Thursday, January 31, 2008

Daily Devo - January 31, 2008

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?" And when he said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself." Matthew 17:24-27 (ESV).

Although God has regularly been conceived of by Christians as an almighty king and judge, he has primarily been depicted as a loving father (a). Of course, this is nothing new to New Testament Christianity. The Old Testament people of God likewise viewed Yahweh as a loving father to His people. Jesus reinforces this image, though he also expands it considerably. Not only is God the father of His people, He is abba ("daddy"). Jesus is signaling to us that God is a loving, tender, compassionate parent who seeks a genuine and intimate relationship with His children.

Some commentators see the verses above as proclaiming the sonship of Jesus. Certainly the Bible teaches us that Jesus is the Son of God. However, this passage isn't about Jesus' relationship to God, but rather the disciples. Jesus was trying to teach Peter and the other disciples a very important lesson about who they were. They were a child of the father-king, and as such should live accordingly. They no longer paid religious taxes (or tithe) out of duty. In fact, they didn't even have to pay it at all. But of course, no true son of the king thinks this way. As the King sacrifices for His people, so should the King's son. Jesus is telling his disciples that they should willingly give, not out of duty, but rather out of delight.

We are truly free. Our father is the king of Kings. There is no law to which we must answer nor a code we must follow. In many respects, we are "above the law". Our father is an absolute sovereign, and we enjoy the freedom granted by being His children.

Because we are free, we do not have to give.

But, because we are a child of the King, we give willingly.

Does this sound like a contradiction? Not at all. Servants give because they must, or because they are trying to impress their master. Loving sons and daughters recognize that our parents love us no matter what. We do not give to earn their approval--no matter what we do God will never love us less. We don't give in order to get God to love us, we give because he loves us.

(a) Davies & Allison, Matthew, vol II (ICC), p 748.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Daily Devos - Friday, January 25, 2008

And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men,
for not everyone has faith.

But the Lord is faithful,
and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

2 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV)

Earlier today I met a friend for lunch. During the meal the conversation turned to the supernatural, and we began discussing the presence of angels and demons. Such concepts seem far removed from our modern days. We live in a world of test tubes and telescopes. We understand the laws of nature and have defied gravity as we race across the skies to reach the far corners of the globe. Internal organs are healed (or replaced), vision is restored, and teeth are straightened. GPS units track our locations, the internet connects the world together, and the earth has been "Googled". We've come so far, and yet somehow we've missed reality.

The world of the Bible is ancient. It's people had simple understanding of science, math, and the universe. But they understood something about supernatural reality that we in our modern world refuse to see. We have mastered the physical world, but refuse to see the spiritual. They couldn't understand the physical world. But in their limitation we can find their strength. By not understanding the physical world they did not become obsessed with it. Their vision was broad, encompassing both realities. Our vision, while deeper, is sadly narrow as we only allow our selves to see one reality.

There is a spiritual reality around us. Yes, I believe in demons. I believe in angels. I believe there are powers that seek to destroy and corrupt. But I also believe in something far more powerful--the greatest spirit of all who will deliver and protect me. The Father in heaven warns us of those forces that seek to devour us, but He also comforts us with the knowledge that He is in control and that He will strengthen and protect me during their attacks.

ASK THE PASTOR: Do Jews & Muslims worship the same God as Christians?

ASK THE PASTOR: Christianity is distinct because of it's view of Jesus, but it is also based on the Old Testament. Therefore, isn't it true that God the father is the same God the Jews worship? Also, isn't it true that Allah is simply the God revealed in the Old Testament?

In short, the answer is no. Christians do not worship the same God as the Jews or Muslims, though such concepts are openly being taught in many of our theological schools and Christian universities. Let me explain this further by looking at the two groups separately.

Regarding the Jewish conception of God. Evangelical Christians maintain that the Old Testament is true and authoritative in all that it teaches. It tells the story of God, and his involvement with the affairs of mankind. Most specifically, it tells of His gracious involvement with "His people"--which is identified as the nation of Israel. As God revealed Himself to mankind, He simultaneously drew unto Himself a special people who would worship and serve Him. Throughout the Old Testament, God continued to reveal Himself through the prophets. His people were the ones who continually responded appropriately to this revelation. Thus, even in the Old Testament, to reject a message (or, revelation) from the Lord was regarded as rejecting God Himself. For example, Hosea 4:6 declares,

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge [i.e. 'revelation'],
I also will reject you from being priest for Me;
Because you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.

Later in chapter 9 the prophet declares "My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him" (v 17). God expected His people to listen to His continued revelation. When they rejected God's revelation, God saw this as a personal rejection of Him. Recognizing this breach in the relationship, God likewise rejected those who rejected Him.

The New Testament follows this theme. In Luke 10:16 Jesus declares "he who rejects me rejects him who sent me". This issue simply isn't that Jews believe in God the Father and Christians also believe in the Son. Jesus is declaring that, by rejecting him as Lord and God, we are also completely rejecting the Father. If we turn our back on the Son, we also turn our back on the Father. God revealed Himself through Jesus 2,000 years ago and from that moment it became impossible to worship the Father apart from the Son.

Regarding the Muslim conception of God. Our response here will be the same as what is contained above, with one addition. Whereas Islam is guilty, as is Judaism, of rejecting the Son (and therefore, also guilty of rejecting God the Father), it is also guilty of adding false knowledge about the Father. Judaism commits only one evil in that it rejects God's revelation. Islam is guilty of two evils. It (1) rejects God's revelation, and (2) it listens to the voice of false prophets.

God does not recognize any worship of His name apart from that which comes through belief on Jesus Christ. Neither should we.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Daily Devotions - Thursday, January 24, 2008

"...God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you."
2 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)

The concept of a "eye-for-an-eye" God doesn't set well with us. We embrace (in words if not in deeds) the "love your neighbor" approach to faith. God, the Apostle John tells us, is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The two great commands of Christianity are to love God and to love each other. Pastor's preach love, bookstores peddle books about Christian love, and you can even find heart shaped chocolate candies for Valentine's day with verses about love on the packaging. In short, we "get" the idea of love (again, in word if not in deed).

So what are we to do with these very unloving verses in the Bible? Is God really telling us not to worry because he is going to unleash his judgment on our enemies? Are we supposed to be comforted, or even excited about this? Is it OK to take a "God is gonna get you" mentality to those who abuse or hurt us?

I don't believe this is what Paul is telling us in this verse. Nowhere does Paul tells us to be happy about God's judgment of unbelievers. In this letter, Paul is writing to a group of believers who were being harassed and perhaps even killed because of their faith. They were suffering. Their families were being torn apart and some perhaps went into hiding.

Think of a soldier on a battlefield. He has fought bravely, and now find that he has been mortally wounded. Laying there bleeding, the medic arrives and informs him there is nothing he can do. Though in danger themselves, his comrades circle around him during his last few moments on earth. His last words are a it for me fellas.

Paul writes to a community engaged in a spiritual battle. There have been casualties. He writes to assure them that their afflictions have not been in vain. They are not undergoing needless, senseless suffering. They are part of something much larger, much bigger--like a war. This is no world war, this is a war for the very cosmos of existence.

Paul is telling them, ultimately, that God will win the war for them. The outcome of the war has never been uncertain. Though the battle is currently being fought, the conclusion is only a matter of time. Our suffering in this life for Jesus is not in vain. God has guaranteed a victory. Is is not merely God's holiness that propels Him to judge the wicked, it is also His love for us.

We do not take comfort in the fact that God judges the wicked. We do, however, take comfort in the fact that God will win--and that He will win because of His great love for us.

Pastor's Gone Wild - Case 012: The Hocus-Pocus Pastor

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

Case #012 - The Case of the hocus-pocus pastor

In our age of tolerance we are taught the importance of embracing many different ideas. That old concept that certain things are exclusive by nature is seen as passé. After all, why choose either vanilla or chocolate when you can get a twisty-cone?

A vicar [an Anglican pastor] from Yatton, England seems to take a "twisty-cone" approach to religion. The Rev. Chris Horseman (he is not one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, it seems) recently decided it would be neat to become a white witch.

Gender issues notwithstanding (aren't witch's female?), Horseman became intrigued with "good magic", which he believes will aid in counteracting the evil around him. Of course, this could come in handy. Yes, yes. It's nice to have a pastor pray with you in the hospital--but think how much better it would be if he could make cool smoke rings, utter awesome-sounding incantations, and dance around in your room naked holding a pot of burning incense (ok, that last one might not be so great).

Apparently being able to talk to the sovereign Lord of the Universe isn't enough for the Yatton vicar, though one would question if such conversations have ever taken place (other than God saying, "repent sinner"). Why go to all the trouble of having to believe on Jesus and live a life of holiness, and be loving to people, and compassionate, and long-suffering, and self-controlled, yada, yada, yada. That's a lot of work, man! Seriously, Christianity actually wants you to give your entire life to Jesus. Geeesh! Horseman apparently sees the occult as a precious time saver, since it requires little more than an occasional lunch-break for most parishioners to get some incantation uttered. Keep in mind that we Westerners are busy people. This decision does have Biblical precedent--Saul had his witch of Endor (and we know that turned out so well).

In a non-typical move, the Anglican church actually decided the occult was incompatible with Christianity. Of course, the Diocese "communication officer" was very polite and referred to Horseman's sorcery in a very nice way. He said, "Mr Horseman agreed his activities as a ceremonialist were incompatible with his Anglican Orders". I would have thought a stronger stance would have been called for. After all, the Bible does command "do not allow a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18). Deuteronomy records Moses as telling the people of Israel that "when you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you" (18:11-12). Galatians informs us that "the acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft..." (Gal 5:19-20). Revelations 21:8 indicates that "those who practice magical arts" will be put into the "fiery lake of burning sulfur". 22:14-15 tells us that those who practice witchcraft will not be allowed in the "Celestial City". I only wish the Bible was more clear on this issue (tongue firmly pressed into cheek).......

The Anglican church does have a little wiggle room here, and we must be understanding. We should applaud their decision that the Christian/Occult twisty cone is (currently) not available in their movement. Their politeness is also understandable. Mr. Horseman isn't one of those nasty occult leaders, he is simply a "ceremonialist". Gee....that clarifies everything.

Do you have a "Pastors Gone Wild" tale? Submit your stories to Please read the Submission Rules page before submitting a story. Your name, and a link to your site, will be included if the web owner uses your submission.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recommended Commentaries: I & II Thessalonians

For the past two weeks I have been preaching through 1 & 2 Thessalonians (I am currently doing an overview of Paul's 13 epistles). As such, I have been consulting numerous works as part of my exegetical research. By God's grace, I hold a large collection of exegetical books in my library and these proved invaluable (and I am hoping for further grace to add to this collection). I thought it may be beneficial to share with other pastors and series students of the Bible those works I found most stimulating. For those who are planning on study these two books, I found the following volumes particularly helpful.


Michael Holmes - 1 & 2 Thessalonians (NIV Application Commentary)
Holmes has produced a valuable work that is accessible to both pastor and layman alike. I did not consult this work during my study of 1 Thessalonians, but I found his insights in 2 Thessalonians valuable and informative. Holmes does not break any new ground here, but his applications alone are worth the price of the volume. Many pastoral jewels here.

D. Michael Martin - 1, 2 Thessalonians (New American Commentary)
An excellent commentary that is much more in depth than its size indicates. His comments are informed, and he interacts with the best scholarship. An accessible, handy volume from a solidly evangelical scholar. A must-have for all pastors.

Leon Morris - The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Revised (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Morris has done an outstanding job in this revised work. The commentary is a bit dated (originally published 1959), but his revision (1991) does help somewhat in this regard. I found Morris to be in the same class as Martin. He writes with the average pastor and Bible study leader in mind. Certainly a deserving commentary for your shelf. Morris also has a briefer volume on 1 & 2 Thessalonians which is part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series.

Abraham J. Malherbe - The Letters to the Thessalonians (Anchor Bible Commentary)
I found Malherbe's commentary to be simply excellent! The Anchor series is a mixed bag. Some of its volumes are superb (such as the works by Brown) and others are horrid (such as the Matthew commentary). Malherbe certainly ranks in the top tier of this series. Evangelicals will find it refreshing that he holds Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians. His work is marked by rich exegetical analysis and penetrating comments. Though the astute reader can find several worthy applicational gems, Malherbe does not seem to write with an eye towards application. For those who wish to interact seriously with the text this is a must-have.

F.F. Bruce - 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Word Biblical Commentary)
This was the first Word Biblical Commentary printed, and it remains a fine specimen of the
exegetical acumen of Bruce. As with his other writings, Bruce does not waste the readers time and immediately gets to work. Though the commentary is quite extensive, I do wish Bruce would have spent more time drawing out applications of his many exegetical notations. I used Bruce extensively during the more technical portion of my study (along with Malherbe). Inexcusable not to own this one (requires knowledge of Greek, as does Malherbe)

Special note: I did not have access to five commentaries that would probably have been beneficial.

First, Best's commentary (in the Black's Commentary Series) is highly regarded and I covet acquiring this volume in the future.

Second, George Milligan's work on Thessalonians at the turn of last century is simply a giant in the field, and much of his exegetical work has never been equaled. I ordered a used copy of this 1908 commentary, but it won't arrive for another few weeks. Most likely, I will rely heavily on Milligan in the future. I believe there are reprints of Milligan's commentary--circa 1980's.

Third, Wanamaker's work (Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians - New International Greek Testament Commentary) is hailed by many evangelical scholars as simply the most thorough and substantive commentary on Thessalonians in print. Interestingly, from what I've read of him, Wanamaker bucks tradition by holding the 2 Thessalonians was actually written before 1 Thessalonians. Generally, Wanamaker is fully within the Evangelical/Conservative vein.

Fourth, Green's commentary in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series, published in 2002. As with the other Pillar volumes, they are similar to the New American Commentary series, though perhaps slightly more technical. Judging from the other Pillar works, this will not be a disappointment.

Fifth, John Stott has produced a beginner/intermediate commentary. Most likely, this would be highly pastoral and applicational--and therefore extremely valuable. He has also published a bible study pamphlet on these two works that would be worth consulting or using in a small group.

The reader should be aware of three commentaries currently in production (I am not aware of Publication dates). In the coming years, look for the following:

1. Jeffery A.D. Weima in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series.
2. Karl Donfried in the International Critical Commentary series.


Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (Guides to New Testament Exegesis)

A valuable starting place before beginning a series study of Paul's works. Extremely helpful.

I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel
His section of the Thessalonians is all too brief, but he makes some important points. Overall, this volume is an important contribution to New Testament studies. Marshall also wrote a commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (New Century Bible Commentary Series, Eerdmans, 1982), but I know little about this volume. Marhsall is a fine Greek scholar and New Testament exegete, so any theology of the NT testament from his pen is worth its weight in gold.

Karl P. Donfried & I Howard Marshall, The Theology of the Shorter Pauline Epistles (New Testament Theology Series)
Simply excellent! Donfried provides a masterful overview of the theological themes and contemporary importance of Paul's Thessalonian correspondance. FYI, I did find his comments on 1 Thessalonians more valuable than those for the second letter.

Calvinism and Fate

Recently, when reading from the Greek Stoic Philosopher Epictetus, I came across the following pagan prayer [see note 1]:

Lead me, O Zeus,
and thou, my destiny,
Whate'er the path that
ye ordain for me;
Fearless I will follow,
but if I refuse,
Still must I follow,
I choose.

The Stoics held little regard for the traditional Greek concept of the gods. Rather, they tended to equate the "almighty" with the concept of fate--and this 'prayer' is really little more than Epictetus' declaration that fate controls one's destiny. We can give into it or fight, but either way it will happen. Man, according to Epictetus, has no control over the events of his life. The only control he has was his attitude towards such events [see Note 2].

Many see Calvinism as little more than epictetian fatalism. Calvinism, it is maintained, believes that man has no control over his events. God has predetermined everything and we are left without any choice in the matter.

Of course, this is a distorted view of Calvinism--but it is also a distorted view of fatalism. Fatalism rests upon the assumption that fate is an impersonal, uncaring, non-emotive "force" that rules the lives of all things. Fate determines your life, but not for your pleasure or pain. In fact, fate takes no notice of you whatsoever; and indeed, is incapable of taking notice in anything. Calvinism, by contrast, firmly believes in a personal, active, involved, compassionate God. Here is a God who makes choices for the good and pleasure of his elect--even if some of those choices lead us through temporary valleys of suffering.

Of course, there are many other differences between Calvinism and this philosopher. As with a spring of water, when the source is tainted everything that flows from it will be tainted as well. When we begin with a concept of some impersonal "force" that blindly pushes us through life, it is no wonder people react so strongly against this idea. The doctrines of Grace, the hallmark of Calvinism, maintain a starkly contrasting view. They begin with the concept of a loving and merciful God who desires a saving and redeeming relationship with His people. He protects them, provides for them, and makes decisions on their behalf. What a difference, indeed!

In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his path
Proverbs 16:9

Note 1: After reading F.F. Bruce's New Testament History, I decided to dig into some of the primary sources. Bruce quotes from Epictetus on page 46 of his work. The prayer above, also referred to in Bruce's book, is found in Epictetus' Enchiridion.

Note 2: For those wishing to read Epictetus, his surviving works can be found online at The reader should note that Epictetus' teachings have survived from the pen of his students, as he wrote no books himself.

Three clergy bless abortion clinic

Anthony Sacramone, over at First Things blog, drew my attention to a recent prayer of blessing at an abortion clinic in New York. It seems three local pastors (or at least "clergy") will offer these prayers and words of support in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of abortion's legalization in the United States--during which time over 44,000,000 (44 million) babies have been murdered.

Always full of whit and sarcasm, Anthony has pondered what such a "prayer" would look like. Below is his guess at what may have been uttered:

O Baal, God of Thunder:
We beseech Ye in the name of science
In the name of self-actualization and personal autonomy
That the procedures and terminations wrought on this choice piece of real estate
Permit no hope
Silence all screams
And leave no child behind
May the technicians utilize their skills to your glory
May their knives, pliers, and drills hit the mark
May the insurance claims flow unimpeded
O Insatiable Lord of Flies,
May no discrimination be found in this place
May the Rubbermaid be open to all—male and female he pulverized them
And may the inevitable blood-soaked residuum
Be disposed of in a biodegradable fashion
Unleash your wrath against all who would profane this work
By their vigils, prayers, and protests
Let the earth open beneath their feet
(But not before I have moved my car)
Cover their wretched hides with boils
With no dermatologist available until after the summer months
We beseech Ye in the name of your sons, Thomas Malthus, Vlad the Impaler, and the guy who created the one-child policy in the People’s Republic of China,

Whoever these three clergy were praying to, it certainly wasn't the Triune God.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Daily Devo - Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God,
that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God,
for which you are also suffering.
2 Thessalonians 1:5

We view suffering as something wholly negative. It is to be avoided at all costs as we pursue pleasure, and we avoid pain. After all, who in their right mind would value pain? A few years back I became friends with a young couple at my seminary. They were full of joy, and desired to serve God in full time ministry. During their time in school, she became pregnant with twins--all of us rejoiced with them. During the course of their pregnancy, it was learned that the babies had severe defects. After much prayer & fasting, the time of delivery came. One baby was born dead--the other child literally 'fed' off of him in the womb. The surviving child had severe neurological and brain impairments. They spent months in the hospital in a frantic effort to save him. The baby survived, but so did the impairments.

I began to see an ugly change in my dear friends. One day when I was with them another friend stopped by to offer them comfort. As he was speaking, he uttered a (perhaps insensitive) statement: "God has a plan for all this". The young, emotionally-drained father erupted in anger. He responded, "God didn't plan this. My God wouldn't have done this. My God is loving and would never let His people suffer. God didn't know this was going to happen. I will never believe in that kind of God". Later, I learned that he and his wife had been influenced by a movement known as "Freewill Theism" (sometimes called "the Openness of God" movement), which denies that God knows the future. This movement, and my young friends, couldn't fathom the idea that God purposefully allows suffering, so they developed a theological system that denies God knows when suffering is going to take place (or else, they say, He would stop it).

What a shattered, incomplete, inept, powerless God is this! People hold this view of God because--like my two friends--they have misunderstood suffering. Whereas the pagan world around us equates suffering with evil, Scripture sees another side to this coin. While the Bible never denies that suffering is evil, it constantly affirms that God uses suffering to bring about something very good. Joseph's brothers sought to make him suffer, but God planned for this suffering to take place in order to save the entire [future] nation of Israel through Joseph. The crowds and leaders sought to make Jesus suffer, but God planned for this suffering to save His elect.

The world around us causes us to suffer, but God is using this suffering in our lives to change us into something better. This suffering doesn't "make us worthy" [see note 1], but rather God "counts us worthy" when we go through it. Think of it this way. When suffering comes upon us we have two choices. First, we can become angry, miserable, depressed, or live in denial. We can blame God, or blame others. It can destroy us or distort us. This first choice can lead to one of many different manifestations, but the source is always the same: it is a refusal to see the beauty and goodness of God in the midst of suffering.

Or we can respond in another way: we can see with eyes of faith. In the midst of our suffering God is calling on us to see Him as a loving God. When we can see God's goodness in even the most difficult situations, then God will say to us: "yes, my kingdom is for you!".

Note 1" The NRSV's translation of this passage is unfortunate and misleading.

Book Review: New Testament History (Bruce)

Title: New Testament History
Author: F. F. Bruce
Publisher: Doubleday
Year: 1980 (reprint)
Reading Level: 2.5
Price USD: $17.95 list price.
Pages: 462
Cover: Paperback
Binding: Glued

Amazon: $12.21
Westminster Bookstore: $12.21
CBD: $12.99

REVIEW: F.F. Bruce was judged by many to be one of the premiere New Testament scholars of the past century. Author of numerous commentaries on the Greek text, Bruce was an established and highly respected voice within the academic & scholarly community. Most important for us, Bruce was a committed Evangelical who held a high view of Scripture and a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, his writings demonstrate his academic vigor as well as his personal engagement with the theological and pastoral power of the text.

Up to this point, this blog has generally reviewed newer works (or new reprints of older works). Occasionally I am going to review more dated works that I believe are of lasting value and which should be reintroduced to a new generation of Christian thinkers and students of the Word. F.F. Bruce's New Testament History is just such a volume.

In this work, Bruce provides the reader with a window into the world of the New Testament. It interacts with all available sources to provide the reader an understanding of the political, social, religious, and governmental issues and culture of the times. It is a literal goldmine of information and an invaluable guide to a more appreciative understanding of the New Testament writings. While many "New Testament histories" have been written since the mid-80's, none have come close to Bruce in scope or depth.

The reader should be warned that Bruce does not write 'fluff'. He wastes no time jumping into the content of the book, and the pace is relentless until the very last page. Each sentence is chocked full of information--dates, places, people, events, movements, conflicts, etc. Though such detail would generally overwhelm the student reader, Bruce's engaging style counteracts any budding frustration. He weaves in related information quite masterfully. Thus, Bruce's New Testament History reads much like a story. The detail overwhelms, but Bruce's storyline compels one to keep reading! It is a fascinating work that I found almost impossible to put down. In the end, this is simply the best New Testament history or background work that I have ever read.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Daily Devo - Saturday, January 19, 2008

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
I Thessalonians 3:12-13 (NKJV)

I have no idea how to play dominoes. I've seen dominoes. I've even seen people at a table playing dominoes. It's just that I've never actually taken the time to learn the game. Of course, I've played with dominoes since childhood--but my version of the game involved stacking them in lines behind one another so I could watch a chain-reaction when the first one was pushed down.

The decisions we make in life, like a chain of dominoes, have consequences. In the verse quoted above, Paul is telling the believers in Thessalonica that one of the consequences of living a life of love is holiness. Love is the first 'domino'. It is the thing that causes or produces holiness in us.

For the pursuit of holiness to be fruitful, it must follow the path of love.

Merciful Father,
Teach me to be loving.
Create love in my barren heart,
For only then can I be holy before your eyes
and be a pleasing vessel for your Son.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Daily Devos - Friday, January 18, 2008

"For what is our hope or joy or crown of it not you?
For you are our glory and joy.
I Thessalonians 2:19, 20

School sporting events are interesting places. Sitting in the stands, you can almost immediately discern what type of parent someone is by the comments they make (or yell) during the game. Parents lacking in love scream at their children to perform better. Parents who are more concerned with their own egos scream at the coaches and referee's. Parents who are proud of their children loudly proclaim cheers and praises to their little one. This latter category is a pleasure to watch. Their child can be the most awkward, clumsy, goofy kid on the field--but it doesn't matter. That is THEIR kid, and they are going to cheer her on!

Parents, by definition, love their kids. The news is full or horrible stories of parents who do unspeakable things to their children. The reason these stories are so newsworthy is because they seem so unnatural. Failing to love our own children is universally condemned. Conversely, pagan and Christian alike sing the praises of a dedicated and loving father or mother.

In this passage, Paul is telling us the joy of producing 'spiritual children'. That is, he is telling us that a certain kind of joy (and even a certain kind of "glory") is only possible when we are part of God's process of bringing someone to a saving knowledge in Jesus Christ. Paul even refers to them as his "crowns". No, Paul is not 'notching his belt' with number of converts he has. It's not about numbers...its about people.

When we get to heaven, what will we boast in? What will we be proud of? Certainly not our accomplishments. Perhaps you be able to say,

"Lord, this place is wonderful.
Thank you for using me to bring others to this place.
They're here, and I'm so proud of them."

I can't wait to be in the heavenly bleachers on that day!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daily Devo - Thursday, January 17, 2008

"...for from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth"
I Thessalonians 1:8

Doug and Kathy are an amazing couple. They began attending church several years ago, and soon after committed their lives to Christ. What impresses me about the couple the most is their gentle spirits, humble attitudes, and (most importantly) their dedication to be a witness for Christ. As with all of us, they have their share of imperfections. Yet I can always count on their willingness, joy, and love. They invest themselves into other people, and care deeply for those around them. When opportunity arises, they talk about the Lord and invite co-workers and neighbors to church. More often than not, Doug & Kathy are chauffeuring neighborhood children home after church--kids would otherwise would not have come.

The church of Thessalonica were very similar. Having received the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ, they had no thought of keeping it to themselves and actively shared it with all around them. From the very beginning, it was a mission-focused church. The verb we have translated as "sounded forth" comes from a Greek word denoting a large, ringing sound--much like a trumpet blast. The "sound" of their faith vibrated like waves, reaching even distant ears. The closer you got to them, the clearer their faith became.

God is calling each of us to "sound forth" our faith. Faith was never meant to be a quiet, personal thing. It was always intended to be public. It seeks to be heard, to be seen, to be practiced. A quiet faith is a dead faith. If people can't hear and see your faith, it may be because you don't have any.

ASK THE PASTOR: Question about Church creeds & councils

ASK THE PASTOR: In the past you have referred to several different church councils and creeds, as well as the early church "fathers". Do you consider these to be authoritative like the Bible?

The key phrase in the above question is "like the Bible". No, the decisions of church councils (most notably seen in the creedal statements they produced) are not authoritative like the Bible. However, they are an authority nonetheless.

We should also define our terms. While there have been church councils throughout history (most recently the Vatican II council), the only councils legitimately seen as authoritative for the entire Christian world are the councils of the Early Church period. These are sometimes referred to as the Ecumenical Councils (e.g. "embraced by all"). In addition to these, there are several confessional statements of the Reformation and post-Reformation period that are also very important (though these are more sectarian in nature).

Scripture clearly demonstrates the position of "teacher" within the church. Even though all are called to "study to show [themselves] approved unto God", the Lord understands that His Church needs groups of individuals who will lead and shepherd His flock. Creeds, Confessions, and Councils are the teachings of these prior shepherds from past ages. The documents from the Early Church period are especially important because in many cases they serve as the first record of how Christian teachers understood the teachings of the Apostles. In some cases, the Early Church Fathers had a direct connection with the Apostles (for example, Clement of Rome). The Church Councils are particularly important because the pastors and church leaders of these periods met together for the chief purpose of deciding scriptural teaching on a particular issue.

Creeds and confessions do not rule our interpretations, but they should guide them. They should never be considered inspired (though Luther considered the Apostle's Creed so). These documents are only authoritative insofar as they accurately express Scripture--the source of their authority. However, because they do accurately summarize scripture, they are therefore authoritative.

They serve an important and necessary teaching function within the Church. Only a fool would ignore good, solid teaching.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Daily Devos - January 15, 2008

"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord..."
I Thessalonians 1:6a (ESV)

When I first entered Seminary the school was in a period of transition. As part of a larger university, it has historically been directed by institutional vice presidents. While these men were capable, faithful servants of God, the Seminary (by virtue of its structure) lacked leadership. Mid-way through my time there the school hired, for the first time, a President for the Seminary. The school was now somewhat autonomous and had a clear, definitive leader. I was amazed by what followed. Keep in mind that a Seminary is full of future leaders: pastors, worship directors, non-profit presidents, etc. Many of these people are hard-driving, Type-A personalities. When the new president arrived, I learned an important lesson--even leaders need leaders. People began to "follow" the new president. Some even began to talk, move, and even smile like him. Even these leaders-in-training needed a guide to come beside them and a 'rabbi' they could follow.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes, "Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ". Paul has no problem advocating that people imitate his lifestyle, beliefs, and behavior. This wasn't because Paul was arrogant, or because he thought he had everything figured out. But he did have one thing figured out--that Jesus Christ was the true Lord and Savior and all life should be lived to His glory. The reason Paul asks people to follow him is because he was so resolutely following after Jesus.

There is nothing wrong with following human leadership. In fact, the Bible requires it (read Hebrews 13). Some time ago a man came to me after the church service (where I had spoken on leadership) and made this statement: "Your my pastor, not my leader. Jesus is my leader". I smiled, and gently told him that scripture completely disagrees. Whether or not that man should have recognized me as his leader is not the point. The point is that human leadership is both needed and commanded by God.

But...there is a catch. Leadership is not enough. We are called to follow Biblical leadership; that is, we are called to follow the leadership of men and women whose lives magnify the glory of Jesus Christ. My seminary was blessed to have a human leader who pointed people to Jesus Christ.

But, how can you tell if you have found the right leader? The answer is fairly easy: Does he/she, by both word and deed, magnify the glory of Jesus Christ? Or, is he consumed with himself? Does she have a heart for God, or a heart for something else? A leader who lives exclusively for the glory of God is a rare and precious jewel.

Be that leader...but more importantly, find that leader and follow him (and the Lord).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DVD Review: Amazing Grace--The History and Theology of Calvinism

Title: Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism, DVD
Director: James Gilet
Publisher: The Apologetics Group
Year: 2004
Price USD: $24.95 list price.
Discs: 2
Format: ColorAspect
Ratio(s): 1.33:1
Audio Encoding: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Rated: Unrated (General audience)
DVD Release Date: October, 2004
Run Time: 4 hours 17 minutes

Monergism: $13.99
Nicene $24.95
CBD: $27.99

REVIEW: Calvinism is a system of theology that is most closely associated with the teachings of John Calvin. It is often referred to as the "Doctrines of Grace", yet many see Calvinism as being the polar opposite of 'love' and 'grace'. Is this a horrid heresy that was introduced into the church by the Reformer John Calvin? Does it really teach that human beings are "robots" controlled by a deterministic God? If God is completely sovereign, is man responsible for his actions? If Calvinism is true, then why Evangelize?

These are questions that linger with us today, and are discussed in the foyers and parking lots of churches across the world, as well as in coffee shops, living rooms, and ball fields. Despite the attractive contours of our relativistic age, the Christian person, at the root, wants their faith to "make sense". The DVD is a lucid, comprehensive, and provocative analysis and defense of the Calvinistic position. Sample video clips are available online. It is broken into three main divisions, noted as follows:

Part One: Historical Background of the Debate. The section offers a thorough assessment and overview of the debate between two Early Church personalities: Augustine and Pelagius--each of whom offered different views on the nature of humanity, sin, and the atonement. Pelagius argued that man is born morally neutral and, like Adam, has the ability to chose either holiness or sin. Christ did not "redeem us", but rather provides an important moral example for right living. Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic, the DVD explores how his ideas lived on in a "semi-pelagian" form, culminating in the 16th century in an explosive debate between Martin Luther (holding the Augustinian position) and Desiderius Erasmus (holding a semi-pelagian position). Erasmus argued that though man has been infected by the Fall, he has not lost his ability to choose holiness. While man certainly needs the aid of Christ, he also must do much of it himself. Pelagianism sees man as basically well, and in need of a moral guide--man decides of his own accord to follow. Semi-pelagianism sees man is spiritually sick in need of a physician--man decides to take the advice of the doctor and to let the doctor do the work. Augustianism sees man as spiritual dead, in need of a giver of life--man decides nothing, just as a new born baby doesn't decide to live. The history section ends with a definitive historical explanation of the issues that arose during the Calvinist/Arminian controversy. By examining the five points of Arminianism and the Synod of Dort’s response, the DVD demonstrates how the Arminian position is simply a restatement of the classic semi-pelagian error.

Part Two: Scriptural Proof for Calvinism. This lengthy sections goes through a laundry list of Bible passages. The "five points of Calvinism", generally remembered by the acronym TULIP, are defended with vigor and resolve. This section also looks closely at the Arminian reading of Scripture, highlighting the basic error in their exegesis. Many people believe that Scripture overwhelmingly proves the Arminian position. This section of the DVD masterfully shows the falsehood of that assumption. As one of the contributors rightly noted, Calvinism has never been thwarted because it is the true exposition of sacred scripture.

Part Three: Calvinism and Evangelism. Moving from the historical, to the scriptural, and finally to the practical, this section explores the issue of evangelism. Critics of Calvinism contend that if Calvinism were true, there would be no purpose of Evangelism. Hyper-Calvinists, a heretical group, did indeed maintain that Evangelism was wrong. This section demonstrates that vigorous, energetic, faithful evangelism is a logical conclusion of Calvinism. It also explores several practical issues such as how, why, and to whom we should evangelize.

The documentary has several dramatic vignettes (of varying quality) and makes frequent use of graphics. It features many of the finest reformed thinkers and pastors of our time (most notably R.C. Sproul & Tom Nettles). I greatly valued it's inclusion of many pastors, whose task is to daily apply the principles of Calvinism to daily spiritual life. I was surprised that the video did not include other "top tier" Reformed thinkers (Dever, Piper, Schreiner, Mohler). I was even more surprised that it included quotes from Rushdoony (who, though brilliant, represents a fringe movement within Calvinism) and Ray Comfort (who is prone to bizarre oversimplifications, such as his infamous "banana argument") . However, the DVD quotes scores of individuals, so its' variety is a strength.

A few Negatives. Though the DVD indicates that it is divided into 10 sections (presumably for small group or adult sunday school classes), I found this division to be almost nonexistent. Yes, you can skip ahead to chapters, but there are very few natural subject breaks in the DVD. While this documentary is a wonderful resource for personal viewing, its format precludes me from ever using it within a church or small group setting (a major disappointment, since this was the reason I purchased the product). The DVD also needs a study and discussion guide. Along with this it would have been helpful to create a series of handouts. While the DVD makes great use of graphics, there is no attempt to translate these into print. The lack of such a guide and handouts is a second major disappointment. Finally, the viewing rights on the DVD "is for private home viewing only, it is not licensed for any other use". While this may be a standard industry statement, it seems odd to license a theological product in such a way as to make showing it in church settings illegal. Perhaps we could claim the biblical metaphor that the congregation is the house of God. Thus, whenever God's people are together, we are simply playing the DVD in God's private home. :o)

All in all, I highly recommend this product. Its format and failure to include a discussion guide limit its group use. However, for pastors, church leaders, and layman who wish to better understand the history and theology of Biblical Calvinism, this video is a welcome resource.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Women's Ministry Conference in Grand Rapids

Pastors, I encourage you to recommend this conference to the female lay-leadership within your church. February 1-2 at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. The event features Kay Arthur.

BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Four Views on Baptism


Title: Understanding Four Views on Baptism
Editor: John Armstrong
: Zondervan
Year: 2007
Cover: Paperback
Pages: 224
Binding: Glued
Reading level: 2.5
ISBN-13: 9780310262671
Price USD: $14.99 list price.

REVIEW: This work is one of the newest contributions to Zondervan's Counterpoint series. In the review that follows I will discuss the contributions made by each of the book's four primary authors.

The Baptist Paper (Thomas Nettles) - Nettles does an excellent job summarizing the key scriptural passages and his paper serves as a virtual walk-through of the relevant texts of the New Testament. It is a solid, conservative exposition. Typical of many Baptist writers, Nettle fails to interact with post-Apostolic tradition. While church history and tradition do not carry the weight of Scripture, these are voices that should not be ignored.

The Reformed Paper (Richard Pratt) - Pratt’s paper is perhaps the best written of the entire work. He seamlessly moves between scripture and the Reformed confessional documents, and his paper is marked both by penetrating intellect and pastoral sensitivity. While Pratt’s heavy appeal to the Reformed creeds is in and of itself a good thing, those from the anti-creedal tradition will have difficulty accepting such sources (as evidenced by the reactions from both Nettles and Castelein). To a large degree, this reaction is unfair since Pratt was asked to offer the Reformed position on Baptism; a position which is firmly established in the cited confessions. However, if Pratt truly wishes to dialogue effectively with the anti-creedals he would do well to rely less on the creeds and confessions of his movement.

The Lutheran Paper (Robert Kolb) Kolb’s article is a solid defense of the Lutheran position. Mid-way through his paper he offers a deeply moving metaphor of the birth of an infant to describe salvation by faith alone. He writes:

“Although babies cry and wiggle as they come from the womb, there is nothing more passive—more a gift—in life than being born. We neither asked our parents for the gift of life nor were asked by them if they could conceive and bear us. Mothers give birth, children receive. This new identity involves trusting and loving the heavenly Parent who imparts new life. But he has made the first move, and he makes it independent of every condition on the human side of the relationship. The response of trust or faith results from, is not a cause of, God’s re-creative act (p 99).

One weakness of his paper is his dismissal of non-sacramental positions as Neoplatonistic (p 94), which betrays a superficial understanding of those positions and smacks of philosophical mud-slinging. More serious engagement with non-sacramental positions would make his contribution stronger. Perhaps another weakness is his apparent difficulty in articulating the difference between the Lutheran and Catholic conceptions of faith. Though Lutheran scholars insist on such a distinction, their highly mystic language only leads to confusion.

The Restorationist Paper (John Castelein) – This paper articulates the position of those who maintain that salvation occurs at the moment of adult, immersed Baptism. Castelein spends much of his article defending against the charge of works-righteousness. Clearly, Castelein wishes to faithfully align himself with the Protestant insistence of sola fide. However, by tying salvation to a physical act, it is highly difficult to engender credulity for his position. Catselein’s paper is written in a humble spirit, and is important for a better understanding of this segment of Christendom.

Other Features - The book includes three very helpful appendixes. The first is a listing of all scriptural passages containing the word baptism (as well as its variants). The next two appendixes list select quotations from church history figures on the subject of baptism as well as relevant passages from a variety of church creeds and confessions.

Physical Copy: Size: 5.4 wide x 8 high x 0.6 deep in. | 137 wide x 203 high x deep 15 mm. Weight: 0.53 lb | 240 gms

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ASK THE PASTOR: A Question About Catholicism

ASK THE PASTOR: Since Catholics severely persecuted Christians throughout history, do you consider them an evil institution?

I almost rejected this question because of its tone. After emailing back and forth with the person who asked the question, I came to understand that there was a genuine attempt for understanding on this issue and that the individual was not resorting to "Catholic-bashing". The following is my attempted response:

The question itself needs to be analyzed because it assumes something that is false. Furthermore, the question masks the true problem Protestants have with the Catholic church. Thus, the question has a (1) faulty assumption and (2) a faulty focus. I will try to deal with each issue below.

(1) The question assumes that because a group has had dark moment in its history, that group must therefore be wrong now. There certainly is no denying the violent past of the Roman Catholic Church. Words like "inquisition" still linger in our ears and produce a negative feeling in our soul. Countless individuals were butchered, tortured, imprisoned, banished and killed. The forms of punishment were cruel, inhuman, and vindictive. However, we must keep in mind the effect of culture upon the church throughout the ages. Just like today, Christians in all ages allowed culture to shape their opinion--many times at the expense of the Bible. Though claiming Biblical support, in reality culture was directing the behavior of Christians. One only needs to look at the Southern States' use of Scripture to condone slavery. Furthermore, most Protestant denominations have had a violent past (certainly all those who origins go back a few centuries). Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans (just to name a few) killed others in the name of protecting orthodoxy. Even Baptists are known to have actively burned the church buildings of other denominations and persecuted their clergy. I, as a Baptist minister, certainly do not want the Baptist denomination judged for the evil deeds of our ancestors. Earlier centuries were dark, ugly, and inhuman. Sadly, all shades of Christianity allowed that culture to infect their faith.

In 1965 Pope John Paul VI issued a statement on human freedom in religion. In that document he writes that " constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations." Furthermore, the document "declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits." One is thankful that the Roman Catholic church has learned from the ugly centuries of our common past and, like the Protestant world, seeks to be rid of such violence in our present age.

(2) The question focuses on the wrong issue. Our problem with the Roman Catholic church is not its history, but rather its present doctrinal teaching. Though there are several areas of doctrinal disagreement, none is more egregious than the Catholic conception of salvation in relation to faith. This was the great theological battle of the Reformation, and one that should still command our attention today.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

DISCERNING EVANGELICALISM: Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelism

Analysis and discussion of issues & events
within the Evangelical community

Today's discussion:
Protestants, Catholics, & Evangelicalism

The Evangelical world appears to be losing its steam. The great missionary era--which founded many evangelical institutions, focused the Western church on the exclusivity and priority of Christ, spread Christianity throughout the globe, and increased awareness of the presence of unreached people groups--seems to have run its course in many sectors of the Evangelical movement. Certainly God's grace abounds, and missionaries are still being sent each year to the farthest regions of the world. But when one compares the missionary age of William Carey and the Evangelistic age of Whitefield with today, something substantial is missing. Is it possible that the end of Billy Graham's crusades also spelled the end of Evangelical evangelism? Did the spear that ended the life of Nate Saint also bring an end to the great missionary zeal of the past?

Yet few seem to mourn this loss. There is no song of lament. Actually, there seems to be a sense of excitement in some quarters. The Emergent-Village rejection of evangelism in favor of positionally-neutral inter-faith dialogue is simply the position of early 20th century liberalism (but, I will admit, these new emergent-liberals listen to cooler music and dress better). On the other extreme exist the fundamentalists, who are convinced that a good old fashion bus ministry and door-to-door high pressure evangelism is what we need to get this country back on track. Most Evangelicals seem to fall in the middle. They are neither opposed to Evangelism, nor are they fanatical in their approach to it. They simply don't care about the issue at all.

The greatest scandal of Evangelicalism in the 21st century is not our lack of missionary zeal, it's the fact that we are so indifferent to the issue that we didn't even notice its demise.

Conversely, the papacy has just issued a document calling on Catholics worldwide to promote aggressive evangelism. In a papal document issued by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican calls its membership back to its Gospel roots and forcefully declares that humanitarianism isn't enough.

The Roman Catholic Church is beginning to see the negative and unbiblical consequences of religious pluralism. A spokesperson for the church states: ""The fundamental problem is a pluralistic theology of religion, which essentially states that all religions are equally valid in leading a person to salvation". It appears Catholicism is beginning to run from the very philosophy that Evangelicalism is enthusiastically running toward.

I am opposed to Catholicism. Though several of my dear friends are Catholic clergy, I do believe Roman Catholicism has fundamentally distorted the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am happy to see many of the changes within Catholicism within the last few decades, and pray continued dialogue leads Rome back to the purity and simplicity of New Testament faith. However, in its current state Catholicism preaches an eternally-dangerous and distorted message. Yet, in light of the current state of affairs in Evangelicalism, I wish the Catholics well in their new evangelistic endeavors. May the Catholics convert thousands of seems the Evangelicals have long since stopped trying.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Daily Devo - Monday, January 7, 2008

Meditations on Jesus' feeding of the 5,000:
Part 1 of 4

Luke 9:10-17 records the story of Jesus' miraculous feeding of 5,000. In actuality, there were significantly more than 5,000 since Luke only numbers the men present. This event is a beloved piece of biblical history and sacred literature, and pictures Jesus as a tender, compassionate, and powerful divine person.

However, many fail to understand this story is not only defining who Jesus is, but is also describing the ideal follower of Jesus. At the beginning of Luke 9 Jesus calls together the 12 disciples and commissions them in authority and power to proclaim the message of the Gospel. They were granted the ability to heal, caste out demons, and cure diseases. They were commanded to preach authoritatively and to be totally committed to this project. They were to allow no distractions or detours. They were to simply preach and bring healing. Verse 10 of this same chapter records their return to Jesus to report "all that they had done". The very next sentence (v. 11) says that Jesus took them and withdrew to a town called Bethsaida. It is here that the crowds found and came to Jesus.

The context of this story is the service of Jesus' followers. They return to Jesus excited and enthusiastic about their accomplishments.

Jesus simply listens..., then Jesus does something amazing. In the middle of their reports about the power and authority they exercised, the crowds slowly begin coming to Jesus. A few here...a few there. A steady, constant flow of people--almost as if a faucet has opened somewhere and people begin to pour through. The stories being told by the disciples are interrupted as people are begging to see and hear Jesus.

Jesus preaches. Perhaps at this point the disciples were agitated. After all, they had some pretty cool stories to tell. They had healed people of life-threatening diseases. They actually saw, and had power over, a demonic being. Maybe they even raised the dead. They saw things few other human beings had ever seen, and they themselves had done these things with the power Jesus had given them. All of this, and Jesus stops listening to their stories to preach a sermon! Geeeesh!

The day begins to waste away, and evening begins to settle in---yet Jesus is still preaching. Finally, the disciples interrupt and ask Jesus to send the crowds away (it is dinner time after all). The disciples realize the people will not leave on their own, and recognize their own inability to provide food for them. Yet Jesus tells them to feed the crowds! Perhaps the disciples were angry. They wanted to tell Jesus the stories of their power, and here Jesus was asking them to do what is logically impossible.

Then Jesus, quietly, and without fanfare, begins to feed the crowds. The small provisions are somehow multiplied over and over. No booms, no lightning, no thunder---just the almost inaudible sound of bread being torn.

It was then that the disciples began to understand. They wanted to talk about power, now they begin to realize that Jesus is power. They wanted to proclaim their deeds, Jesus simply did them. They wanted recognition, Jesus just wanted hungry people fed. They saw people as a means, Jesus saw people as the end. They wanted to tell a story, Jesus was inviting them to be part of the grand story.

When we see Jesus for who he really is, it shapes us and changes us. This account highlights three characteristics of a follower of Jesus. Over the next three days we will explore these three traits of a disciple: (1) A follower proclaims the message of the good news of Jesus. (2) A follower practices the example of Jesus, and (3) A follower prostrates herself before the all-powerful Jesus.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Daily Devo - Saturday, January 5, 2008

I am astonished that you are so quickly
deserting him who called you in the grace
of Christ and are turning to a different gospel

Galatians 1:6

Today we live in a Christian culture that abounds in options. Just over a year ago I moved from a mid-size mid-Western city that held over 1,000 churches, many of which were vibrant, Evangelical, wonderful congregations. Though I chose only one of these congregations to attend (and did so for over 13 years) there was hundreds of other choices that would have been suitable (though perhaps none I would have loved as much). Whether it is books, radio stations, denominations, churches, or magazine subscriptions, the Christian 'market' offers many different options.

The Apostle Paul also lived in a time of 'options', though obviously the options were fewer and more extreme. Evidence from the New Testament indicates that the apostles themselves were not always in agreement on every issue (for example, Paul's disagreement with Barnabas). Some were more in line with James, others Paul, and still others Peter. Though the Christian men and women of the New Testament would be shocked (and probably angered) by the degree and scope of options available today, there were (slightly) different flavors of Christianity available even in their own time.

In the passage cited above, Paul is not referring to people who were abandoning him for Peter (or James, or Barnabas, or anyone else). He is not referring to "denominational differences", or slight differences of opinion on Christian theology. Paul is referring to something much more insidious and dangerous--an abandonment of the grace of Jesus Christ. The Apostle to the Gentiles understood that everything centers on grace and on the cross. If we lose sight of grace--specifically the grace offered through Jesus Christ--then we have lost everything.

Living in the grace of Jesus is long as we stop interfering with the process. Our old nature wants to "tweak" the gospel a little. I remember some time ago an elderly gentlemen came into my office. He was upset because a visitor (a female in her 30's) had come to church the prior Sunday wearing shorts. As we live in a vacation area, we regularly have Summer visitors who come from the local campgrounds. He was angry because I didn't escort her out of the building with instructions to return properly dressed for worship.

Regardless of one's attitude on proper attire for Sunday worship, this man had crossed a line somewhere. When I gently confronted him with the fact that Scripture nowhere sets a rule for how one should dress on Sunday, his response shocked me. He said, "The Bible doesn't say we can't make new rules".

Think about that statement. In actuality, he was declaring that Christ's grace wasn't sufficient. He believed we needed to make more rules in order to guarantee holiness and faithfulness. Christ, the all-sufficient Savior, was pushed to the side in order to let legalism finish the job.

For Paul, failing to live in the grace of Jesus is tantamount to rejecting God. There is no middle ground. We live in the grace of Jesus, and receive eternal life, or we live outside the grace of Jesus and receive eternal wrath.

I choose grace....more specifically, I choose the grace of Jesus.