Friday, October 5, 2018

"Repent and Believe the Gospel"

It is popular to say that Christians should live by moral standards, but that we have no right to call others to moral living. There is sliver of truth in this position, but also a thick slab of falsehood.

Some of the finer details of biblical morality are just for believers. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples, not to the world at large (Mt 5:1-2). The prophets did not quote the Mosaic Law to foreign nations. The Law of Moses was for God’s chosen people, not for others.

Both Jesus and the prophets condemned sin in the nations. The prophet Amos is a good example of this. He condemned all of the nations that surrounded Israel. What he condemned them for was not for violations of the Mosaic Law, but for violations of more basic moral principles that any ought to be able to see. He quoted the Law only to Judah and Israel. But he condemned the sins of the nations as well. Certain moral principles are so basic, so much a part of nature, that no one has any excuse to ignore them.

A basic principle like the sanctity of human life is demanded of all people in all nations at all times. This principle is enshrined in the covenant with Noah as well as in all the other biblical covenants. It applies to all nations, not just to Israel. It applies to all people, not just Christians.

While Christians should not seek needless conflict with the world, we have no choice but to speak out on certain fundamental moral principles. As A. B. Bruce put it long ago, “If an ordinary prophet could not shirk the duty of censure, still less could the Christ. He must come with the fan of moral criticism in his hand, separating wheat from chaff.” (The Kingdom of God, p 188)
And what the Christ must do, his disciples must follow him in doing.

Some would ask, “Why can’t we always give positive messages? Why must we condemn sin?” As disciples of Jesus, as his spokesmen to the 21st century, we offer the good news of the gospel. But our version of the gospel must begin as his began, with a demand for repentance (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15). If the demand for repentance is not prominent in our message, then we are not proclaiming his message; we are not really his disciples.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Mission of Jesus

More than forty years ago, the late Howard Belben published one of the clearest, simplest and most powerful books about Jesus. The Mission of Jesus met a need that no other book that I know of meets. Unfortunately the book went out of print and was not available for many years. We are publishing this new edition so that a new generation can benefit from the insights Howard Belben first presented back in 1970.

Beyond the changing of the Bible translation from the New English Bible to the New International Version and the shortening of sentences, the only other change I have intentionally introduced is the removal of references to British culture that would be unfamiliar to many non-British readers. I have not intentionally introduced thoughts that were not present in the original. This is still substantially Howard Belben’s book, not mine. But it is, more importantly, a book about the mission of Jesus and how we can be involved in carrying that mission forward in our lives.

Special thanks are due to the heirs of Howard Belben for allowing this revision of The Mission of Jesus.
The Mission of Jesus is currently available on Amazon for $5.75 (paperback). A Kindle edition should be ready in a few weeks.

A Counterfeit Kingdom

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, ESV)

In 1889 the Scottish scholar A. B. Bruce published a book concerning the kingdom of God. It is not a book that I can unreservedly recommend. But the following comments certainly drive home the same point that Jesus was making in Matthew 20.

"A kingdom of God so conceived of as to give rise to ambitious passions is not such in reality, but a kingdom of this world. The utmost devotion to such a counterfeit does not amount to compliance with the demand, 'Seek first the kingdom.'.... The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love from which selfishness in every form is excluded;.... Hence it follows that there may be much religious activity, making a great display of zeal and gaining golden opinions, which has no relation to the kingdom of God, except it be one of antagonism, .... The struggle for religious name and church place and power may be more respectable than the struggle for physical livelihood, but it is not less, but rather more, ungodly" (A. B. Bruce, The Kingdom of God, p. 92).

Let us seek God’s kingdom first and foremost in our lives (Mt 6:33). But let us be sure that the kingdom we are seeking is indeed the kingdom of God, and not some mythical kingdom of our own imagination.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Like a Lion

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).

Whether hunting zebra, wildebeest, or giraffe, lion do not attack the whole herd. If an individual is straying from the herd, that is the one the lion is most likely to attack. If no animals are straying, the lion will often try to break up the herd before actually attacking an individual animal.

This is exactly how Satan operates. He picks off those who are at the edge, those not deeply involved; or he seeks to divide the church in some way so that he can more readily attack the weak individual member.

No wonder we are told, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV).

I have known dozens of people who have fallen away from the church. Almost 100% of those who fell away were marginal members. Most attended Sunday morning only; and they were not really active in the work. I only recall one truly active member who fell away. As it turned out, he had been hiding secret sin in his life for years before his seemingly sudden downfall. Emotionally isolated from his fellow believers, quietly weakened by sin, his final destruction seemed sudden, but it had been a case of steady work by the great deceiver.

If you are currently living as a lone ranger Christian, find a Tonto, find a godly companion to help you in your Christian walk. If you notice other Christians who seem isolated and alone, invite them into the safety of the spiritual sheep-fold.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Trivia, but not Trivial

Here are a couple of trivia questions for you. How many times did Babe Ruth win the American League Most Valuable Player award? How many times did Red Grange win the NFL Most Valuable Player award?

Interestingly, they are tied. The answer, in both cases, is zero. Neither of them was ever named most valuable player. There was no such award in the NFL until 1957, long after Red Grange had retired. There was no such award in baseball until 1931, near the end of Babe Ruth’s career.

In recent years, it seems, our sports have been dominated by individual statistics and individual achievement awards. It has not always been this way. There was a time when the team was considered more important than the individual. As someone has said, “the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.” When it comes to the Yankees, about the only thing I like about the team is their decision that the players’ names will not appear on the jerseys, only the team logo.

Are we infected with the modern worship of individual accomplishment, or do we realize that the individual is to show more concern for others than for himself? Are we infected with worldly self-centeredness, or do we realize that the Lord’s glory ought to be our goal? Would we rather that the church succeeds even if we are unnoticed or do we insist that we be catered to, whether it is good for the church or not?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10, ESV).

Friday, August 17, 2018

A God of Order

“For God is not a God of confusion …” (1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV).

In his book, How Sermons Work, David Murray has written, “God is a God of order. He did not create everything all at once, but in sequence. He grouped things in classes and created like things on the same days. He revealed Himself in stages and brought all things to readiness before He gave the crowning piece of His revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ. Full of ardor, God is also full of order in what He does.”

Mr. Murray wrote those words in a book on preaching. Evidently he has known a few preachers who were not very orderly in their manner of presentation. One who preaches or teaches, and does not take the time to set his material forth in an orderly fashion, is dishonoring the God he claims to serve. Even if every item of teaching is true, jumbling the material together in a disorderly fashion is untrue to the nature of our Lord. But is this not also true of every Christian?

We should all be learning to conduct our lives in an orderly manner. In order for us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12) our lives must be marked by orderliness. This would be especially true of our worship (1 Cor 14:40), as the passage in 1 Corinthians indicates; but orderliness is a habit of life. If we allow ourselves to be disorderly in how we keep our homes or how we conduct ourselves at work, it will be difficult to be orderly in how we conduct the work of the church.

The human body is put together in an orderly manner, with the various parts carrying out the functions for which they are suited. The church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 5:23), and it is to conduct itself in an orderly fashion (Col 2:5; Titus 1:5).

Thankfully, we will not all die as martyrs for the Lord. We will not all serve as missionaries, or as preachers, or as teachers. But we all have the opportunity to help in honoring the Lord. When we neglect orderliness in life and especially in the work of the church, we are dishonoring the Lord. By working to become self-disciplined, orderly citizens, workers, parents, and church members we are honoring God.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Wrong Question

A recent headline asked, “Does the death penalty deter rape?” I doubt that anyone knows the answer. I will go even further and say that I have no interest in knowing the answer to the question. I have no interest in knowing, because it is the wrong question. The right question will always be, “Is the death penalty just for this crime?” To ask instead, “Will the death penalty deter this crime?” is to imply that we should do what works, and that the question of justice is secondary – if indeed it is to be considered at all.

That is a horrible attitude. I am sure that the death penalty, if it were carried out with regard to jaywalking, would be incredibly effective. But that does not make it just. When will we learn that a justice system is supposed to be about justice, not about what works?

Please, be alert. There are a lot of people asking the wrong questions on a lot of subjects. Don’t answer wrong questions; instead point people to the right questions.

Capital punishment is not a pragmatic, “what will work,” question. It is a justice question. In cases where it is just, capital punishment should be carried out, whether it deters or not. In cases where it is unjust, it should not be carried out, whether it would deter or not.

Gender is not a personal choice question (“Tom wants to be Tina, so he ought to be allowed to be”). Gender is a matter of fact, not of choice. Tom is what he is whether he likes it or not. That he might prefer to be something else (perhaps a dog, a cat or an amoeba) is irrelevant. He is what he is, and those who really care about him will help him come to grips with reality. Some people wish that 2 plus 2 could equal 5, but wishes are irrelevant when dealing with matters of fact.

Worship is a matter of honoring God, not a matter of pleasing ourselves. Perhaps Bill, Sue, and Jim decided that they all think that they would enjoy worship more if we included a gold calf, or some other impressive idol. Perhaps they have even taken a survey and found that 99.9% of the unchurched agree with them. All of that is irrelevant. Worship is supposed to honor God, not to please us. It must be done according to God’s instructions. If we really love God, we will learn to adjust our preferences to his commands. If we instead insist on modifying his standards to suit our preferences, we are worshipping ourselves, not God.