.

I m not saying don't pray. Yes, pray your guts out. Like David, lay everything on the floor before God and leave nothing out. Share your pain and struggles, your frustrations and your joys. Expect miracles. Trust in Him completely. But remember the destination. The destination is eternity with God. It means that we love Him above all else and whatever we have to endure down here, we do faithfully.

*Upon doing some checking, I found that this quote is from a book by Mark Batterson.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Go down two blocks, then take a left.

"What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?"'

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 104). Kindle Edition.

I once asked a preacher why he was always telling people what to do or how to live. He replied that the Bible is full of such admonitions. And while that point is true, those admonitions are usually or maybe even always preceded by a gospel declaration, something that was not present in his preaching.

Michael hits pretty hard on Joel Osteen in his book in a few places, but rightfully so in my opinion. I guess it boils down to whether you believe the gospel is about your best life now or the best God of the universe. While I believe that God wants what is best for us, I don't believe it looks like what Mr. Osteen often promises.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hurry up, company is coming!

"Ever since his temptation by Satan, Jesus had been offered glory without a cross, but it was a false promise. That's why Jesus rebuked Peter's attempt to dissuade him from the cross by saying, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matt. 16:23)."

"Paul regularly picks up on this theme. Familiar to suffering himself, Paul was always joyful not because of his circumstances but because of the gospel's promise that after we suffer for a little while we will share in Christ's resurrection glory."

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 95-96). Kindle Edition.

This whole Christianity thing would be so much better if it weren't for that bloody cross. At least that is what many think. It's like when you know company is coming over and you don't have much time to clean, so things start getting stuffed in places that they don't belong so we give the appearance of being neater than we really are.

We shouldn't have to clean up Christ to make him look better. If the God of the universe was willing to be naked on a cross, battered and bruised, then I think he can handle it if people know about that today.

Jesus said our burden is light. That is because he did all the hard stuff. He went to Calvary and endured God's wrath so that we wouldn't have to. If you take away the cross, then all that is left is us trying to be better so that we can earn God's favor. Are we really ready to take on the wrath of God ourselves? I'll take the cross instead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Not a damn thing.

There are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face-to-face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ's righteousness.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 73-74). Kindle Edition.

Our best efforts cannot satisfy God's Justice. Yet the good news is that God has satisfied his own justice and reconciled us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. God's holy law can no longer condemn us because we are in Christ.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 91). Kindle Edition.

What do I hope to get by serving God? Not a damn thing that I don't already have. My righteous acts are but filthy rags before Him. I don't do it because of what I will get, I do it because of what I already got. (My apologies to those who are offended by my grammar.)

What if?

Friday, November 15, 2013

I did it all by myself!

By contrast, if we adopt Pelagian or semi-Pelagian assumptions, we will carry the burden of trying to produce conversions, relying on our own cleverness and communicative power rather than on God's Word and Spirit.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 62-63). Kindle Edition.

I use tools to make things. The tools can not assume any of the credit, for without me they are useless. God uses people to accomplish his plans, but the problems begin when we think we deserve some of the credit.

Churches boast about how they are growing as if they were doing something better than the church down the street, or as if their god were better than the others. Yet according to Scripture, it is God who causes growth, not man or even a well intentioned group of men. (My mind wanders to the Tower of Babel.)

It's not that growth is bad, but if growth were the true indicator, then we might as well sign up for Joel Osteen's church now.

So if God is in charge, why are we so distracted by all of these other things? Why are we promoting anything else? And perhaps most importantly, what are we trying to win people to?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grab your bootstraps!

I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 16-17). Kindle Edition.

So what do we do to combat this? I seriously struggle with this. It is difficult to listen to a speaker and rarely or never hear the name of Jesus. Does this bother anyone else?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Who wouldn't want that?

I used to attend University Christian Church in Muncie, Indiana. I stopped attending there a while back, about the time I started this blog. Many of my initial postings were the spiritual issues that were happening in my life, and in our dealings with the church there and its leadership. For some reason today, I was drawn to listen to one of the speaker's sermons, to see if there was anything different.

As I listened to the message, I realized that he was preaching through "The Story" by Max Lucado. He was in Exodus 1:6-10 for his text. As I listened, I heard a factual story, I thought for a few moments, was I wrong in choosing to leave? Would time have made a difference? Could I have been fed there? Yet even as I listened to this message, there was that nagging feeling (some would call it the prompting of the Spirit) that something was wrong or missing, there was something about this message that didn't ring true.

As I listened to the message at any single moment, it was difficult to disagree with what was being said. God is mighty and powerful and can deliver us out of any circumstance. But it wasn't until I looked at the message as a whole that I realized what it was that bothered me (again). He spoke of God's power, he spoke of God's deliverance, he spoke of God's plan, he spoke of the trust that we need to put in God. He even spoke of how we can be sure of God's deliverance. But it reminded me of the used car salesman who would tell you how wonderful the car you were looking at was, but didn't want you to get the car fax. Or as Paul Harvey would say, he wasn't telling "the rest of the story."

What does it mean for God to deliver us? What does it mean for God to provide? He gave an illustration of how God provided the right house for him and he even got a generous gift to help him renovate it. Is that what it means to give your life to God? He will provide your needs and wants? Who wouldn't want that? God can get rid of my issues? Who wouldn't want that? God will heal my marriage? Who wouldn't want that? He can fix my finances? Who wouldn't want that? But doesn't this turn my whole relationship with God into what He will do for me? Is that what Christianity is all about?

Or is it about what Christ has done for us (past tense). Nowhere in this message did I hear this. (Well, there was the obligatory invitation at the end that touched on this, connecting it to the message somehow. It reminded me of the closing arguments of the salesman, telling one that this car had been once owned by a little old lady from Pasadena who only used it to drive to church on Sunday.) It was not that God would deliver us from our sinful state, only that He would deliver us from our problems. Surrender meant healing and that all would go well. How did that work out for John the Baptist? Or Jonah? Did Job persevere only because of what would come later? It was not about God's power to defeat the evil that binds us, but His power to give us good things in this world. It was preaching to the choir, it was telling itching ears what they longed to hear.

I pray for this speaker. I pray for those who hear his message and think that is all there is to it. I pray that God would open their eyes. I pray for myself too. I pray that God would continue to convict me of truth. I pray to continue to trust in Him, even when things don't go the way I think they ought. I pray that my contentment would be found in Him, and not what He brings to me. That may not be what a lot of people want, but it is what I want.