Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Christ Is the Atoning Sacrifice for Our Sins

                                                                (Middlebury, Indiana)

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2 (NIV)

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.

1 John 2:1-2 (The Message)

It was through His sacrificial death that our sins were atoned. But He did not stop there—He died for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2 (The Voice)

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2 (NKJV)

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

1 John 2:2 (New Living Translation)

Monday, March 28, 2022

Atonement and Jesus, the Suffering Servant


Jesus saw himself as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, who “makes himself an offering for sin” (Is 53.10).

Jesus said of himself, “the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).

William Lane Craig writes:

"The Son of Man is a divine–human figure from Daniel’s prophecy whom “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve” (Dan 7.14). In his paradoxical statement, Jesus stands things on their head, declaring that the Son of Man has come in the role of a servant and, like the Servant of Isaiah 53, gives his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus evidently saw his death as a redemptive sacrifice, like the Passover sacrifice, and himself as a sin bearer, inaugurating, like the Mosaic sacrifice, a fresh covenant between God and the people."

Craig, William Lane. The Atonement (Elements in the Philosophy of Religion) (p. 9). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Craig Keener says this big word "redemption" refers to the liberation of slaves, as in the exodus. (See Keener, Romans, p. 67)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Powerlessness of Will Power for Spiritual Transformation

                                               (2021 - snow in Monroe in April!)

Dallas Willard writes:

"It is not the growth of “will power” we are looking for in spiritual formation, but transformation of all dimensions of the self under the direction of God, through a will surrendered to Him and applied appropriately to bring about personal change." (Dallas Willard, Getting Love Right, Kindle Locations 222-226)

We are not to work harder, or try harder, to self-transform into Christlikeness. To think that trying harder will achieve, e.g., the kind of love Jesus had, is to devalue Christ and diminish expectations. "Will power" (Richard Foster calls it "will worship") won't work.

But, as we surrender to Him, He transforms us. He produces spiritual "fruit" in us, which are qualities of His own being. As we abide in Christ, He gives us precisely what we cannot achieve in our own strength; viz., the ongoing meta-morphing of our heart into a heart like His.

(Click on the link and get Willard's beautiful little book, on Kindle, for $1.)

(On the powerlessness of will power to conquer addictions see Addiction and Grace, by Gerald May.)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Now Re-Reading, and Reading


In 2020 my book-of-the-year was Carl Trueman's The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. I am re-reading it, because it is that important.

I just picked up, and have begun reading, Trueman's new book Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

Tim Keller Describes Discipleship, from Luke's Gospel



This past winter I have focused, personally, on discipleship. During this time I wrote a book on discipleship, 31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship. Pastors and Christian leaders - you could use this resource with your people in May, which has 31 days. 

The core of a pastor's ministry is making disciples. (See Matthew 28:19-20; and Ephesians 4:11-13.) "Church" is about making Jesus-followers. Here's an excellent resource from Tim Keller - "The Call to Discipleship: Luke 9:20-25, 51-62," He begins:

"There is a growing recognition in churches today about the need for discipleship. In what follows, I would like to describe from the Gospel of Luke what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Luke has some helpful insights about discipleship. The first eight chapters are focused on “who is Jesus?” But there’s a shift in chapter 9, where Peter with the help of the Holy Spirit realizes that Jesus is not one more in a succession of prophets and teachers. Peter says, “You are the Christ of God.” You are the Messiah, the one who is bringing the ruling power of God back into the world to heal and repair all the brokenness—whether it’s spiritual, psychological, social, or physical. 

From the time Jesus’ identity is revealed, he begins to say, “Follow me.” If he is who he says he is, what does it mean to follow him? Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means setting a new priority, finding a new identity, and living a new mercy. All three are critical; they all fit together. Let’s look at them."

And then, he does. This is an excellent read!

Ministry in Jesus' Name Looks Different than Keeping People Happy


(Cancun sunrise)

"I am pretty sure a smart, productive atheist 
could do my job well."

- A successful pastor, quoted in 
(P. 127)
(I am re-posting this for a friend.)

Ministry, in the name of Jesus, transcends our abiltiies and talents. Sadly, claim Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel (and Francis ChanDallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and Tozer, et. al.), the American Entertainment-Consumer Church has abandoned this power.

Goggin (and Strobel and Chan) came to a place where 

"he was disturbed by the notion that he could succeed in ministry without depending on God; 
it troubled him that he could do ministry 
in the flesh and be praised for it. 
Even more disconcerting was the fact 
that he could lead confidently, 
think strategically, 
and cast an exciting vision for his church
—and none of this required he even be a Christian. 
It wasn’t that he was doing ministry in the flesh 
that unnerved him, 
although that was certainly enough. 
More disturbing was that his view of ministry 
didn’t depend on God even existing 
for things to work well."

Goggin and Strobel, p. 127 

Ministry in the name of Jesus looks different and is different from trying to attract people to church and keep them happy.

Goggin and Strobel interview Willard, who says this about ministry.

"What is ministry? 
Ministry is bringing the life of God, 
as it would be understood in terms of Jesus and his kingdom, 
into the lives of other people. 
That’s ministry. 
We minister the kingdom of God. 
That gives you a new way of thinking about ministry 
because now you are a carrier of the kingdom of God, 
which is how Jesus trained his first disciples. 
You are a carrier of the power of God, 
the kingdom of God, 
and the grace of God; 
and so you watch that work with people 
and try not to get in its way. 
But that is the secret of ministry. 
You bring the power of God, 
the truth of God, 
and the presence of Jesus 
into the lives of other people 
and you watch it work."

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Atonement and Expiation


                                                          (Jerusalem, the Temple Mount)

Have you heard of the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur? This is translated as, "Day of Atonement." Or, Day of Expiation. What does this mean?

William Lane Craig, in his book The Atonement, quotes Jacob Milgrom's Leviticus commentary. He writes:

“For the complete annulment of the sin..., for the assurance of divine forgiveness (sālaḥ), sacrificial expiation (kippēr) is always required” (1991, p. 377). Kippēr in its most abstract sense thus comes to mean atone or expiate. “The meaning here is that the offerer is cleansed of his impurities/sins and becomes reconciled, ‘at one,’ with God” (Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 1083).

Craig writes,

The text [Leviticus] repeatedly promises, “the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have ​committed, and you shall be forgiven” (Lev 4.35; cf. 4.20, 26, 31, etc.). The word translated “make atonement” (kippēr) has a range of meanings – to purge, to ransom, to expiate – but what is significant here is the result: the person’s sins are forgiven. The ritual sacrifice has removed his guilt.

(Craig, The Atonement, pp. 11-12)

You Need to Change if Things Are Going to Get Better

(Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya)

This principle applies to all relationships:

You need to change if things are going to get better.

Repeat after me.


need to change....

if things....

are going to get better.

J. Doe (not their real name) contacted me. J said they wanted help. Their marriage was failing.

But J did not really want help. To be helped, J would have to change. In J's eyes, their spouse, K. Doe, was the problem. K needed to change, not J. J wanted me to affirm their ways of doing marriage, and join them in blame-heaping their significant other.

I told J, "If you want your marriage to be rescued and upgraded, you will need to change some things. You will need to do things differently." 

I gave J this assignment: Make a list of things you have done wrong in your marriage. A list of things you have done to hurt K. Then, confess them one by one, asking for forgiveness for each one. 

I told K to do the same thing.

The underlying idea here is: If J and K keep doing marriage the way they have been, the results will be the same. J and K both need to learn new skills if their marriage is to come together. Nothing gets better without change.

J refused to follow my counsel. 

J contacted me and asked to meet again. I explained that J had not followed through on our first session. I am not J's counselor if J refuses to follow my counsel. We would not meet again.

J was a hammer, K was a nail. This was their marriage. 

Both needed to change. 

Change is hard. 

Life without ongoing change in the right direction is harder.

For further reading see - 

The First Two Steps In Relationship Restoration

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Did Paul Change the Gospel of Jesus?

Someone talked with me about the relationship between Jesus and Paul. This Michael Brown video is for you.

See also N.T. Wright - HERE.

See Scot McKnight - HERE.

There's no disjunction between the gospels and Paul's letters. See John Piper, Tim Keller, and D.A. Carson HERE

Keller refers to Simon Gathercole's essay "The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom." "Paul’s gospel can be seen to have the same content at its centre as the gospel in the Gospels."

Healing For Damaged Relationships

Image result for john piippo transformation
(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

Years ago a family came to us for help. Their situation was dire. The family members had hurt one another. The damage seemed irreparable.

And complicated. 

A twisted, tangled, thorny mess held this family captive. They had no hope for healing the broken relationships. This family was fragmented by a series of sinful choices. Some were heard saying, "We will never be a family again."

This is how things often appear from the inside. We've done damage, and been damaged, and nothing can fix us. No amount of money can buy what we need. No material thing can assuage our pain. No substance can cover over the scars.

I remember saying to one of the family members, "It seems there is no way out. That's what the enemy wants you to think. But actually, the way out is simple to understand." It's this.

1. Turn again to Jesus. (Read this, and this,)
2. Be accountable for your own failures. (Read this.)
3. Confess your sins to one another. 
4. Forgive one another. (Read this, or this, or this, or this.)
5. Get additional outside help with the healing process. (In the SE Michigan area go here, or here.)  

The goal is reconciliation and restoration of relationship. With the courage and humility to do 1-5, and with God's help, this family can come together again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

How to Fail Well


Image result for john piippo failure
(Monroe County)

We all fail. I have. I will.

How we handle our failures depends on our self-image. A healthy self-image allows us to fail well. An entitlement attitude causes us to fail poorly.

John Townsend writes:

"You need to learn to fail in healthy and redemptive ways, because fail you will. People with a healthy and accurate self-image don’t have a big problem with failure." (Townsend, The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way, p. 132)

Here, writes Townsend, is how failure is handled by someone with a healthy self-image.

1. They experience disappointment.

2. They lean on God. "I need God's help and wisdom in this."

3. They find support. They talk with friends who have healthy self-images.

4. They learn. "What was my contribution to the problem? What do I need to change?"

5. They adapt. "It's time to swing the bat again and try things a different way."

"That’s how it should work when we fail. Since failure, and even repeated failure, is simply a given in life, then over and over again we go through these five steps, and each next time we fail well and at a higher level." (Ib., pp. 132-133)

The entitled person struggles to fail well. Townsend says they have two self-images, an external one, and an internal one. Then external image appears confident, even arrogant. The internal self-image of the entitled person is insecure and afraid. 

"Above all," writes Townsend, they are "risk-averse." "The entitled person is deathly afraid of taking a risk and failing... So he postures about his specialness, but he never gets anywhere because he remains frozen in his ability to take normal risks that everyone has to endure to get anywhere. His internal self-image says, “I can’t do this and I can’t try.”: (Ib., p. 133) 

Townsend counsels the following to help the entitlement person.

1. Understand that you are loved by God, not because of your competence, but because you are God's child. God loves you, by grace, not performance, success, or failure.

2. Try new things. No one does them well at first. As you struggle, even fail, keep the first point before you; viz., God loves you.

3. Practice, learn, get advice, fail, and adapt.

4. "Gradually, you begin doing things better. Now the self-image says, "I am loved, and I am competent."

Townsend concludes,

"This is what works. Love precedes confidence, but confidence can’t exist outside of failure and adaptation. When your self-image aligns with what is real and true about you — in other words, how God sees and experiences you— it works for you and not against you." (Ib., pp. 134-135)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Atonement: Colossians 1:21-23


(My grandfather's tombstone)

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

- Colossians 1:21-23


  • SEPARATION - Once you were alienated from God.
  • RECONCILIATION - Now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death. (The atoning death of Christ.)
  • ACCEPTANCE: To present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
  • GOSPEL: This is the gospel, the good news, that you heard and has been proclaimed.

William Lane Craig writes: "The predominant motif used in the NT to characterize the atonement is the presentation of Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering to God on our behalf."

(Craig, The Atonement, p. 7)


My Renewal School of Ministry course begins 

next Monday evening, 

March 21, 8-9:30 PM. 


Six 1 1/2 hour zoom sessions.

$10 for the entire course.

Register HERE.


Sunday, March 20, 2022

N. T. Wright on The Lord's Prayer


                                                                   (Our grandson Levi)

N. T. Wright is surely one of our greatest New Testament scholars. He has written a beautiful book on The Lord's Prayer. When Wright writes, every New Testament scholar is listening.

From the book's beginning...

"Where better to start [talking about prayer] that than with the prayer that Jesus himself taught us? If we value and marvel at the fact that Christian worship has been offered in our Cathedral church for nearly thirteen hundred years - and it is indeed a wonderful thing - how much more ought we to cherish and marvel at the fact that for nearly two thousand years people have prayed this prayer. When you take these words on your lips you stand on hallowed ground."

(N. T. Wright. The Lord and His Prayer (Kindle Locations 28-31). Kindle Edition.)

Shall we pray...?

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Universalism - The Opiate of the Theologians

                                                            (Sterling State Park, Monroe)

Years ago, when I was teaching as an adjunct professor at Palmer Theological Seminary, I was talking with Craig Keener (Palmer, at the time) in his office. I asked him, what are books you recommend on the subject of Christology? He went to a bookshelf and pulled out Michael McClymond's Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth. Craig said, "This is very good."

So, I bought another book. And have come to value McClymond as an excellent scholar.

His recent book is The Devil's Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism. Here's a synopsis.

"Will all evil finally turn to good, or does some evil remain stubbornly opposed to God and God's goodness? Will even the devil be redeemed? Addressing a theological issue of perennial interest, this comprehensive book (in two volumes) surveys the history of Christian universalism from the second to the twenty-first century and offers an interpretation of how and why universalist belief arose. The author explores what the church has taught about universal salvation and hell and critiques universalism from a biblical, philosophical, and theological standpoint. He shows that the effort to extend grace to everyone undermines the principle of grace for anyone."

And, from the book...

"Will all people eventually be saved? Will all evil finally turn to good, or does some evil remain fully and stubbornly opposed to God and God's goodness? Will even the devil be redeemed?

The question of the devil's final salvation has been continuously debated since the time of Origen. This comprehensive book surveys the history of Christian universalism from the second to the twenty-first century and offers an interpretation of how and why universalist belief arose. Michael McClymond explores what the church has taught about universal salvation and hell and offers a critique of universalism from a biblical, philosophical, and theological standpoint. He shows that the effort to extend grace to everyone undermines the principle of grace for anyone."

Wow. And... wow, $58. Some day, hopefully, in the near future.

Craig Keener reviews the book and writes:

"A timely and fascinating book on a crucial topic that probably only an omnicompetent historical theologian like Michael McClymond could write. McClymond shows that while the notion of universal salvation has attractive features, it does not have a very encouraging spiritual or theological track record in the history of the church."

Amos Yong (Fuller Theo. Sem.) writes,

"Erudite! Encyclopedic! Exhaustive! A universal discussion that leaves no stone unturned, no stream uncharted, and no argument untouched. Even as McClymond is unflinching in defending the historic orthodox consensus against the idea of universal salvation, his is a generous orthodoxy, the persuasiveness of which undoubtedly rests at least in part on his having taken time to listen to marginal voices and seriously grapple with the broadest extent of their claims within local and even global contexts. It will be a long time before universalist theologians will be able to make a compelling case that is as comprehensive as that of The Devil's Redemption."

CT interviews McClymond here - "How Universalism, 'the Opiate of the Theologians," Went Mainstream."

Friday, March 18, 2022

How To Hear the Voice of God

Monroe (D & J's former home)

Often people ask me the question "How do I hear the voice of God?" A related question is, "How do I know it's God speaking to me and not just myself or some other voice?" In brief, here's my response.

1. Abide in Christ. Dwell with God. Spend much time with God. There's simply no substitute for this. For about "Mc-hearing" God. God can't be fast-fooded. Hearing the voice of God is largely an acquired thing. Analogically, I spend much time talking with Linda and listening to her. The result is that I know her heart, and her heart's desires, very well.

2. Saturate yourself in Scripture. The greater one's familiarity with Scripture is, the greater one will be able to know when it's God speaking and not something else. Begin by saturating yourself in Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. Try reading these over and over and over, slowly and meditatively, for a year. I did it recently for two years and found it very helpful. Read the four Gospels as if you've never read them before. As you read them, when God speaks to you, write it down in a journal.

3. Hang around people who do 1 and 2. Meet with other Jesus-followers who actually pray. Talk together about what you feel God has been saying to you. It won't do any good to talk to people who don't spend time alone with God. You'll just end up speculating about theology. They won't have a clue about what it means to hear the voice of God. Meeting together with people who do 1&2 provides corporate discernment. One can learn a lot about hearing God in such an environment.

Additionally - Don't multi-task the God-relationship. Spend much time with God... alone. Just you and God. Face to face. Heart to heart.

If you're unfamiliar with this, my recommendation is: just start doing it. In the process you'll learn what this is about because God so much wants you to know Him experientially and relationally.

One very good book on hearing the voice of God is: Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

See also my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

The Meaning of 'Atonement'


                                                               (Our downstairs office)

When I graduated with my doctoral degree in 1986, John Stott's magisterial book The Cross of Christ was published. This was great timing for me, since two of my areas of study were Christology and hermeneutical theories (theories of interpretation). And, the Atonement. The cross. Substitution (Christ, on the cross, took our place). 

Oxford theologian Alister McGrath writes the Foreward to the 2021 special edition of Stott's book. He says,

"Since its publication in 1986, John Stott's The Cross of Christ has established itself as one of the most respected and authoritative evangelical reflections on this most important subject."

Stott's book "deals thoroughly with theories of the atonement..., examining its implications for Christian discipleship, the sacraments, and the enigmas of faith."

Stott writes: "The meaning of atonement is not to be found in our penitence evoked by the sight of Calvary, but rather in what God did when in Christ on the cross He took our place and bore our sin."

What did this accomplish? How important is this? Paul Eddy and James Beilby write: "Broadly speaking, the term atonement— one of the few theological terms that is “wholly and indigenously English”— refers to a reconciled state of “at-one-ness” between parties that were formerly alienated in some manner. According to the great eighteenth-century evangelist John Wesley, “Nothing in the Christian system is of greater consequence than the doctrine of the atonement.”"

(Schreiner, Thomas R.; Beilby, James; Eddy, Paul R.; Boyd, Gregory A.; Green, Joel B.; Reichenbach, Bruce. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum  Multiview Book Series) (p. 9)

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Sunday Morning 03/13/2022 - "Binding and Loosing"

Atonement and the Crucifixion of Christ


                                                            (Sterling State Park, Monroe)

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:23, writes: "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles."

Why is "Christ crucified" a scandal, and foolishness? Because the idea that God the Son would undergo such horrific suffering seems not the kind of thing a God would do.

Was the suffering horrific? When I watched the movie "The Passion of the Christ" there were several times I needed to run my head away. I couldn't look at it, and yet I thought that the real thing was more horrific than this movie.

German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote that “Christians who do not have the feeling that they must flee the crucified Christ have probably not yet understood him in a sufficiently radical way.”

He was despised and rejected by men. . . . 

As one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, 

and we esteemed him not. 

(Isa. 53:3)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Pastors - These are Tough Times to Lead a Church

(Found this old card while looking for other things.)

When I was younger a pastor told me that the church was one of the most difficult organizations to lead, because it's an all-volunteer army. The people are not getting paid. A pastor can't say, "You need to do this because we're paying you to do this!" (If you're paying people to do things and you have to say this, you have problems.)

Francis Chan, in his Letter to the Church, said that pastors in America today face an exceptionally difficult time to lead a church. As if leading the church wasn't tough already. And, he wrote before the pandemic happened!

Chan writes:

"For those who are not in church leadership, be mindful that this is a very difficult time to lead. I have been in leadership positions for over thirty years. There has never been a time like this. 
Social media gives everyone a voice, so everyone chooses to raise theirs. 
Voices are plentiful; followers are not. 
Strong opinions are applauded; humility is not. 
I am not saying that changes do not need to be made among leaders; I am simply calling for grace. Imagine how difficult it would be to coach a team where each player refuses to follow because he or she has a better plan than the coach. 
Welcome to the American Church in the twenty-first century." (p. 25)

Add to this the Entertainment and Happiness factor, and the problems increase.

Then, add kids sports leagues on Sunday mornings...

...  sprinkle in some Consumer Culture...

... some Show Business... (See Neil Postman's brilliant work...)

...toss in some microaggressions... (See here..)

...and the need to be coddled...  (See here...)

...add a decreasing neural capacity to focus...

...addiction to cell phones (See my worship song "Lay Your Cell Phones Down and Worship Him")...  (See Moby's video here...)

... the need to be "liked" (See the work of many here, including Jean Twenge)...

...and many overworked people needed to keep the Consumer Machine operating...

..a little narcissism... (See here...)

...and, oh yes, the pandemic...

These are tough times to lead anything.

My ideas on how to combat all of this,  without resorting to an extreme Benedict Option (which makes more sense every day), is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Pastors and Christian leaders, let us stay attached to the anchor of our souls, to the foundation of our faith, to knowing Christ, and making Him known. For our souls have been forged in fire for such a time as this.