The thief on the cross: a close shave, or a miracle?

One thief on the cross cursed Jesus to the end, the other stopped and turned to him in faith: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Let’s not paint a portrait of the repentant thief as the nice, sensitive member of the criminal gang, who felt badly about Jesus and reasoned that he should put his life in order. Both thieves were serious Bad Boys. Both taunted Jesus at the outset (Matt 27:44). But one repented because of the work of God in his heart, not because he had a better family background, a better education or was more “spiritual”.

imagesAs the hymn puts it:

“All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded
Till thy Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us;
Thou must work all good within us.”

From “Blessed Jesus, At Thy Word”

“The thief on the cross: a close save or a miracle?” By Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

 

14 things your missionaries might like to tell you, but feel inhibited

NOTE: Many thousands have read this little article, thanks so much! May I invite you to share it with your mission board; your friends; sign up for my blog, at right; to read an article about missionary letters;  a recent article on Acts 1:8; and our missionary website where we describe our works as theological educators in Costa Rica.

Let me put on my missionary hat!

When Paul and Barnabas returned home from their journey, they “gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Your church’s missionaries periodically pay you a brief visit. They will tell you about their successes and failures, and thank you for your support.

 There are things your visiting missionaries might wish to tell you but feel they cannot:

 When we’re visiting you, we haven’t actually “come home.” We live elsewhere, and are temporarily visiting the place where we used to live. Especially for missionary kids, “home” is far from here. We are usually keen to get back to where we belong.

Don’t assume that we are up to date on all the latest U.S. culture.

"So, where was I? Anyway, that was so sad when Billie Dee got hurt. And, and!...I think that Meryl and Maks might have a little romance going...Of course, I wouldn't be caught dead voting for Chelsea..."

“So, where was I? Anyway, that was so sad when Billie Dee got hurt. And, AND!…I think that Meryl and Maks might have a little romance going…Well of course, I wouldn’t be caught dead voting for Chelsea…”

We are aware that we look older-heavier-greyer-balder than the last time we passed through town. Everyone at your church does, too, but it’s basic courtesy not to mention it! (more…)

Sure, like, why not?

[I'm a theologian and it's been a long day of the Greek of Romans 13. Let's take a break]

Looked at from one angle, my life may be divided into two halves.

The first half was labeled: No thanks.

The second half: Yes, lets!

stock-footage-newport-rhode-island-circa-september-sailboat-moving-fast-in-narragansett-bayActual Examples of “No Thanks”: Gary, you want to go sailing in the bay with us? No thanks. How about playing some hoops? Don’t feel like it. You want to go and hear this messianic group, “The Liberated Wailing Wall”? Thank you, no. You’ve gotta come to our clam bake! Thanks anyway.

What made me change directions? Probably just growing up some, but two events made me rethink things.

First: a College Retreat. I almost never went to any social or sport event in high school or college. I’m just not interested, I thought. I have things to do. Then my fiancée Karen and I decided to go on our senior class retreat. And I had an excellent time. I became friendly with people whom I knew mainly as backs of heads from class. So, I asked, why hadn’t I done this before?

Second: My college roommate Sam just would not stop pestering me to go to this Christian concert with him. You’ll love it, he said. He’s not Larry Norman, he said – guess where my head was at! – but he’s amazing. Naw, I replied. I’d better not; I have stuff to do, I retorted. C’mon, man! No. It turns out that was my last opportunity to hear Keith Green perform before he died in that plane crash. I became a big fan of his – but posthumously.

I hear there’s a Jim Carrey movie called “Yes Man”. “Carl Allen is at a standstill. No future…Until the day he enrolls into a personal development program based on a very simple idea: say yes to everything!” Lessons are learned, perils are avoided, the boy gets the girl (Zooey Deschanel!), etc.

I joke around with my kids that they ought to be “Yes let’s! Guys and Gal”, to go to a game or get ice cream or see a show, just because someone suggests it. I try to make my rapid response, “Absolutely, let’s do it!”

One way of viewing the Christian life is that it is a long list of things Not To Do. And certainly, there is some truth here, and we see Christians doing plenty of bad stuff. Just say no.

But at the heart of the matter is a ringing Yes: ‘All of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory’ (2 Cor 1:20 NLT). God designed our new life in Christ to be positive, open, vital, growing. The new life is meant to be lived, not locked away. Like the parent who scatters Easter eggs [1] for the little ones to discover, our loving Father delights for us to find new blessings, learn new truths, share our joy with others. May we live firmly in God’s truth, in his own armor, but unintimidated by life.

NOTES:

[1] And yes, I know all about the origins of Easter eggs. It’s an illustration.

“Sure, like, why not?” by Gary Shogren, Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

New Year’s Resolutions or New Covenant Miracles? [Studies in the New Covenant]

"Okay, this time for sure!"

“Okay, this time for sure!”

For many years, I made no New Year’s resolutions. My reasoning:

  • Why make a big deal just because the planet has revolved around the sun to an arbitrary point in space?
  • Why try to be a better persons on this one day when I should be doing it all the time?
  • Are resolutions relevant to me, since I don’t need to quit smoking, drinking or gambling?

I’ve come to think differently, having taken another look at the Bible and paid closer attention to human behavior. For the past 5 years or so, I have made a single New Year’s Resolution on December 31.

The Word reveals to us that there are two methods for making resolutions (more…)

Raking and the Kingdom of God

imagesRaking leaves: on the bottom of my list, way below all other yard work. Lower than fixing leaks; cleaning; trash day. Since I can’t think of a task I enjoy less, it must be close to the bottom. Made even worse by the fact that I had them all picked up two weeks ago, then it got windy and I had to start again. I become nostalgic for the days you could pile them up and pour a gallon a gas, toss the match, and feel that WHOOMPH in the chest.

But raking leaves is my vocation for today, God’s call on my life, and one where I must pray for the Spirit’s hand on me to guide the rake, with joy, care and gratitude.

I recognize no gospel which lacks the power to connect me with God’s grace even through, for example, raking leaves.

Should Christians focus on Christ and the Spirit…or only on Christ?

Spiritual believers are Christ-centered, but that doesn’t prevent them from speaking about the Spirit!

Why has it become necessary to say this?

It’s because John MacArthur in his  Strange Fire opines that all Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians remove Christ from the center of the gospel and replace him with Holy Spirit mania; rather, he finds references to the Spirit’s work to be, well, suspicious. [1] For example:

Charismatics want to put the spotlight on the Holy Spirit – or at least their impersonation of Him. But the Holy Spirit desires to put the spotlight on the true person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Lord told His disciples in the Upper Room, the Spirit would be sent in His name, to remind them of His teachings, and to bear testimony to His work (John 14:26; 15:26).

(more…)

“From Jerusalem to the Uttermost Parts of the Earth” – Have we Misunderstood Acts 1:8?

map-of-samaria

A missionary comes to your church to speak, and you absentmindedly turn to Matt 28:18 or Acts 1:8. Sure enough, this time he will speak about the Great Commission from Acts:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

His sermon touches upon familiar points:

Jerusalem was their home town, and they were supposed to evangelize there first. Judea was their home area. Now, Samaria was like but not identical with Judea, but next in line since it was a nearby mission field. And of course “the end of the earth” means any foreign country. [1]

In conclusion, the preacher adds:

  • We are all called to be missionaries (I take objection to that, by the way, see below).
  • What is your Jerusalem and Judea?
  • What is your Samaria?
  • What is the uttermost part of your earth? Does God want you to preach his gospel in a foreign land? (more…)

“Four Blood Moons” and a false prophet

Warning: Do not heed this "prophet"

Warning: Do not heed this “prophet” John Hagee

I love the Lord’s coming and have written much on the topic. Perhaps this is why false predictions get under my skin so badly. Click HERE. Maybe it’s because these authors will sell millions more books than I do – you’ll never go broke predicting the apocalypse.

Just flipped through the Four Blood Moons material by John Hagee, who got all his material from a man named Mark Biltz. It turns out that the world isn’t going to (was not going to?) end in the late 1990s, as Hagee once predicted. (more…)

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people

The signs of the End Times, you say? Sure, I can list a few! Earthquakes, wars, famines, pestilence! Persecution, false Messiahs, false prophets!

Indeed, and they are right there in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24-25).[1]

What’s more, beyond the actual teaching of the New Testament, there exists an entire industry of people working double shifts, vainly calculating the identity of the Antichrist, the role the USA plays in prophecy, where are they hiding that giant computer in Belgium, Obamacare microchips and so forth. But even these prophecy experts go blank over one “sign”: for among Jesus’ words, hiding in plain sight, is a characteristic of the End that seems to be consistently missed or minimized, that during tribulation

…many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another…the love of many will grow cold (Matt 24:10, 12 ESV).

"The End is Nigh!"

“The End is Nigh!”

“Fall away” indicates that these are professing believers. Persecution comes, and Christians, feeling the pressure, turn on each other. As I have argued elsewhere (click HERE),  against conventional wisdom, tribulation as such does not make Christians more caring or more unified – when human nature has its way, people will betray each other in order to survive. As one commentator says about these verses: “What only outsiders had done previously is now said of members of the church: they too will ‘deliver up’ Christian brothers and sisters. Hate, the way the world relates to the church, will also surface in the church.”[2] This Love Recession will not grab the headlines that a war or an earthquake would (more…)

Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener

When we want to illustrate causation or chronology, we usually motion from left to right: that’s the way we do math, that’s the way we write. Preachers sometimes do so, but most will begin at their left and move or gesture toward their right. That is, what seems the natural order to the speaker is backwards to the audience, who see movement as from right to left, that is, like Hebrew or Chinese or maybe some new math.

It’s a detail, and only we fussy ones who notice things like this will see the difference. A student in preaching class wouldn’t even lose a fraction of a point over it.

But it illustrates a larger truth: when preachers want to communicate clearly, they must go beyond, “Does this seem clear to me?” They must put themselves in the place of the listeners and ask, “But will it be clear to them?”

For related articles, search for PREACHING in the right-hand column. Your right, not mine.

“Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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