Flashback Friday: What Can I Say About The Gospel That Hasn’t Already Been Said?

Originally Published June 21, 2019:

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Lately, evangelicals have been telling us that social justice is a “Gospel issue.” A recent comment on one of my blog posts suggested that the Gospel teaches us to have unity despite theological differences (a point worthy of its own article). These sentiments, as well as similar sentiments I’ve heard throughout the years,  prompt me to think that we need periodic reminders of what the Gospel actually is.

Most of you may decide not to read this article. Why waste time reading about something so basic? Do I have new insights into the Gospel? Perhaps a fresh take on it? Can I present it in a creative manner that makes it more interesting? More relevant?

No, I can’t. As a matter of fact, adding to the Gospel would lead me to damnation (Galatians 1:8). I have no interest in dressing it up for the purpose of making it more appealing and/or entertaining.

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Throwback Thursday: The Wonderful Message Of Christmas — And Why People Work So Hard To Obscure It

Originally published December 12, 2019

2015 Christmas

I personally know many non-Christians who just love Christmas. They’ll decorate their homes to the hilt, send out beautifully illustrated year-end newsletters wishing people peace and joy, and maybe even put up a cute nativity scene as an homage to the story of the first Christmas.

For them, Christmas is primarily about brightly wrapped presents, feasting on scrumptious food, and parties. Songs mentioning benign infants lying in mangers must be supplemented with other songs about jingling bells and an obese elf from the North Pole who sees us when we’re sleeping. And then there are the infamous office parties and their accompanying innuendos about who was nice and naughty.

Most of all, they’ll declare that Christmas is about children. Not so much about a specific Child, although some might give Him an obligatory nod, but children and their sense of wonder during this seemingly magical season. Visions of sugarplums dance in secular heads that watch children light up with joy at this most wonderful time of the year.

The secular traditions seem to increase every year, conveniently distracting culture from the powerful message that God became flesh and dwelt among us. Babes in mangers, after all, had better keep their place — especially that Baby!

Sometimes it’s difficult for Christians to understand why others work so hard to obscure Christ while celebrating Christmas. Let me suggest that acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ for Who He actually is threatens those who deny His authority over them.

Please run Colossians 1:15-20 through your brain for a few minutes.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

Think about this passage and its richness in portraying the Lord Jesus Christ as the Creator and Sustainer of this universe, from the vastness of outer space to the complexity of a single cell. Then remember that He became a Man in order to shed His blood on the cross to pay for our sins. Those of us who have experienced His love and grace rejoice that the Most High descended to earth to reconcile hopeless sinners like us to Himself.

For us, the wonder of Christmas comes as we contemplate Christ’s humble Incarnation against the backdrop of His majesty. The more we understand His deity and bow to His authority, the more we rejoice in His mercy to shed His blood for the remission of our sins. And therefore we celebrate Him as the glorious Christmas message!

That Baby in this manger was actually the Lord of all creation. Yes, even of created men and women who want to reject His claim on them. The world may try to obscure Him with magic reindeer and boughs of holly, but one day His light will obscure everything but Himself.

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Flashback Friday: Thankful Beyond Compare

Originally published March 8, 2016:

Swan and Ducks

Throughout my life, I’ve fallen into the sin of ingratitude. For the most part, I succumbed to this sin as a result of comparing myself with able-bodied people. I can remember the envy I nurtured in my heart during my two years in Memphis, listening to my co-workers talk about their homes and marriages, and feeling resentful that I was single and living in a nursing home. When they encouraged me to be grateful for a roof over my head, food in  my belly and people to get me up each morning, you bet I felt like smacking them! But, as angry as I was that I couldn’t have the goodies that they had, I was even angrier that their comments exposed my sin of ingratitude.

Rather than comparing myself to my co-workers, I believe the Lord wanted me to compare myself to the blind, non-verbal quadriplegic two doors down from me whose mother wouldn’t even touch him when she visited. Or the woman who had been disabled when a drunk driver smashed into her car, killing her baby and damaging her mind and body so severely that her husband immediately  filed for divorce. Or all those with Cerebral Palsy that had spent their entire adult lives in that roach-infested place, with no hope of getting out. Had I contrasted my life to theirs, I think I would have been much more grateful for all the Lord had given me.

Scripture frequently has to tell us to thank the Lord for His blessings precisely because we naturally gravitate toward ingratitude. We convince ourselves that, compared to certain others, we don’t receive what life supposedly owes us. Or, to put it in terms we’d never admit, we don’t receive what God supposedly owes us.

Our real problem is that we have an inflated opinion of ourselves coupled with a deflated view of the Lord. Rather than recognizing that we actually owe Him everything, both because He created us and because He shed His precious blood to pay the penalty for our sin, we demand that He cater to our desires. I say “we” because I still allow myself to dabble in the sin of ingratitude. I’ll cast the first stone at myself, but I seriously doubt that I’m the only one guilty of taking His goodness for granted.

With that being the case, we all need the Bible’s reminders to praise and thank the Lord for His goodness to us. Psalm 100 is one of many passages of Scripture that directs me to praise and thank Him.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations. ~~Psalm 100 (ESV)

It helps me to compare myself to that quadriplegic young man in the nursing home. But that might not be the most Biblical approach to cultivating gratitude, now that I think of it. Instead of comparing ourselves with people more fortunate or less fortunate than ourselves, perhaps we’d do better by focusing on Who God is and how graciously He cares for us.

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The Annoying, Acceptable Sin Of Complaining



As Mom’s car crossed the Richmond-San Rafael bridge that early afternoon in 1970, my sister and I knew were only minutes away from the train station. We also knew that Granny would probably stay for about a year, primarily to help care for us while Mom worked. We dreaded it, but not because we’d have to share my bedroom during the time Gran stayed. Okay, maybe bunking together bothered us a little — both of us had reached our teenage years by then, and had gotten used to our respective privacy. But we had a much greater concern. One that we hadn’t voiced to our mother until the car carried us across the bridge.

I can’t remember which one of us had the courage to address the proverbial elephant in the room, but one of us finally asked the question that had been consuming our thoughts for weeks: “Is Gran going to complain all the time again?”

Mom chuckled, more out of sympathy than amusement. “Honey,” she replied, “I don’t think Granny is happy unless she has something to complain about.”

We groaned, anticipating an unpleasant year. It never occurred to us that we were actually complaining about our grandmother.

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Without The Holy Spirit, There’s No Rebirth

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seems straightforward on the surface. Jesus said that, in order to see the kingdom of God, one must be born again. (John 3:3-7). At least, it did when I was a new Christian.

As a newly saved teenager, I latched on to that passage, zealously quoting it to family and friends in my attempts to strongarm them into salvation. At that time, I believed that I could claim credit for “accepting” Jesus, and I consequently thought I’d made the choice to be born again. I understood John 3:7 as an imperative command rather than as a cause and effect principle. In my mind, someone needed to make a decision to believe in Jesus so that he or she could experience the new birth. Much of the teaching I received back then only reinforced my misunderstanding of the passage.

During my college years, Jimmy Carter popularized the phrase “born-again Christian” as he campaigned for the presidency. One evening, as she got me ready to visit a neighbor’s church service, my mom asked me to explain what Jimmy Carter, my neighbor and I meant by this seemingly new terminology. I merely quoted John 3:3-7, secretly relieved that I didn’t have time to really explain it. Yes, relieved — because deep down I knew that, although I had been born again, I didn’t understand how it actually worked. The expanded passage frustrated me by failing to detail what a person needed to do to make the new birth happen.

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I Couldn’t Have Paid Anything

Most of us have no idea of how extensive our sin is. Personally, I can understand it only by realizing that erasing it required nothing less than the innocent blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But I do know that I have absolutely no resources with which to atone for my sin. Any good that I might have done could never outweigh the ways that I have offended the thrice holy God. My debt towards Him is just too formidable.

Thankfully, Jesus is a merciful God Who took my debt upon Himself. He graciously paid the entire price of my sin, leaving me free to worship God with a clear conscience. Throughout eternity, I will praise Him for paying a debt that I never could have paid.

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The Strange Effect Of Praying

As Mom drove across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to the train station, my sister and I expressed our dread of another year-long visit from Granny. It wasn’t so much that we’d have to share a bedroom again (actually, I kind of liked that part). And I looked forward to her lemon cake.

But Granny complained. A lot. About everything. My sister and I spent that car ride telling Mom how much her complaining bothered us.

Mom validated our feelings by responding, “Granny’s not happy unless she has something to complain about.”

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the sin of complaining. I wake up complaining that it’s time to wake up. Throughout the day, I notice myself grumbling internally about various matters ranging from my assorted aches and pains to my frustrations over COVID-19 restrictions. I understand that complaining exposes a lack of trust in the Lord, not to mention an ungrateful attitude.

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For Even Me!

It’s good to face up to the severity of our sin. Sadly, few churches these days teach much about human depravity. Efforts to bolster self-esteem minimize any mention of sin in favor of emphasizing our righteousness in Christ. We nod in agreement that Jesus died for our sins, rarely seriously thinking of ourselves as sinners.

But those of us who actually do understand the depth of our wretchedness run the danger of not speaking enough about God’s grace. This failure is ironic, since our conviction of sin should enable us to have a deeper appreciation of His grace.

What could be more joyful than knowing that the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches even me? How can I resist praising His Name when I think about His grace being broader than the scope of my transgressions, making me God’s dear child? The matchless grace of Jesus fills me with such joy that I want to magnify the precious Name of Jesus!

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Pouring Contempt On All My Pride

Whether we admit it or not, all of us struggle with the sin of pride. As I confess my sins during my daily prayer time, I often see how they all emerge from the root sin of pride. I also see how pride keeps me from fully appreciating the wonderful work Christ did for me on the cross.

Pride tells us lies about ourselves. It tells us that Jesus saw something in us deserving of His love. It tells us that we participate in our salvation, if only by exercising our wills to accept Him. It tells us that our obedience to Him makes us righteous.

The cross, on the other hand, tells us that the Prince of glory died and turned our richest gains into loss. It tells us that even if we possessed the entire realm of nature, it wouldn’t be enough of a present to offer Him. It tells us that the love of God demands everything from us, even though we have absolutely nothing worthy of His love.

Do The Four Spiritual Laws Explain Why Sin Separates Us From God?

Last Tuesday I started writing about the Four Spiritual Laws, a tract that has been used in evangelism for decades. On the whole, the principles in this tract present the Gospel fairly adequately, so I wouldn’t categorize it exactly as false teaching. God may have used it to bring some of you to faith in Jesus Christ, and I don’t want to disparage that blessing. Nevertheless, I would say that this tract does give an inadequate presentation of the Gospel.

Actually, I’d guess that most of us came to Christ though inadequate presentations of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit works though His Word even when people mishandle His Word. Isn’t it marvelous that He uses our imperfections to accomplish His perfect work of saving His elect?

Acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s power and grace to work though flawed presentations of the Gospel doesn’t mean that we should use those means once we grow in doctrinal understanding. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t examine the tools we use in evangelism. For that reason, we have good reason to question the statements we find in the Four Spiritual Laws to determine if they offer the best Gospel presentation. And the second Spiritual Law most assuredly ought to be questioned.

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