Friday, December 7, 2018

Trouble With My Picky Nail

The nail on my left pinky finger had a talk with me the other day. He said, “I really like being a part of your body; but I do not like being attached to any particular part of the body. I think that I should be able to wander around freely. I know that I cannot go just anywhere and everywhere; but I would like to be on the right hand some weeks, and maybe be on the thumb sometimes instead of always on a finger. Sometimes I might even like to try being on a toe occasionally.”

I tried to explain to the little nail that it was not a question of what he wants, but a question of what the body needs. My body needs each of its parts to stay in their place and to faithfully do their task. While it might be more fun for parts of the body to jump around from place to place and from role to role, that is not what will be good for the body. I need him right there on my left pinky. If I cannot count on him in that role, that nail is of very little use to the body as a whole.

I had a talk with a Christian the other day. He said that he does not like committing to one congregation. He does not like being in submission to a given eldership. He sees himself as a member of the body of Christ in a general sense, not as connected to a particular part of the body.

Do you have any idea what I should say to him?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).

Friday, November 30, 2018

We Are Not Sinners

In those days and in that time, declares the LORD, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant” (Jeremiah 50:20, ESV).

All my life I have heard people say, and I have said myself, “We are all sinners.” In one sense the statement is true to the point of being a truism. But in another very important sense it is quite false.

After spending 49 chapters rebuking the sin of his nation, Jeremiah says that there shall be no iniquity or sin found in Israel or sin in Judah. Huh? How so? “For I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.”

Someday the redeemed will stand before God and be found not guilty. God will find no sin in his remnant. It is not that you or I or any of us are perfect; it is not that we will be (of ourselves) sinless. But no sin will be found, because God’s pardon, enabled by Christ’s sacrifice, will have been granted.

In one sense, yes, we are sinners. In another sense we are sinless, no sin is found in us.

Sometimes I fear that we use the “of course we are all sinners” line as an excuse, so that we do not have to try. Let us say instead, “We are sinless, perfect in God’s sight, due to the pardon granted in Christ. Let us do our best to maintain this incredible status he has granted us.”

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14, ESV).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Always Moving Forward

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24, ESV).

In his book, Ministering Like the Master, and on the basis of the above quoted passage, Stuart Olyott concludes, “There is no greater sin than simply staying as you are” (43). Later he expands on this saying, “To the Son of God there is something worse than rape in the street, there is something more wicked than violent sodomy. It is the sin of listening to his word and remaining unchanged” (45).

Someday the world will be judged and the men of Sodom will be condemned for their disgusting sin. The people of Capernaum will also be condemned, and their condemnation will be more severe. Regular church attenders will be there that day as well, and what will they hear?

As Olyott later comments, “Who, who, are the worst sinners of all? They are the men, women, young people and children who regularly hear the Bible preached, but who remain unrepentant. Week after week, week after week, Christ is proclaimed to them from the Scriptures. But they choose not to change. They are, quite simply, unmoved. They remain as they are; and this is the way they want to be. There is no greater sin in all the universe than this one” (50).

As shocking as Stuart Olyott’s words may seem, they are firmly grounded in that above quoted statement of Jesus; and they are confirmed in other statements, such as this one,
And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48, ESV).

Those of us who hear the gospel week after week should not be sitting still; we must be moving forward. Let it be said once again, “There is no greater sin than simply staying as you are” (43).

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). The Kindle edition is just $2.99.

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.