Category Archives: gospel

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:1-23 ESV)

What to remember this weekend

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53-54:1 ESV)
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53 ESV)

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
(Matthew 27:1-61 ESV)

The Christmas Child and the Man on the Cross

I have made a strange discovery this Advent season.  I can hear more Christmas music on NPR that I can on many Christian radio stations with a lot less talk. Perhaps, I shouldn’t  judge, but it is frustrating to turn on the radio hoping to hear music that praises God and instead hear endless banter and people calling to share about the worse gift they ever got for Christmas or some other mundane topic.  When that happens, I just move down the dial, if that is what it is still called, to an NPR station and hear classical renditions of some beautiful Christmas music.

It is not that NPR doesn’t have talk between the songs as well, but at least it isn’t about getting a head massager.  And here is what listening to NPR during the Christmas season confirms as I hear the songs and the stories that people have who conduct, compose arrangements and perform the songs.  People like the idea of Christmas in the distorted sense they have understood it.  They like this whole idea of a child being a source of hope and of peace and good will.  They just miss some key words.

The angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to people He favors!” (Luke 2:14)

The song implies that there are people whom God favors and people whom He doesn’t favor.  And that favor is based not upon our having warm, fuzzy feelings around a manger scene.  It is about the work that the child in the manger did as a grown man upon the Cross.  Our peace depends upon His grace, His favor resting upon us.

Yet, the view of Jesus on the cross doesn’t bring about feelings that a warm fire, a glass of hot cocoa and The Little Drummer Boy playing in the background can.  What for many believers is a demonstration of God so loving the world is the most offensive thing to others.  What stirs our hearts with wonder at God’s grace stirs others with disgust.  They call it cosmic child abuse and human sacrifice to appease an angry God ignoring the fact that it was God incarnate sacrificing Himself for us.  It is offensive because it reminds us of how horrible our sin really is.  It reminds us that God’s love is a result of grace and not something to which we are entitled.    It reminds us that we cannot save ourselves, but that we need a Savior.

Reading the Gospels for Devotions

This year rather than read the Bible through as I had done for several years, I have read the gospels over and over.  I have tried to find ways to keep from letting it become too familiar or too legalistic to be of value to my spiritual growth.  Also, I have been teaching the study, Reading the Bible for Life by George H. Guthrie, at church.  I have tried to join some of the ideas from that study into my devotional life.  This morning, I came up with four questions to guide my meditation and journal writing as I read the gospels.  I usually read one chapter per day.

  1. What do I learn about Jesus from this chapter?  Here, I am focusing on who Jesus is by meditating on His nature and character.  I am looking at how the Gospel writer explains Jesus’ humanity and divinity.  I am also looking at how His fulfills prophecies and how He is revealed as Messiah, Savior, and Lord.
  2. What does Jesus teach by His words or by His example?  I am looking for what I must obey.  As my Lord, what does Jesus want me to do?  In Luke 2, which I read this morning, it says in a couple of places that Jesus grew in wisdom.  This is an example to follow, and I began to consider how I might focus on growing in godly wisdom.
  3. How do people respond to Jesus in ways that I should emulate?  In the text, how do I see others obey Jesus.  For example, as I read Luke 2, I noticed how Simeon waited for God’s promise and rejoiced with praise as he saw it fulfilled.
  4. How do I apply what I have observed to my life? After meditating upon or writing down the things that I have observed, I look back and try to think of specific ways that I need to apply.  For example, this morning I decided that to grow in godly wisdom, I need to read a chapter of Proverbs each day.
I hope that this will be helpful to those of you seeking to go deeper in looking at the life of Jesus and in reading the Gospels.  If you have found other questions, books or methods that help you to think about a passage of Scripture, feel free to suggests them in the comments.

Postmodern and Evangelical?

Recently, while reading book reviews, I came across one that described a book as being unhelpful in enabling the reviewer to reconcile being postmodern with being an evangelical Christian.  The reviewer believed that she could be both.  While I grant that a postmodern worldview can influence a believer, I believe that as that believer matures in his walk with Christ that he will find the two worldviews are incompatible.

Postmodernism is based on the premise that in the world there are different narratives that explain existence and purpose for life. Postmodernist believe that there exists metanarratives meant to explain these, but that no one metanarrative  can explain everything.  It is up to each person to find their own narrative, and no one can say that anyone else’s narrative is wrong.  There are no absolutes by which we can make such judgements.

Such a view is incompatible with the gospel.  The gospel is a metanarrative that explains all of life and its purpose.  God created the world and everything in it for His glory.  Humanity is in rebellion to God through sin against Him.  Even if a person desires to overcome their sin and come to God, he or she cannot.  Instead, God takes the initiative to save.  He is just and cannot simply overlook our rebellion, but because He is also love, He makes a way for us to come to Him.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to God except through Jesus.  This is God’s narrative, His story.  It explains our existence, our purpose and our needs.

Because the gospel is exclusive, it cannot fit in a postmodernist’s worldview.  The postmodernist will struggle with the exclusive claims of Christ found in Scripture.  Either, a postmodernist must conform his worldview to the gospel or conform the gospel to his worldview.  Tragically, many are choosing to conform the gospel to postmodernism by accepting universalism.  Postmodernist who claim to be evangelicals have done well to question conservative evangelicals about the inconsistencies between our faith and our practice in terms of treatment of the poor and God’s creation.  However, they are mistaken when they accept a different set of inconsistencies by claiming to follow Jesus without holding firmly to the exclusive claims of the gospel of which He is the center.