Thursday, February 28, 2008

Upcoming Course Offering

I will be
teaching a 10-week course on Isaiah through the Piedmont Baptist
Association's Seminary Extension program. These classes are accredited
college courses (2 hours). The class will begin on April 8, and meet
each Tuesday night from 6:30-9:00 at IBC. The cost for the class
(includes two excellent books and a study guide) is $90. If you are
interested, you need to register through the PBA office before March
14. In the past, they have allowed late registrations, but they prefer
to know in advance so that the appropriate number of materials can be
ordered. The PBA phone number is 336.275.7651

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Welcome to the Alternate Universe

Everyone who knows me knows that my life loves are the Lord, my family, my church family, books, and the game of hockey. Every now and then I get the question, "Why do you like hockey so much?" I feel a little silly saying, "I don't know really -- I just do." The Internet Monk has blogged about his love for baseball, and reading it, I find a parallel to my love for hockey. Read the post here.

He writes:
"Baseball is not really as much a sport to me as it is an alternate
universe where I am welcome to step out of whatever role I’m playing or
responsibilities I have and discover something deep, true and innocent. ... Baseball is my 'other place.' My happy, safe, sane place. Baseball
is like a colony of heaven for me, where for the price of a ticket, I
can put my toes in the river of eternal pleasures and forget about all
the things I have to do tomorrow and the rest of my life. My love for baseball isn’t because of being a fan of a team. ... No, I love the game. It’s history. It’s quirks. The ballparks. The
local ball diamonds. High school teams. Minor league ball. Ball park
food. Baseball talk on the radio. .... I love the idea of a night game on a perfect spring evening, good
seats high above first base in a classic park, a velvet sunset over
some river painting a lazy, magical scene to keep for year to come. I
love the memories of games when I was a kid, games with my dad, games
with my kids. I love the anticipation of games to come. I love the caps. And the names. I love the personalities, the
cliche’s and the humor. I love great baseball writing and any baseball
movie. Almost. I love seeing dads with their young children at the park. I love the
weird characters that inhabit ballparks. I love the loyalty to cursed
teams and the philosophical attitudes that allow us all to watch a team
in August, 25 games out and we still love what’s happening on the field."

As the iMonk feels about baseball, I feel about hockey. It is an alternate universe that allows me to step outside of my role and responsibilities (except in my capacity as hockey chaplain). The rink is a happy, safe, sane place, where I can forget about the stress of the day behind me and the worry about the day ahead. And I don't have a favorite team or a favorite player per se, but I just love the game. I love the legends and traditions that surround the game. And unlike baseball or any other popular American sport, with hockey true fans are few and far between. So when we stumble across each other, its like meeting family. There is an instant bond.

As I write this, I have two points to make. First, everyone needs an outlet. Most of us spend too much time with our bows strung too tight, and we are liable to snap without a little down time around a favorite activity. It doesn't have to be hockey, baseball, or sports, but it needs to be something--a little diversion from the daily grind. Second, that common bond that unites people around a sport or a hobby ought to pale in comparison to the bond we share in Christ. Let's say your "outlet" is collecting warthog tusks. When you meet another warthog tusk collector, your soul is aglow with the joy of a common interest. You begin to schedule opportunities to pursue tusks together and go to tusk collecting conventions, and to go to the zoo just to admire the nasal protrusions of your favorite mammal. And it doesn't really matter what else you disagree on, you have this one thing in common and the bliss is tremendous. OK, now let's suppose you meet a fellow Christian. You get the picture.

Larry Norman

Larry Norman has gone to be with Jesus. It may surprise you to know that this was a guy I greatly admired. In the midst of the Jesus Movement, Larry Norman was making music about Jesus but not music for those already convinced. His songs were like prophetic sermons addressing the culture and beckoning them to come to Jesus. When I first began listening to Christian music, I had a hard time finding any that I could tolerate. I was a recovering Deadhead, and owned every great classic rock album ever made. I couldn't get into the Christian music that sounded like second-rate lounge singers. Someone suggested that I give Larry a listen. Not only did I find his style comparable to the classic rock I loved, I thought he did it with excellence, and his lyrics were poignant pointers to Jesus. He was no theological giant, but he was the singing poet of a generation of Christians trying to find their way out of a lost culture.

Larry had heart problems for many years, and his death comes as no surprise to those who have followed his health struggles. Yet, as we rejoice that his battle is over and he is victorious, we are saddened by his loss. It reminds us that we have not seen many who could do what he did as well or as effectively, and we are likely to not see it anytime soon.

I guess it was around 1996 that I went to see Larry live at Gardner-Webb college. I had heard so much about his failing health, that I assumed they would wheel him out in a wheelchair with an IV bag or something. Instead, I saw an energetic, passionate, and tireless performance (and it was LONG too!). I am grateful that I had the opportunity.

Come to reason, face the

Now's the season, old
things pass away

Stand beside us, take
His hand,

He will guide us, in
another land.

Larry Norman, "Hymn to the Last Generation"

ADHD or "Boys will be Boys"

Al Mohler brings a much needed word to the ADHD discussion in his post entitled, "OK, So What Kid Doesn't Fit this Description?"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Handling Scripture Rightly -- Mark 9:11-13

Audio available here.

Why are fire engines red? Well, fire engines have four wheels and carry eight men. Four plus eight is twelve. Twelve inches make a ruler. A ruler is Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth was the name of a ship that sailed the seven seas. The seven seas are full of fish. Fish have fins. Finns are what we call people from Finland. The Finns hate the Russians and the Russians are red. And fire engines are always rushin’. And that’s why they are red.

Now some of you will no doubt disagree with that explanation. You recognize that this is either an absurd abuse of logic, or else a complete disregard for it. When we hear it in a ludicrous example such as I have given about fire engines or in a politician’s rhetoric, we often recognize that the person making the case is off base. Yet, many times we do not catch this faulty reasoning in our own thinking or that of others. One area where this is common is in our interpretations of Scripture. Now, if my explanation of the redness of fire engines is incorrect, very little is at stake. No matter why they are red, if my house is on fire and I call 911, they will come and try to put it out. In that moment it will not matter why they are red and whether or not it has anything to do with Queen Elizabeth. Yet, when it comes to handling God’s Word, the consequences are much greater. The God of the universe has spoken – He has communicated His Word to us through divinely inspired human writers. When we open the Bible, we are presented with truth from God Himself. If we mishandle this, the consequences are severe and eternal. You do not like it when people take your words and twist them and take them out of context and supply meaning to your words that you never intended. How must God feel when we do it so often with His words?

In the passage before us today, Jesus is accompanied by Peter, James, and John. They are coming down from the mountain where Christ has been transfigured before their eyes and they have seen His divine glory. They have seen Him with Moses and Elijah and heard the voice of God the Father testify to the unique nature and supreme authority of Jesus. If anyone ought to have insight into the things of God, it must surely be these men whom Jesus chose to witness this revelation.

In verse 9, Jesus has spoken to them once more about the fact that He will rise from the dead. Not stated directly, but certainly implied is that He is going to die, just as He said earlier in 8:31. Now this stumps the disciples, and in verse 10 they begin to reason among themselves about what this saying “rise from the dead” must mean. This makes no sense to them that Jesus must die. They have understood that God has promised to send Elijah before the establishment of the Kingdom of God, and since they have seen Elijah on the mountain, then the Kingdom must be present in their midst. And if that is the case, then all things are set right, and there must be no need for Jesus to die. So the conversation in verses 11-13 revolves around their understanding of the coming of Elijah, and reveals that they have not rightly understood God’s word. And if we will pay attention to their errors in interpretation, we will be helped to avoid them ourselves.

I. To handle scripture rightly, we must avoid the error of wrong authority (v11)

The disciples ask, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Now, here their question is not wrong to ask. The scribes did say that Elijah must come first. And the scribes said many other things about Elijah’s coming as well. So prevalent was scribal teaching about the return of Elijah that to this day, the faithful Jews leave an open seat at the Passover meal, just in case Elijah drops by to observe the Seder with them. They know that he is coming. There are many who have given up hope of a coming Messiah, but they know that if there is going to be a Messiah, Elijah will come before He does.

The problem here is that the disciples are basing their understanding of Elijah’s coming upon scribal teaching rather than Scriptural teaching. The scribes taught that Elijah was coming, and when he came, all wrongs would be made right and the Kingdom of Perfect Shalom would be established. Since the disciples had just seen Elijah, then that day must have come, they thought.

But somewhere in the mounds of scribal traditions, the plain teaching of God’s word had been covered over. In Malachi 3:1, the prophet proclaims the Word of the Lord saying, “‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the LORD of hosts.” In Malachi 4:5-6, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

The scribes were right about one thing. Elijah was coming, and his coming would precede the coming of the Lord to His Temple, the coming of the Covenant Messenger. But there is no promise here about instant bliss upon his coming. There is a promise about repentance and restoration, and a warning about judgment. But Malachi leaves open the option that when Elijah comes, and the Lord who follows him, there is a possibility that they will not be received well by the people. There is a warning about smiting and cursing. The scribes saw no such possibility. Their ethnic pride and traditions could not foresee that Israel may not recognize a true messenger from God. And where that tradition was elevated to a place of higher authority than Scripture, the Scriptures themselves were overlooked.

The error of wrong authority is not isolated to first-century Judaism. We are subject to this same error today. We fail to delve into our Bibles for spiritual truth, and turn instead to traditions, human opinions, nationalistic presuppositions, and television’s guru of the month. And our beliefs and practices become shaped by what our mothers, and our politicians, our human minds, and in some cases preachers who neglected the word have told us. No doubt, sometimes there is an overlap. The scribes said Elijah is coming, the Scriptures said Elijah is coming. But the scribes said much that is not in Scripture, where their teaching exceeds that of scripture, we must turn a deaf ear. Their words shall not have more authority than God’s.

Much of what your mother told you about God may be true. Much of what some politician speaks about morality may be accurate. But when we rely on human opinions as our ultimate authority, we go astray. God has spoken! How can we ignore what He has said, or relegate it to a place of secondary or tertiary authority in our lives? How can we fill in blanks God intended to be left open with speculative suggestions. If we would handle Scripture rightly we must assign it the position of ultimate authority in all matters of life and bring our lives in line with what God’s Word declares. When the Bible speaks contrary to my opinion, to what mama said, to what Pastor So-and-So said, then the Bible must prevail and all other opinions must be put aside. Otherwise we commit the error of wrong authority, thereby mishandling the treasure of Scripture.

II. To handle scripture rightly, we must avoid the error of selective appeal (v12)

Here, for once, Jesus affirms that the scribes have spoken correctly about one thing. Elijah does come first and restores all things. This is what the Bible says. But the Bible also says something else that must take place. Jesus asks the inquiring disciples, “And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” In other words, “If the things spoken about Elijah must come to pass, then it must also be that the things written about the Messiah must come to pass also.” We can’t pick and choose which parts of Scripture we want to believe and which parts to reject. That is called “selective appeal,” and it is an error we must avoid.

Jesus does not say specifically, or at least Mark does not record it, to which portion of Scripture He is referring. We know that Isaiah 53 must have been in mind when He spoke this. In Chapter 52, God had spoken through Isaiah concerning His Servant who would come. But in Chapter 53, He speaks of the suffering this Servant will endure. He would be despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. He would be stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. He would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, chastened for our well-being. All of our iniquity would fall on Him. He would be oppressed and slaughtered, cut off from the land of the living, assigned a grave among the wicked in spite of doing no violence nor deceit.

These are words that Jewish scholars continue to wrestle with. If they interpret them literally at face value, then they would see how plainly the words speak of the sufferings Christ endured for the sins of humanity, and that is a reality that they cannot fathom. So they spin it, they tweak it, or they avoid it altogether. The scribes focused on the shalom – the perfect peace and bliss – that would come with the kingdom, but they did not speak about the price that Scripture foretold must be paid to bring it about. The Messiah must come and He must suffer and die for the sins of mankind. This was a truth that was expedient to ignore.

We often find ourselves wanting to do just as these have done. We want to hold fast to the happy things of the Bible, and forget the hard words. We want the Ten Commandments, because they forbid all those nasty things like murder and adultery. We want those in our courtrooms and our classrooms, but we do not speak much about the Sermon on the Mount wherein Christ says that our hatred is an equal sin to murder and our lust equivalent to adultery. We want the promises of love and peace and prosperity, but prefer to ignore the promises of suffering, sacrifice and hardship. We like John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We don’t like John 3:18, which says, “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” We love Psalm 37:4, “ Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” We are not very fond of 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Here is a simple fact with which we must reckon: The Bible must be accepted as God’s truth completely or rejected completely as a fantastic book of mythology. It is a subtle sleight of hand when someone says, “I believe this part of the Bible is true, but not that part.” The trickery is this: that person has made his or her own opinion superior to God’s word, and committed the first error we mentioned en route to committing this second one. God has not given us this perfect revelation to haggle with. He has given it to us to read, to hear, to understand, and to OBEY. We cannot be selective with it. When it comes to the Word of God, we must accept all or nothing.
This is why we must use caution with proof-texting, where we go searching the concordance to find a verse that says what we want it to say about the topic at hand. You have probably heard someone say, “A person can justify anything they want to do with the Bible.” They can, but in so doing, they mishandle the Bible and commit the error of selective appeal. And frankly, this is why churches must insist that their pastors put away topical preaching – that kind of preaching where the pastor says, “What do I want to preach on? And what do I want to say about it?” And then he goes searching the Bible to find a verse to back up his opinion. That is death to the life of the Spirit in a church. You have a responsibility to hold me and any other person who steps behind this pulpit accountable to the task of preaching the whole counsel of God – we call this expository preaching. The text of Scripture becomes the basis for all we say in the sermon. There are passages in the Gospel of Mark which I would prefer, in my human weakness, to avoid and skip over. And when we get to some of them very soon, you will wish I had skipped it too. But exposition and the right handling of Scripture demands that we not be selective in our appeal to Scripture, but subject all of life to all of Scripture, even when it is uncomfortable and contrary to our opinions. You don’t need my opinion and my speculation. It is worthless! It is utter rubbish. What you need, and what I need is for the Word of God to be proclaimed in its fullness and allowed to shape our lives according to God’s will. And in order to do that, we cannot commit the error of selective appeal.

And now finally,

II. To handle scripture rightly, we must avoid the error of biblical laziness (v13)

Here Jesus says, “I say to you.” The prophets often declared the words of God, saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” Jesus says, “I say to you,” and assumes for Himself divine authority, and equates what He is proclaiming with the Word of God previously revealed. And what He says with this divine authority is, “Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.” Those words presented three problems for His hearers.

The first problem can be stated in the question, “What is He talking about?” Here they were, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and Elijah came, and Moses was with him, and a cloud enveloped them, and God spoke, and they disappeared. Who did anything to Elijah? On the face of it, it is hard to figure out what Jesus is talking about. And if all we had was this passage, we’d be utterly confused. But we have more than this passage – we have sixty-six books of Scripture to compare this passage with to determine what He is talking about. Follow me here.

Scripture says Elijah is coming again. Everyone assumed that this was to be a literal return of the prophet, at a specific point in time, which all people would see and recognize. But Scripture also promises that a new David will come. Speaking of the future, God says in Jeremiah 30:9, “they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.” Other passages speak similarly of David. But everyone, including the scribes of Israel, understands that David’s name in these passages is being used to refer to the promised descendant of David, the Messiah, who will come in the office, line, and promise of David. In other words, when the prophets speak of the return of David, they are speaking of the coming of one who is in some ways like David. About that, there is no debate whatsoever; it is universally agreed. So, it is also that the Elijah who is to come is one who will be endowed with this same spirit and power as that ancient prophet without being the actual prophet Elijah. The Elijah to whom Jesus refers here in v13 is not the prophet who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the prophet who appeared in the Jordan Valley some years earlier calling Israel back to God through repentance and preparing the way for Messiah. He was speaking of John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:14, Jesus said, “John himself is Elijah who was to come.”

Now this leads to the second problem: John the Baptist said he was not Elijah. Some of Jesus’ disciples had followed John the Baptist. Surely they knew of John’s denial recorded for us in John 1:21. The people asked if he was Elijah, and he said, “I am not.” John’s denial concerns the popular misconceptions held by the people of his day. He was not Elijah, the ancient prophet. He was not the Elijah of the scribes whose arrival would indicate the arrival of perfectly happy days. He was right to deny these things. But, John is rightly identified by Jesus as Elijah because the same Spirit and power that had energized Elijah had now fallen on him, as had the task of preparing the way for the Lord.

There’s a third problem. Where is it written that the people would do to Elijah whatever they wished. Go get a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, and you will search in vain to find this stated in the Old Testament. So, is Jesus wrong here? No. Just as John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, just as John came to carry out the ministry of Elijah, so John would meet the same opposition met by Elijah. Those familiar with the Elijah narratives in First Kings will recall the story of his encounters with Ahab and Jezebel there. God had sent His prophet to confront a nation under the governance of an unscrupulous king with no personal convictions who was under the manipulative sway of his pagan wife. And Jezebel marshaled all the resources of Ahab’s kingdom toward the objective of silencing Elijah with threats of putting him to death. It is a striking parallel to what happened to John. Like Ahab, Herod Antipas was a man without conviction, driven by his personal lusts to wrongfully marry his brother’s wife, who was equally lacking in piety. When they were confronted by John the Baptist, Herodias used her daughter to persuade Herod to cutting off John’s head and putting him to death. As it was for Elijah, so too for John.

Now, none of that is apparent at first reading of Mark 9:13. But it is all there. Biblical laziness will not discover it. One must delve deep into Scripture, not finding things which aren’t there, but discovering all that is there when one carefully studies the Word of God in its entirety, letting it interpret itself and supply its own meaning. That takes time, and it takes effort, and our fast-food society thrives upon instant gratification. But it is not to be had. The study of the Bible is a lifetime process. It is not a book you read one time and put back on the shelf like a dimestore novel. It is a treasure of instruction that must be handled with care, studied thoroughly and frequently. Paul admonished the Thessalonians saying, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” Though he is speaking literally of those who are physically lazy, the same can be said spiritually. If anyone is unwilling to do the work of Bible study, then that one will not be fed from Scripture’s bounty. There is plenty on the surface for the average person to handle, but there is much more beneath the surface for the one who is willing to put the time and effort into discovering it.

We are all prone to interpret God’s word badly. I do it, you do it. These errors are easy to commit. But we must guard against them, and when we discover that we are guilty of them, we must repent and return to simple faith and obedience to the Word and allow it to speak directly into our lives. Like these disciples, we must take our questions and our malformed understanding directly to Jesus, the One who by His Holy Spirit, authored the text we hold in our hands. He is able to open our eyes to see and our ears to hear God’s truth. He can do it through sermons, books, small group discussions, private reading, friendly conversation, but ultimately all of these things must be continually surrendered to the authority of the Word itself, and God must be given the final say on all matters. The Bible is our sole authority. We cannot handle it selectively, nor can we be lazy with it.

The question on your mind when you leave a worship service should not be, “Did you see what so-and-so was wearing?” or “Did you like that music?” It should be, “Did I hear the Word of God proclaimed today, and do I understand it better as a result?” Some of you need to be in Sunday School classes hearing the Bible taught. I know, the reason some people don’t attend Sunday School is because they have been before and didn’t hear the Bible taught. Teachers, you have a tremendous responsibility to keep the conversation focused on the Word, and keep the discussion centered on what the Word says. There are excellent books in our library that will help you in your understanding of the Word. But ultimately, each one of us must make the commitment to be a lifelong student of the Word, making time daily for the intake of it and meditation on it. It must be the ultimate authority in our lives, in its fullness, as we ever pursue a better understanding of it.

Following Jesus: Mark 8:34-38

Audio available here

What is a disciple of Christ? One might say that a disciple is one of the twelve original followers of Jesus, and indeed those twelve were disciples. But they are not the only ones who bear the title of disciple, for in the Great Commission, Jesus told those twelve to go into all the world and make disciples. And that commission still belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century. Each of us has been called to be a disciple of Christ, and called to make disciples for Christ. So, what is a disciple? Literally, that word means “a learner.” And so, Christians today have many programs and studies called “Discipleship Training” in which they complete a workbook and get a little certificate at the end. But it is possible to be highly educated in matters of the Christian religion and still not be a disciple. In fact, one of the great ironies of our generation is that we have so many resources available for discipleship training, and yet so few genuine disciples. Jesus said in John 15:8, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” By “bearing fruit,” Jesus does not mean that we will be disciples by planting orchards, but rather that there would be visible evidence in our lives that we are His disciples.

Discipleship, as we will see in this passage, is not about a one-time decision that a person makes, nor is it about accumulating information about the Christian faith. Discipleship is an active and volitional way of living – to be a disciple is to “follow Jesus.” If we are making a trip and I say, “I will follow you,” I have made a decision, and I may have a detailed map, and know all the proper routes, but it isn’t until I actually begin moving in the same direction that you are that I have begun to follow you. Some have made a decision to follow Jesus, and have gained much information, but have yet to begin moving in the direction of Jesus. These may be converts, but they are not disciples; and the Great Commission has not beckoned us to go out and make converts, but disciples. And so, it is of great importance to us to understand what it means to follow Jesus, for each of us are called to be disciples first, and also to make disciples of all nations. Here in this passage, Jesus instructs us in how to follow Him with some simple instructions, and some severe implications.

I. In order to follow Jesus, we must follow His simple instructions (v34)

If you’ve ever been lost while traveling, you know the value of simple instructions. Some people, when you ask them for directions, have a hard time keeping it simple. They would never settle for giving you two steps of direction, when they could give you ten instead. No road names, no route numbers, just random landmarks here and there, some of which may not even exist anymore.

Well, Jesus didn’t give directions like that. He said, “Follow Me.” Two words. And to live out those two words involves two steps. Verse 34 has been understood by some to include three chronological instructions: 1) Deny yourself; 2) Take up your cross; and then 3) Follow me. But it is also possible, and indeed more probable, that the sense is that in order to follow Him, one must do these two things: Deny yourself, and take up your cross. So these are our two simple instructions for following Jesus.

A. In order to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves.

Have you ever wondered where children learn to be selfish? It is not by coincidence that two of the first words children learn to say are, “No,” and “Mine.” In fact, selfishness is not learned, it is congenital. We have inherited this trait from our ancestors Adam and Eve with the fallen sin nature that has been passed down to us. By nature we are all inclined to always seek our own best-interests and personal pleasure. Our carnal desires speak, and we listen and obey them. We do what we want, when we want, and how we want. Jesus says if we are going to follow Him, this must cease. Rather than gratifying our selfish desires, we must deny ourselves. We must develop the regular practice of saying no to ourselves, but it is even more than this. In Jer. 17:9, we read that the human heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it? So distorted is our understanding of our own heart that even many of the things we think are “good things” become enemies to the “best thing” which is serving Christ with single-focused attention and affection. So, in denying ourselves, we must always scrutinize our actions and thoughts, but also our motives, to determine that we are not merely satisfying our self-centered desires, but denying them as we follow Christ.

When we sacrifice everything else in life to our own personal desires, we have made an idol of self, and that idol must be toppled in a revolution of the heart that establishes Christ as the supreme object of our affections and service. We must deny ourselves if we are going to follow Him. And this is not a one-time decision you can make. While it is true that we make a one-time decision in our lives to deny self-effort for salvation in order to trust Christ as Savior, on a daily basis, even on a moment-by-moment basis, we must continue to deny ourselves.

Then secondly, notice …

B. In order to follow Jesus, we must take up our cross.

Our culture is much less familiar with the true meaning of these words than were those in Jesus’ day. Most of us come to recognize the cross early in life as something people wear on a necklace. I dare say that probably more non-Christians wear crosses on a necklace than do Christians. I have no research to back that up, just a personal observation. And of course, we have all heard someone say that some particular difficulty in their life is “their cross to bear.” Maybe many of us have even said that. So, you have a spouse who is hard to live with – “Well, I guess that is just my cross to bear.” Or you have some chronic illness, and you say, “It’s just my cross to bear in this life.” When Jesus spoke these words, that is in no way what He meant.

In order to understand what He meant, we need the context of this passage. If you are following someone, you are going where they are going. And where is Jesus going? You may recall from the last passage here that He told the disciples very plainly where He was going. In v31 Jesus said He was going to suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed. Now, do you want to follow Him as a disciple? If yes, then right this way.

Bearing your cross here does not mean putting on a piece of jewelry, or putting up with personal inconvenience. It means taking up an instrument of death. Those in the first century felt the full brunt force of these words, as they were familiar with the sight of condemned criminals being compelled along the streets of their village carrying the cross on which they were about to die. They knew the pain, the shame, the insult, and the horror of that scene. When you saw someone carrying a cross, you knew they weren’t going to adorn the church with it. They were off to be killed. If you want to put it in more contemporary terms to which we can all relate, it is as if Jesus said, “Pick up your electric chair and carry it to the death chamber;” or “Pick up this sword and tote it to the place of beheading”; or “Carry this rope all the way up to the gallows.” Yet, somehow even these images do not do full justice to the image Jesus presents, for the cross was a particularly heinous kind of death.

Crucifixion was invented to be a very public, horrific, and gruesome means of death for the lowest of criminals. It is perhaps no stretch to say that in the history of humanity, the cross remains the most cruel, torturous, shameful and dehumanizing kind of death anyone could experience. Yet unlike the condemned criminal who was forced to carry the cross, Jesus bids us to take it up voluntarily as we follow Him. We see His death on the cross for our sins, and hear Him say, “Now its your turn. You take up your cross.” And out of love and loyalty to Him, we take up the cross and say that we will accept betrayal, rejection, beating, mockery, death, and even death on a cross if obedience to Him should require it. Many in the early generations of Christianity did indeed die in the same way as their Master, and by many other ways as well, because their faithfulness to Christ was unflinching before the threats of earthly powers that hate the Gospel. So it is even today in many parts of the world. Our brothers and sisters are presented with an option – “Follow Christ to death, or renounce Him and be spared.” And with the chorus of history’s Christian martyrs, they sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back; the world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back; my cross I’ll carry ‘til I see Jesus, no turning back.”

What a mockery we make of their sacrifice and His when we domesticate this cross bearing to which Jesus calls us into putting up with chronic coughs and cranky spouses. We strip these words of their radical thrust – a call so radical that most of us in the Western world cannot even relate to it. Nonetheless, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died a martyr’s death at the hands of Hitler, still ring out more than a half-century later: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Now I said these are simple instructions, and perhaps I should qualify that. They are simply stated. You want to follow Jesus as His disciple, then deny yourself and take up your cross. But these instructions are not simple to accomplish. In fact, it may be said that these are the most difficult things in all the world to do because they are so unnatural to our innate instinct of self-satisfaction, self-protection and self-preservation. But we do not have to rely on our own human nature to accomplish these things. Just as Jesus was helped to carry His cross by Simon of Cyrene when He became too physically weak to carry it Himself, so too the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. Our conversion and our sanctification – the process of growing in discipleship – are His work within us, and He enables us to do what we would not otherwise be able to do. Often He will do this by giving us His strength within ourselves to endure when everything within us wants to give up. But at other times, He aids us by giving us human helpers. This is why fellowship in the life of the church is so important for Christians. As you wrestle with self-denial and cross-bearing each moment, and each day, you are not alone. Look around you and see the faces of others who are wrestling just as much. And where one is weak, another can be strong, and so fulfill that apostolic admonition in Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens and the exhortation in Hebrews 10:24 of spurring one another along in love and good deeds. While ultimately each of us must make that moment decision to deny ourselves and bear our own cross, we must never forget the obligation we have to our brothers and sisters in Christ to avail ourselves to the Holy Spirit in order to be ministers of encouragement to them in their time of weakness.

But lest we think that compliance with these instructions is no great consequence, we see next in the text …

II. The Decision to Follow Christ Bears Severe Implications (vv35-38)

This moment-by-moment decision we make to stay in step with the Savior on the path of discipleship is so critical that Jesus speaks of it in terms of three implications, each one severe, each one with consequences of an eternal nature.

A. Following Christ Means Prioritizing Him Over Preservation (v35)

The call to come and die with Jesus rightly snaps us to attention. I like life. You like life. We like being together here with our loved ones. And if something threatens to take that away from us, we fight against it. That’s why we have bypasses and chemotherapy. We don’t want sickness to take our lives away from us. But the point of the call to self-denial and cross bearing, the point about losing one’s life for Jesus and the gospel is something different, and Mark’s original audience knew that. For in that day, and in many parts of the world today, the alternatives are given: Renounce Jesus and live, or follow Him and die. And in that moment, if the preservation of life is our chief concern, we will lose it. Oh, we may live on for a longer period of time on this earth, but that will be all. You see, there are two sides to life. There’s life on this side – earthly life; and there’s life on the other side – eternal life. And whoever chooses to preserve the life on this side rather than following Jesus to death will lose the life on the other side – and that life is far greater importance than this one. If following Jesus and clinging to the gospel is more important to you than life itself, then you have nothing to fear, for life will never end. This earthly existence will pass away, but something greater will take its place – life forever with Him. But the one whose earthly existence is more precious to him than Jesus is, that one will lose both Christ and the eternal existence promised to him in the gospel. The word lose here translates a Greek word that can mean lose, or destroy or ruin. And it is not a passive verb here, as if someone or something is destroying your life. Rather, it is an active verb, meaning that by making the choice of earthly life over death with Jesus, you have ruined, you have lost, you have destroyed for yourself the better life that is to come.

You and I may never see the day when we are presented with that option, but daily we are faced with smaller decisions that bear similar implications and far less severe consequences. Perhaps your family members or friends threaten to disassociate with you because of your faith. Will you soften in the face of their threats? Perhaps your job requires you to compromise on your convictions. Will you back down? I could go on, but you see in just these two examples how we are faced with a decision to prioritize self-preservation over following Jesus and holding fast to the gospel. If we choose to preserve life, we will lose it. But someone will say, “I thought once saved, always saved. If I am saved, then I can make those compromises and convenient decisions with no fear.” But friends, even though salvation is permanent and bestowed at the moment of conversion, genuine conversion demonstrates itself in perseverance. And a faith that does not persevere in the face of hardship is not saving faith. It may be well-intentioned, it may be optimistic, it may even be religious, but true salvation it is not. As a sponge reveals its contents when squeezed, so saving faith show itself to be genuine in the face of opposition, as we choose Christ and the gospel over self-preservation.

B. Following Christ Means Prioritizing Him Over Profit (v36-37)

We live in a materialistic society that seems to operate under the slogan, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” And so most people spend their lives in the endless pursuit of more and more stuff, and bigger and bigger places to store it all in. But if we think biblically about it, what Jesus seems to be saying here is that “Whoever dies with the most toys still dies, and then what will become of them?” Jesus talks about a person gaining the “whole world,” a highly unlikely scenario, but used here to illustrate the relentless pursuit of the earthly prizes and treasures of business and social life. But what if they gain all this at the cost of their own soul? Then he hasn’t gained a thing, but in fact lost everything. It’s cliché, but no less true, that there are no trailer hitches on hearses, because you can’t take it with you when you go. Suppose for a moment that you could take it with you. A man lives his whole life on this earth and amasses great fortune and all the possessions anyone could desire, all the while neglecting his own soul and never giving more than a passing glance to Christ or the gospel. And then he dies. Imagine that man standing before God. What would he say for himself? Would he think for a moment he could write a check to gain admittance into heaven? Might he barter with God, “Look, here’s an iPod, these are all the rage down there. You really should have one. I’ll throw in a Ferrari and a plasma screen TV.” Ridiculous.

Jesus says, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Notice the wording. Not what will he get, but what will he give. In that moment when the sentence is handed down and the Lord says, “Depart from me, for I never knew you,” what value will all of the man’s stuff have? If he had the world to give, how much would he be willing to give in return for the eternal life of his soul that has been forfeited. I dare say in that moment, he would trade it all. But he cannot. The stuff is gone, passed on to the hands of his heirs, and the soul is condemned to perish eternally in wretchedness and horror.

On October 28, 1949, Jim Elliot wrote these now famous words in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” On January 8,1956, Jim Elliot did that fully and finally. Several years earlier, he had said goodbye to the treasures of this world, opting instead for a simple life of sharing the gospel in the jungles of South America, and at last, had forsaken the preservation of his own life for the upward call of God in Christ as he met death at the end of an Auca spear. The very tribe of people that he and his fellow missionaries were striving to reach to with gospel killed them all. But on that day, what would it have profited Jim Elliot to gain the whole world at the forfeiture of his soul? Not one thing. He gave what he could not keep, earthly treasure, earthly life, in exchange for what he could not lose, life forever with Christ.

C. Following Christ Means Prioritizing Him Over Pride (v38)

When Jesus speaks of this adulterous and sinful generation, he is echoing a common theme in Scripture. Whenever God’s people abandon Him in unfaithfulness, Scripture accuses them of spiritual adultery. They are “cheating on God” by following after false gods and the idols of worldliness and carnality. Well, here Jesus acknowledges the temptation that exists in an environment full of this kind of godlessness. In a world that quickly abandons faithfulness to God for some lesser idol of the month, there is an ever present temptation to be ashamed of Jesus. It is a temptation we all face to some greater or lesser degree. As the coworkers are gathered around the water cooler talking about sports and electronic gadgets, dare we interject with a word about the Savior? When the neighbors are talking about their plans for the weekend, will we invite them to church? When family members are speaking to us openly about their lives, for better or for worse, will we point out to them their need for Jesus? Truth be told, more often than not, we clam up in silence and do not speak a word. What is the cause of our silence? Some would say fear, and that plays into it, but of bigger concern is pride. The fears that bind our tongues from speaking openly of Jesus are symptoms of pride – we fear rejection, we fear being shunned, we fear our own ignorance, we fear embarrassment because all these things threaten our pride. And when we cling more tightly to our pride than to the task of serving Jesus, we have shown ourselves to be ashamed of Him. Just like Peter, warming himself by the fire, and denying that he even knows Jesus in order to save his own skin, so too we often treasure the social acceptance around the fires of this world more than being faithful to Christ.

We must wage war against this temptation and tendency in our lives. And three things will help us do that. First, we must move from Peter’s denial to Paul’s declaration. Rather than being ashamed of Christ, Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation.” In other words, as long as I remain silent, my lost friends will remain lost. Only as they hear the gospel is the power of God unto salvation made available to them, so I must speak up about Him. Second, we must not fear the offensiveness of the gospel. Just know this – the gospel is offensive. It says that people are sinners condemned to hell unless they follow Jesus. That’s offensive, but being offensive doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And the fact is, a lost person is condemned already because of their unbelief, says Jesus in John 3:18 – they aren’t going to more lost or more condemned because they get offended. The offensiveness of the gospel just might save them. Third, we will overcome the pride that makes us ashamed of Jesus when we replace our fear of man with a fear of God. If I keep silent out of fear of what others will think of me, I need to stop and consider what Jesus thinks of me keeping silent. He says that if I am ashamed of Him in the midst of this adulterous and sinful generation, He will be ashamed of me when He returns. We ought to live and serve Him as if He were returning today, and we don’t want Him to be ashamed of us when He comes.

In Mark’s day as he wrote this gospel the threats of persecution and martyrdom were prevalent all around. Nero had put to death many, with many more to come. And the temptation would be to think that such harsh treatment was a sign that God had abandoned the church. But with these words, Jesus assures them that their suffering is not a sign of abandonment, but rather a sign of their identification with Jesus and assurance of God’s faithfulness to them through the midst of it. When we consider what most Christians in all times and other places have endured for the sake of Jesus, the gospel, and His word, we should be ashamed of the petty compromises we make on a daily basis. So, today, let every Christian be willing to say, “Lord I want to follow you on the path of discipleship and endure whatever comes my way for the sake of You and Your kingdom.” Let us be disciplined to deny ourselves, to take up the cross and follow Him, choosing Him as more precious to us than preservation, profits or pride.

If there is someone present today who has never come to Christ by faith and put their trust in Him as Lord and Savior, then we would beckon you today to do just that, to come and acknowledge yourself as a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness, and recognize that Christ died the death your sins deserve on the cross, so that He could take the punishment for you. And now, risen from the dead, He is eager to save you, to forgive your sins, to clothe you in His righteousness, and give you eternal life with Him. While we sing our hymn of commitment, if you need to ask Christ to save you, we would invite you to come forward and share that with me down front here.

Or maybe the Holy Spirit is dealing with you about your progress, or lack thereof, on the road of discipleship. Have you made preservation, profits, and pride more of a priority in your life than Jesus? Have you resisted taking up the cross? When was the last time you told yourself no about something? Are you in the regular practice of denying yourself? Why not today ask God to help you make the necessary changes in your life that will keep you following more closely to Jesus as his disciple.

And then finally, we would say today that if you long to follow Jesus, but presently you are weak and feel yourself stumbling as you walk in His way, let the church gather round you for support. Share that burden with us. And if you are walking well on the path of discipleship today, consider whom you may aid as they try to follow Christ. We can’t be Lone Rangers, we need each other, so that where one is weak another can be strong. May it be so in our church.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Saw A Man End His Life Last Night

On my way home from prayer meeting last night, I was on the phone with my wife telling her about my day. It was NOT a good day. Upon telling my brother-in-law about the events that transpired over the previous 12 hours or so, he said, "Man, you really know how to have a bad day!" So, I am driving down Spring Garden, almost a straight shot between church and home. I drive it twice a day. And I am saying to my wife, "This has been a terrible day." I am stopped at a stoplight at Spring Garden and Merritt Drive. The light turns green and the Jeep Cherokee in front of me began to creep through the intersection at a slow crawl, edging slowly into the right lane, and then coming to a complete stop straddling both lanes. I said to my wife on the phone, "What is this guy doing?" The car beside of me blew the horn. Suddenly, the Cherokee sped across three lanes, up a curb, and slammed right into a very large tree. "I gotta go," I said to my wife. I called 911, parked my car and ran across the street, but I could tell that there was nothing I could do for the man. His airbags were covered in blood. His body was limp. Emergency operators on the phone told me to keep my distance and keep everyone else away. A nurse approached the car, and felt the man's pulse. He was dead. Within seconds, the scene was flooded with the flashing lights of responding units: four police cars, two ambulances, a fire truck. They removed the man from the car and began CPR. The newspaper said he died at the hospital, but I think it is more accurate to say he was pronounced dead at the hospital. I am convinced he died at the wheel of his car upon impact.

Several witnesses stood together on the side of Spring Garden Street, all of us wondering the same thing. What happened to cause this guy to do this. It was plainly deliberate. I am not a mind reader, but it seems to me that as he came to a complete stop in the road, he was contemplating whether or not to live or die. And he chose the latter option.

I don't know the man. His name has been released, it was unfamiliar. He was from another town. So many questions. No answers. My guess is that he had a bad day too. I am not so sanctimonious to say, "I don't know how someone could do such a thing." I have tasted depression's bitterness and known the weight of despair. In fact, I had felt it that very day. I do not know this man's faith, or if he had any. But I assume that at the moment of his despair, there was no thought of a God would lift His burdens, and let him cry on His shoulder, and make his tomorrows better than his yesterdays.

I saw a man end his life last night. I didn't sleep too well. I kept thinking about reports I am hearing that suicides are on the rise. This was no young man. But despair is no respecter of persons. And neither is the God who can lift us out of despair. In the moment of despair, a creed is not sufficient. Religious rituals are not sufficient. What a person must know in that moment is that God is there, and God is listening, and wants us to pour it all out for Him. And He can lift us and give us a new day tomorrow. Today my prayers are for this man's family and loved ones as they try make sense out of the senseless. I thank God that all other life was spared. But at least for today, and likely forever, life for me is different because I saw a man end his life last night.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Five Books?

Fellow blogger Billy Belk has a dilemma. He has money to spend at Amazon, but too many choices to narrow it down. Talking through his desperate situation, I raised the question, if you could only use five resources to prepare every sermon, what would they be? I will be the first to admit that I am guilty too often of using too many resources, so it was helpful for me to think in such minimalistic terms.

Obviously, the sources we name need to be "whole Bible" sources, because you don't want to waste one of your picks on a particular book of the Bible. And, for the sake of discussion here, we'll say that your Bible doesn't count. We'll assume that we are all going to agree that a Bible is indispensable. So, to begin we'll say what is your Bible of choice, and then, which five resources would you use. And please, hard copy books only. Also, two volume works that cover OT & NT will count as one source.

Here's my first attempt at a list, though I may have to change it as I think about it more.

Bible: The NASB Study Bible. Though I don't often use study Bibles, I will pick this one here, so that I can squeeze an extra resource in. The NASB Study Bible has the same notes in it as the NIV Study Bible, but with the superior text of the NASB. I might would trade this if I could have a NET Bible with NASB text.

1) Abridged Expositors Commentary - This 2 volume abridgment is good enough to make you wonder why you really need the unabridged set. It is only missing the most technical discussions.

2) Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology

3) Rogers & Rogers' Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament

4) Holman Bible Dictionary. It isn't the best dictionary, I am sure, but it is the best one volume one I own. I need to look into getting one that is a little better, and then that one will usurp this one in my list.

5) The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance

OK -- so there is my list. Now, let's have yours.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Revelation of Jesus: Mark 9:1-10

Audio available here.

Picture yourself for a moment in a dark room. I don't mean a dim room -- I mean DARK -- no windows, no cracks around the door, no lights, lamps, candles, matches, no source of illumination whatsoever. It is so dark in this room that you can't see your hand in front of your face. You have no way of knowing what else may be in that room with you, no way of finding an escape, no way of knowing if you are in imminent danger, no way of knowing if there is any hope. Your only hope in that state is that someone will come along and light the room for you. Only when someone outside that room chooses to come to your aid and crack the door, or flip a switch, or shine a light into that room will your darkness be penetrated. Will this person ever come? Will such light ever be shed? Maybe there is someone out there who loves us; someone who will show mercy to us; someone who will show us grace in our state of need and send the light that we so desperately need. That person would be our only hope, and we are utterly dependent on them to light the way for us.

You may say that you have no interest in ever being a state such as this. However, speaking spiritually, this is the state into which we are all born. God, in His mercy, has shone the light of His revelation generally to all men. He has given us two great indicators to let us know that He is there. He has given us creation, which points to Him as its maker. Psalm 19:1-4 says, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world." Similarly, Paul says in Romans 1 that God has made some truth about Himself known to all people, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

No man can say, "I didn't know God was there." The information He has revealed to all men is sufficient to convince even the most skeptical that there is a God, that He is powerful, glorious and transcendent. We know He is there. This is a truth that is so pervasive that in order to NOT believe, we suppress this truth about God. In Romans 1:18, Paul says that the wrath of God is being revealed because ungodly and unrighteous men have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

A part of this revelation in creation is our own conscience. We all have a sense of right and wrong, and we all have a knowledge that we are very often guilty of the wrong. So, we know God is there, and we know that we have violated the standard of righteousness that He has placed within each of us. Herman Bavinck writes, “It is owing to general revelation that some religious and ethical sense is present in all men; that they have some awareness still of truth and falsehood, of good and evil, justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness." However, even though we have knowledge of God, we do not know God. We are cut off from Him, firstly because of our sins, and secondly because of our ignorance of how to get to Him. We are groping in the shadowlands, trying to find Him, and hoping that in His mercy He will reach out a saving hand to us.

This God has done in the person of Jesus Christ. In the fullness of time, Paul said in Galatians 4:4, God sent forth His Son. The writer of Hebrews says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” God came to us in the form of a man, so that we can know Him personally and be reconciled to Him. But again, we are totally dependent on the grace of His revelation to us, for as the prophet had spoken centuries before -- there was nothing in this man's appearance which attracted us to Him. He looked like an ordinary man. Many assumed He was just a simple carpenter's son. But He began to perform miracles and make Himself known to mankind, and in particular to the twelve men whom He chose to follow Him. And He began to teach them wondrous things and show them demonstrations of His mighty power. Yet time and time again we see them dumbfounded in misunderstanding of who He really is and what He had come to do.

We finally get some indication that the truth is penetrating their density when, in Mark 8:29, He asks, "Who do you say that I am?" And Peter shows some sense of spiritual receptivity in answering, "You are the Christ!" But the next statement out of Peter's mouth demonstrates that he is still a long way off from fully understanding what this means for humanity. When Jesus explains to the disciples that He must suffer and die, and be raised from the dead, Peter protests. This cannot be, Peter thinks AND SAYS! His mind is set on the things of man, not the things of God. Jesus begins to teach all those around Him that the call of discipleship will involve hardship and suffering on their part as well. This doesn't sound at all like what they had in mind when they were invited into fellowship with God and His Messiah! But here in Chapter 9, more revelation comes to assure them of God's plan for redemption and disclose to them more fully who Christ is.

We refer to this narrative in the Gospels as the "Transfiguration," and indeed it is a story of Christ's transfiguration before the eyes of three of His disciples. However, it is more than just a narrative of a visual experience -- it is a record of God's revelation to them concerning this Jesus who has called them to follow them.

I. The Revelation of Jesus Is the Result of Divine Initiative (vv1-2a)

Information about God comes to us as God chooses to make it known. Revelation is His divine initiative. He chose to make Himself known to us in creation, in our conscience, and in Christ. And we see here that the revelation these disciples will receive on the mountain is the result of His divine initiative to make Himself known.

Jesus says to the disciples in verse 1, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come in power." It is hard to know what the disciples understood this to mean. Perhaps they assumed He meant that they would live to see the glorious advent Jesus spoke of in 8:38 -- "When He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." Perhaps some of them thought they would live to see the day when Christ no longer speaks about suffering and death and finally marches victoriously into Jerusalem and overthrows the puppet government that held all Israel under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Maybe it would be months or years, decades or more away, and some of them would live long enough to see it. But if these things are what they understood, then they were mistaken, as they will soon see.

Jesus said, "Some of those" would see the inbreaking of His glorious and powerful Kingdom. Whichever ones of them would see it and which ones would not are determined, not by their will, for which one among them would say, "No thanks. I'd rather not see that." No, it is determined by His will -- His initiative. And when it would occur would be up to Him as well. Would it be months, years, decades before they see this? No, in fact, we are told in verse 2 that it would be about a week. It is readily apparent that Jesus was referring to the event that would transpire on the mountain six days later. This is apparent from the context here, for Mark rarely gives precise time markers, but he does so here in order to show that the events of verses 2 and following are connected to the announcement in verse 1.

And we see the divine initiative of Christ played out in His selection of three disciples to accompany Him up the mountain. These are they who are chosen by Christ to be the “some” of whom He spoke in v1. Why these three? It was certainly not because of any merit in themselves. None of the disciples deserved this experience. They had all displayed spiritual denseness repeatedly. But these three were chosen by the divine will and initiative of the Savior. It was a matter of His grace and mercy to choose some to join Him, and to choose these three in particular. They were chosen by Christ to be the recipients of this revelation for reasons known only to Him.

We must not lose sight of the divine initiative in revelation. Many of us here in this room have been granted revelation of Christ as Lord and Savior, and have responded in faith to that revelation and been saved. But why have others not? Others in our family, our community, our workplace, I dare say in this sanctuary – why have we said yes to Jesus and they have not? R. C. Sproul writes, “Did we exercise faith in Christ because we are more intelligent than they are? … Did we respond to the gospel positively because we are better or more virtuous than our friends? … I cannot adequately explain why I came to faith in Christ and some of my friends did not. I can only look to the glory of God’s grace toward me, a grace I did not deserve then and do not deserve now.” So we would respond, and so Peter, James and John would respond about their invitation to accompany Christ up the Mount of Transfiguration. It was all of grace, all of God’s divine initiative in Christ. Revelation is always the result of divine initiative.

II. The Revelation of Jesus Imparts Divine Information (vv4-9)

Slowly, but surely the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place for the disciples. We begin to see some grasp of spiritual reality in them as Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ in 8:29. But there is much more about Him they have not yet learned. And all that is about to change for Peter, James, and John. The experience they will have with Jesus on this mountain will reveal to them His divine glory, His supreme authority, His unique nature, and His ultimate victory. In so doing, they will get a preview of His Kingom coming with power, just as He promised in v1.

A. The Transfiguration Reveals His Divine Glory (v3)

With the brevity that is typical of Mark, he states simply in v2 that Jesus was “transfigured before them.” The Greek word used there is one with which you are familiar. It is the word from which we get the English word metamorphosis. When something undergoes a metamorphosis, it changes radically. And so Jesus did right before their eyes. “His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” Now, I know, in every picture of Jesus you have ever seen, He is wearing white, but in fact in that day, it was rare for a person to wear white. In the dirty and dusty environs of that region, white garments would become soiled too easily, and as Mark specifies, they would require a costly laundering job to clean them. In the Bible, brilliant white garments are usually the attire of heavenly beings. But it was not just His garments which transformed before their eyes. Luke says His face became different, and Matthew says that His face shone like the sun. Here in this moment, Jesus allowed the divine glory that was inherent to His nature to shine through the veil of His earthly body. His nature did not change – He is the divine God of the universe before the transfiguration and after. But His appearance changed in order to reveal to these disciples the divine glory that He bore.

B. The Transfiguration Reveals His Supreme Authority (vv4-8)

Elijah and Moses appeared on the mountain with Jesus and conversed with Him. We don’t know if Peter, James and John recognized them immediately, or if they wore nametags, or if there was some introduction made, but Peter’s statement in verse 5 indicates that they knew who these men were. But why were they there? These two men stand at the heads of the streams of God’s prior revelation. God had revealed Himself to Israel in the Law, given to them through Moses at Mount Sinai. And so Moses represents the revelation of God found in the Law. And Elijah was the first of the great line of prophets who declared God’s word to His people to turn them back from sin. And so he represents the revelation of God in the Prophets. We aren’t told here what they discussed, but Luke says that they “were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). It is interesting that the Greek word used there for departure in Luke is the word, exodus. Moses led an exodus of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt. Elijah led an exodus of Israel out of the idolatry of Baal worship. But these exoduses prefigured the ultimate exodus – the exodus Jesus would accomplish at Jerusalem to deliver all humanity from the bondage of sin.

Jesus said in John 5:46, "If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” In Luke 24:44, He said that all things written about Him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets must be fulfilled. They had written and spoken things about Christ which were being fulfilled in this generation of the first century.

Peter, the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth, speaks up. Verse 6 tells us that he didn’t know what to say, he was afraid. But suffering under the burden of undelivered speech, he feels the need to say something, so he offers to build dwelling places for Jesus, Moses and Elijah in verse 5. The Feast of Tabernacles had been an observance of Israel since the days of Moses, when the people would build shelters to dwell in temporarily in remembrance of the days of wilderness wandering when God met with them in the Tabernacle. They were also expressing their hope that one day God would dwell in their midst again. So, Peter assumes, this must be it! Let’s build some tabernacles, and the six of us will enjoy one another’s company for eternity.

At this suggestion, a cloud formed and enveloped them all, and a voice came out of the cloud – the very voice of God the Father – saying, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” And when the cloud lifted, only Jesus was left. In this God was saying that Moses and the Prophets had served Him well for a season, but now His supreme revelation to mankind was being given in the person of Jesus. The witness of the Law and the prophets had culminated in Christ. They had written about Him, and now He was on the earth in the flesh. His word and His will have absolute authority, superseding all who had come before Him. When John says in that great prologue to His gospel that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, the word John uses for dwelt is a Greek word that is used to translate the Hebrew word for the Tabernacle. In Jesus, the dwelling of God is among men. Peter cannot build a tabernacle for Christ, but Christ Himself is a tabernacle in which Peter and everyone else must enter to have fellowship with God. We must listen to Him, believe on Him, and obey Him. His authority is superior to the Law and the Prophets, and the Transfiguration reveals this.

C. The Transfiguration Reveals His Unique Nature (v7)

As God declared “This is My beloved Son,” the cloud lifted and only Jesus was left. While there are various ways we can speak of this person or that one being a child of God, we speak differently when we refer to Christ. Though God is fatherly to all those whom He has created, and the adopted Father of all who trust in Christ, Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. This unique relationship with the Father, a mystery of the Holy Trinity that was announced at His Baptism, which was known to the demons whom He cast out, but which, up to this point, had been unknown to these disciples. They knew He was the Christ – the Messiah, the anointed servant of God sent to redeem His people. They knew He was endowed with divine power which they had seen in His miracles, and wisdom they had heard in His teaching – but they did not know that He was God the Son, the unique incarnation of God in the flesh. It is revealed to them here in His transfiguration.

D. The Transfiguration Reveals His Ultimate Victory (v9)

Coming down from the mountain, Jesus again demands secrecy of the disciples as He has done in the past. But here for the first time, He reveals the expiration date of this vow of silence. The silence can be broken after He is risen from the dead. Already, Jesus has told them that He will suffer and die, but that He will be raised from the dead after three days (8:31). But the ensuing conversation on that occasion a week earlier indicates that the disciples did not focus on this raising from the dead part, but on the suffering and dying part. Here again, Jesus reminds them that He will rise from the dead. But again, there is confusion on the part of the disciples. Verse 10 says, “They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.”

Now, here is a curious thing. Sometimes, these disciples are guilty of taking the figurative statements of Jesus too literally – such as when He said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They thought He was talking about bread, but in fact He was talking about the errors in the thinking and teachings of these two groups which spreads like yeast. Yet, here, they take something Jesus intended literally and assume that there is some figurative meaning behind it. What did he mean that He would rise from the dead? Dead men don’t rise, they reason, so He couldn’t mean this literally. But what they have just witnessed should convince them beyond all doubt that He is no ordinary man, and rising from the dead in fact literally does mean rising from the dead.

This is a continuing problem with people who handle, and often mishandle the Word of God today. The Bible contains metaphors, parables, hyperbolic speech, poetry, apocalyptic language, symbolism and other figures of speech which are not meant to be taken literally. When Jesus said, “This is my body, take and eat,” no one assumes that He ripped off His arm and passed it around for the disciples to gnaw on. We understand He was using symbolism. But there are, in far greater abundance, statements spoken by Jesus and the inspired writers of Scripture which are meant to be taken at face value – no matter how unsettling they may be. The context always determines whether or not we interpret literally or figuratively. What was the context of this saying? He had already spoken of rising from the dead. He had demonstrated visually His glorious power, and He reminded them to not tell of these things until He had risen from the dead. Everything points to a literal interpretation. But the disciples once again fail to grasp it. It seems for the better part of Mark’s Gospel that the disciples take one step forward and two steps back in their spiritual perception. But nonetheless, the revelation is given. It does not mean whatever they want it to mean – it means what Jesus intended it to mean. He is going to suffer and He is going to die. But He is going to rise from the dead after three days, conquering sin and death victoriously through His resurrection.

Of course, in time, the meaning of this statement would become clear enough. That dreadful day would come when Jesus would be betrayed at the hands of Judas Iscariot, tortured by the authorities in Jerusalem, and put to death on the cruel cross at Calvary. But on the third day, after His disciples found His tomb to be empty, He appeared to them in bodily form, risen from the dead just as He said. And their silence was broken. As the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost, Peter began to boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ, and all the rest of the New Testament church with him. And we find ourselves living on this side of the resurrection, and we must proclaim Him too. He is risen from the dead! The vow of silence and secrecy has expired and been replaced by the Great Commission to go into all the world and make Christ known. These are Christ’s marching orders to the Christian Church. Go and make Him known, proclaim His salvation to the ends of the earth! His resurrection will mark the glorious and powerful onset of His Kingdom foreseen in His transfiguration.

Of the three disciples who accompanied Jesus on the mountain, we have written eyewitness accounts of two of them concerning their experiences with Jesus. James was an early martyr of the Christian church, being put to death by sword. His death is recorded in Acts 12. There are no writings from him which have been preserved. He is not the James who wrote the New Testament book of James. However John, the brother of James and also an eyewitness of the Transfiguration, writing many years later says in 1 John 1 that his testimony about Jesus is based upon what he has heard, what he has seen with his eyes, and what he has looked at and touched with his own hands. And Peter, who strongly influenced Mark’s Gospel, also left us with two letters which he wrote. In 2 Peter 1, he writes, “We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” And what event does Peter point to as the validation of His power and majesty? He says, “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” Decades later, Peter is pointing back to this event – the Transfiguration – as fundamental for understanding who Jesus is and what He has come to do for us. This is a crucial moment of revelation wherein Jesus, upon His own initiative, discloses more of His true nature, glory, authority, and victory, to the men who would be influential in the early spread of Chrisianity across the globe.

Since the days of Enlightenment, there has been one attempt after another to unearth the so-called “historical Jesus,” a quest that disregards the eyewitness accounts preserved for us in the New Testament by those who received direct revelation from God Himself concerning Christ and His Kingdom. What can we know about Jesus apart from the New Testament? Very little indeed. And why should we trust the New Testament? Because it was written by the eyewitnesses who received this revelation themselves. There are other reasons as well, but this one should by no means be minimized.

If it weren’t for the divine initiative of the Triune God revealing Himself to mankind, we would be groping in darkness trying to find the light. By His grace, this light has shone into our darkness. Many have seen their lives transformed by this grace as they turn from their sins and place their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Others have not. If you have never placed your faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, then heed the testimony of those who saw with their own eyes His glorious power unveiled—heed their call to turn from sin and trust Him to be saved. He died on the cross for your sins and conquered death by His resurrection so that your sins could be forgiven and you may have eternal life. God has revealed Himself fully and completely in Christ. How shall you escape His righteous judgment if you turn away in disbelief? Receive Him today if you never have before and be saved. And if you have already received Him, how can you keep silent about His power, His glory, His authority and His victory? This is good news that is meant to be shared. Someone you know needs to hear it today. May each of us go out with joy and make Him known as He has made Himself known to us.

New to the Blogroll: Stephen Wagoner

Down in the Links section, regular readers (both of them) will notice a new addition: Stephen Wagoner's blog.

Stephen is a young church planter who has moved to Greensboro with his family to start Passion Church. What I love about Stephen is his heart for this city. There are Christians who have lived in this city their whole lives who do not love it as much as Stephen, a relative newcomer. Stephen's desire is to see this city transformed by the Gospel. God's providence brought us together several months ago, and for that I am thankful.

Stephen and I are forging a friendship around the Great Commission. Our work is different. Stephen is planting from scratch; I am trying to lead an established congregation. But our goal is the same, and more importantly, both of us see the gospel as the only hope for the Gate City.

May God bless Stephen and Passion church, and may He raise up others in new and existing churches who will share this vision and work together to see it happen.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Walter Kaiser's Toward an Exegetical Theology

Walter Kaiser came to Lancaster Bible College's Graduate School back in the Summer of 2002 to teach an intensive grad course in Old Testament Preaching. Having heard him occasionally and read him often, I could not pass up the opportunity. It might have been the best academic course I ever took. The material from his lectures went on to be published as Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament. During that course, we read Toward and Exegetical Theology. When I think of how I have been shaped in preaching, few things or people have impacted me as much as this book and this man. It revolutionized my study habits (though I still fall WAY short). The recent review of this book by Nathan Williams on Pulpit Magazine will show you why this book remains a must-read for any Bible preacher or teacher.

Nathan Williams concludes his review with several poignant quotes from the book.

“Should the ministry of the pulpit fail, one might
just as well conclude that all the supporting ministries of Christian
education, counseling, community involvement, yes, even missionary and
society outreach, will likewise soon dwindle, of not collapse.” (p. 8 )

“A gap of crisis proportions exists between the steps
generally outlined in most seminary or Biblical training classes in
exegesis and the hard realities most pastors face every week as they
prepare their sermons.” (p. 18)

“Those sermons whose alleged strength is that they
speak to contemporary issues, needs, and aspirations often exhibit the
weakness of a subjective approach.” (p. 19)

“The Scripture cannot be understood theologically, until it is understood grammatically.” (p. 27)

“For large segments of the Christian Church is is a
truism to say that biblical exposition has become a lost art in
contemporary preaching.” (p. 37)

“The sole object of the expositor is to explain as
clearly as possible what the writer meant when he wrote the text under
examination.” (p. 45)

“Accordingly, hermeneutics may be regarded as the
theory that guides exegesis; exegesis may be understood in this work to
be the practice of and the set of procedures for discovering the
author’s intended meaning.” (p. 47)

“To begin with, let it be stated as a sort of first
principle that preparation for preaching is always a movement which
must begin with the text of Scripture and have as its goal the
proclamation of that Word in such a way that it can be heard with all
its poignancy and relevancy to the modern situation without dismissing
one iota of its original normativeness.” (p. 48)

“But we contend that the original languages serve
best when we become aware of the syntax and grammar involved in
phrases, clauses, and sentences. The bonding material between these
otherwise isolated words or groups of words is what all the sweat and
tears are about in language study.” (p. 49)

“The aim of the grammatico-historical method is to
determine the sense required by the laws of grammar and the facts of
history.” (p. 87)

“In other words, moderns have shifted their interest
in the hermeneutical quest to the other end of the interpretive
spectrum. They are more interested in ‘what the text,’ as they say,
‘means to me-what I can get out of it.’”(p. 89)

“The difficulty this time is not in understanding
what is said, but in bridging the gap from the ‘then’ to the ‘now’ of
contemporary audiences.’” (p. 92)

“Words, then, are the basic blocks for building meaning. We repeat, they must not be torn from their contexts.” (p. 129)

“Exegesis is never an end in itself. Its purposes are
never fully realized until it begins to take into account the problems
of transferring what has been learned from the text over to the waiting
Church.” (p. 149)

“When truth is not internalized within the hearers,
but is left as just so many notions floating around outside their
experience, the exegete is in effect a mere dilettante-a trifler in the
art of interpretation.” (p. 151)

“The whole objective of what we are here calling
‘textual expository preaching’ is to let the Scriptures have the major,
if not the only, role in determining the shape, logic, and development
of our message.” (p. 160)

“Good preaching has a twofold job: it must teach the
content of truth as set forth in each passage and it must also suggest
a reproducible method of Bible study.” (p. 205)

“To find God’s meanings and emphases, we must
discover what the author’s were-first in the book as a whole and then
in the particular section and passage we wish to use for our messages.”
(p. 210)

“From the beginning of the sermon to its end, the
all-engrossing force of the text and the God who speaks through that
text must dominate our whole being. With the burning power of that
truth on our heart and lips, every thought, emotion, and act of the
will must be so captured by that truth that is springs forth with
excitement, joy, sincerity, and reality as an evident token that God’s
Spirit is in that word.” (p. 239)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Culture and the Gospel

In a fine post by Bill Walsh at the Desiring God blog, Mr. Walsh cites extensively from the Lausanne Willowbank Report on Gospel and Culture. That report speaks of the necessity of humility in sharing the gospel across cultural barriers. This is so for two reasons:

(These are quotes from the Lausanne Report, underlined are my emphases)
1) First, there is the humility to acknowledge the problem which culture
presents, and not to avoid or over-simplify it. As we have seen,
different cultures have strongly influenced the biblical revelation,
ourselves, and the people to whom we go. As a result, we have several
personal limitations in communicating the gospel. For we are prisoners
(consciously or unconsciously) of our own culture, and our grasp of the
cultures both of the Bible and of the country in which we serve is very
It is the interaction between all these cultures which
constitutes the problem of communication; it humbles all who wrestle
with it.

2) Secondly, there is the humility to take the trouble to understand and
appreciate the culture of those to whom we go.
It is this desire which
leads naturally into that true dialogue "whose purpose is to listen
sensitively in order to understand." We repent of the ignorance which
assumes that we have all the answers and that our only role is to
teach. We have very much to learn. We repent also of judgmental
attitudes. We know we should never condemn or despise another culture,
but rather respect it.
We advocate neither the arrogance which imposes
our culture on others, nor the syncretism which mixes the gospel with
cultural elements incompatible with it, but rather a humble sharing of
the good news—made possible by the mutual respect of a genuine

(End quote)

This problem is not isolated to our efforts to take the gospel to other cultures in other lands. I see the need for this within our own borders, in our own city, and in our own churches. There is a cultural pride that says that the way I like it is the best way, and so churches are thriving on the principle of homogeneity, to use McGavaran's term. I prefer to say "Monoculturalism." This cultural demarkation is not necessarily along ethnic lines, though it has some bearing on ethnicity. It is socioeconomic to some degree. But the greatest barrier I find is that of age. For many centuries, it has gone without saying that younger people are to respect their elders and learn from them. Today, churches seem to have a blatant disregard for their elder members, the faithfulness of whom keeps many of these churches operating.

I overheard a conversation between two semi-mega-church pastors in this city about music styles in worship. One asked the other, "How can I switch to all contemporary music without running off my older members?" I appreciate his question. On the one hand, he recognizes the need for change to satisfy the interests of a young community around him. On the other hand, he does not want to overlook the traditions and preferences of his older members. The question is a good one. The answer is what concerns me. This other pastor said to him, "Just switch it, and let them leave. You will gain more than you lose." What we see here is the kind of cultural arrogance that says "My way is best. Like it or leave it."

I believe that healthy churches are those whose members represent a cross-section of age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc. As these members grow in Christian maturity, they learn to appreciate the cultural traditions of each other, and learn to surrender those traditions to the unifying call of the Gospel of Christ. However, this type of growth in cultural understanding cannot take place in monocultural churches. We need the voices of other generations, other ethnicities, etc. to sharpen each other toward Christlike maturity. My fear is that this cannot and will not happen in churches which cater to one specific group of people, programming the entire ministry of the church around that group's preferences and treasured traditions.

Immanuel Baptist Church has been in existence for over 60 years. For over two-thirds of its history, Immanuel has been committed to the vision of being a "Church for All People." Sadly, that vision which was seen as cutting-edge, noble, and daring forty years ago is decried by many experts today. They say that the church's key to vitality is singling out a target audience and catering every aspect of church life to them. I remain convinced that this may be "effective" in growing churches, but it is not faithful to the biblical picture of the Body of Christ, which consists of Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free, all on equal footing before the cross. And so we remain committed to this vision of being "a church for all people." To our older members, we say that there will come necessary accommodations to some of the interests of younger people. And to those younger ones, we say that there is much to learn by accommodating some of the traditions of those who have faithfully walked with Christ longer than the younger ones have been alive.

If you live in Greensboro, and have sought in vain to find a church home where all people are welcome and appreciated equally, we invite you to join us for worship and be a part of a church who stood for cultural diversity when it wasn't popular forty years ago, and still does today, when it remains equally unpopular.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Devotional Value of Commentaries

Often the task of pouring through biblical commentaries is tedious. Greek verb tenses, obscure words the send me scrounging for my seminary textbooks, and arguments about seeming minutia are not always the most exciting reading. However, once in a while a good commentator will throw in a little devotional nugget that makes the whole task enjoyable. One of my favorite commentary series is the Pillar Commentaries. James Edwards writes the Mark volume, and in it, on page 268, he wraps up a paragraph with this phenomenal sentence:

"Faith is always and only our assent to the truth that has been revealed to us, apart from which it cannot be known."

A few sentences later, he says this:

"Christology leads to discipleship; discipleship flows from Christology."

These are great statements to ponder devotionally in private worship.

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Gilbert's Diagnostic Questions

Below is a portion of Greg Gilbert's follow up to his article on music that I linked to a few days ago. Find the whole article here.

Greg says, "My hope is that these questions, and the
thoughts they provoke in you, will help you to be on guard against your
spiritual life becoming unhealthily dependent on anything it should not be
dependent on. I hope they're helpful to you:

- Do you get bored when someone reads a longish
passage of Scripture in your church? Do you start wishing they’d get on
with the music?

- Do you need music playing in the background for the
reading of Scripture to affect your emotions?

- Does a prayer seem too “plain” or “stark” to you if
it doesn’t have music playing behind it?

- Do you feel depressed a few weeks after a worship
conference because you haven’t felt close to God in a long time?

- Do you desperately look forward to the next
conference you’re going to attend because you know that, finally, you’ll be
able to feel close to God again?

- If you’re in a big church with great music, are you
able to worship when you visit your parents’ small rural church?

- Do you ever feel worshipful in the middle of the
week, at work, at school, etc. just because of thinking about God and his
grace? Or does that only happen when the music’s playing?

- Do you tend to feel closer to God when you’re alone
with your iPOD than you do when you’re gathered with God’s people in your

- Do you feel like you just can’t connect with other
believers who haven’t had the same “worship experiences” that you have?
Can you only connect with other believers who “know what it feels like to really

- Is your sense of spiritual well-being based more on feeling close to God, or knowing that you are close to God because of Jesus Christ?"

Great questions, Mr. Gilbert.

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Monday, February 11, 2008


This morning my wife and I were talking about "non-denominational" churches. In particular we were talking about the dupery that goes on when a church has blatantly identifiably denominational characteristics, yet attempts to say it is non-denominational. They may mean by this that they do not follow or contribute to a particular denominational organization, but that is not what "Denomination" means. The word means "name." It is a label that is a kind of short-hand for our faith and practice. I am a Baptist, not because I serve a church with "Baptist" on the sign or because we cooperate with the SBC. I am Baptist because when I articulate what I believe and how I believe Christianity ought to be practiced in the life of a local church, those beliefs are "Baptist." I know of several churches in the Triad (Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point, NC) who claim to be non-denominational, yet one is plainly Presbyterian in faith and practice, another is equally plainly Church of Christ, and several are Charismatic, and some Baptist. Yet they want the consumers to believe that they are a pure body without the baggage of denominationalism. I think that lacks integrity. This is what I said to my wife this morning.

Imagine my surprise when I found this quote from the Internet Monk later in the day:

(Begin quote)
What do you think of “non-denominational” churches?

There is no such thing. Historically, almost every
non-denominational church is a kind of evangelical, semi or totally
Baptistic, often charismatic gathering of people who simply want to
believe that they opened the Bible and started from scratch.

I know that denominational names get in the way, but somewhere- not
necessarily on the sign out front- its helpful to say “This is the
stream of Christianity we come from.” Everyone has a family, even if
you have reasons for wanting to avoid your connection to them.

Just being honest, every time I’m in a conversation with someone
committed to the non-denominational label, there’s always an aire of
superiority that really gets tiresome. It stifles conversation, unity,
fellowship and so much else.
(end quote)

I have been asked if I would consider removing the word "Baptist" from our name or from our church sign. While I understand that the name "Baptist" has a connotation in the minds of some that is less than desirable, I think the gospel requires integrity, and integrity demands that we call ourselves what we are up front, rather than pretending to be something we are not, only to spring it on unsuspecting people later on.

Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," or something like that. W. A. Criswell, speaking of liberals who prefer to style themselves as moderates perhaps said it better: "A skunk by any other name still stinks."