Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2013

Which Comes First? Conforming to Spiritual Requirements or Receiving Grace?

From the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

Keeping the commands to earn God's favor


…and many church people force people to conform to this pattern.

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Keeping the commands in gratitude for grace received

…that’s mercy; that’s grace.

When we have been the recipients of such love, we will of course want to respond; we will want to offer something back to please the One who gave Himself to redeem us.  If we understand that, we understand the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God. In either model people will strive to make God happy through various means relating to that second group of commands and will forget that what makes God happiest is when we put Him first, honor Him with with our worship, honor His name, and honor His day.


November 20, 2011

If Luther Were Alive Today…

…Here’s a list of 95 Theses he might post for our generation

This has been available online for just over a year. Just as Martin Luther posted his ‘memo’ with 95 ‘bullet points’ to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, so also did Greg Gordon offer this to the church today. Internet etiquette requires you to click the title link below to read it on the original site, but since some won’t, it’s also appears here in full.


I believe many need to hear these truths and they are shared in the humility of my weakness and lack in my own Christian Life. May all of these lead people to experience the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and to proclaim His Gospel clearly and accurately. May God in His mercy come and revive, reform and renew North American Christianity for His glory alone. “May the Lamb of God receive the reward of His sufferings in our lives today!” – Greg Gordon (founder of

1. The “church” at large has forgotten that the chief end of man is to glorify God. (Rom 16:27; 1Cor 6:20; Mt 6:9; 1Cor 10:31)

2. Christians ignore most of the methods, practices and principles found in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:42,44; Acts 2:46; Acts 2:38)

3. Many treat “church” like any other social club or sports event that they might attend. (Acts 2:46; Heb 10:25; Acts 1:14)

4. We’ve made Christianity about the individual rather than the community of believers. (Rom 12:5; 1Cor 12:12; 2Tim 4:16)

5. In most “churches” the priesthood of all believers isn’t acknowledged and the role of pastor is abused. (1Pt 2:9; 1Cor 12:12; Eph 4:11-13)

6. The “church” as a whole has lost the concept of their being grafted into the promises given to Israel. (Rom 11:15, 17-18, 20, 25)

7. There needs to be a recovery of teaching the whole counsel of God, especially in expository form. (Acts 20:27; 1Tim 4:6, 2Tim 2:15)

8. We take it too lightly that we have the blessing and honor of having God’s Scriptures in our possession. (Ps 119:16; Acts 13:44; Neh 8:9)

9. There has never been more access to the Word of God, yet so little reading of it. (1Tim 4:13; Neh 8:1-3; Ps 119:59)

10. Some read the Scriptures to attain knowledge, but do not practice what they read. (Jam 1:22; Mt 7:21; 3Jn 4)

11. Worship has become an idol in many “churches.” The music often resembles that of the world. (Amos 5:23; Phil 4:8; 1Jn 5:21)

12. The world is shaping the views of the “church” more than the “church” shaping the world. (Rom 12:2; Mt 5:13; 1Cor 1:22-23)

13. The “church” spends more money on dog food than on missions. (2Cor 9:6; Lk 21:2; Acts 4:34-35)

14. We take lightly the cost of discipleship laid out by Jesus Christ and do not deny our lives. (Lk 14:33; Lk 14:26-27; Mt 8:19-20)

15. There is a lack of true discipleship and making others to be obedient disciples. (Mt 28:20; 2Tim 2:2; 2Tim 2:14)

16. Many subscribe to the error that parts of life are to be spiritual while others are to be secular. (1Pt 4:2; Col 3:3; 1Jn 2:6)

17. Modern Christians often find Jesus’ command to sacrifice and serve abhorrent. (Phil 2:21; Jam 3:16; Rom 12:1-2)

18. Self disciplines in the Christian life such as fasting and praying are considered legalistic. (2Tim 2:21; 2Tim 1:8; Mt 6:17)

19. Little thought and contemplation is put towards the lostness of men, the seriousness of the Gospel. (Phil 3:8; Gal 2:20; Heb 10:34)

20. We are living with an epidemic of cheap grace with flippant confession and shallow consecration. (Lk 14:28-30; Lk 14:26; Jam 4:8) (more…)

November 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

The link you won’t see here today concerns the announcement that Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson is in the process of being acquired by HarperCollins, which already owns Zondervan.  The story bears on so many other issues in Christian publishing, that I decided an additional day’s worth of reflection would bring something substantial to say about the news.  So you’ll have to tune back in tomorrow!

  • The Genesis Code, a faith-based, creation science focused movie opens Friday in theaters in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.  More at Christian News Wire.
  • More on the Mars Hill trademark issue from David Fitch, who feels that branding is “the ultimate anti-missional act.”
  • Francis Chan tells young pastors, “You’re teaching way better than we did…;” but then gives some advice.
  • Pete Wilson wants to know what your greatest concern is about a world with a population now exceeding seven billion.
  • Video discovery of the week: Check out this contemporary version of the very old hymn, My Anchor Holds by Katie and Jacob who call themselves… wait for it… My Anchor Holds. More at their webpage.
  • Our above Venn diagram is from This Is Indexed by Jessica Hagy.
  • The picture at right is from a set taken at Occupy Wellington (New Zealand) by Penelope Lattey who went to the protest with a whiteboard, a marker and an idea.
  • If you thought Monday was merely Halloween, and don’t know why it was also Reformation Day, this short music video might teach ya a little church history.
  • What does it mean to bring a Christian vision or perspective into a public setting; into a pluralistic world? Miraslav Volf previews his new book, A Public Faith in this video preview.
  • Eric Douglas has a great set of four questions that you can use when meeting up with people of other faiths or no faith.  He calls it Talking to an Atheistic Huffalump.
  • How do you feel about the therapeutic (aka healing) power of house pets and animals?  Author Neil Abramson uses this as the topic for his recent book, Unsaid.  For Neil, the story becomes intensely personal. While not a Christian book, a handful of Christian booksellers carry this title.
  • We close with this item from Mike Gilbart-Smith: “Spurgeon came across someone who claimed to have reached sinless perfection. When Spurgeon trod heavily on his foot his perfection dissolved!”  Mike then adds this:
There once was a man from Tangiers
Who said he’d not sinned in ten years.
So I poked his right eye
And his foul mouthed reply
Shows he’s worse than he sometimes appears

July 24, 2011

Whatever Happened To Sin?

Pete Wilson:

Over the past year I’ve become a fan of Scot McKnight and his thoughts on following Christ. I don’t always agree with him, but he almost always makes me think outside of my little theology box.

He recently wrote an article for Relevant Magazine entitled, “Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk About Sin?” Here’s a little snippet from the article.

To many, sin has fallen into grace. What does that mean? When we talk about God’s grace, we are assuming the reality of sin—that we are sinners and that God has forgiven us. But in our language today, sin is not only an assumption—it is an accepted assumption. And not only is it an accepted assumption—it also doesn’t seem to matter.

It’s as if we’re saying, “Yes, of course we sin” and then do nothing about it.

Widespread apathy toward sin reveals itself in the lack of interest in holiness. Your grandparents’ generation overdid it—going to movies, dancing and drinking alcohol became the tell-tale signs of unholiness. Damning those who did such things became the legalistic, judgmental context for church life. So your parents’ generation, inspired in part by the ’60s, jaunted its way into the freedom of the Christian life. Which meant, often enough, “I can do whatever I want because of God’s grace.”

That generation’s lack of zeal for holiness has produced a trend: acceptance of sin, ignorance of its impact and weakened relationships with God, people and the world.

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes I think I fall into the trap Scot talked about in the article.  At times, I’ve been somewhat accepting of my sin and ignored the impact it has in my life. I’ve quickly categorized my sin as “under God’s grace” (which it certainly is) but not taken the time to mourn over the very realistic consequences it has in my life.

Like many of you I grew up in what I perceived to be a legalistic church. And like many of you I swore I would never be a part of that kind of movement again.

But now I wonder if  the pendulum has swung too far away from legalism and too far towards grace in the church today?

How about you personally? Does your focus tend to be toward law or grace?

April 26, 2011

Reader Survey: Am I Too Conservative?

I ask the question fully aware that “conservative” is not a label generally applied to me. But I have an online friend who sends me e-mail forwards that are always a little edgy. Which is fine. Laughter is by definition a variant on the emotion of surprise. It’s gotta catch you off guard a little. If you see the punchline coming ahead of time, it’s not necessarily working. But many of his e-mails tend to deal with issues of gender or sexuality, and as often as that’s the case, I see the punchline coming.

Let’s start with this recent one, which followed an exchange with him about the nature of the forwards in question, and where I thought I’d made my wishes clear:

Arrival in Heaven!

All arrivals in heaven have to go through a bureaucratic examination to determine whether admission will be granted. One room has a clerk who inputs computerized records of what each applicant did on his or her last day of life.

The first applicant of the day explains that his last day was not a good one. “I came home early and found my wife lying naked in bed. She claimed she had just gotten out of the shower. Well, her hair was dry and I checked the shower and it was completely dry too. I knew she was into some hanky-panky and I began to look for her lover. I went onto the balcony of our 9th floor apartment and found the SOB clinging to the rail by his finger tips. I was so angry that I began bashing his fingers with a flower pot. He let go and fell, but his fall was broken by some awnings and bushes. On seeing he was still alive I found super human strength to drag our antique cedar chest to the balcony and throw it over. It hit the man and killed him. At this point the stress got to me and I suffered a massive heart attack and died.”

The clerk thanked him and sent him on to the next office.

The second applicant said that his last day was his worst. “I was on the roof of an apartment building working on the AC equipment. I stumbled over my tools and toppled off the building. I managed to grab onto the balcony rail of a 9th floor apartment but some idiot came rushing out on the balcony and bashed my hands with a flower pot. I fell but hit some awnings and bushes and survived, but as I looked up I saw a huge chest falling toward me. I tried to crawl out of the way but failed and was hit and killed by the chest.” The clerk couldn’t help but chuckle as he directs the man to the next room.

He is still giggling when his third customer of the day enters. He apologizes and says “I doubt that your last day was as interesting as the fellow in here just before you.”

“I don’t know” replies the man, “picture this, I’m buck naked hiding in this cedar chest…..”

…Still with me here?  Would Jesus laugh at it?  Maybe.  But that’s not the issue for me today.  So I write this short note back, reminding him of our earlier changed that the e-mail clock verifies took place just ten minutes earlier:

You seem to have sent this one just ten minutes after our other exchange.  Hey [name],  I’m starting to worry about you!

This one has nudity, adultery and language (SOB) issues.   There are some other things online that are worth celebrating and sharing, but this isn’t one of them.  Yes it is funny, but it’s funny in the way that U.S. network half-hour sitcoms have to put the humor on the lowest shelf to get a laugh.   I think this one would fall into what the Bible calls the “coarse talk, foolish jesting” category, and not the “whatsoever things are pure…lovely…of good report” category.

Again, I’m no Baptist, but I really feel that any attempt at personal holiness demands that we aim somewhat higher than the world.

Did I overreact?  Here’s his reply:

But like I said at the beginning of that joke, my MUM sent it to me. and she IS a Baptist, mother to a Baptist minister, sister to a United Missionary pastor. Which is why I sent it; to demonstrate that humor of the “Blue” persuasion is universal. I thought that particular joke cute, in a suggestive sense while not being explicit.
Paul, I get that you think that all humor pertaining to man’s basic instinct is “coarse talk, foolish jesting,” but if you think about it, ALL humor is at the expense of someone else. Newfie  jokes, Polish jokes, Red-neck jokes, blonde jokes, Baptist jokes, Catholic jokes,… even when they are clean, they are in a very real sense debasing someone else. 

Maybe we shouldn’t even laugh at the guy slipping on a banana peel, or at me for for falling asleep with a mouth full of coffee and drooling it all over my lap, because joking about it points out our foolishness, and is ” foolish jesting?” Maybe we should all just return to the strict Puritan standard of being so serious about everything we don’t crack a smile at anything at all?

Okay, so my sense of humor offends your sensibilities. Obviously I don’t and can’t live up to your standards.

Am I really Puritanical?  Is it possible to share a story that is genuinely funny that is not at someone’s expense?  Could the joke above still work without the suggestion of adultery?

Feel free to use the comments section including examples of something you think I would, pardon the redundancy, enjoy enjoying.

November 6, 2009

A Different Kind of Bible Translation

Jeff Snow is a guy we got to know shortly after moving from Toronto, Canada 20-years ago, to our current home in small town Ontario.   In a smaller town people in ministry often have to wear many hats, and we don’t know anyone who juggles them better than Jeff.   Whether working with Youth for Christ, hosting a radio show, serving on the town’s Character Committee, helping serve dinner once a week in a low-income ghetto, guest speaking at local churches, or leading worship in a variety of settings; Jeff brings with him the best of two worlds and two ministry models:  Years spent training for and serving in a local church setting and now eight years serving with Youth for Christ.

He wrote this recently for a YFC Newsletter, and we think we know Jeff well enough that we didn’t need to ask permission.   Guess we’ll find out soon enough…

I decided to back to school part-time this fall to work on my Master’s degree.  It was a bold decision.   It was an exciting decision.  Some weeks, I think it might have been a foolish decision.

The course I’m taking right now is Biblical Greek Exegesis.  Our assignments involve taking the Greek text of the New Testament and translating it into English.   Through the exercises, we hope to better understand the nuances of the language in order to better understand what scripture is saying.

As I thought about what we do at Youth For Christ, I realized that I didn’t start translating scripture a few weeks ago in this course, I’ve been doing it for years.

For example, I took a course this summer in Spiritual Formation, and the major assignment focused on the themes of Justification, Sanctification and Glorification.  For Talk-Time at drop-in, I’m going to share on these themes.   But if I used these three terms, all I would get is blank stares, and maybe a few laughs.

So I need to explain these important truths in a way that teens can understand.

Justification — When we ask Jesus to forgive us of the wrong things we’ve done that hurt ourselves, hurt others and hurt God, and rely on His death on the cross to pay the penalty of these wrongs things, then God declares us not guilty.   It’s like He looks at us through a “Jesus filter” and doesn’t see or remember our sin.

Sanctification — There’s more to knowing God than just saying “I’m sorry.”   We also need to say “Take Over,” and let His Holy Spirit guide and direct our decisions.   And the more we do that, the more we become like Jesus, and the cool parts of who He is become more and more a part of our lives, like His love, His patience, His self-control.

Glorification — When we ask Jesus into our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to live in us, it’s the beginning of life forever with God, not just here, but in heaven as well.  Jesus promises us a home forever with Him that goes beyond our wildest dreams.

We at Youth For Christ are in the translation business.   We do our best to take the timeless truths of the Gospel, and, without changing their inherent meanings, present them to a generation of young people in ways that they can understand and relate to.  We present them to a generation whose language and ways of learning are constantly changing and evolving.

Please pray for us as we translate the Gospel to youth.  And pray for our youth, that they will hear, understand, and believe.

~Jeff Snow, Northumberland Youth For Christ; Ontario, Canada.

If you are interested in supporting the work that Jeff does, use the Contact Us page on the sidebar so we can send you more information on giving by check or VISA.   Canadian tax receipts available. (Or leave a comment which we’ll delete; your e-mail will not be visible on the page.)

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