Category Archives: Gospel

In a Hole in the Ground There Lived a Hobbit

The BBC interviewed J.R.R. Tolkien on the show In Their Own Words British Authors in March of 1968.

If you fancy Hobbits and Middle Earth, take a sneak peek.

 

 

 

 
BBC Archival Footage-In Their Own Words British Authors: J.R.R. Tolkien (Part 1):

BBC Archival Footage-In Their Own Words British Authors: J.R.R. Tolkien (Part 2):

Jesus Our Sinless Sacrifice

Christian theology explains in succinct statements that it is Jesus that overcomes sin and death (Romans 6:8-10; 16:20; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57Hebrews 2:14). Since it was Jesus who was promised to die for sin, then it is true we cannot die for our own sin. Our sin produces death (James 1:15), yet we cannot live purely enough in life nor die enough in our death to pay for our sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). This is humanity under the fall, our sinful flesh.

One theologian explains flesh in the Pauline sense of the word often refers to the actual form of our humanity under the fall, and Scripture asserts that Christ assumed human, fallen, and sinful flesh. “That must mean that the flesh he assumes is not to be thought of in some neutral sense, but as really our flesh. He has come to redeem us, to destroy our sin in human flesh; and therefore he becomes what we are that he might raise us up to where he is.” This is an appeal to the patristic notion of the “wonderful exchange,” whereby Christ becomes what we are so that we may become what he is. Such an understanding necessitates an understanding the Son’s assumption of a fallen human nature. This fallen, sinful flesh is referred to as the “House of Bondage” which Christ’s obedience turned into the “House of God,” the place where God dwells.
In order to make sense of this point we must, along with Herman Ridderbos, insist that ‘in approaching the Pauline doctrine of sin, we must not orient ourselves in the first place to the individual and personal, but to the redemptive-historical and collective points of view.’ In light of such Pauline texts as Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 8:9, and Philippians 2:6, we must view sin as the supra-individual mode of existence in which one shares before we see it as an individual act. By viewing sin in this Pauline way, we can more fully see how it was that Christ could ‘be sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), that is, assume a sinful human nature, and yet remain perfectly sinless.

John Owen explains it this way:

The body is not only doomed to death by reason of original sin, as death entered upon all on that account; but the body must be brought to death, that sin may be rooted out of it. Sin has taken such a close, inseparable habitation in the body, that nothing but the death of the body can make a separation. The body must be dead because of sin. … Here lies the great mystery of the grave under the covenant of grace, and by virtue of the death of Christ. … A secret virtue shall issue out from the death of Christ unto the body of a believer laid in the grave, that shall eternally purify it, at its resurrection, from every thing of sin.

Be not afraid to enter into darkness: as there is no sting in death, so there is no darkness in the grave. It is but lying so long in the hands of the great Refiner [Jesus}, who will purge, purify, and restore you. Therefore, lie down in the dust in peace.

Owen explains elsewhere:

We cannot die for sin. Our hope and faith is, in and through him, that we shall never die for sin. No mortal man (unbelieving person) can be made like unto Christ in suffering for sin. Those that undergo what he underwent, because they were unlike him, must go to hell and be made more unlike him to eternity.

And this:

 

Even death itself brings a terror with it, that nothing can conquer but faith; I mean, conquer duly. He is not crowned, that does not overcome by faith. It is only to be done through the death of Christ, he “freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). There is no deliverance that is true and real, from a bondage-frame of spirit [with reference] to death, but by faith in Christ.

Abortion – What’s At Stake?

No one has a right to life if others deem them inferior and unwanted. No one is viewed as made in the image of God.

Rosaria Butterfirld writes, “And then, one day during worship, we sang Psalm 102 and it hit me between the eyes. Here was the line of my undoing: “And peoples yet uncreated shall praise and magnify the LORD” (Ps. 102:18). I got it: abortion is not a right or an entitlement. Abortion steals praise from God by denying image-bearers the opportunity to live through and for him. Abortion despises and attacks and destroys the image of God.”

TorranceQuotes_unborn_child

What is at stake is the systemic eradication of the being and nature of the unborn child. The Being and Nature of the Unborn Child: A Response to Planned Parenthood and the Atrocity of Corpse-Selling by Thomas F. Torrance.

unChristian Christianity

Christianity has been lied about by Christians to the unChristian world. Christians have let the unChristian world believe being a Christian means you are merely moral — not repentant sinners in need of continual grace only found in Jesus. Stop doing cultural sinful practices and replace them with something culturally right, and voila! You’re a Christian. Throw in a few Bible verses and “thank you, Jesus!” and you’ve passed the litmus test.

Be Republican, and you’re in the club.

The moral majority was all the rage in the 80’s. Christianity was a cultural phenomenon, the in vogue culture club that all the cool kids were a part.

In the 21st Century, however, Christianity has lost its savor, its being Christian of its -anity.

Christianity has diminished in America because the unChristian world sees no cultural benefits to outweigh the cross it would have to bear by taking on the label.

Christianity that merely promotes (or more to the point, adds to believing in Jesus) certain hair styles, clothing, food, drinks, music and sub-cultural trends (or lack thereof) to be a Christian still sends people to hell in a hand basket.

And the unChristian world is telling Christians, “the Emperor has no clothes.”

This sort of Christianity has left those seeking water still thirsty (Jeremiah 2:13). As a result, the unChristian world no longer presupposes religious belief and finds traditionalism to be repressive. Why should people believe in a God and “do right things” when they can do right things of their own making?

The world does not need a to-do list. Nor does the world need a do-not-do list. The world needs Christ. True Christians, not culturally savvy people who use the word Christian as a rung on a ladder of making our best life now. Notice Paul says “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” to those who impose a to-do list onto believing in Jesus. That, too, is fleshly (Galatians 5:13ff; Luke 15:11ff).

It is only when the chaff and dross of cultural Christianity gets burned up by persecution and tribulation that True Christians will shine brighter in the midst of a dark, unChristian world.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. If it were, His servants would fight to prevent His arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now His kingdom is from another place (John 18:36) where righteousness dwells and its fruit is displayed (Galatians 516ff).

The unChristian world needs true Christians who love God and love others as themselves (Mark 12:30-31), who walk in the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16ff), who go the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42), and speak the Truth in love (Ephesians 4:15); Not the Cultural Christianity of a country club.

Cultural Christians will never stay Christian when the times get desolate and persecution becomes reality. The unChristian world does not need Cultural Christians.

The unChristian world needs Christian Christians — Christians who claim Christ.

Christmas, A Cure for the Pain of the World

Defenses of Christmas aren’t much better than the attacks. Remember: cynics get intelligence, believers are good hearted, dimwits. Defending anything based on religion, such as Christmas, must rely on feeling and not intellect, says our culture. Christmas is good, because it is about family, as if family is an unmixed blessing for most people. Christmas is good, because it is about “belief,” especially in the spirit of Santa. Since Santa does not exist, and recent holiday movies demand we believe in him, this seems like a call to madness. Christmas is also supposed to be about the “child within,” but in a culture in dire need of grownups this seems dangerous as well. Jesus once said to be like a little child regard to humility, but irrational Christmas marketers aren’t saying that. Christmas seems to involve believing in the unbelievable in order to regress to childishness.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God and Man. If true, it is [a pivotal] moment of history. If false, it is useless. Best reason and best experience argue that it is true. My heart bears witness to His gentle Voice. My mind demands that I accept the truth of history. This moment when Heaven and Earth were brought together is the answer to the pain of our existence and that is the very problem with both cynicism about Christmas and most defenses of the holiday.

The cynics see a world of pain and embrace it. Chaos is basic to their vision of the world, but their very rationality denies this view. The defenders act as if platitudes can solve problems. Warm hearts are not enough against cold reality.

Christmas is for a world of pain. Christmas is good news, because it shows God comes down to Earth and saves us. Such news makes merry, but remains realistic. It is for sin, but about redemption. It denies nothing about human hurts, but does not rest content in them.

~John Mark Reynolds

What Wondrous Love!

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
while millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.”

Recommended Reading

We need a passion for Christ that cannot be quenched, a passion that is acted upon not merely fondly thought about and rooted for.

I am currently reading Dangerous: Engaging the People and Places No One Else Will. And while I am thinking hard about a passion for Christ and acting upon it, I read this:

There comes a point where you have to get tired of being inspired. We have entire industries that flourish on the idea of ‘inspiration.’ Songs to get you pumped up. Movies to make you feel heroic. Sappy Christian stories to ‘inspire’ you. At some point you have to get tired of reading books and watching movies about people who do interesting, courageous things, and begin to do those things yourself. Or let the dream die.

You need to read Dangerous by Caleb Bislow. It is, well, inspiring. He makes me want to go against the grain of conventional thought in missions.

Lots of praying to do.

And in our doing and acting on our passion for Christ (or Christ’s passion in us acting upon, in, and through us), as Christians, we need to know what other religious sects believe. Not everyone who claims Christ are true believers or claiming the true Christ – or denying Christ for that matter. With that said, we need to know what others believe. Here are three religious sects you should be aware of and know what they believe so you can share Jesus effectively.

Facts on the Mormons by John Ankerberg.

Facts on the jehovah’s Witnesses by John Ankerberg.

The Facts on Islam by John Ankerberg

Every so often I ask people questions. Not because I don’t have answers. I do have answers to these questions. But I like to get other people’s perspectives. Some answers are what I call Jesus Juke answers – you know the answers that spiritually trump all other answers – which drives me nuts. It’s like people don’t realize these other books and resources are good gifts of God through people writing books and resources to help, as well – so we can better prepare and think rightly about Scripture so we are prepared properly for the battle of engaging others for Christ. But I digress…

The first question I asked some friends:

1) What are your top 3 books that have helped you most in apologetics / sharing the Gospel to people?

Slightly different, although, very much related to my last question:

2) What books / resources have you used that prepared you to share the Gospel with specific people groups? (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, etc…)

I will share some of the answers I am given.

The Most Important Lessons Children Should Learn Before They’re Adults

1) That Children Would Fear the Lord

Colossians 2:2-4
“…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments….”

Colossians 1:28
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with >all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

Colossians 3:16
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

1 Corinthians 1:30-31
“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Proverbs 22:4
“The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.”

Proverbs 15:33
“The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”

Proverbs 19:23
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm”

Psalm 111:10
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

Proverbs 1:7
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 2:5
“then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

Proverbs 14:27
“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”

Proverbs 9:10
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Psalm 103:17
“But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,”

 

2) That Children Would Love God and Others as They Love Themselves

Mark 12:30
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”

Matthew 22:37
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Luke 10:27
“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

1 John 4:7
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Deuteronomy 6:5
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Leviticus 19:18
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

Matthew 19:19
“‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Matthew 22:37–39
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Mark 12:30–31
“‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Luke 10:27
“So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.'”

Romans 13:9
“For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well …”

3) That Children Would “One Another” Others
Greet one another – Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14
Comfort one another – 1 Thessalonians 4:18
Forgive one another – Colossians 3:13
Build one another up – Romans 15:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Serve one another – Galatians. 5:13
Bear one another’s burdens – Galatians 6:2
Encourage one another – Hebrews 10:25
Meet with one another – Hebrews 10:25
Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving toward one another – Ephesians 4:32; Romans 12:10
Receive (welcome) one another as Christ received us – Romans 15:7
Care for one another – 1 Corinthians 12:25
Minister one to another – 1 Peter 4:10
Show hospitality to one another – 1 Peter 4:9
Pray for one another – James 5:16

 

And I pray we adults may learn these, too.

Rule Keeping in a City of Elder Brothers

I live in a very Elder Brother kind of city.

Sure, there are ever-growing pockets of Younger Brother elements here, though.

But for the moment, my focus is this Elder Brother element.

I am, of course, reflecting on the parable of the two sons in Luke 15.

Much of the focus people have on this passage is on the Younger Brother. Rightly so, mind you, but it’s not the whole of the focus we should have.

It should be obvious the Younger Brother was only after the Father’s stuff. He wasn’t interested in the Father himself (v.12). The Younger Brother threw off all of the Father’s rules in order to gain the Father’s stuff. But notice the Father was gracious, merciful, and loving to the Younger Brother, in that, the Father came out to meet the Younger Brother (v. 20). The Father loved the Younger Brother and entreated him to come.

What might be less obvious: the Elder Brother did the same thing only in the opposite way. The Elder Brother kept all of the Father’s rules in order that he might get his Father’s stuff (v. 29). However, the Father came out to the Elder Brother to entreat him to come (v. 28).

The Father is Good to His sons.

The point I want to bring out: Rule keeping does not necessarily equal true spirituality or true Christ-likeness.

Forcing others to keep rules for the sake of rule-keeping does not discipleship make.

Forcing others to keep rules does not heal those who are hurting. Forcing others to keep rules does not settle a trouble heart. It does not remove fear.

In fact, since rule-keeping is performance-based, fear of man will be heightened. It does not produce the fear of God.

The song, Start Over says,

“To the broken hearted that wished that they’d never been born, never been torn, never sinned, never disobeyed, I know you think there’s no hope, but that ain’t true, I know you feelin’ regret
(Like I) brought this all on myself
(Like I) messed it up big time, and this time I don’t deserve God’s help
(Thinking) how can God forgive me after knowin’ what I did (can He?)
After knowin’ that I hid from Him, and I stayed away and backslid
Jesus came for the sick (so true)
Jesus came for the weak (amen)
Jesus came to give good news and have set the captives free (amen)
Jesus came for the poor (amen)
Jesus came with the keys
Jesus came to remove the chains so the prisoners are released.

Rule keeping does not do this. It binds prisoners to what other people expect them to do. And when the rules are broken or not lived up to, shame and guilt rule.

Hurting people do not need rules. They need the Savior. They need Jesus.

What do I mean by all of this?

South Carolina, but more specifically, Greenville is supposedly the buckle of the Bible Belt. But Greenville has become a city of Elder Brothers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are loving, kind, generous, gracious, Christ-like people here who reach out to those in need.

These Christ-like individuals are the exception, not the rule.

As a result of this Christian bubble, or better stated, Moralist Bubble, aka Elder Brother Bubble, we have failed to transform our culture.

Case in point: South Carolina has been ranked number one in domestic violence, more specifically men killing women. In the nation. Again.

Not to mention the number of sex offenders.

“See, His love is deeper than the ocean floor
Run to His arms like an open door
God the Father sent the Son
So men can come and be free and ain’t gotta run no more
Come to me, all who are weary; with heavy burdens, I’ll give you rest
Separated you from the sin, as far as the east is from the west
Thrown in the sea of forgetfulness
What sin? What offense?
And when them waves come crashing in, I’ll calm the winds in your defense
So, whatever it is that you’ve done
He put that punishment on His Son
You’ll never come under His condemnation… Satan and his accusations
So, dry your eyes, lift up your head
Hallelujah! God is not dead!
Plus He gave us His peace, and He took our guilt on the cross instead
Took our place and now we embrace
A clean slate with the eyes of faith
We know unfailing love, unfailing love, it’s not too late, start over.”

We don’t need more rule keeping and putting people on probation which is unwaveringly inept and powerless to change lives. We need the cross.

Hope Deferred

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to spiritual deadness, pride and strife and ministry ineffectiveness.
— Tim Keller, “Preaching in a Post-Modern City”

Recently, I attended a service with another local body of believers in PA. They were friendly. The Pastor demonstrated a loving and “pastoral” heart for his people. I believe at this particular service I attended, he was shorthanded and had to fulfill not only the preaching responsibilities but also the music portion, as well. I was looking forward to being challenged by God’s Word and pointed to my Savior.

The Pastor directed our attention to the verse,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).

My mind raced to possible connections to the Gospel from the first time he read the verse. “Ohh!! This is going to be good! Something I need to hear!” This hope, he said, is not like “I hope it doesn’t rain.” It is a desire for something that will most surely come to pass. It is more like, “I hope to go on vacation next week!”

Suppose I am at the grocery store, and I say, “I hope to get to the cashier soon.” And then there is a person in front of me who has 16 items rather than “15 items or less” AND there is someone who has a product with no bar code on it so a price check is requested. AND there is someone else who drops a glass jar with the words echoing throughout the store, “clean up at register 4!” (ok – I added that last part. You had to hear his descriptions of events). But this is what the word deferred means. It is a delay in receiving what we hope for.

This delay in receiving what we hope for makes the heart sick. I hope to get to the cashier, but all of these things are delaying me! At this point, the pastor described what happened when he was very sick a few weeks ago. He wanted to watch TV, so he got up from his bed (already weak from being sick) and crawled toward the living room. He tired out and rested in the hallway. After a short while, he began to crawl again toward the living room. After a few delays of a sick and weakened body, he finally made it to the couch where he could watch TV.

“Sickness will come!” he exclaimed. “Expect it!” He admonished. “Get up and keep going!” he exhorted.

He then briefly touched on the last portion of the verse, “a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. When we hope for things and circumstances delay our obtaining them, keep going! Keep working to obtain it! Just like he wanted to watch TV but was delayed because he was sick and weak.

At the end of his sermon, he pleaded for people to come to Christ. He said something to the effect, “If you have not trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, please do so before it is too late!”

One weekend I watched a children’s television program while Owen was playing in the living room. Every so often, when something peculiar happened on the program, he would stop what he was doing and watch. On this particular episode, one of the puppet characters was dejected and lost all confidence of doing anything. The whole program’s point was, “have confidence in yourself because you can do it! You can do anything you put your mind to! Believe in yourself!”

The point of this child’s program was, in essence, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!”

Now, this pastor was exegetically accurate and precise. He conveyed the meaning of the verse fairly well. He was not boring. He was engaging. His love for the people of which he is Undershepherd was compassionately displayed.

But there was no GOSPEL! The pastor’s main point conveyed was, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!”

We may be exegetically accurate and precise. And we may convey the meaning of the text as the original hearers (possibly) understood it, but when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, it’s still moralism. It’s a promotion of self-salvation. At the very core, both teachings are saying, “Jesus’ finished work is not enough! Go and do! Save yourself!!”

For a preacher of the Gospel, it is sad there was no preaching of the Gospel.

Note: This was originally posted in 2008.