Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2015

It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Know

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Why Isn’t This Story in Every Bible Story Collection?

That’s the question we’re looking at this weekend. Perhaps the story just has credibility issues with adults. A snake on a pole? You only have to look at it; not touch it, or do something else with it?  Perhaps the story simply gets bumped in Bible storybooks by stories involving a giant, or a whale, or a den of lions. But seriously, the way the Numbers 21 story prefigures the crucifixion, while we may not include it in our gospel presentations, we should at least be conversationally familiar with it. If you’ve missed what we’ve said so far, read the articles posted Friday and Saturday.

The Evangelism Explosion Question

Evangelism Explosion was a door-to-door evangelism campaign launched at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida when James Kennedy was pastor, and then made available for churches to train volunteers and use the program in their city or town.

Wikipedia records this about the program:

Evangelism Explosion is best known for its two “diagnostic questions” that users can ask non-Christians as a means of determining a “person’s spiritual health”, and of stimulating an evangelistic conversation:

  1. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
  2. Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?

After the diagnostic questions, the evangelist is encouraged to explain the gospel in terms of grace, man, God, Christ, and faith.

What the article doesn’t say is that most people would reply to the second question in terms like,

  • I’ve been a good person
  • I lived a good life
  • I prayed to God regularly
  • I kept the Ten Commandments
  • I went to church
  • I always gave money when people needed it
  • I didn’t smoke/drink/take drugs/sleep around

…and so on.

But none of these is the right answer. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ that any of us obtains the righteousness that is needed before a just God; something I assume the EE people would then go on to explain. (In what’s sometimes called a “law and gospel” approach, the point is additionally made that none of those actions or omissions could be considered good enough when standing before a God who is all-holy.) 

DO versus DONE

So how does one do that? How do we move from people whose religion is all D-O (do this, do that, do the other thing) to one who simply accepts what’s all been D-O-N-E (freely given, and able to be taken irrespective of one’s spiritual balance sheet)?

Growing up in what was then Canada’s only megachurch, The Peoples Church in Toronto, Dr. Paul B. Smith (who also baptized me) would give an invitation almost every Sunday night and ask people to raise their hands if the wanted him “to include them in the closing prayer.”

While being prayed for to receive salvation or praying a prayer are both models that are subject to intense scrutiny and criticism these days, I think his approach is good at least insofar as one must want to placed under the covering that the cross provides.

I often compare this to the cards we get from the postal service telling us that they are holding a parcel for pickup. We can show all our friends the parcel card and even wave it around, but until we actually go to the post office and exchange the card for the benefit it represents, then all we have is piece of thin cardboard. And think about, the analogy really fits because the parcel is yours; it has your name on it.

How else do we describe this invisible transaction? Most people want to do something in order to gain right standing with God. That’s why religion is so popular. People at least can quantify their acts of piety, devotion or righteousness.

But Christianity, in this sense at least, is not religion. You don’t do anything.

And that’s where the transaction model really breaks down for some people. See, when I do a transaction at the ATM, I get a receipt. At least I can hold that in my hand (or affix it to the inside cover of my Bible). But as much as people so desperately want the equivalent to a proof of purchase, such is not the case when it’s something that happens invisibly. You simply, in a way so similar to the story of Moses and the Bronze Snake need to look to the cross.

Truly this is faith.  


As stated, there is no magic prayer to pray, but in your own words, you can simply tell God that you recognize that in his higher plans and purposes, the death of Jesus fulfills the requirements of a system that was set in place long before the world was created; and that you realize that as someone who misses the mark of his standard of holiness and righteousness, what you really need is grace. Tell him you want to be included in all that Christ’s death and God’s infinite grace and love have to offer; and in return, you want to begin living a new life in a new way.


October 24, 2015

Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Could you retell this Bible story?

That was the question we asked yesterday, noting that most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. Because I think it’s so important, we’re devoting this weekend to looking at this from different perspectives using a mix of fresh commentary and some things that were originally posted at Christianity 201.

…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Yesterday we kicked off with the old hymn “At Calvary” and today it’s “Heaven Came Down.” I’ve noticed that when people get older they mind starts to recall classic pieces that are no longer sung in the modern church.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25


24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:


~noun Theology.
— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.

But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

The verse recalls the story from the book of Numbers we looked at yesterday, often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

Numbers 21:7-9


7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through yet another hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to...

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

It’s interesting how the Numbers 21 story is so prominent in the lines of that chorus, but do we have anything in modern worship to replace that? Does our vertical worship allow room to take these Bible narratives and recite them in song?

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

I also recognize that many are uncomfortable with a transactional view of the regeneration of the Spirit at salvation. I think sometimes we can suffer from what is called the paralysis of analysis. Perhaps a more modern — albeit still about 40 years old — scripture chorus can help us:

He paid a debt he didn’t owe
I owed a debt I couldn’t pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing grace!
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world. That moment of salvation can happen in an instant, what is sometimes termed the crisis view of salvation, or it can take place over a time, what C.S. Lewis and others might call the process view of salvation.

I don’t know that it’s necessary for everyone to have an exact date that they can point to (or have written in the front cover of their Bibles) when they crossed that line of faith, but I think you know in your heart when you’ve arrived at that point.

To repeat what we said yesterday, the people in the Numbers 21 story didn’t have to do anything beyond simply looking to the cross for their deliverance. That’s the part of the story you need to be able to impart to people who want to determine their next step on their journey to the cross, even if you don’t spell out the whole story itself.

Today’s music:
For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.
For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.
Go Deeper:
To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.
To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.
Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.

October 23, 2015

Could You Retell This Bible Story?

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Do you recognize this Bible story?

This is the cover of a children’s Bible story book, available for only $2.49 US at most Christian bookstores. Yet most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. I’ve covered this about five times at Christianity 201, but realized it’s never been looked at here. Over the weekend, I want to spend some time on this theme.

Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer. An old hymn stated:

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9


7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

(If you’re not familiar with this, click here to read all 5 verses.)

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14


Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

ambulance symbolI believe it’s not only important to know this story in a “conversationally familiar with” sense, but also important to teach people how to teach people this story. By the way, when I teach this to people I often point out that this story is the basis for the symbol seen on many ambulances and other emergency vehicles. I would say that most of the people I talk to are astounded to learn the connection.

While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s often needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process; and this story provides a simple way of explaining that there’s nothing the person has to do to obtain salvation beyond simply looking to the cross.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at this again in a different way. Stay tuned. Meanwhile here’s a great graphic from Adam4D:

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Here’s some other material for your consideration:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

May 15, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Giving Thanks

“For what we are about to receive…”  The human and the dog seem sincere but cats are always overly dramatic. (And why does the cat have a marking that looks like another cat’s tail? Photoshop? No way!)

Time for another link list. Try to have your suggestions in by 6:00 PM Eastern on Mondays. More during the week at Twitter.

Songs with substance: Classic worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

January 28, 2013

Confronting Salvation Insecurity

At an earlier stage of life, J. D. Greear prayed to receive salvation multiple times and was baptized on four different occasions. In a new book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know For Sure You Saved (B&H Books) Greear doesn’t speculate on what that means for the statistics of various churches, but he does  confront a problem that is common to many: a lack of assurance that they are truly saved.

A few months ago, I wrote about the ramifications of a faith dependent on an invisible transaction. If only, like one does at the ATM, one had the option of getting a printed receipt. That’s the type of assurance many people crave.

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart - J. D. GreearIn the book, Greear looks at what constitutes belief and repentance. Though he doesn’t use these words, he wrestles with the question of whether or not salvation is a crisis experience (happens all at once) or a process experience (happens over time) and dismisses the distinction by referring to faith as a posture, with the test question being, “Are you in the posture of repentance now?” One section is subtitled, “Present Posture is Better Proof Than a Past Memory.” He allows the possibility that some may not remember an “exact moment” but know they are submitted to Christ, preempting the need to ‘pray the prayer.’

He is equally sensitive to people on both sides of the Arminian/Calvinist divide over eternal security, approaching difficult anecdotal cases not with the negative language that perhaps some were not saved to begin with, but with a more positive spin that those who are truly repentant do in fact persevere in their faith.

Additionally, he recognizes the uniqueness of each our stories.

C. S. Lewis describes a day in 1951 (after writing The Four Loves and giving the talks that became Mere Christianity) where he passed form “mere intellectual acceptance of, to the realization of, the doctrine that our sins are forgiven.” He did not think of this as his conversion, but he did say that in light of it “what I had previously called ‘belief’ looked absolutely unreal.” After writing one of the all time classics of the Christian faith…     (p. 114)

And he concedes the universality of misgivings.

The Bible time and time again reminds us that no one is immune from doubt, spiritual apathy, and severe temptation. Elijah sank into self-pity and depression right after winning the victory on Mount Carmel. After speaking with God face-to-face, Moses lost his temper and blasphemed God publicly. After establishing the greatest kingdom Israel had ever seen, David committed adultery and murder. After preaching a service in which three thousand were save, Peter fell back into hypocrisy and cowardice. Perhaps God lets his saints struggle that way so that their faith will remain in his grace and not in their righteousness.  (p. 108, emphasis added)

In a way, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, while a smaller book, is a somewhat exhaustive treatment of this subject, filled with scripture quotations and quotes from classic and current authors. Packaged in a Prayer of Jabez-sized hardcover at 128 digest-sized pages, its $12.99 U.S. list seems a little pricey, however, I would advise churches to try to track down bulk pricing on this and have giveaway copies at hand for those who are experiencing doubts.

For an additional look at the book, see an excerpt at Christianity 201  Thanks to The A Group for this review copy.

March 17, 2010

Links for St. Patrick’s Day and Other Things

St. Patrick

Here we are once again at Wednesday, and to those of you of Irish descent, “May the road rise to meet you…”   (They already know the rest…)

  • Donald Miller’s sermon at Willow Creek on the March 6/7 weekend was perhaps his “usual” about the power of story, but it seemed especially more focused at Willow, which made it this week’s lead link.    How are you doing with the story God’s given you to write?   To view you need to select the video from the menu when you link to the sermons on their media player.  (Good one to copy the audio to disc and loan or give to your friends.)
  • This week my internet wanderings led me to further consider the rarely-heard phrase, “Assurance of Salvation;” and I was especially satisfied with an explanation posted at as well as an illustration that appears in the second paragraph of an article at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry or CARM.   Do you ever doubt your salvation?
  • Christian book reviews:  Helpful or hurtful?   Mark Tronson explores the topic; “They do not simply judge good writing, they are good writing, and they reflect on their subject as they do…”  with the caution that, “The reader wants to be reassured that the reviewer has a proper grasp of the subject at question, because misunderstanding theology can be a pitfall…” in this article at Christianity Today Australia
  • This YouTube clip is dated April, 2009, but STL Distributors in the U.S. has the book by British humorist Adrian Plass, Looking Good, Being Bad: The Subtle Art of Churchmanship (Authentic UK) listed as June, 2010 release.   As a huge Plass fan, I don’t know how I missed this previously, but Plass’ wit is very dry, very British, and you might have to watch this twice.
  • Did Herod want John the Baptist Put To Death?  Matthew 14 seems to say ‘yes,’ while Mark 6 seems to say ‘no.’   Join the conversation — if you’re up for it — at The BEAttitude. (Caveat:  This one is not exactly a Christian blog.   Not even close.)
  • Usually our posts from David Hayward at Naked Pastor are cartoons, but this time around, he compares trying to get people to come to church to trying to catch squirrels in his house: “…If there is any sense of a trap, they won’t even come close. They can smell control and manipulation from a mile away. Even if the control is minor and sincere, they won’t take it. Not even a nibble.”  So true.  Before clicking around the rest of his site, finish this one here.
  • In what appears to be the very first post of a new blog, James Rutz, author of Megashift announces the ushering in of The New Christianity.  Besides being a trend-watcher, Rutz might teach you a new word, “Diptisms.”
  • Canadian blogger Tim Challies flashes back to 2006 when AOL made individual online search histories public.   If nothing else, be sure to read the second list of searches with Tim’s concluding analysis in this article at Christianity Today.
  • Speaking of flashbacks, here’s a 2009 post from Kevin Jackson at the Society of Evangelical Arminians blog which gets in the SCL spirit with Stuff Young Calvinists Like (complete with Arminian equivalents!)
  • Here’s a very short piece by blogger Jayarathina Madharasan that you can copy and paste and forward to your friends:  Cell Phone vs Bible.
  • Canada’s outspoken Christian talk show host, Drew Marshall launches his own YouTube picks on Drew Tube.  (Check out the rather amazing collection of interviews from the radio show itself here.)
  • Could political correctness ever lead us from St. Patrick’s Day to “Irish Day?”  Here’s an internal link from two years ago on this blog.
  • Here’s the real deal on St. Patrick from Wikipedia.  “…Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of ‘three divine persons in the one God'”
  • Our cartoons this week are straight off the comic pages of your local newspaper; from For Heaven’s Sake and Wizard of Id.

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