Jesus Transforms, Not Flowers

“At many Reformed churches, the particulars of Reformed theology overshadow the cross. The assumption seems to be that if you can master the particulars of TULIP, and are devoted to 1, 2, and 3 John (John Calvin, John Piper, and John MacArthur), then you are spiritually acceptable and everything will be right in your life. Right doctrine is essential, but no “doctrinal flower” can transform your heart. Only the beauty of Jesus transforms the heart.” (JD Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary)

This Reformed minded dude says, “Amen!” to that!

Bryan Daniels

“It Is Well”: A Supernatural Confession

The above hymn excerpt was written after several successive traumatic events in the life of Horatio Spafford (1828-1888).

In the mid 19th century, Horatio Spafford was a prominent and successful lawyer in the Chicago area. He had a beautiful family, beautiful home, and prestigious Christian friends who included Pastor DL Moody. Spafford had it going on like a boss, so much so maybe only Job of the OT had a claim on his Horatio_Spaffordcharacter.

Unfortunately, like Job, Spafford never saw the crippling punch to the soul that life was about to deal him.

The first blow was the death of his only son from pneumonia in 1870, at the young age of four. In the spring of 1871 he invested in large tracts of commercial real estate north of the growing city of Chicago. A couple months later the great Chicago Fire struck the area and left him utterly ruined financially.

His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873 at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family . They chose England in part because Spafford’s good friend Moody would be preaching there in the fall. In a late change of plans, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with the sea vessel, Loch Earn. All four of Spafford’s daughters died in the wreckage: eleven-year-old Anna, nine-year-old Margaret Lee, five-year-old Elizabeth, and two-year-old Tanetta.

His wife Anna survived and sent him this harrowing telegram from England,

“Saved alone . . .”

Shortly afterwards Spafford took to boat to meet his grieving wife. As he crossed over what was essentially his four daughter’s ocean tomb, he was moved to write these words:

When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul...”

Only supernatural grace beyond human comprehension could produce such words after such an event.

And like Job, God wasn’t done with Spafford.

The Spafford’s had four more children. Shortly after the tragedy they moved to Jerusalem to start the “American Colony.” This ministry ran orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens and more for all the people they encountered (Jews, Muslims, Christians). During the lean years of WWI the ministry helped sustain and keep whole impoverished communities alive. In 1888, four days shy of age 60, Spafford died of malaria, and was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem.

I don’t presume to know what anyone is going through. And understandably, all this may sound trite in the midst of blinding anguish; but I know the God of Job and Horatio Spafford says this:

“I AM enough.”

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)

And we may say in response to Him, as the world curses our faithfulness and heaps scorn on the God who would allow such tragedy:

“It is well.”

Bryan Daniels

Let The Gospel Lion Defend Himself (Spurgeon)

A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out!

I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of
himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out.

CH Spurgeon

Evil Utterly Subverted For Good

“The answer to the problem of evil does not lie in trying to establish its point of origin, for that is simply not revealed to us. Rather, in the moment of the cross, it becomes clear that evil is utterly subverted for good…. If God can take the greatest of evils and turn them for the greatest of goods, then how much more can he take the lesser evils which litter human history, from individual tragedies to international disasters, and turn them to his good purpose as well.”
― Carl Trueman

Embracing My BaptiCalviMethoCostalism

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. In adulthood I adopted a more Reformed approach to Theology. Right after college I married a beautiful charismatic girl named Jessica Lee. We currently attend a United Methodist fellowship together as a family of four.

I guess you could call me a BaptiCalviMethiCostal. That is, if labels mean anything (I don’t believe they mean much).

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the different streams of tradition that all end up converging at the same cross. Across the Christian spectrum, there may be many different inclinations towards modes of baptism, communion, and church government. Yet there is also unity in this traditional diversity, just as there is unity in diversity in the very nature of God. Most all Protestant denominations (and many Catholic streams too) grip most tight the same basic doctrines as essential:

Sinfulness of man, Deity of Christ (Trinity), Salvation only through His cross, His physical resurrection, Inerrancy of Scripture, etc.

I always admired the historical friendship of Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Both men were prominent revivalists during America’s First Great Awakening. Both men were involved in public doctrinal debates during this time, especially over the biblical doctrine of predestination. They were on polar opposite sides of the theological spectrum on some issues. Many believe this strained their longtime friendship, but not if you look at their own words towards the end:

Around this time of controversy, Whitefield was asked this question, “Do you expect to see John Wesley in Heaven?”

“No,” was his reply.

But then Whitefield continued, “John Wesley will be so close to the Throne of Glory, and I will be so far away, I will hardly get a glimpse of him.”

Whitefield died in 1770. Wesley was the primary speaker at his funeral. He shared these words about his friend, George Whitefield, from the pulpit:

“Have we read or heard of any person since the Apostles, who testified the gospel of the grace of God through so widely extended a space, through so large a part of the habitable world? Have we read or heard of any person who called so many thousands, so many myriads, of sinners to repentance? Above all, have we read or heard of any who has been a blessed instrument in His hand of bringing so many sinners from “darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God?”

There are real traditional distinctives that shouldn’t necessarily be ignored. But there is a greater truth still that unites all manner of sinful men under the same banner of the slain Lamb of God.

So it is with me.

I’m sure there will be many brethren from the Lutheran, Anglican, Charismatic, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist persuasion and more that I will never see in heaven because of their close proximity to the throne. And if I only currently open my eyes I may also see leaders in those same diverse traditions who preach with bold apostolic fervor the gospel of grace and power in Christ.

So I embrace my BaptiCalviMethoCostalism. There is enough room for all of these and many more at the foot of that one horrible and wonderful cross.

Bryan Daniels

The Perfect Bloody Antidote To Valentine’s Day

(This is a “Valentine’s Day” re-post from the late great blog “Enabled by God.” May she RIP)

The more I study the scriptures I have had memorized since VBS, the more I am convinced of my ignorance of them. In my adult life I have often been guilty of neglecting the Sunday school stories of old: Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Red Sea, Jonah and the Whale, etc. This apathetic attitude overflows into the New Testament Scriptures too. My neglect is displayed specifically in what is probably the most celebrated verse in modern time: John 3:16. Sure, I can quote it frontwards and backwards and say all the doctrinally correct things about it, but rarely does this verse resonate deeply while striking me at the core.

You may feel the same way. But we are in jeopardy of neglecting a multifaceted jewel that should leave us awestruck, not smugly content. We should not approach John 3:16 lightly, as Spurgeon said, “like children, playing marbles with God’s diamonds.”

“For God so loved….”

We can never get over that truth. We can never “get past it” and on to deeper more substantial matters. If we believe we can God have mercy on our souls. There is still an untouched uncharted ocean that still dwells within John 3:16. This love that God loves with is an “agapao” love, or the highest form of love. It is the most emphatic love one can express. It’s not just that God loved the world, it is that he intensely loved the world. And the force of the word is coupled with way he loved (so loved), literally meaning, “God intensely loved the world in this way….”

God is a God who loves. That means He feels. He knows devotion. He knows affection. He knows heartache. He has emotions. Stop reading, turn the computer off, and let that settle within your soul. The transcendent One is an emotional being. Though human emotional makeup is so twisted with sin and prone to instability, we have emotions only because our gracious Originator had them first. And it is He who has granted them to us.

The Father is neither stoic nor unstable with His emotions. God’s emotions are perfect. His love is a perfect love (1 John 4:18). His hatred is a perfect hatred (Psalm 5:5). He even possesses a perfect jealousy (Exodus 34:14). When He loves, He does it with a precise intensity and purpose. He’s not a distant watchmaker or some general taskmaster living in a cloud of unknowing. He burns with perfect passion. He delights to love; and He delights to manifest this love to the world.

“For God so loved the world…”

This love was meant for the world. Not for Jews only, or Americans only, or the Reformed only. There are some intriguing ways to break down the word “world” here, which in the Greek is “Kosmon.” It could mean just the elect from all over the world (particular view), or it may mean every man, woman or child who ever lived on earth (most common view). A compelling article on the biblical usage of “Kosmon” can be found here. For now, lets take “world” in its most ordinary sense. That would mean the world God loves with such intensity is the great totality of fallen mankind. It’s incredibly provocative that a holy God would love such ones. It’s compelling because the great totality of fallen mankind is one mired and twisted mass of unlovables. If we seriously doubt this then just glance at the evening news, supermarket tabloids, or bathroom mirror sometime.

“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son….”

This is a love grounded in action. For an infinitely less significant analogy imagine this: You are a powerful King and you beckon your only son and heir of your throne for a mission. You tell him this:

“There is something I want you to do for me: I have some enemies that deserve to die, and I want you to go and die in their place, so that they can have eternal life and inherit my kingdom.”

That’s what the Father and Son did at the cross; and incalculably more than that times a million millions.

We dwell too little on how undeserving we are of such a divine arrangement. My son would stay home safely in my arms forever before I would ever imagine sending him to die for even a thousand martyrs or missionaries. But the Father’s love was too great. God sends his son to die not for the righteous, but the blatantly unrighteous. His love is altogether not like any we have experienced. There is no category for this love in the human realm of categorizing.

This is one reason of many that universalism is a fatal and foolish heresy. A god who saves everyone regardless of unrepentant rebellion doesn’t need to send His own Son to atone for sins. If you are an atheist, Muslim, cultist, or open blasphemer of God it matters not to the universalist. This god saves all regardless of righteousness. But it cost this god nothing to save hell deserving sinners. As a result, this god is worse than worthless. He not only fails to give anything real in grace he also fails to judge anyone in righteousness.  It costs the false god of universalism/sentimentalism nothing to love humans. But the true God’s love is grounded in a decisive sacrificial act, not just a thoughtful feeling.

The love of God is not some theoretical sentimental feeling like butterflies, twinkling eyes, and fluttering heartbeats. God the Father looked at his perfect, precious Son in one hand, and the mass of wretched wicked unredeemed humanity in the other, and he literally crushed the blessed Son with His hand of wrath meant for us (Isaiah 53:10). This was the blessed eternally begotten Son, ripped from the bosom of the Father to endure an agonizing hell for mankind. This was a Father giving. But this was also a Father sending (John 3:17). The giving was not a giving over to, but a sending with a specific mission granted in eternity past. The Son came to die. And He laid down His life on His own accord (John 10:18).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

All the groups and categories we place people in on earth are futile in eternity. It may be red state or blue state, black or white, male or female, or any other temporary niche one may find themselves in. In reality, there are essentially only two enduring groups: Those who will eternally perish and those who will eternally live. Simply, those who acquire God’s deserving wrath and those who acquire God’s undeserving mercy.  Where we fall between those two groups is the only question that will matter in one hundred years.

We are not left to our own devices. God graciously provides a means for us to accomplish His eternally good end. The God who loves and gave lavishly out of that love says, “Believe in Me. Trust in me. Put your faith in Me.”

There is much that the word “believe” entails.  It is a type of believing that perseveres for Christ. It is a type of trusting that exalts in Christ. It is a type of faith that knows the dead heart can only be raised with Christ. And part of that believing is a repenting before Christ.

Maybe repentance is the gift you and I really need this Valentine’s Day.

Repenting of chasing lesser lovers because I believe Christ is not sufficient for all my needs.

Repenting of allowing a fallen culture to tell me singleness is the same as aloneness.

Repenting of my part in contributing to the commercialization and plundering of the word “love” in society.

Repenting of believing God’s love is a reflection of human love and not the other way around.

Repenting because the love of God set forth in John 3:16 has been memorized by me, but has not yet been fully realized in me.

The best gift we can get this Valentine’s Day is not cards, roses, fancy dinners, kisses or even companionship. The world says love looks like a good-looking young couple, dressed to the hilt, holding hands, giggling, and exchanging flirtatious glances with one another. God says love looks like a single Jewish man, stripped and forsaken, beaten beyond recognition, and scorned by all, even by his own Father. Do we desire the former love over the latter? May God grant us the gift of repentance if we do (2 Timothy 2:25).

And may we again return to the precious stones of our childhood, where the lost can become found all over again.

Bryan Daniels

Man Crush Confession #2: John Piper

{This is a blog series coined “Man Crush Confession.” To access my first “man crush” post go here. Please don’t be offended by my tongue in cheek use of “crush.” It is strictly an homage to a godly influence in my life}

I sat in an open cattle field in central Texas with 40,000 other young adults, fasting for the day and pledging Isaiah 26:8 as our life vision and passion. The year was 2003.

An older man, on the back-end of his fifties and sporting glasses, took the stage. He opened his bible and commenced to lay out the greatness of the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Every word dripped with blood-earnest weight, every truth was exposited in humble boldness. I had never heard preaching quite like that before. He cast a biblical vision of the holiness of God in Jesus Christ that shook me for days after. As a freshmen college student, with nothing more than unguided fervor for my young faith, I was immediately hooked.

There were plenty of other great messages and messengers at that event. But for that particular sermon my thirsty soul felt like it was drinking from a fire hydrant. He offered free copies of his new book “Don’t Waste Your Life” to all in attendance. After I received my copy in the mail I devoured it 3-4 times and was convicted and encouraged by its radical call to know Christ and make Him known more.

More Than Just Tulips

To my surprise, shortly after this, I found out the speaker, John Piper, was a Calvinist (dum da dum dum!). This perturbed me a little because the only Calvinists I knew personally were a bit contentious and parochial about what mattered in the gospel. Every seemingly harmless conversation with them circled back to the topic of predestination. But Piper was different for me. And through reading his books and using his excellent websource, DesiringGod.org, a world much bigger than five points was opened up to me. The writings of dead guys like Johnathan Edwards, George Mueller, John Owen, and Augustine became a vast plateau of gems spread about a rich church

Not West-side fool. "Westminster!"

history I had never cared to discover. And of course all these dead guys pointed back to the inspired text that revealed the Living Word, Jesus, in a fresh and glorious light.

I was passionate about the gospel before, but my understanding lacked theological and historical depth. There was a host of saints, reformers, ministers, and revivalists who had trod the hard gospel road long before me. They had found their satisfaction and delight in the glory of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that was more than enough for them (2 Cor 4:4, 6). I came to a greater appreciation of the denominational stream I was born into (Baptist); and I also discovered a newfound respect for other streams that converged at the same wonderous cross.

God used a little professor from Minneapolis to help open the wide door of Christian heritage to me.

These revelations began a massive paradigm shift within me: The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t make much of me. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes much of God. The center of the world is not man and his worth. The center of the world is God and His glory. Piper’s missions manifesto “Let the Nations Be Glad” should be a required read for the missions and evangelistically minded. If you doubt a Calvinist can exalt in God’s sovereignty while simultaneously being sold out to the Great Commission then I highly recommend it. Piper has a solid range of works, from the devotional “Fifty Reasons Jesus Came To Die,” to the scholarly “Justification of God.” The 23% I understood of the latter book helped tie down some loose ends in my thinking about Romans 9 and Predestination (which became a four part blog series).

Your Fav Podcast Pastor Doesn’t Know You

Piper has his faults. He has annoyed many in his own camp with his close associations with Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll. He has annoyed many outside of his camp with his interpretation of biblical masculinity and femininity. But for my readership who don’t know me personally, I am coming clean to you right now about my bromance with John Piper. I’ve never met him but His ministry of the Word has reached me many times when I needed biblical encouragement, conviction, or sometimes just a swift kick in my spiritual butt.

I know there is an unhealthy pedestal e-pastors may be put on in this fast paced information age. So I better stop now before I begin to gush (that would be awkward for everyone). I do want my readers to know how much I appreciate the countless unknown shepherds who tend their small flocks well in relative obscurity. I encourage everyone reading to pray continually for and be complimentary of the man God has entrusted to them to be their pastor. We’re subject to real local elders (Heb 13:17), not rock star international conference speakers.

With that said, I’d like to hear who your longtime Man Crush Confession or secret Bromance may be (I won’t judge, promise : ))

What post-biblical era leader, living or dead, has impacted your life in Christ in a positive permanent way?

Bryan Daniels

And just for kicks:

The Secret Success Of A Hated Life

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)

Jesus preached the anti-prosperity gospel of modern American evangelicalism. He also would have had no part in the modern psyscho-babble self-esteem feel goody shtick of Dr. Phil wannabe pastors.

The immediate context of this verse shows Jesus speaking to the disciples towards the closing of His earthly ministry. When the Greeks came to seek him (v 21) He knew the end was near for Him, as this signaled a final chapter to his public ministry to the Jews (v 23). He could have no ministry to the Gentiles until He died as a sin offering for them, as an imperishable seed that would bear much eternal fruit.

What a curious and shocking message this would have been to the inquiring Greeks. If they sought Jesus simply as another Caesar, with similar royal pomp and ambitious military strategy, they were sadly mistaken.  For the first time and ever since, this was a Kingdom that would be invincibly advanced not by protecting the King, but by the murder of the King.

The Lord they were seeking came to carry a cross, not a crown. He was a Servant who would be subject to a terrifying crucifixion, not a coronation.

Such biblical paradox has been too much of a stumbling block to bear for many a modern Greek inquirer.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough look at how Jesus applies this message to his hearers. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life.” Or in other words, Jesus said, “If you claim Me, your life will look my life.”

The follower of Christ, the “Christian”, must hate his life “in this world.” This is not a call to some type of introspective self-centered self loathing. This is a call to bury and hold a funeral for one’s inherent love for the world and its possessions, pleasures, riches and rewards. Even good things may stand in the way of the soul’s prosperity (true biblical prosperity). They must be counted as a hated enemy for the sake of the love of God. The man who loses everything gains more than everything.

The world has been “crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). The world system is dead. It has no power over me. It no longer has the right to fascinate me with its temporal trappings. How does a dead man respond to a dead world? True, prosperous, eternal life is found in the answer.

As JC Ryle once wrote:” The way of self-crucifixion and sanctification may seem foolishness and wasteful to the world, just as burying good seed seems wasteful to the child and the fool. But there never lived the man who did not find that, by sowing to the Spirit, he reaped life everlasting.”

Maybe a more accurate modern Christian moniker would be: “God loves you and has an agonizing plan for you life.”

It was the life Dietrich Bonhoeffer alluded to when he said, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” It was the life of the early Christian dissenters of Roman Paganism, the early Protestant rebellion against Roman legalism, and now it is the life of the current non Western underground church world-wide.

Jesus unequivocally promised us two things: Eternal life and a Cross.

Brothers and sisters, what more do we need?

What more do we want?

What more do we have?

Bryan Daniels

Massaging Elephants In The Elephant Room

So many people have said what I am about to say so much more thoroughly and clearly. But I just wanted to share four quick observations after reading the manuscripts of  Elephant Room 2. I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the ER2 blog party, partly because I wanted to glean as much info as possible before coming to any conclusions about the parties involved.

I say this as someone who has been impacted greatly by the Walk in the Word radio ministry of James MacDonald. When I was a construction driver for a year I always would look forward to MacDonald’s refreshingly bold expository sermons during the afternoon time slot. They would break up the monotony of Christian-y peptalks and belligerent conservative pundits the air was typically filled with. You can only hear Sean Hannity spew the talking points he stole from Rush Limbaugh so many times before it gets old. I have nothing but respect for James MacDonald and his ministry.

With that in mind, here are four brief observations about ER2 and some of the recent online reactions to it:

TD Jakes Is A Trinitarian And A Modalist?

I still don’t know if TD Jakes is orthodox on the subject of the Trinity. He seems like an amicable guy who was game for the ER2 experience, and as was pointed out, he didn’t have to accept the invitation there. But based on the discussion in question he could be an excellent politician/lawyer/debater in his own right simply because he is masterfully adept at saying much of nothing in a very eloquent manner. At the beginning of the ER2 discussion Jakes initially affirmed the historical biblical understanding of the Trinity, did some fine hermeneutic gymnastics, and then flipped back to modalist language at the closing comments. In the end, he deconstructed the topic so much he was able to practically say (as orthodox pastors nodded approvingly): “Shucks! We’re all just trying to explain the same mystery!” Was it a clear affirmation, a movement towards orthodoxy, or just a play at shady syncretism? I really don’t know. In that regard, I feel ER2 didn’t satisfy the most basic tenet of biblical Christianity: The triune nature of God. Given some of the clear theological minds that were present, that is both unfortunate and a little shocking.

Get off Mark Driscoll’s hairy back

Watchbloggers have jumped on Driscoll like a tick on an inner thigh because of his “association” with the Jakes in the Elephant Room. I watched a closing EP2 video with James MacDonald and a couple notable black pastors summarizing the event. In retrospect, what was most interesting to me is that MacDonald didn’t seem to know, suggest, or really even want Driscoll to bring up the topic of Trinity to Jakes. I am quite certain the topic would have never even been brushed if Driscoll didn’t have the backbone to actually point out the biggest elephant of heresy in the whole room (Jake’s Modalism)…Do you really think Steve Furtick would have broached the subject? Right after Driscoll’s questioning MacDonald almost apologizes on his behalf, gushing over Jakes fruitfulness, stature, and humility to subject himself to such interrogation. Fist bump or not, at least Driscoll brought it up.

Blinded To The Word-Faith Elephant

The other major elephant left unscathed at EP2 was the Word of Faith/prosperity gospel Jakes has propagated numerous times in his preaching ministry. MacDonald assures us it was addressed privately in some back room at some point and Jake’s categorically denied it then and there. That’s nice to know, but most pastors of the Word Faith ilk have shunned the “prosperity gospel” label for some time now (just as new Southern Baptist church plants omit “Baptist” in the title and are named after a body of water or direction instead). Positive confessionism and name-it claim-it type “destiny” preaching is just new lipstick on an old pig (prosperity gospel). Yet again, not a peep or query about it during EP2 from the Evangelical leaders who have been very passionate and bold about preaching the gospel of a bloody Savior, and not a shiny Sedan.

What’s Race Got To Do With It?

Pastor Crawford Loritts pulled the race card pretty quickly after ER2 on all who would question Jakes and his liberal use of false doctrine. Black evangelical leaders who defended orthodoxy were just “jealous” of the mega-church pastor’s success (bet you won’t say that to Voddie Baucham’s face :0), and white leaders needed to be “careful” because they were, well, white afterall. I don’t know how race is relevant to the orthodoxy of a pastor, but it seems we still have a long way to go in race relations when theological discussions turn into race baiting for no good reason whatsoever. As of me writing this, Jakes’ Statement of Faith on his church website still affirms modalistic language. If that is not important enough to confront someone about then the contemporary American church really does know nothing of Scripture, the nature of God, or church history. Getting the nature of God right has eternal implications. Heresy cannot be winked at. The red herring of race has nothing to do with it.

Any thoughts from my dear readers? I’d like to know what you think of the recent turn of events in the Elephant Room 2, the Gospel Coalition, and evangelicalism at large.

Bryan Daniels