Monthly Archives: June 2020

It Is Time for a New Creation

The Bible claims that there is a fundamental reality to people that is not immediately apparent. The truest thing about any person is not something that can be seen. There is a self behind the public self. Of course no one would deny this, but there is also a self behind the private self.

We only catch glimpses of our true self but God sees it plainly. It emerges, inevitably and unavoidably from the heart, the core of the human being. On the Day of Judgment what a person really is – the self behind the self – will finally and undeniably be revealed.

Until then, we judge people by their education, wardrobe, and even their “cool quotient.” Or we judge them by their theology, church attendance, or other criteria. We assume we know them; sometimes that we know them well. But we are unable to see what the Bible calls the “inner person” (literally, “the inside man”). Only God sees that.

St. Paul had to learn that lesson. As a Pharisee, he had judged Jesus by standards like education, accent, and “cool quotient.” He later admitted that his judgment of people, even Christ, was based on “a worldly point of view”; that is, on appearances. But Paul learned how unreliable such a gauge is.

He stopped judging people by appearances. He had made that mistake with Jesus, but he would make it no more. Something had forever changed the way he looked at people.
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The Spiritual Workout (If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right)

St. Paul tells us to “Continue to work out your salvation…” The NIV’s translation attempts to express the ongoing nature of the present tense of the verb. This work is not something we do once and are done. The salvation inside us is so big, it will take a lifetime to work out. There is so much potential in God’s salvation that we cannot unpack it in a few years or even in a lifetime – it will take an eternity.

If we are expending no energy in our salvation workout – if we never break a sweat, never feel a doubt, never strain under temptation – we’re not doing it right. It’s like spending an hour at the gym. If we never break a sweat, never strain against the weights or get our heart rate into triple digits, we’re not doing it right. Paul did not say “Talk out your salvation.” He said, “Work out” (or it could simply be translated work) your salvation.”

The Greek root in this word is erg, which means “work.” We get words like “energy” and “ergonomics” (and even “allergy”) from this root. In the church we often hear that salvation is “by grace” and “not by works,” and that is solid biblical truth. But we need to make sure we are not drawing the wrong conclusion from that truth. We can mistakenly assume that, because salvation does not result from our work, it must not necessitate our work. That is a serious error. Salvation does not result from work but it does result in work. As Philip Melancthon put it, “We are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.” Faith always walks in company with its dear friend “work.”

The wall of separation that has been built between salvation and work is founded on a misunderstanding (or at least a too limited understanding) of what biblical salvation is. We misunderstand salvation when we think of it only in future terms – of getting into heaven when we die. If that is all there is to salvation, there is certainly no place for work, because we all know that we cannot work our way into heaven. Continue reading

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The Workout

I know that some reader will get jittery, seeing the words “salvation” and “work” in the same sentence, worried that I’m espousing some kind of works salvation. But don’t forget that long before I used those two words in the same sentence, the Apostle Paul did. It was he who wrote, “Work out your salvation.” Salvation is a workout, not a sit-in. If your salvation rouses you to no effort, something is wrong.

We even had a sit-in at my high school, though I can’t remember why exactly. I think we might have been protesting cafeteria food. (Our ideals were, I’m afraid, less altruistic than those of others.)

Salvation is not a sit-in. It’s a workout. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you…” Continue reading

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Let’s Get Our Bearings Before We Give Directions

In the summer of 2016, my wife and I were on a 70,000-acre lake in Quebec that we had never been to before. On the third or fourth morning we were there, I took the boat out by myself. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the east was already turning colors and steam was rising everywhere off the lake.

It was so gorgeous that I fumbled around for my camera and was taking pictures as I headed toward a spot we had fished the previous evening. I didn’t stop the boat to take pictures because I was hoping to reach that bay before the sun broke the horizon. So, with the outboard at full throttle, I’d take a picture, look at it in the view screen, delete it if I didn’t like it, then take another.

I had been doing this for five or ten minutes and was passing through a straight that opened up into a much larger arm of the lake. That was when I looked around and realized I didn’t know where I was. The landscape was not at all familiar. I was lost.

When you don’t know where you are, you don’t know how to get where you’re going. I immediately stopped the boat and sat still on the glassy water. I got out the rudimentary map we had been given when we arrived – it was more like a restaurant placemat than a real map – and tried to figure out where I was.
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Prejudice: Going After the Root

When enough people care enough about prejudice, when concern reaches critical mass, action is taken. This usually means that legislation is passed or new policies enacted. The display of hatred associated with a particular prejudice – for example, race discrimination … Continue reading

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The Holy Spirit: Getting the Facts, Missing the Point

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day the church celebrates the reality-transforming, church-birthing, human-metamorphosing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The God who so loved that he gave his Son also so loved that he gave his Spirit … and nothing has been the same since.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. It has been said that a person without the Spirit can never be more than a second-class Christian, but St. Paul went further than that. He said that without the Spirit, a person cannot be a Christian at all: “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).

Without the Spirit, there would be no church. A religious group can have a nave, altar, sacristy, pulpit, and steeple, but they’ll only have a church if they have the Spirit.

The Greek phrase ἐν πνεύματι (in or by the Spirit) appears 152 times in the New Testament. We are led by the Spirit, we rejoice by the Spirit, we worship the Father by the Spirit, are indwelt by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, are marked as God’s people by the Spirit, love each other by the Spirit – I could go on.

With the Holy Spirit, we are connected to God’s own life. With the Spirit, we are connected to each other. With the Spirit we can confess Jesus Christ and actually know him. With the Spirit, we can live the Christian life now and expect glory in the future.

But what is the Holy Spirit—so ominously called by earlier versions the “Holy Ghost”? Continue reading

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How to Handle Pressure (Part 2)

St. Paul knew all about stress and he knew how to handle it.

In Corinthians 4:8, Paul describes what his stressful life could be like. He says he was “Pressed” – squeezed like grapes – on every side but not crushed.” The word crushed is interesting. It means caved in, restricted. We get our word stenosis – the narrowing, closing of an artery – from this word. Paul is the only biblical author who uses it, and the only other time he uses it is to picture one’s affection being so restricted that it no longer flows. That is the danger. When we are under pressure, the flow of affection can be shut off – to our spouses and children and friends. Paul knew that it need not be that way. “Pressed . . . but not crushed.”

Then Paul says he is perplexed. A number of other biblical writer use this word. Several times it is translated as “at a loss.” Etymologically it carries the idea of not knowing which way to go. At a loss, Paul says, but not in despair. He had been perplexed enough times to know that, though he was at a loss, he would not lose out. God would make a way; he is the way-making God. He “makes a way in the wilderness,” the prophet says, and the apostle adds that he makes a way out of every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We sometimes find ourselves at a loss, at a seeming dead-in, like the fleeing Israelites when they came to the Red Sea. There is no way to go forward, and no way to go back. Paul had known that experience, and yet God always made a way. Perplexed, but not in despair.

Things got even worse. Continue reading

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