Category Archives: Christian living

Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty

(July 4, 2020) 8:15 AM Good morning, and Happy Independence Day! What better way to spend the morning than by reading and meditating upon Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the book of Galatians! My study focused on the letter’s second paragraph, namely 1:6-10. This morning I chose as my base English text the Good News Bible, comparing it carefully it with my Greek New Testament.

I was again reminded of just how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. Choices, choices, choices! The GNB’s “I am surprised” could have also been rendered “I am shocked” or “I am amazed.” The GNB’s “you are deserting” could have also been rendered “you are turning away from” or “you are transferring your allegiance from.” The GNB’s “there are some people who are upsetting you” could have also been rendered “there are some people who are agitating you” or “there are some people who are troubling you.” The GNB’s “trying to change the gospel of Christ” could have also been rendered “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” or even “trying to reverse the gospel of Christ.” The GNB’s “may he be condemned to hell” could have also been rendered “may he be accursed” or even “may he be anathema.”

The list goes on and on. How does one decide which meaning is correct or best suits the context? That, alas, is the question of the ages for anyone seeking to exegete a biblical text! That’s how this works, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how this works. You labor and struggle and ponder and compare and review options until you come to your own understanding of what this or that passage is actually saying. That said, Paul’s point here is clear:

To turn away from Christ and embrace another gospel is to desert the only true gospel. We cannot finish, by our obedience, what Christ has begun. We cannot add our works to the work of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. To add human works to the finished work of Christ is to introduce confusion and error into the church. But God will not stand for that. The Greek word translated “accursed” is anathema. Paul wants God’s eternal judgment to fall upon the false teachers. Why, to imply that Christ’s work was somehow incomplete is to make his cross redundant! There’s only one gospel and it must be kept pure at any cost. This is the message of Galatians in a nutshell.

Friend, whenever I think of Christianity as a set of external actions, as a way I have to look or act, I tend to fall into the trap of legalism. But I can’t push and shove my way closer to God. True spirituality isn’t primarily a matter of works and human willpower. It is all God’s grace. He simply draws us to himself and we’re overcome by a sense of awe and reverence, gratitude and humility. Legalism, on the other hand, is a game nobody ever wins.

I don’t know why I’ll telling you this, dear reader. Nothing I just wrote is new to any of you. I think Gal. 1:6-10 just reminds me of how Paul seems to be saying, “Dave, on this Fourth of July, do not forget what was purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. Stand fast in that liberty from both legalism and license by which Christ has set you free. God did not pay such a price merely to shine you up a bit and add his righteousness to your own. It is by God’s grace, his unmerited favor, that you are saved. As you live looking to him for every need of body, mind, and spirit, enjoy the freedom from fear and worry and all the evils that would enslave you.” I think it was Phillips Brooks who said, “Grace stands for Great Redemption at Christ’s Expense.” Whoever it was, that’s what it is.

Independence Day is a beautiful day for the people of the USA. Let us celebrate every year with grateful hearts, beautiful fireworks, and food aplenty. Happy Fourth of July!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Two Things We Must Do

(Monday, June 15) 8:38 AM My reading this morning was in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Hebrews 13.

There are two things we must do as followers of Jesus, and the church must lead out in this matter (see verse 16):

Do not neglect to do good and to share with others who are in need, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Being a Christian consists of more than loving God with our entire heart, soul, strength, and mind. It also consists of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The earliest believers in Jerusalem illustrated their love for God through (Acts 2:37-47):

  • Evangelistic preaching
  • Christian baptism
  • Apostolic teaching
  • Genuine relationships
  • Christ-centered gatherings
  • Fervent prayer

But they also showed their love for God through showing love for their brothers and sisters by sharing whatever they had. In fact, “All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other, selling their possessions and dividing with those in need” (Acts 2:44). Thus the 7th mark of a New Testament church is sacrificial living. Love for God is always matched by love for others. They are two sides of the same coin. They always go hand in hand. So if we say that we love God and see a brother or sister in need and then don’t help them, how can God’s love be within us? “Little children,” writes John (1 John 3:18), “let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.” This is what the impoverished Macedonians did. Writes Paul (2 Cor. 8:3-4):

They gave not only what they could afford, but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to, and not because of nagging on my part. They begged us to take the money so that they could share in the joy of helping the Christians in Jerusalem.

Fellow saints, how easy it is to praise God in the Sunday service and neglect our ministry to the needy. Praise must be put into practice by relieving the needs of the poor. In fact, the author of Hebrews sees our deeds of mercy and love as sacrifices of praise. Y’all, we need so many things today, but perhaps most of all we need a afresh awakening of social responsibility. We need to be people who do a lotta listening, a lotta learning, a lotta loving, a lotta living out the Gospel we proclaim.

Lord God, come and make us givers, not takers. For when the needy are helped and the oppressed are defended and the blind see and the deaf hear, will not many have to marvel and confess that Jesus the Nazarene is surely among us in all his saving power?

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.

Why do I Suffer?

Saturday, May 30

7:35 AM “Why? Why me? Why this?” Ah, the questions we ask when we are suffering. But God has the answer to each. Notice the three occurrences of “so that” in 2 Cor. 1:3-11 (NASB):

Verse 4: ” … so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.”

Verse 9: ” … so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

Verse 11: ” … so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

As usual, Paul combines simplicity and depth. When we invite God into our world of suffering, he walks right in. He brings a host of gifts — resilience, hope, patience, joy — but also understanding. He wraps us in his arms and says, “My dear child, here is why I allow you to suffer affliction. That you might be prepared to comfort others. That you might not trust in yourself. And that you might learn to give thanks in everything.”

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. If we are suffering, this is a time to examine ourselves, as Paul suggested in 1 Cor. 11:28. In the first place, suffering brings us closer to reflecting God’s own empathy. Who best knows how to comfort a man who’s lost his wife than someone who has lost his own? Who better knows how to comfort a couple who has lost their infant child than another couple who has lost a baby? Who understands cancer better than someone with cancer? Think of dominos bumping against each other: God comforts us, we comfort others, they comfort still others, and the domino effect goes on and on.

Then too, when we suffer we’re forced to look up. We abandon reliance on ourselves and become utterly dependent on God alone. We have to surrender. We have to give in. And when we do, God wonderfully comforts us. “I’m right here,” he says. “I never left. Just lean on me. Let me comfort you. The One who pulled off the resurrection will see you through.” He may not bring back the wife or baby you lost, but he will being back your soul, your hope.

Finally, maybe it’s time we gave thanks for the situation we find ourselves in. To be honest, it took me years to give thanks after Becky’s passing. Years. No one and nothing could bring thanksgiving out of my mouth. Finally, God brought it out. The silence had lingered for 5 years. Four Christmases had come and gone. Then one day, it was like a light broke into my life. Finally I was able to say, “Thank you, Lord, for what you have taught me in the midst of all this pain. I would never have gotten so close to you. In the mystery of your will, it’s not only what you give us but what you take that is a vital part of the plan. You lovingly and sovereignly rule over me, shaping me into the image of your Son. Thank you for your comfort, your grace, your mercies. Thank you.”

The three lessons of suffering?

  • Empathy.
  • Humility.
  • Gratitude.

We aren’t victims of circumstance. In fact, the very suffering that Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.

Believe that today.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of Energion titles including Running My Race and The Jesus Paradigm.)

Paul’s Core Convictions about Christianity

Monday, May 18

10:32 AM It’s become clear to me that Paul’s letter to the Philippians (which I have the privilege of teaching every year) summarizes many of Paul’s core convictions about Christianity. These include:

1) Christians aren’t just to study theology but are to follow the example of Jesus and live the way he lived — in selflessness and humility.

2) Followers of Jesus are to put the needs of others before their own needs.

3) Christianity is a matter of ethics as much as theology.

4) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.

5) Believers are called to pursue a kingdom that is radically different from all versions of the kingdoms of this world. This kingdom is always cross-centered and countercultural.

Perhaps this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to reexamine our priorities, to learn humility the hard way, and to choose to help one another as we pursue Christ’s upside-down kingdom.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is the author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Why Four Gospels, and many others, as well as co-editor of our Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series.

A Generous Disciple

8:40 AM My reading this morning was in what is probably my favorite letter in the New Testament. Perhaps no human being is less into writings that are too wordy, but the author of Hebrews doesn’t waste a single syllable. His point in the final chapters of his message (a letter, true, but more of a transcript of a sermon spoken to a group of Christians audibly) is that the way we love each other, serve each other, and live our lives with each other really matters. It’s a big deal to Jesus. One little snippet jumped out at me:

Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to him (TLB).

This reminds me very much of Rom. 12:13 (which, by the way, is my life verse):

When God’s children are in need, you be the one to help them out (TLB).

Generosity ranks terribly high on Jesus’ list of required attributes for His followers. Back to Hebrews for a moment:

Stay away from the love of money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never, never fail you nor forsake you” (TLB). 

The Greek here seems to be even stronger: “I will never, ever leave you, nor will I ever, ever forsake you” (5 negatives). But the promise is tied to the command: Be satisfied with what you have. Once again, I can’t help but think about Paul: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

You know, friends, a person may have an abundance of things without an abundance of life. We can be poor in the midst of plenty. Has there ever been a generation who surrounded themselves with more things to make their lives enjoyable only to be the most bored and unhappy generation of all time? I remember watching the kids of rural Ethiopia playing with their toys. No, these gadgets didn’t come from Wal-Mart. The kids would find scraps of discarded plastic or metal and fashion toys for themselves. These kids had practically nothing yet were the happiest kids I think I’ve ever seen.

Here’s what I’m learning. Dave, life does not consist in the presence or absence of things. You are rich and have an abundance beyond the fluctuations of the stock market. “We have nothing and yet possess everything” wrote Paul (2 Cor. 6:10). I am both a pauper and a plutocrat! I have nothing because it all belongs to God and I am only its steward. I have everything because I am a joint-heir with Christ. I have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of being both poor and rich.

Believe me, I’m still working on this generosity thingy. I am hardly immune to the feverish selfishness of this age. Yet the earliest Christians “had everything in common” and “gave to anyone as they had a need” (Acts 2:44-25). I’ve been reading a book by an author whose church gives more than half of its income to the needy. “We won’t spend more on ourselves than on our poor neighbor” were the author’s words. Think about that while looking at your church’s budget! Bottom line: Generosity has always been a characteristic of the society of Jesus. That’s because God is a generous God. And His Holy Spirit gives His people a tender conscience for the needy.

This is the kind of kingdom man I want to be and the kind of kingdom students I want to raise up. The extent of our generosity is but a whisper of our devotion to God.

Master It!

(02/22/2020) 7:18 AM Just as Kobe Bryant’s helicopter got lost in the fog and needed to fly by instrument, sometimes we’re caught in conditions of low visibility. All ordinary guidance seems to fail us. We can’t make sense of anything. Yet we aren’t left without a compass. The Word is a light and a lamp, and it never changes. It reads the same no matter what, even when all is hazy. To all my students: Our best navigating gadgets may fail, but His Word is settled both in heaven and on earth. Read it. Study it. Master it. Let it master you.


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One Tiny Sip of Living Water

Saturday, June 8 

6:50 AM They had been predicting a steady rain to begin falling yesterday and, sure enough, that’s exactly what we have. The Low Pressure System we’re currently in will be around for about a week, which means much needed rain for the farmers where I live (including yours truly). This also means that I might not be able to get in my bike ride today, but if I don’t I still plan on visiting the Y and working out and getting in some laps. My tri is in exactly 15 days and I feel like swimming is my weakest link right now.

The rain this morning reminded me of that wonderful quote by the one, the only Malcolm Muggeridge, who once edited Punch Magazine, Britain’s counterpart to the Mad Magazine I grew up with. He said:

I may, I suppose, regard myself or pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue – that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you – and I beg you to believe me – multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who are what they are.

As an incurable Muggerophile, I attempt to question traditional concepts at every turn, but not because I’ve become soured on life. Malcolm could be acid-tongued, but he was no kill-joy. He laughed a lot, and his love of the truth never turned him into a grumpy ascetic. But he cared deeply for the truth and trounced anyone who dared to corrupt it. That was the message I read this morning as I sipped my coffee.

Bible and Coffee!

1 John 2:20-28 is clear: We believers have had the Holy Spirit poured out on us by Christ, and so all of us know the truth. And as long as His Spirit remains in us, we don’t need anyone to teach us because His Spirit teaches us about everything, and what He teaches is true. Hence John’s final exhortation:

Obey the Spirit’s teaching, then, and remain in union with Christ.

Good reader, this was exactly the message I needed to hear today. I grew up immersed in typical Christian culture: go to church, listen to sermons, give to missions, and attend prayer meeting when you could. I was rarely challenged to read the Bible (or think) for myself. We can’t simply shrug this issue off, because biblical illiteracy is rife in our churches. Postmoderns share several key values, but one of them I respect the most is their insistence that church be relevant to all of life. They expect to be able to ask hard questions without being patronized or dismissed. Let’s give them the goods. And let’s begin by giving them God’s Word. They want to grapple with theology and ecclesiology and a thousand other topics. Remember this: The best antidote to evangelical group-think is reading the Bible for ourselves. Yes, I enjoy a good sermon as much as the next person. But Muggeridge got it right: Even the greatest sermon pales when compared to one tiny sip of the living water Jesus Himself promises to anyone who is thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. The Bible is the best Christian resource out there, so let’s lift it high. Do I read books about the Bible? Sure do. Have I written books about the Bible? Yep. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can replace drinking directly from the fountain of knowledge itself.

P.S. My ever-productive assistant has again updated the What’s New? page at our Greek Portal. Included is a link to a journal article I published many years ago on the text of 1 John 2:20, where the apostle John either says to his readers “You all know” or “You know all things.” I argue for the latter reading, in case anyone is interested.

Overlooked Stylistic Arguments Regarding 1 John 2:20

Obeying the Law of Christ

(Friday March 29) 6:12 AM This morning I opened my eyes and, before getting out of bed, grabbed my favorite Bible translation of all time. It’s the Bible I used when, at the age of 16, I “fell in love” with the Scriptures for the first time. (Remember when that happened to you?) The Good News Bible had just come out. Three things about this translation struck me. It was readable. It had nifty line drawings (I’ve always enjoyed good art). And it had a glossary of terms.

My text this morning was Galatians 6, and here I saw an interesting connection between v. 2 and v. 9. See it?

When we help each other, we obey the law of Christ. And when we do good (for others), we reap the harvest of eternal life. In Basel, theology was divided into two parts: dogmatics and ethics. The Germans might say Glaubenslehre and Sittenlehre, what we believe and how we live. Christianity involves knowing the good, but it always involves more than knowing. Ethical theory is quite worthless without ethical practice. The Christian life involves knowledge and action. Can Jesus be Savior and not be Lord? Those who think so need not bother themselves with ethics.

God’s Word is a songbook. Did you know that? His mandates are melodies. Today’s church suffers from a double malady. Some of us have the statutes without the song. Others of us have the song without the statutes. But we must have both words and music. Joe Aldrich used to tell his evangelism students at Biola, “Don’t say the words without playing the music.” I grew up in a church that prided itself on its strict orthodoxy. But it didn’t sing. The joy of one’s salvation, the first love, the sacrificial caring for others — these were scarcely evident. There were statutes but no songs. Other churches in Kailua tried to sing the song without the words. To be sure, they could whip up a synthetic joy, a simulated happiness, but it wasn’t grounded in God’s Word. After all, truth doesn’t matter as long as we feel good, right?

A true Christian will always have the right music and the right words. Evangelicals who care about social justice aren’t becoming liberals. They’re simply trying to be faithful to their biblical heritage. A frustrating thing about God’s character is that He always expects us to act on what we know fairly quickly. He first captures our hearts, but soon after He captures our hands, as James puts it. You see a need? You can’t just say “Best of luck!” Roughly two-thirds of unchurched adults were formerly churched. They’re not necessary anti-church. They just see the church as irrelevant to the real, hurting world in which they live.

Please hear me. I’m not saying “Go Right!” or “Go Left!” Today, American politics is utterly bankrupt. And it always nets zero converts. Did you read the news this morning? I did. Our politicians are willing to kill with words and insults. I came to Christ at the age of 8 not only because of the truth of the Gospel but because a man named Rudy Ulrich was willing to lay down his life for me. No one cared about me more than my pastor. As for me, I’m going to gamble on the fact that Jesus is calling me to do the same. Yes, I’m a truth-lover. I’ve even written a few books about the Bible. But if I’m going to err, I’ll err on the side of mercy and let Jesus sort it all out on that Day.

Maybe it’s because I grew up at the bottom (socially, economically, emotionally) that I have a bias toward people at the bottom. In his book Simplicity, Richard Rohr says “We cannot think our way into a new kind of living. We must live our way into a new kind of thinking.” Too many of us have become hyphenated Christians who build a false wedge between evangelism and social action. James makes it unmistakable that if a person is a Christian he or she will be something else too. We’re not talking about perfect Christians. There are no such Christians, but there can be no avoiding our responsibility to the least of these.

I think it was F. F. Bruce who conjectured that the word “Christians” was derived, not from Christos (Christ) but rather from the very similar-sounding chrestos, “good/kind.” (Both words may have been pronounced identically in the first century.) Followers of Jesus were known (and mocked) for being “Goody-goodies.” This is how serious the Gospel challenge is. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me” (Matt. 25:40). If our God could set aside privilege and power for the love of humanity, can’t we?

I truly believe that the evangelical church can stand on truth and at the same time share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a hurting world regardless of social status, political affiliation, and ethnicity. The unchurched want both the words and the music. 

Thank you, Father, for all those who have shared good with me so sacrificially through the years. Thank you especially for those special friends, loved ones, and family members who give without question or hesitation. Please help me to do the same. Amen.

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)