You Said It, Part II


As I did a few weeks ago, occasionally I’ll share with you some great quotes I’ve come across during my research. All of these memorable quotes have inspired and encouraged me, and I hope they do the same for you. Enjoy!

“We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone.”   Martin Luther

As you may know, Martin Luther was the German reformer who was tormented for years in his quest to understand and earn the righteousness of God. In fact, during his struggle to obtain this as a young Catholic monk, Luther admitted that far from loving God, he actually feared and hated God because of his vain attempts at becoming righteous before God. Luther felt nothing but condemnation and despair as he labored to become righteous.

But one day about a year and a half before he would ignite the Protestant Reformation, Luther came to understand by studying the book of Romans that the righteousness of God wasn’t to be feared and especially not earned, but received as a gift by faith. So in Luther’s discovery, nothing anyone could do – all our futile works – could ever garner God’s attention towards us, or especially the bestowal of his righteousness. The glorious breakthrough was that God’s already done all the work: we just receive it by faith in Jesus! And now, since I am righteous according to God, works are needed more than ever, but not to garner God’s attention, but now works born of my faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Another quote from Luther further reveals this even more:

“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

Of course the Bible sums this up best:

“But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18 (NASB)

So although we are saved by faith alone, that faith should never remain alone as it brings forth works of righteousness that in turn can help others to realize an awesome truth: God loves them so much that he’s already done all the work!

“Faith can’t be forced, but unfaith can be challenged.”   N.T. Wright

I love how the British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reminds us of our role as we share the Gospel with others. At times, we may feel like forcing others to accept Jesus, since we can’t understand why anyone would resist all that God offers, but we know it is a decision that each individual must make on their own.

So, while we can’t and shouldn’t force others into a decision, we must always be ready to share and persuade others as they are investigating the nature of God and faith. That’s what 1 Peter 3:15 states:

“. . . but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV)

In order to challenge, or as 1 Peter 3:15 says “make a defense”, we must

  • Always be prepared!
  • Let the hope that is in us shine forth!
  • Respond with gentleness and respect!

What a challenge before us! Let me reiterate these in more practical terms:

  • Are you prepared to share with others who Jesus is, and articulate the Christian position on an issue?
  • Can people see you’re a Christian before you speak?
  • As you start to share, does it usually prompt more conversations, or anger and withdrawal?

Please know I am not proposing, and neither does N.T. Wright, that everyone has to become scholars with numerous letters after their last name. But unfortunately it’s become empirically evident today that the average Christian is woefully prepared to “make a defense” of his or her faith. And invariably, I believe the responsibility does reside with Christians, in that only 19% admit to reading their Bible daily, but also with church leaders for not equipping and urging Christians to be better prepared!

The needed remedy is multifaceted, but any remedy should begin with a commitment to abide in the Word of God, and also becoming savvier in the art of persuasion, making the most of every opportunity we have to share the reason for the hope within us. Otherwise, “unfaith” will not be challenged, as it must, but continue to actually flourish, gaining perceived support from faulty and meager worldviews.

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This could not be said any better! Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who refused to capitulate to Nazism, and eventually was executed by order of Hitler, beautifully captures the truth of God, and the tension that will always exist in culture.

Of great concern to me is that so many Christians in 21st Century America don’t see much of a difference between the Christian lifestyle and contemporary American culture. In their eyes, the tension between God’s truth and present culture has vanished, but in reality, the two are diametrically opposed to each other, as Bonhoeffer beautifully articulated.

And, notice what else Bonhoeffer stresses: what the culture seemingly holds in high esteem, is “infinite worthlessness”, and what is truly of value, is deemed by culture “worthless”. May we learn from Bonhoeffer that there are things worth standing up for, things of infinite worth, and even worth dying for!

Didn’t Jesus also teach us that?


Prepare the Way!


We are all making preparations for Christmas:

  • We’ve been budgeting so we can buy presents for our loved ones;
  • Hopefully already put the decorations up outside and inside;
  • Bought the Christmas tree or unpacked the ‘fake’ tree;
  • Went to a few Christmas parties with friends and an office party or two.

As my wife and I have been preparing, it made me wonder what preparations were made for the first Christmas, or how about for the launch of the ministry of Jesus? Surprisingly a lot! Even before the angel spoke to Mary and Joseph, preparations had been made, as the numerous Old Testament prophecies prove, and even before Jesus began his public ministry, preparations were made.

Now as a person who teaches Introduction to the New Testament classes, and having even written curriculum for that class, I’ve had the opportunity to study the four Gospels in depth. Honestly, Mark is probably my least favorite Gospel. Why? I’ve always liked the other three Gospels more for various reasons:

  • Matthew is the great teaching Gospel and the most Jewish of the four, therefore with a great emphasis on how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies;
  • Luke is the Gospel for everyone with the magnificent parables unique to it (the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son, etc)
  • John . . . well John is undoubtedly my favorite! Admittedly it is the odd duck of the four because it’s by far the most theological, and therefore also the most distinctive in that it doesn’t have any parables, or nativity, or baptism and temptation of Jesus, or miracles but instead eight great “signs”, and it has the seven great “I Am” statements, and on and on I could go with its distinctiveness.

Where’s that leave Mark? Well, most scholars today still believe it was the first Gospel to be written, but other than that, Mark has an abrupt opening (no genealogy or nativity), rushes from event to event (the most prevalent word in the original Greek is our English word “immediately”), with scant teaching segments at best compared to the other Gospels, and the original ending most likely has been lost to history.

But, as I recently re-examined Mark 1:1-8, I discovered something. Even though Matthew and Luke are the only Gospels to have a traditional nativity narrative (Matthew emphasizing Joseph’s perspective and Luke Mary’s), Mark’s introduction does have something to add! Mark declares the preparation that was needed for the coming of the Christ, especially as he is about to launch his public ministry, and that is through the ministry of John the Baptist (or more accurately John “the baptizer”). While much of this material is also seen in Matthew 3, the fact that Mark wrote first, and decided to start his Gospel with this is significant.

Before we go any further, please read Mark 1:1-8:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way,

the voice of one shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make his paths straight.’”

In the wilderness John the baptizer began preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John wore a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “One more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to bend down and untie the strap of his sandals.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (NET Bible)

Did you catch it? Just as we prepare for Christmas by doing all the things I mentioned above and much more, so too for the coming of the Messiah, and at the inauguration of his public ministry, there had to be preparations. Why?

That’s a long story, but suffice to say that with the close of the Old Testament, there was nearly 400 years of divine silence in the land – no prophets, no word from God, nothing! And then, according to Galatians 4:4 “the fullness of time had come”! Yes, the baby had been born, but few knew whom he was, and no one knew what kind of a Messiah he would be.

So what did John the Baptist do?

He prepared the way for the Lord. In ancient times, this phrase emphasized the obligation of making sure the way was prepared for an official visit of an important dignitary. The roads would be cleared, the people would receive instructions, and the way would be secured.

In relation to Jesus, the dignitary of all dignitaries, how did John make preparations? He “proclaimed” or as most current translations express it “preached” two things:

  • He called all of Israel to a “repentance of baptism for the forgiveness of sins”. This was an astonishing demand since the Jewish people didn’t practice baptism. They did participate in ritual washings, and a proselyte would be baptized into the Jewish religion, but most scholars believe John’s call doesn’t really fit either of those practices. Essentially, John’s call for baptism, ‘since you have repented’ (the meaning of “baptism of repentance”), was a command to ‘make yourself ready’ for the impending visit of the Messiah, and that began with spiritual preparation!
  • Then, John “proclaimed” the one to come is “more powerful” or mightier than I am. Notice that John’s official proclamation wasn’t about himself, but that a strong and powerful man was coming who could accomplish all he intended to do.

What does this mean for us today?

First, while it’s important to be ready for Christmas, have you used this special time of the year to prepare yourself for a visit from the King? If I may, let me ask two questions:

  • When was the last time you had a meaningful worship experience in his Presence?
  • What act of obedience is God putting on your heart?

To summarize this point, don’t get caught up with the presents of Christmas and miss spending time in his Presence!

Second, you are now John, tasked with the privilege of “preparing the way” for the Lord for others! As in ancient times, we are to spread the news the King is coming, making smooth and securing his arrival by removing any hindrances one may have to seeing and receiving the King.

We can do that in a multitude of ways, but it helps to remember John at this point. He was a faithful witness the people flocked to because he shared an official proclamation concerning the King, but also because everyone knew he lived the life! Doing these two things, and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, will allow us to “prepare the way” for many in a glorious manner.

So let these two reminders from John encourage you as you’re preparing for Christmas, and as you have the opportunity to “prepare the way” for others this season. It’s not about presents, but the Presence of one stronger and mightier than we are.


The Mind of Christ


I started reading Faith Speaking Understanding, which is the latest book by distinguished theologian Kevin VanHoozer. I’m not even finished with chapter two yet, but already he has captured my attention and challenged me with his thesis.

As he begins, VanHoozer explains one of his concerns with the church in the twenty-first century:

“I am more concerned with the latter half of the Great Commission: with making disciples not in the sense of converting them to Christ but rather in the sense of cultivating in them the mind of Christ, ‘teaching them to observe’ the supreme authority of Christ in every situation (Matt. 28:20).” (p. 3)

That has been an apprehension of mine for years. I see too many churches today more concerned with the number of decisions made for Christ – “converts” – and not nearly enough concern with raising these new-born Christians in the ways of faith – “cultivating in them the mind of Christ”. Another way to say this, sadly it seems more churches are concerned with decisions than the development of those who have made decisions! I love how scholar and theologian Dallas Willard in his classic book The Divine Conspiracy expressed this:

“The current gospel [as it is preached in many churches today] then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message. “

Consequently what you’re left with is a message that stresses the need for Jesus at the new birth, and death, and that’s it! Supposedly Jesus has no relevance to your life until you die! With this kind of message preached, is it any wonder so many Christians are living such powerless, unfulfilled lives?

But as you and I know, this is not the complete Gospel, and I unequivocally support VanHoozer and his call that discipleship is not just about getting decisions, but cultivating in new disciples the mind of Christ. That statement the “mind of Christ” prodded me to look at the Scriptures and there I was reminded of the command to have the “mind of Christ.” Here’s a sampling of what I found:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, . . .” (Philippians 4:5 KJV)

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16 NASB)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, . . .” (Romans 12:2 NASB)

From these passages and others, here are some encouragements to embolden Christians seeking to cultivate the “mind of Christ” in their lives:

  • Christianity is not a collection of dos and don’ts but learning to think rightly.

So much could be said about the Law and its importance and relationship to the Gospel, but for now, never forget that the Law cannot make anybody righteous before God, but it can point to the right course of action. It is wrong of us to stress to new believers the necessity of obedience to the Law without first stressing the need to obey our Savior daily! Emphasizing the latter will in turn bring about the former.

  • Your mind will be either “conformed” to the world’s standards, or be “transformed” by being renewed by the Spirit as you study and meditate on the Word of God.

This pivotal truth is from Romans 12:1-2, which is so rich with meaning and significance! For our present purposes, it is a good reminder that we are either squeezed and pressured from the outside culture to become like it, or we are changed from the inside – “constantly, daily renewing our mind” by the power of the Spirit. Either one or the other will happen; it’s up to us and the mind has a key role.

  • To have the “mind of Christ” is a partnership with the Spirit that requires work on our part!

While we are saved by Christ in an instance, a disciple becomes Christ-like over a lifetime. A multitude of verses stress our role as we become more like Christ. Two key verses demonstrate this:

2 Peter 1:5-10: Verse 5 especially states we are to “make every effort to lavishly provide to your faith at your expense . . .” seven characteristics and traits, which are to be increasing and growing!

Philippians 2:12-13: We must “work out and accomplish our faith” yet remember that also “God is working in you” This is both a beautiful promise, but also a responsibility that shouldn’t be shunned or neglected.

So VanHoozer is to be commended for his plea warning the Church to stop fixating on making converts, and to strive at cultivating the “mind of Christ” in new believers. To quote Willard again regarding the Great Commission and having the mind of Christ: “Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”

Is there a better description of the “mind of Christ” and of understanding its importance?


Two Books on Prayer


Lucado, Max. Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.

Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Dutton, 2014.

Recently prayer has unwittingly become the topic of the day. Frankly, this is a subject that most of us would rather not address. Why? Many reasons could be listed, but I would suggest part of it is because prayer raises difficult questions. For instance:

  • We are told in the Bible to ask God for things – “you have not because you ask not” (James 4:2) – yet we know that God is sovereign, infallible, and has a plan. So in other words, why ask God for something if he already has everything set and according to some great plan? How do you resolve that?
  • Additionally, any discussion regarding prayer surely raises the issues of how we should pray, how often, publicly or privately, and an array of other questions.
  • Lastly, what about unanswered prayers, or more troubling to me, how about when the prayer is answered, but you don’t like the answer!

Thankfully, this critical topic has been addressed by two of evangelical Christianity’s best authors – Timothy Keller and Max Lucado. Both men are pastors, successful writers, and very good at what they do, yet in their respective books, they tackle the issue of prayer very differently. But as you will see, we are the ones who benefit from that!

So here are my thoughts on both of these exceptional books on prayer.

Lucado’s Before Amen:

  • This is a book about prayer for everyone! Lucado’s thesis is that when Jesus was urged by the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray”, he taught them what we call today “The Lord’s Prayer.” Lucado has taken this prayer, and basically all other prayers in the Bible, and succinctly distilled them into what he dubs a “pocket-size prayer:”

You are good.
I need help. Heal me and forgive me.
They need help.
Thank you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

     Subsequently, each chapter of his book investigates the individual parts of this “pocket-
size prayer”.

  • This is a highly motivational and encouraging book to read on prayer and easily comprehended, especially in comparison to Keller’s scholarly tome. Lucado’s book is only 163 pages, and 60 of those pages consist of a study guide at the end of the book!
  • The one critique I’d make is I would have enjoyed more substantiation for his claim that this pocket-size prayer is really an accurate summation of all the prayers in the Bible. He declares such, but with no support offered for this bold claim.
  • Some notable quotes from Lucado:

“In an effort to see him as our friend, we have lost his immensity. In our desire to understand him, we have sought to contain him. The God of the Bible cannot be contained.” (p. 23)

“He will heal you – instantly or gradually or ultimately.” (p. 52)

“He will heal you, my friend. I pray he heals you instantly. He may choose to heal you gradually. But this much is sure; Jesus will heal us all ultimately. Wheelchairs, ointments, treatments, and bandages are confiscated at the gateway to heaven. God’s children will once again be whole. (p. 56)

“Jesus never refused an intercessory request. Ever!” (p. 70)

{On Moses interceding to God to spare the Israelites} This is the promise of prayer! We can change God’s mind! His ultimate will is inflexible, but the implementation of his will is not. He does not change in his character and purpose, but he does alter his strategy because of the appeals of his children. We do not change his intention, but we can influence his actions.” (p. 74)

“When we pray in the name of Jesus, we come to God on the basis of Jesus’ accomplishment.” (p. 98)

“The phrase “In Jesus’ name” is not an empty motto or talisman. It is a declaration of truth: My cancer is not in charge; Jesus is. The economy is not in charge; Jesus is. The grumpy neighbor doesn’t run the world; Jesus, you do!” (p. 100)

Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God:

  • Undoubtedly, this is the more scholarly of the two, and I believe a great summation of the history of prayer and the beliefs of key figures on the issue such as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, just to name a few.
  • Keller wanted to write a book on prayer that investigated it as both a conversation and encounter with the living God, all in a resource that addresses prayer from a theological, experiential, and methodological perspective (p. 1).
  • In his pursuit of that goal, this book is divided into five sections: Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, and Doing Prayer.
  • With such a formidable goal, I fear many readers may start this book, and unfortunately put it aside in the midst of all of this impressive, detailed exploration on prayer.
  • As to a critique, I feel so inadequate. I learned so much from reading this book. The only critique I can muster would be based on what I said in the preceding point – ultimately Keller may have attempted to put too much in one book, and sadly that may lead to some readers putting the book down and never finishing it.
  • I was fascinated by Keller’s evaluation of the modern daily Quiet Time. He reminds the reader that this is a recent phenomenon, propelled by the publication of an InterVarsity booklet in 1945. Keller stresses he fears the modern Quiet Time is lacking for several reasons, and he himself has a morning and evening time of prayer and Bible reading mixed with meditation.
  • Some notable quotes from Keller:

“It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. . . He does not see prayer as merely a way to get things from God but as a way to get more of God himself. Prayer is a striving to ‘take hold of God’ (Isa. 64:7) the way in ancient times people took hold of the cloak of a great man as they appealed to him, or the way in modern times we embrace someone to show love.” (p. 20-21)

“What is prayer, then, in the fullest sense? Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” (p. 48)

“Prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, and our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come.” (p. 73)

“To pray in Jesus’ name is not meant to be a magic formula, as if the pronunciation of the words coerces God’s power or mechanically taps into supernatural forces. Jesus’ name is shorthand for his divine person and saving work. To come to the Father in Jesus’ name, not our own, is to come fully cognizant that we are being heard because of the costly grace in which we stand.” (p. 125)

“There are three basic kinds of prayer to God. There is ‘upward’ prayer – praise and thanksgiving that focuses on God himself. . . Then there is ‘inward’ prayer – self-examination and confession that bring a deeper sense of sin and, in return, a higher experience of grace and assurance of love . . . Finally, there is ‘outward’ prayer – supplication and intercession that focuses on our needs and the needs of others in the world.” (p. 189)

“Jesus was the only human being in history who deserved to have all his prayers answered because of his perfect life. Yet he was turned down as if he cherished iniquity in his heart. Why? The answer, of course, is in the gospel. God treated Jesus as we deserve – he took our penalty – so that, when we believe in him, God can then treat us as Jesus deserved (2 Cor. 5:21).” (p. 237-8)

At last, I would venture to say that both books should be read if one wants to get the fullest, most comprehensive view of prayer. In my estimation, they truly do complement each other. As stated earlier, Lucado’s book is great motivation for actually praying, and a marvelous tool on how we should pray. And Keller’s project takes the reader deeper into how prayer has been used in the church, how prominent leaders viewed and practiced it, methods of meditation, and ultimately laying a strong theological basis for the entire endeavor of prayer.

Thanks to both gentlemen for their rich and lavish gift to the church at large.


Advent Season: Now the Wait!



It seems recently everyone I speak to is waiting on God for something.

One person is waiting for a desperate prayer request to be answered.

One person is waiting for career guidance as they discern God’s will for his life.

Another person is waiting for that right man to come into her life so they can get married and start a family.

Tis the season!

What I mean by that glib comment is it’s Advent season. The word Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival” and it refers to the coming or the arrival of the Messiah Jesus Christ. The surprising thing to remember is that by the arrival of the first Advent, waiting had been a major part of the experience because it had been over 400 years since a word, or a “coming” and “arrival” of God had appeared to the Jewish people! Consequently, one could say the Advent season embodies waiting.

As for me and I’m sure my friends mentioned above, there’s one problem – I despise waiting!

I despise waiting in line at the store.

I despise waiting at traffic lights.

I even despise waiting for my popcorn to pop in the microwave (How spoiled are we?).

I could go on, but you get the point. We are a culture that expects things instantaneously. Technology has spoiled us and we take that expectation into relationships, even our relationship with God.

In all honestly, there are times I don’t even like waiting on God! That is a significant problem for two reasons: Waiting as I just described it is foreign to the Scriptures; and waiting is not just part of Advent season, but it’s an essential part of the life of faith!

First, a cursory look at what the Scriptures say about waiting reveals it’s not like the waiting we commonly think of. If I wait for something today, I think of it as a passive experience, just killing time, and usually accompanied with bellyaching and whining at some point too.

But according to the Scriptures this type of “waiting” is not waiting; that’s impatience and immaturity!


On the other hand, the Scriptures teach that while waiting, we should wait:


“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalms 5:3 (NIV)


But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:25 (HCSB)


“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)


“Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” Isaiah 26:8 (NIV)

Renewing our Strength

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

Scripture teaches that waiting is not a passive activity we endure, or a waste of time. Waiting is, in the words of theologian Walter Grundmann, a “burning expectation” in which we exhibit all the characteristics above, and more! In his new Advent book Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope, Louie Giglio says while we are waiting, God is with us, and working; and I would add so are we as we become more expectant, more patient, acknowledge how blessed we are, stay faithful, and gain needed strength through the waiting.

That doesn’t sound like a passive “just-killing-time experience” to me.

Secondly, Scripture teaches that ultimately this biblical waiting, described as a “burning expectation” is not only a part of Advent, but also the entire Christian experience. Read this passage in Hebrews 9:28:

“. . . so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (NLT)

That phrase “eagerly waiting” is a rich compound word that literally means “to welcome or receive from out of” with the emphasis being, based on Paul’s usage too, that we welcome Jesus’ coming and all that it brings – the glorious transformation of our lives – as we also come “from out of “ the world. In other words, we longingly look for and welcome Christ while turning from all else.

Finally, this is not just a part of the Christian experience, but creation itself is waiting! Notice the same word is used in Romans 8:19:

 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (NIV)

So during this Advent season, will you commit to the following:

  • Celebrating the “coming” and “arrival” of the Messiah;
  • Recognize that waiting is a natural part of Advent;
  • Exhibit the biblical definition of waiting as an active experience, a “burning expectation” inherent with all the above characteristics and more;
  • And sincerely grasp that waiting is not to be despised but embraced as a time of growth and intimacy with God.

So if you’re waiting on God for something, wait with an active “burning expectation”. It shows your dependence upon him, and your expectant eagerness to see his “coming” and “arrival”.

Just like at the first Advent!