“A Disciple is basically an Imitator” [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 4]

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7, Paul is still thanking God for the Thessalonians, and his thanksgiving sets the pace for the rest of the letter.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

And again in 2:14 –

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.

disciplesLet’s read some verses that use the word “disciple”. In the gospels we see the word “disciple”. Disciples are learners. When Jesus called his first disciples, he said “follow me”. Later on in Matthew 5:1b-2, “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

But being a disciple is not just learning about Jesus or the kingdom of God; it means to learn to do what Jesus does (more…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part B [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 3]

Paul has spoken about how he knows that the Thessalonians are genuine Christians: first of all, because they have the fruit of the Spirit. Words, yes, but also attitudes, actions, values that go beyond what we would expect from a human being, apart from Christ.

imagesYou can’t see the Spirit, but you can see what he does. Let’s start with v. 5 and later go to v. 4.

In v. 5 we read about “power, the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”

When Paul speaks of power and the Holy Spirit, he is usually talking of miracles that he performed.

2 Cor 12:12 – I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.

Rom 15:18-19a – I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

In Macedonia, we assume that there were many miracles, although we have the record of only one, and that was in Philippi, not Thessalonica – the exorcism of the demon from the slave girl.

If there are miracles, Paul is saying, then God is at work. (more…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part A [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 2]

Paul was in a terrible fix: he had been forced to leave his new disciples in Macedonia, and he was particularly uneasy about the new Christians in the second church, planted in Thessalonica. After all, hadn’t Jesus taught that sometimes the gospel mission ends in disaster? (Matthew 13:20-21)

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

The underground shopping mall of ancient Thessalonica

The underground shopping mall of ancient Thessalonica

And what had happened in Macedonia looked ominously like that parable: the Thessalonians had received the word with joy; then trouble and persecution had come, and come precisely because of the word. Had they, then, just as quickly fallen away?

No wonder Paul was anxious, as we saw last week in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2:

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith…

Paul said that Satan had kept him and Silas from returning from Athens to Thessalonica (2:18). We have no idea what that might have looked like, we only know that it was effective. But what happened? (more…)

Is There Prophecy Today? John Piper, along with John MacArthur, John Wesley, John Calvin, and John/Joan Q. Christian

Download a pdf version here: Prophecy and John Piper

Is the New Testament gift of prophecy operative in the church today? Many say Yes; [1] many, No, famously John MacArthur in 2014, in his Strange Fire conference and book. [2]

There is third response, a Yes, but viewpoint which has been popular among some non-charismatic evangelicals, and affirmed in recent times by John Piper: the gift of prophecy is a special experience that befalls a preacher while in the act. In an essay that synthesizes and defends Piper’s view:

 “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak.” This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to “say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 happens.” [3]

The Corinthians text is he refers to is:

But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

imagesThe difficulty here is the fact that in the New Testament the sina qua non of prophetic utterance is that the prophets passes along information from God which is not knowable from mere human observation or reasoning. [4] (more…)

“Come over here and help us!” [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 1]

Note: this post is the first in a series that I am giving at San Pedro Christian Fellowship, a small congregation of English-speaking believers in Costa Rica. Those who live in the Valle Central are more than welcome to visit us, Sundays at 10:30am. This expository series is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks – warning: it’s written at a technical level.

LOCATION: Beginning at the rotonda of Mall San Pedro, go about 1.25 km east. Turn right at the corner at the COMEX and the Yokahama restaurant. A very short distance in you will see 2 vacant lots on the right. The church meets in a home, on the right, just past the second lot. Coffee at 10am, service at 10:30am.

Contact me here or on FB or Mark at 2267-6038

Introduction

A few years ago I went to a reunion; there were people I hadn’t seen in decades. There are only one or two believers in my class. Most of them know I am a missionary, and some of them cannot understand why I would want to waste my time doing that. On the other hand, I heard from a few people: “Gary, your work must be so fulfilling.” The value these people were expressing is, It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money or success; if you feel personally fulfilled, then what you’re doing is right and admirable.

Now, I can assure you that I do feel fulfilled. But what we have there is a half-truth, since it isn’t the same as what the Bible tells us. By the same token, people might imagine that Mother Theresa worked with the lepers because it made her feel really good about herself. No.

I believe that all who are Christians are called to serve God, not just pastors or missionaries. That means that if you are a disciple of Jesus, he has called you too, period. From that point on, it’s just a matter of finding out how and where.

However, if you serve the Lord because it is fulfilling, that program will only take you so far, and will sooner or later end in disillusionment and defeat. And God may at some point make us confront another truth, a deeper one: that God’s call is true even on the days we feel like victims, disappointed, stressed, confused, cheated, failures.

We know this, because this is what the apostle Paul experienced when he went to Thessalonica (more…)

“The Cross”, a Dirty Word

You go down town to the park where there are always people begging for money; selling something; preaching some message. So you circulate around to see what new doctrines are in the air.

Over there is a new guy, talking earnestly to a small group. You pick up a few words of his discourse: “Now you must understand that the heart of my message is” …and he rips out what you could have sworn was a dirty word!

You do a double-take, and draw closer. Sure enough, it happens again: “The truth is that the power for living, being right with God, and eternal life comes only one way, through &#)#*%^@” – and he utters a filthy word.

You might even shout back: “Hey buddy – there are kids running around here, there are ladies present; can’t you talk about something more pleasant than that word?”

My point is that, that is how it would have seemed in 1st century city like Corinth or Philippi, if you had run into a man who calls himself Paul the apostle.

And his dirty word? It’s one of the first vocabulary words my students learn in Greek 1, this because it is used so often in the New Testament:

It is σταυρος/stauros.

In Latin, crux.

In English:

 THE CROSS

easter-jesus-cross300x150 In the Roman empire crosses took various shapes – X, T (which looks like the letter tau in Greek), and the traditional cross. It was probably the latter on which Jesus was crucified.

But let’s go back to that public obscenity. It is revealing to study what a society regards as obscene language. In English our “dirty words” usually have to do with sex, sexual organs, or toilet words. But in ancient Rome one of the very worst obscenities was “I in malam maximam crucem” = “Get really badly crucified!!” It was a shocking profanity. (more…)

Memories of a Grandmother

My last surviving grandparent, Doris Wills, passed away March 9, at age 94. Her ashes will be taken back to Rhode Island, where we all came from originally. We plan to see her again at the resurrection.

4084027_o

She was one of the Swedes in our family, the daughter of emigrants Henry Swanson and Claire Ahlstrom. Doris moved with her family to South County Trail when she was a teenager, and she met Walter on the van that served as a school bus. He grew up on a farm on Frenchtown Road, which they took over when they got married – it now lies under an off-ramp for Route 4 on a busy highway; in fact, too much of my home town is paved over or developed.

My fondest memories of her are from the last few years, but also, I cherish images from my earliest childhood, when we visited them on that farm.

(more…)

The Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"

“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Heresy = Bible verses twisted just a couple of degrees off center

If someone desires to give the church a certain percentage of their net or gross income, I honor that as their right and privilege. As for me, I promote that all Christians should give generously and cheerfully.

But first, a full disclosure – I believe that tithing was an Old Covenant rite by which about 23% of goods, usually agricultural products, were given to God for the maintenance of the priests, for the poor. I see no comparable requirement for the church, which is supposed to “honor” its leaders (1 Tim 5:17) and make voluntary pledges to special projects (Paul’s Jerusalem Fund). [1]

I have no argument with tithers so long as they have no argument with me. And I’m not speaking here about legalistic tithing or carnal non-tithing.

But in the past few weeks I have found people preaching what must be held up and labeled perversions of the gospel and of the practice of tithing. I’m not even talking about the protection racketeers like Benny Hinn (more…)

Ancient scrap of Mark’s Gospel

This little piece of papyrus is an amazing find, and it looks like it’s now regarded as authentic. It is a scrap of the gospel of Mark, hand-copies in the 80s AD at the very latest. It comes from Egypt and was dated by its handwriting style, by Carbon-14, and by other texts found near it.

I have told my students about early manuscripts of the New Testament and usually I end with, “But they will find even older and more remarkable ones over the next few years, I’m sure of it. From the first century, even.”

Here we are.

It is just a tiny portion of Mark 5:15-18 (the account of the exorcism of Legion), and is about the size of two fingers. On the sixth line you can see part of the word for “demon-possessed” – (δαιμο = …daimo…)

daimo

The short text is letter for letter in agreement with the text of the critical New Testament – the Nestlé-Aland 28th edition – in use around the world today and is the basis for all new Bible versions. Even if you don’t read Greek, the letters are clear as can be.

See the full story and a video here – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/mummy-mask-may-reveal-oldest-fragment-of-the-gospel-of-mark

mark-manuscript

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