Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Most of us Christians do not really understand grace.  When I think of much of the preaching I’ve heard in my life and the books I have read, when I hear the moralistic political rhetoric that’s thrown around, when I talk to Christians, both “mature” and “immature,” I’m forced to this conclusion.  Of course, none of us have a complete understanding, but I believe most of us don’t even have a “working” understanding.

So when I received a request to teach a series on the topic in my Sunday school class, I jumped at the chance, even though I’d never taught it as a topic before.

But when I agreed to take on a study of grace in our Sunday school class, I didn’t realize what a huge task I was taking on.  Not far into my study and thinking on the topic, I realized that a complete study would involve the whole Bible, as well as its application in every area of our lives.  As I don’t have enough years left in my life for that, I decided I need to break the topic down into small bites.

So I begin with some word studies and definitions.  First, we need to have a working definition; I believe a simple synonym will do in most cases.

Grace is “favor.”  We could replace nearly all references to grace in our Bibles with this simple word.  As a matter of fact, many translations seem to use the words interchangeably.  Some would add to the definition the adjective “unmerited,” but isn’t that idea already included in the word?  Aren’t all favors unmerited?

The Old Testament is full of this word, even in what we might term a “secular” or non-religious usage.

Jacob, for instance, sends a message to his brother Esau hoping “…that I may find favor in your eyes” (Genesis 32:5).  “Joseph found favor in the eyes” of Potiphar (Genesis 39:4).  These are common expressions and all use the word “favor,” which is the same Hebrew word elsewhere translated “grace.”

For starters I’d like to look at the biblical words – Greek and Hebrew – that are usually translated “grace.”

First, the Greek words used in the New Testament:
·        Charis (pronounced khah’-ris) is found 156 times, usually translated “grace,” “favor” or occasionally “thanks.”
·        Charizomai (pronouned khah-ridz’-oh-my) is found 22 times, usually translated “grant,” “give freely,” “forgive.”
·        Charitoo (pronounced khah-ri-tah’-oh) is found twice, usually translated “bestow favor,” “favor highly.”

The Hebrew words used in the Old Testament:
·        Chen (pronounced khane) is found 67 times, usually translated “grace,” “favor.”
·        Channun  (pronounced khah-noon’) is found 13 times, usually translated “gracious”
·        Chanan (pronounced khah-non’) is found 80 times, usually translated “be gracious,” sometimes “beseech” (request grace).

So there are at least 340 references to grace in the Bible besides other similar words, such as “mercy,” “compassion.”

I plan on rambling through this study in the near future.  There are many thoughts still rushing through my mind.

Also see:
            CHEAP GRACE
            FREE GRACE

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Something to think about this season.

Philippians 4:4-9 

Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men.
The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing,
but in everything by prayer and supplecation,
with thanksgiving,
let your requests be made known to God;
and the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.

Finally, brethren,
whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just,
whatever things are pure,
whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report,
if there is any virtue
and if there is anything praiseworthy ~~
meditate on these things.

The things which you learned
and received
and heard
and saw in me,
these do,
and the God of peace will be with you. 

Merry Christmas and a blessed 2012! 

Uni and Bill

Monday, December 19, 2011


As the American Civil War divided families and friends, so has our latest conflict.  I am grieved to have friends on both sides of it.  Because of this I have sought for ways to alleviate the tensions before they lead to actual bloodshed.

I have, on the one hand, many friends who feel that their enjoyment of the current holiday season is lessened by an incursion of the enemy into their sacred territory.  This is known as “The War on Christmas.”  As evidence, they can point out that one can walk all through any shopping mall and note that while it is decked out with all the trimmings of the holidays – elves, red ribbons, greetings of every sort, 40% off signs, a fat guy in a red suit – yet, nowhere can be found the word “Christmas.”  I can attest to the truth of this assertion, having conducted such a search on my own.  (It should be noted, however, that the music on the PA does occasionally use the word:  “Holly, Jolly Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” “White Christmas,” etc.)  This is perceived by my friends as an attack, not only on them, but also on Jesus and on the American Way.

I have also a few friends who consider any religious overtones to be offensive, not only to them but to those of other religious persuasions who do not recognize the person referred to in the first six letters of the word.  They believe that we must be tolerant of all views.  To promote one religious view on the holiday would be an attack on all other views as well as on the American Way.

I believe I have a solution which would, or at least should, satisfy those on both sides in this strife.  I propose that we rename the holiday – the whole season – with a name that I believe will be inoffensive to all.


I arrived at this new name by combining words:
n  Syncretism, which Mr. Webster defines as “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.”  This word is related, of course, to the verb syncretize, which Mr. Webster defines as “to attempt to unite and harmonize, esp. without critical examination or logical unity.”
n  Christmas, defined by Mr. Webster as “A Christian feast on December 25 (or January 7) that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday.”

I had originally thought of calling it Syncretismas but after some thought realized that the shortened title sounds a bit closer to that originally used of the holiday (the title under attack).  Perhaps some could even be allowed to capitalize the C in the middle of the word.

The new holiday name would fit within our traditional songs of the season, replacing the former name without altering the rhythmic structures of the songs.

I also propose that we use this title for the entire season, which would officially begin in November on Black Thursday (formerly known as Turkey Day, formerly known as Thanksgiving) and run through the middle of January, thus including all the holidays of the season, including my birthday.

This should satisfy all celebrants, not only those of the secular persuasion, but also those who are worshippers of a Deity, by whatever name they choose:  Jesus, Yahweh, Allah or Mammon.

Of course, there are a number of minor details to be worked out, such as the use of the word “Merry” to precede the title when used as a greeting.  Many see religious significance in the word and its non-use is perceived, as to some extent, blasphemous.

I realize that it is too late to start using the new name during the current season, but if we begin to work on the changes, perhaps we can have them made by next year.  I urge any readers to petition their congressmen to take action quickly, which they of course are in the habit of doing.

I also realize that even if my proposal is adopted, there will still be some (relatively few) who will continue to celebrate in an outdated manner, who will worship the One whose birth is observed at this time – the Man who is also God, who came to “save His people from their sins.”  But they will be few and their numbers will undoubtedly diminish rapidly as time passes and the advantages of the new holiday become more and more evident.

Have a Joyful SynCresmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Continuing with the questions from the previous post:
- - - - - -
Did he know who he was? It seems so in the only story we have of his childhood. If so, how? If it was from his mom, well, I’m thinking that would make the whole sibling thing I mentioned above even worse!!! Or did he have a knowledge of God that we don’t have that might have helped in the temptation resisting department?

- - - - - -

I’d like to rephrase this question and put it in the form that it is usually phrased.  It is really two questions.  And I’ll add a third.
·        How much did Jesus know and when did He know it?  i.e., Did He know who He was and when?
·        Was Jesus able not to sin or not able to sin?
·        Related question:  How did He resist temptation?  As man or as God?  Was there “some supernatural interference or predisposition”?

The question of Jesus’ knowledge, especially His self-awareness has perplexed the minds of scholars and saints, probably from the beginning.  There are many views and theories.

There are those, of course, who believe that Jesus at birth understood all, that He could have looked out at the stars from His manger bed and known the names of all, that He knew from the beginning that He was God and knew what His mission was.  However, the Gospel accounts don’t present us with this picture.  They seem to present Jesus as a human being who gradually came to understand His divine nature.  Notice some of the things the Bible says about Him.

Luke 2:52:  “And Jesus was progressing in wisdom and stature …”  This statement follows the account of His precocious behavior and of His words in the temple at the age of 12 stating that God was His Father (verse 49).

Though most of the questions Jesus asked were rhetorical, at least some appear to have been asked out of honest ignorance.  “Who touched My garments?” (Mark 5:30).  If so, this could imply ignorance of other matters.

During His Olivet Discourse, He clearly stated His ignorance of the time of His return.  “But concerning that day and hour, nobody knows – not the angels of heaven, not even the Son – but the Father alone!” (Matthew 24:36).

Hebrews 5:8 tells us that “He learned obedience from the things that He suffered.”

We are told that the pre-incarnate Christ “emptied Himself” at the incarnation (Philippians 2:7).  It is believed that what He emptied Himself of was the independent use of His divine attributes.”  Though He was infinite, He confined Himself to a human body; though all-powerful, He did not utilize that power; and, though all-knowing, He did not utilize that knowledge.

So we have a Man, who was also God, gradually increasing in knowledge (in a way similar to that of others) and gradually coming to a full knowledge of His divine nature through various experiences.

By the time of His temptation experience as recorded in Matthew and Luke, He was aware of His divinity.  But how much knowledge He had as a child we can’t be sure of, nor how this would have been of help in His earlier temptations.

So we come to the old question:  Was Jesus able not to sin or was He not able to sin?  This question, like the previous one, has been debated almost from the beginning and I don’t have much to add to it.  There are essentially two views. I should note that those who disagree on this question do not disagree on the fact that  Jesus did not sin.  All agree that He lived His life free from original sin and from actual sin.

This may seem to many to be an irrelevant debate, but there are important issues here.

Those who believe that He was not able to sin argue that “it was impossible for Him to sin because of the essential bond between the human and divine natures” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 328).  Some who hold this view feel that to believe otherwise would be blasphemous.

Those who take the opposing view argue that “If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning …  If from the constitution of His person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then His temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with His people” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, page 457).

And so the debate goes.  There are godly persons on both sides, much godlier and wiser than I, so I would hesitate to be dogmatic.  However, I lean toward the second view given above.  I believe the Book of Hebrews makes this clear.

“For in that He has suffered, being tempted, He is able to come to the help of those who are tempted” (Hebrew 2:18).

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who has been tempted in all things as we are, without sin.  Let us come then with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help at the right time” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

So I’d have to say that if Jesus was tempted as a human being, He also resisted as a human being.  This would include those childhood temptations, as well as, those elaborated in the Gospels and related to His adult life and ministry.  If there was some providential “bubble” around Him in the form of His knowledge or some miraculous provision, we are not told.


I deleted my original post on this topic because it made me extremely uncomfortable.  I was uncomfortable with the questions asked me, I was uncomfortable with my attempts at answering them and I was uncomfortable when I had finished.  So I thought I’d start over.

I had received a long comment on my post A SPIRIT DRIVEN MAN.  The comment contained some thoughts and raised some questions that I felt it was my responsibility to answer.  Though some were not specifically stated as questions, I perceived that they needed to be addressed in that manner.  Questions of fairness seemed to stand out.  They could be restated this way:

Is our fallen condition (our “sin nature”) a punishment for Adam’s sin?  Is it fair?  Is there a possibility that without our sin nature we could actually be sin free?

The answer to the first question is clearly ‘No.”  Our sin nature is not a punishment for Adam’s sin but a consequence.  When Adam and Eve sinned the whole human race sinned.

As far as any questions of fairness, I believe they are off limits.  God is not answerable to our concepts of what is and what is not fair.  God is just in all His doings, even when we can’t make sense out of them.  If that sounds like a copout, I suppose it is.

I felt I wasted way too much time on attempting to answer the third.  I tried to imagine what a world would be like in which each of us was born without sin and had the opportunity, as Adam, to decide.  I failed.  I couldn’t really do that.

“What if?” questions have always seemed to me to be dead ends.  Matters are the way they are.  If we recognize that God is wise, just, loving and completely in control, we have to admit that God is doing what He feels is best and that He has made the correct choices.  If we speculate on what God “could have” done, it seems a short step to talking about what He should have done.  I don’t want to go there.

Though there are many of His actions that are not explainable, there are many that are, by study of the Scriptures.  I believe we should continue to seek understanding, but we should be satisfied when and where He chooses to be silent.

So, though I may not be comfortable with God’s actions, I’ll accept them and seek greater understanding and leave it at that.

My teaching stops where my ignorance begins.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I have a Facebook page.  On my profile page I’m told I have 226 friends.  Some are relatives; some are people to whom I have or have had a ministry; some are present or past acquaintances; some I’m not even sure I know or at least where I know them from.  I’ve lost a few:  I “defriended” them or they “defriended” me.

Do I really have 226 friends?  As I said, there are a few I’m not sure I know.  And there are many people in my life with whom I am much closer, but who are not listed on my page.

Checking my Webster’s, I find that the word friend is a bit of a “soft” term.  It can be used of a mere acquaintance or of one “attached … by affection or esteem” or of “a favored companion.”  Perhaps we could say that the persons we call friends can be placed on a continuum from mere acquaintances to those with whom we share our innermost selves.

A brief article appeared in The Week magazine of November 25, 2011, entitled:  “True friends are getting rarer” (page 25).  It tells of a survey by Cornell University sociologists that found that of the 2,000 surveyed, “on average they had only two friends with whom they could discuss important matters – down from three in 1985.”  It went on to say that “Nearly half … listed only one friend and four percent said they had none”!  I’d have to admit, from my own personal experience and that of others I’ve dealt with, that I’d agree with those general figures.

Personally I have many “friends” if by the word I mean “acquaintances” (I’d probably have an innumerable host of friends if I could only remember names).  I also have a large number of closer acquaintances, those with whom I share some common interest and/or affection.

And then there are those to whom I have attempted to be a friend; to listen to their problems; to share some of their needs; to pray with and for.  I have found in the ministry that this is a necessity and, I suppose, a gift.  I believe that God calls us all to “be a friend” to others to some extent.  And I’ve found that it’s easier to be a friend than to find one – one whom I can trust with my soul and my secrets, with whom I can “spill my guts,” with whom I can “bare my soul” – one who knows me intimately and still wants to be my friend.

In my life there’s only one person like that – my wife for 55 years and friend for 58 years, Uni.

Did Jesus have friends?  Well, yes He did.  He is called “a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:34).  He calls His disciples His friends a number of times (Luke 12:4; John 15:13-15).  He refers to Lazarus as “our friend” (John 11:11).  The Greek word used in all these passages is philos, which is related to phileo, the word for the love of deep affection.

There is another word translated “friend” in the Gospel of Matthew.  Jesus uses it to address His betrayer Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.  “And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you’ve come here for” (Matthew 26:50).  The Greek word is hetairos.  The BAG Greek lexicon says that this word is used “As a general address to someone whose name one does not know.”  Jesus uses it in the parable of the Vineyard in Matthew 20, where the landowner addresses a disgruntled employee “Friend, I’m not doing you wrong … (verse 13).  He also uses it in the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22, where the king addresses a man who has come to the Feast improperly attired, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (verse 12).  So when Jesus uses it in addressing Judas, He is expressing that same disappointment or even something even stronger.

Jesus could be a friend to many – sinners and disciples.  I consider Him my Friend.  We sing, “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.”  However, I can’t help but wonder how much of a friend I am to Him.  After all, John tells us, “… many believed in His name … but Jesus, on His part would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men” (John 2:23, 24).

But then I realize that Jesus – God Himself -- has chosen to pour out His heart to me in His Word and has given me His Spirit to open my understanding of His heart.  I only hope that that friendship will continue to grow.

Monday, November 14, 2011


There are many passages in the Bible that make me uncomfortable.  Some of the most discomforting are Jesus’ parables.  And sadly, I tend to avoid the troubling ones, often until I’m in some way pushed into dealing with them.  A while back, a young man in a Bible study brought up the following one, which I hemmed and hawed my way around, to no one’s satisfaction:

“And which of you who has a slave who’s plowing or tending sheep will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come quickly, sit down at the table’?  Won’t he rather say to him, ‘Get me something for dinner, get yourself ready and serve me till I’m done eating and drinking, and after that, you can eat and drink’?

He doesn’t thank the slave because he did what he was told to do, does he?

In the same way you, whenever you’ve done all the things you were told to do, should say, ‘We’re worthless slaves, we’ve only done what we were supposed to do?’”
Luke 17:7-10 

I suspect this parable bothers others as much as it does me.  I can only recall hearing one sermon on it and that was so long ago I can’t remember anything about it.

The first problem I have with it is that it seems to be in contradiction with what Jesus says in Luke 12:37 (using many of the same words):

“Blessed are those slaves whom the master (or Lord) will find awake when he comes.  Amen, I’m telling you that he will get himself ready, and sit them down and come and serve them.”  And then Jesus Himself, in a sense, acts this out in His washing of the disciples’ feet in John 13.

And it seems to go against all those other parables and sayings where the master commends his “good and faithful servant(s).”

I can also see how cruel slaveholders might have used this parable to justify mistreatment of slaves (even in our own history).

And how does this fit in with our modern teachings about self-esteem?  We certainly shouldn’t tell our employees or those under us that they’re worthless – should we?  We wouldn’t like that said of us, would we?  Doesn’t the Golden Rule apply here?

A few thoughts are in order here, on the parable and its interpretation.

The context (17:5) is a teaching time with the apostles – Jesus’ 12 closest disciples.  These are our examples of followers or imitators of Christ.  We’d like to find Jesus telling this to the Scribes and Pharisees.  We’d like Him to be telling them they are “worthless,” but He’s not.  Through the apostles, He’s telling this to us.

A parable is usually either an extended metaphor, or, as in this one, an extended simile – a comparison between two (usually) unlike things.  The words “In the same way,” show us this.  In this parable, the apostles are compared to slaves.

Jesus usually uses stories drawn from real life in the culture around Him and His hearers.  He is not advocating slavery or even speaking to labor practices; He is simply telling a story about matters as they are.

The word translated “worthless” (Greek, achreios) is a difficult word to translate.  It has been translated by “unworthy,” “good-for-nothing,” “unprofitable” and numerous other words.  I believe that in this context it doesn’t mean that the slave is of no use or value; obviously he is.  He farms, shepherds, cooks for and serves his master; but he brings no further benefit to his master.  So with the apostles.

Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul had in mind years later when he said (1 Corinthians 9:16, 17):  “For if I preach the gospel, it’s nothing for me to brag about; for there’s a necessity laid on me; for woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel.  For if I do so willingly I have a reward, but if unwillingly, I (still) have a stewardship entrusted to me.”  Paul seems to be repeating the “worthless slave” idea in different words.

The hypothetical person in the parable apparently owned one slave, who did all the work – shepherding, farming, cooking.  We might imagine that one or more of the 12 had at one time owned a slave.  James and John were involved in their father’s fishing business, which was large enough to have hired men (Mark 1:19, 20).  Matthew (or Levi) was a tax-collector in the service of the Roman government and was wealthy enough to throw “a great feast in his house,” which must have been quite large (Luke 5:27-19).

While in our “enlightened” day we might be repulsed by the idea of owning another human being, this was a common enough practice in Jesus’ day.  We might suppose that even those who did not own slaves dreamed of the day they could afford one, just as we today desire the latest gadget, appliance or tool to make our life a bit easier.

So how does this parable apply to us?  To me in particular?

I believe it’s a reality check.  Just as the 12, we who are involved in the work of the ministry can become convinced of our own importance, or at least we struggle with that tendency.  I do!

We constantly evaluate our own performance.  I am troubled when I see little positive response to my teaching, or when an intense counseling session seems to go nowhere, or when a new believer fails to grow, or even when only a few show up for a Bible study.  I believe that there’s nothing wrong with being troubled over these things.  I believe evaluation is necessary.

But the danger of self-evaluation is when I appear to be doing well – when I see positive results in my ministry.  My hat seems to fit a bit tighter.  I may feel that I’m going beyond what is required, that God needs me, that the results I see are all to my credit.

And then there are all those nice people who give my inflated ego “positive reinforcement.”

Whether I am up or down, whether I feel that I’m “succeeding” or failing, I need this parable.  I need to be reminded that I’m only doing what is required of me.  I am doing no more.

In a sense this can be a great relief.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


There are relatively few books written or sermons preached on the topic of the imitation of Jesus.  Why is this?  Isn’t this what the spiritual or Christian life is all about?  It would almost seem that the imitation of Christ is a topic we ignore, or even avoid, perhaps because we are uncomfortable with it.  And I must confess that for years I did little if any thinking on the topic.

Over the years as I have studied and taught the Gospels and the life of Christ, as well as courses in theology, I believe I’ve become aware of a possible theological reason behind this avoidance.  Many – perhaps most – Christians have a very unclear understanding of the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the closely related doctrine of the Trinity.  Now I recognize that none of us have a complete understanding of these doctrines, but I’m talking about basic knowledge, “working knowledge.”

I hope I don’t sound offensive or judgmental when I say this, but I believe that one of the main reasons we don’t seek to imitate Jesus is that we’re not quite clear on how really human He is.  We perceive Him as a sort of theophany, a divine appearance of God in human form as God sometimes appeared in the Old Testament.  And some of us aren’t quite clear on Jesus’ uniqueness as the Son, the Third Person of the Trinity, but instead perceive Him as all Three Persons rolled into One.  Who could imitate that?

I say this because this seems to be the reaction I’ve received in some degree or another form many of my students – at least from some of the more vocal ones-- when I tell them the following.

Jesus lived His life on the earth as a man, totally committed to God the Father, and led by the Holy Spirit.  The great difference between His humanness and ours is that He did not have a fallen human nature.  If I may say this, He was sinless in the same way that Adam was sinless before the fall.

Please understand me.  He did not cease to be God at His incarnation, but He “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7), apparently (as theologians say) of the independent use of His divine attributes.  Or as one student (who got it) said, “He didn’t take advantage of the perks of divinity.”

Yes, there were times when His divinity “shone through,” such as at His transfiguration, described in Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36.  This is undoubtedly what John was referring to in his Gospel when he said, “…we beheld His glory…” (John 1:14b) and what Peter meant when he said, “…we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…” (2 Peter 1:16).

But most of His time on earth, He lived His life as we do, or are expected to do.  We don’t find Him acting independently of the Spirit of God, but find that the Spirit is the One at work in and through Him.  He did not rely on His own divinity, but on the Holy Spirit.

If I were teaching this publicly, I would at this point have a few students getting ready to pick up stones and cast them at me, or to report me to the church or school authorities, or at least to question my orthodoxy.  But I find at least 15 references in the Gospels and Acts, to the work of the Spirit in Jesus’ life.

In all four Gospels we read that, at Jesus’ baptism, “He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on Him,” or something similar (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32, 33).  John uses the words “remaining on Him.”  Nowhere do we read of the Spirit’s presence in Jesus’ life prior to His baptism.  Nor do we read of any miracles or teaching ministry prior to this, other than the events of His precocious childhood at the age of 12 in the temple (Luke 2:41-52).  In fact, John tells us that His turning water into wine at a wedding was His “beginning of signs” (John 2:11) – His first miracle.

It is immediately after His baptism and the descent of the Spirit that, “the Spirit led Him into the desert to be tempted” (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1).  Luke tells us that Jesus was at this time “full of the Spirit” and Mark tells us not simply that Jesus was “led” but that “the Spirit drove Him out.”  The Greek word Mark uses is Ekballo – literally “throw out.”  It has the connotation of force.

Luke tells us that after this “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (4:14).  And he goes on to tell us that Jesus on the Sabbath went into the synagogue at Nazareth and as the one selected to read the Scripture, chose a passage in the scroll of Isaiah and read, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me…” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).  A bit later He tells the congregation, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your ears!” (Luke 4:21).

Matthew also says that Jesus’ ministry was a fulfillment of prophecy, “…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased.  I will put My Spirit on Him…’” (Isaiah 42:1, 2; Matthew 12:18).

Peter in his sermon in the home of Cornelius, speaks of “…Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and power…” (Acts10:38).

Elsewhere we read that Jesus Himself claimed, “I cast out demons by the Spirit of God…” (Matthew 12:28).  We also read that Jesus “…rejoiced in the Holy Spirit…” (Luke 10:20).

I believe we can conclude from the above passages that Jesus, as completely human (though still completely God) did not possess, was not indwelt by the Spirit of God until His baptism.  It was at that time that the Spirit came on Him.  This was His “anointing” for service.  It was only after this that He performed miracles and He did these as He was empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit.

It seems clear then that when Jesus performed miracles, He performed them, not in His own power as God, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.  So could we not conclude then that His entire ministry, that which was miraculous and that which was not, was conducted in that same power?

If these conclusions are correct, then there are some tremendous implications for our spiritual life.

First of all we understand that the imitation of Christ is not some alternative method of living the Christian life, somehow in discord with the Christian life as spelled out in the Epistles.  Paul said, “Walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).  John said, “…walk as He walked” (1 John 2:6).  These are not two different “walks” or methodologies; to walk as He walked is to walk in the Spirit.

The imitation of Christ involves not just the “what” but also the “how.”  We are not only to pattern our ethics and our character after His; we are to develop those ethical and character traits by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are not just to seek to do deeds similar to His; we are to do those deeds in the power of the Spirit.

If then we are believers in Christ, we have both the example and the power to live the life He desires in us.

See also:

Monday, October 31, 2011


Voice of the Martyrs ( is a ministry to the persecuted church worldwide.  On the second page of their November newsletter, is an editorial by the director, Tom White, accompanied by a picture of a man being baptized in what appears to be an oil drum.  In the editorial, Mr. White mentions that some readers are troubled by pictures of believers being baptized in bath tubs or other unusual places.  He notes that one reader even said that these were not “proper” baptisms.

Mr. White, of course, defends these practices by telling the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-29, and explaining the difficulties believers have in many closed countries, where they often must be baptized in secret.

I couldn’t help but recall the many baptisms I have performed and the various venues used:  a galvanized horse trough, a river, a lake, a swimming pool; a hot tub and, of course, a “proper” baptistry in a church building.

Then there were all the various styles and locations where I have served or partaken of the Lord’s Supper:  a loaf of French bread and paper cups of grape juice served outdoors, a loaf of home-made matzo and Mogen David (Kosher) wine in a single crystal goblet served in our home and, of course, those little tiny wafers with grape juice in little tiny cups, served in a church building.

And all of this in a free country where I didn’t have to worry about being arrested for my activity.  (Well, I have been cautioned a few times by friends and then there was that time a policeman just dropped in to our Bible study to check us out.)

What is it that troubles these well-meaning folks about unusual worship activity?  What is it that, to them, constitutes proper practice?  I’m not sure, but I have my suspicions.

I believe, first of all, that they have a narrow understanding of what it is to “do church.”  To many, church is a particular physical location, a building.  Or perhaps it is seen as an organization, a properly incorporated group of people, with all the proper officers and papers.  Any churchy looking activity conducted outside of these parameters is suspect.  Now, I’m not faulting organization or buildings, but God’s church is, or should be active everywhere.  We who know Christ are the church.

And I also believe that many believers are not “world Christians.”  They’ve never seen the church in action in other lands; they’ve never gotten to know believers from other lands.  They’ve never really seen how God is working among those “from every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7:9).  And He works in very different ways!

I believe we all have a tendency to feel comfortable in our box and to feel that everyone else ought to feel as comfortable as we are, in the same box.  And (even though it seems a bit blasphemous), we feel that God should be quite comfortable there too!  And as Donald McCullough said (­The Trivialization of God, page 32), “…then it’s a very short step to believing that God would not feel at home anywhere else.”

Jesus didn’t talk about a box; but He did speak of wineskins (Luke 5:37, 38 – also Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22).  “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the wineskins and will be spilled out, and the wineskins will be destroyed.  But new wine should be put in new wineskins.”

Jesus, of course, was speaking of the custom of making wine in fresh waterproof leather bags.  As the grape juice fermented and put off gas, the leather would stretch.  An old dried, used skin would have no give and thus would burst.  Apparently this was not an unusual occurrence.  We can perhaps imagine Jesus as a boy, laughing at the explosion.

Jesus, I believe, was telling his hearers that the old Judaism with its practices was defunct, that the New Covenant, with Him as Messiah could not be poured back into an old dried up religion.

I feel that there is also an application for us today.  Following Jesus should always be a fresh experience, but we want to restrict it in our old dried up customs.  We can’t understand “new wine.”  Luke 5:39 adds an interesting comment of Jesus:  “And no one drinking old wine wants new; for he says, ‘the old is good!’”

But sometimes the new is better!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


In the October 16th edition of the Los Angeles Times, is an op-ed article entitled, “America:  With God on our side,” written by Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University.
To those of us who were around in the 60’s it is, of course, reminiscent of that Bob Dylan tune with a similar title.

Bacevich reminds us that “despite a Constitution that mandates the separation of church and state, religion and politics have become inseparable.”  He goes on to describe how presidential candidates, no matter their party affiliation “regularly press God into service.”  America, they claim, has been uniquely chosen by God.

As the first illustration of his thesis, he quotes from a speech by Mitt Romney.  Romney asserts that America must, with its military might be the leader of the world, both economically and militarily and claims “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers.”

Bacevich goes on to assure us that Romney’s claims are not unique, that “No leading contender for the Republican nomination will challenge” Romney’s positions.  Whoever receives the Republican nomination will claim that President Obama does not hold this view.  And President Obama will of course, argue that he does.

The article asserts (correctly) that both the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) and the New Testament writings “provide no evidence to support this proposition.”  No, he claims that instead “the American Bible contains a de facto Third Testament.”

Bacevich appears to be asserting that this is a 21st century phenomenon, although, I’m sure he would agree that the origins of this idea go much farther back to before the beginnings of our nation.  The present lineup of Republican candidates did not invent the idea of America as somehow uniquely chosen of God.

I’ve heard this “doctrine” all of my life and like most of my contemporaries raised during WWII, I accepted it as fact.  I was taught of America’s exceptionalism in school; as Dylan says “…the history books tell it, they tell it so well…”   When I became a Christian and a member of a fundamentalist church, I found that this “doctrine” was held as strongly as the doctrine of inerrancy, even the doctrine of the atonement.  I would probably have agreed with Romney’s statement, “I will never, ever apologize for America.”

I suppose that America’s “civil religion” will always be with us, even though it leads to uncivil politics.  It’s nothing new.  All the great empires of ancient history had theirs.  Many nations today have theirs, even so-called “secular states.”

But it seems to me ironic that the people of the nation that invented the concept of religious freedom should hold so tenaciously to a religion that demands total allegiance from its national leaders.

And it seems more than ironic that those who claim the uniqueness of their religion, who claim that Jesus Christ is the only Way and that all other religious claims are false, should cling to another religion.  And one that demands our loyalty, apparently an even greater loyalty, than our loyalty to Jesus Christ.

I want to be clear.  I love my country.  I consider myself a loyal citizen of the USA.  But must that love of country translate to a syncretism of my faith in Christ with a religious faith in America?

I guess that I’ll never be elected President.  :^(

Perhaps the question should be rephrased, “Is America on God’s side?”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The subject of Capital Punishment has been much in the news lately.  Trials and executions have been prominent, as well as questions raised in Presidential debates.  I have even mentioned it a number of times in this blog and have even said on another blog that I planned on attempting a thorough biblical study on the subject.  I have yet to do so, though I am collecting and researching and discussing with my wife Uni.  I believe that she was the one who brought up this story.

Anyway, before going into a lot of other biblical passages, it might be good to ask “What would Jesus do?” or in this case, “What did Jesus do?”  Thought I could (and plan to) analyze Jesus’ sayings that are relevant, it just might be a good idea to look at a story where Jesus actually is called on to adjudicate a case involving Capital Punishment.

John 8:2-11:
2)  And early in the morning, He arrived again in the temple, and all the people were coming to Him, and He sat down and was teaching them.

3)  And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, made her stand in the midst, 4) and said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, right in the act!  5)  Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So then what do you say?”  6)  They were saying this testing Him so that they’d have something to accuse Him of.

But Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger.  7)  Now when they kept on asking Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one among you who is without sin should be the first to throw a stone at her,” 8) and He stooped back down and continued writing on the ground.

9)  And when they heard this, they began to leave, one by one, beginning with the oldest ones and He was left alone, with the woman standing there.

10)  And Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you?”

11)  And she said, “No one Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you!  Go your way and from now on, sin nor more!”

Before I make any comments on the story itself, I feel that I must give a few notes about some technical difficulties.  If you, the reader, are uninterested in these, you may skip them without a loss of understanding.

·        First, this passage (John 7:53-8:11) is not found in most of the earliest Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel, as well as other early versions.  Some manuscripts have it in other places in chapter 7 or at the end of John’s Gospel; others have it in Luke’s Gospel after 21:38.  Its style and vocabulary differ quite a bit from the rest of John (I discovered this as a first-year Greek student, reading through John.), and it seems to interrupt the general flow of the narrative.  So there is near unanimous agreement among scholars that it is not part of John’s original Gospel.
·        Yet, as one scholar put it, “…the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity.”  That, plus the fact that it is included in some ancient manuscripts causes many to believe it is authentic.  A few have even supposed that it was deliberately “expunged … because it was liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery.”
·        I will accept and treat it as a true story, a genuine part of God’s Word, even if it wasn’t written by John.  Besides all the above, it gives us a picture of Jesus similar to those we find elsewhere in the Gospels – His tenderness toward women, His disdain for the religious leaders of His day, His ability to get out of the traps set for Him, and especially, His demonstration of grace and forgiveness within a context of Legalism.

Now back to our story:

The Gospel writers tell many stories of confrontations such as this, between Jesus and the religious leaders.  It would seem that He took their constant questioning as a matter of course, and even seemed to enjoy it.  He always won in these verbal battles, sometimes turning their questions back on them, other times tearing into their false teachings and motives, but nearly always using the disputes as “teaching moments.”

But this incident was different.  Here, Jesus is not simply being tested with a goal of trapping Him in His words.  Here He is being challenged to make a life or death decision.  Nowhere else are we told of an incident where He is urged to decide the fate of another human being.

I believe we can see His opponents’ aims pretty clearly:  if Jesus decides to exercise compassion toward the woman, He will clearly (to them) have defied the demands of their God-given Law.  This could be used as evidence against Him in their plot to have Him legally put to death.  If He decided against the woman, He would be going against all He had taught.  He would no longer be “a friend of sinners.”

Their actions were, of course, based on the Law as found in Deuteronomy 22:22-24 (also see Leviticus 20:10):
22)  If a man is found lying with another man’s wife, both of them must die – the man who lay with the woman, and the woman.  Thus you will sweep away the evil from Israel.

23)  If there is a young woman who is a virgin, engaged to a man and a man finds here in town and lies with her, 24) you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.  (The word “engaged” here is inadequate.  Under the Law a couple was as good as married when the bride price was paid, even though they were not to cohabit for up to a year.)

However, there are some serious questions about their prosecution of the case.  Where is the man?  The Law appears to put the major portion of the blame on the man.  “If a man …”  It takes two to commit this act.  In fact, there were some cases where the man alone was to be prosecuted – see Deuteronomy 22:24-27.  I have my suspicions as to where the man was.

And there’s another question:  Where are the witnesses?  A capital case required two or more witnesses.

There are many theories regarding Jesus’ writing on the ground and what He was writing.  Some think He was listing the sins of the accusers, but there is no indication of this in the text.  Some think He was writing His decision down as a judge would do.  The King James has “… as though He heard them not,” at the end of verse 6, which is apparently only found in a few late manuscripts.  I believe that expresses it well.  Jesus was simply doodling!  He was showing His disinterest and disdain, while they kept on pestering.

Finally He gave His decision, which appears to be a guilty verdict.  His words in verse 7 are among the most quoted words of Jesus, usually, however, in a situation where the one who quotes is defending or justifying his or her own behavior.  But what did Jesus mean by this?  Perhaps another passage regarding Capital Punishment can shed some light on His words.

Deuteronomy 17:6, 7:
6)  On the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses the condemned shall die; he must not die on the testimony of one witness.  7)  The hand of the witnesses must be the first to put him to death, then afterward the hand of all the people.  Thus you will sweep away the evil from your midst.

Thought I can’t say for sure, I believe that the male partner was standing right there among the woman’s prosecutors.  And Jesus knew it.  This was a setup.  One or more of them had apparently engaged in sex with this poor woman (who was not allowed to testify in her own defense) in order to trap Jesus in a dilemma.  Her life was of no importance to them.

This would mean that the witnesses themselves were her guilty sex partners.  Yet, according to the Law, they were to cast the first stones.  Jesus was not demanding complete sinlessness of her executioners, He was saying that they must not be guilty of the same crime.  He put them in a Catch 22 situation.  He had turned the tables and they could not carry out the sentence.

Jesus gave this woman words of grace and forgiveness.  His words “sin no more” would imply that He knew she was guilty.

So what does all of this have to do with our 21st century views on Capital Punishment?

We could argue that this case is in no way relevant to current thinking.  Adultery is not a capital offense today and no one is trying to make it into one (at least not to my knowledge).  Capital Punishment today is reserved for murderers and a few others who commit horrible crimes.  Certainly Jesus would behave differently toward a murderer, wouldn’t He?

But Jesus lived under the Law of Moses which required death for adultery.  And He knew this woman was guilty.  Didn’t respect for the Law require Him to support his Law?  Was Jesus not a “law-and-order” supporter?

I don’t believe we can argue that because this was a lesser crime than murder Jesus could slack off on enforcement.  “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).  Jesus wasn’t simply cutting the woman some slack – He was pronouncing her free of condemnation.  He was setting her free from the condemnation of the Law.

Jesus died for that woman’s sins.  He died for the sins of the condemned man hanging on the cross next to Him.  He died for my sin.  He died to cancel the debt we owed God and the condemnation God’s Law pronounced.

And it should be noticed that in this case, He went beyond teaching that we must personally forgive, He was pronouncing forgiveness from criminal law.

I don’t know exactly how this should affect our attitudes toward the laws of our land.  But it should affect them in some way.  It should certainly lead us away from cheering the death of a criminal, no matter how heinous the crime.  It should lead us to seek to be imitators of Christ, even in this area.