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taking the war out of ‘worship wars’

I heard Matt Olson’s gracious resignation talk after the NIU board asked him to step down. So blessed to see a man who has been under fire from harsh critics respond in a gentle way and then to put the focus off himself and on God.

There were several things he said that are worth remembering. Here is one that sticks with me. I did a word wall of it since it is good for many other difficulties in life beyond his own at the moment.

Matt Olson quote

pic background available through demilked.com

You may have noticed that the word ‘unexpected’ is in a similar color as the words ‘worship’ and ‘praise’ and ‘thank.’ The ‘unexpected’ starts out darker and duller, but as we direct our focus toward God and away from ourselves our actions and attitude shift from remorse or grief to the joys of being in God’s presence.

I am reminded how often I fall short of this. Right, left or middle – wherever we stand on these issues – this response proves that we can navigate our differences with grace.

President Olson’s response to his dismissal shows he sees a higher value in grace over gotcha. And for that matter, the NIU Board shows grace by giving President Olson the chance to freely speak his parting words to their students. Most dismissal situations like this are often well choreographed or restricted to avoid further collateral damage, but this looks quite unusual in its gentle tone and ethos.

The text that serves as President Olson’s anchor is Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom

and knowledge of God!    

How unsearchable his judgments,    

and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord? 

Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God,

that God should repay them?

For from him and through him and

for him are all things.    

To him be the glory forever!


The NIV translation entitled this section as “Doxology.”


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Mark’s Gospel: the Temple “cleansing” and Jesus’ sovereignty

Mark's Gospel header

Jesus, our Gracious Sovereign

In previous comments on the “cleansing” of the Temple I mentioned the mercy of Jesus. His mercy stands in stark contrast across all religions. We know that Yahweh is indeed the One full of mercy not because he says it. He shows it. Jesus shows us perfectly what Yahweh’s mercy looks like.

No other religion is so clear and vivid in what it says as the Gospel. The Gospel tells AND shows this mercy-filled good news.

There is another narrative strand in the “cleansing” of the Temple. It’s the sovereign grace of Jesus. When Jesus ransacked the Temple he was no doubt concerned about dishonest leadership. He was no doubt concerned about showing mercy to outcasts. He was very concerned about shady business in the Temple courts.

Yet, when Jesus ransacked the Temple he was doing more than that.

He was trying to bring his people under the care of his sovereign grace.

He was declaring his divine sovereignty over the Temple system. It’s not enough to say that Jesus was (and is) God. Zeus claimed to be God. Caesar claimed to be God. Apollo claimed to be God. So, Jesus is just one more guy in a long line claiming to be God. So what.

Jesus’ claims are higher and better than that. He comes into the Temple in the full authority of the Sovereign One.

Here are a few things that signal his sovereignty:


In Mark 11:11 immediately after the Triumphal Entry of Jesus goes directly to the Temple. It’s like a sovereign coming home to his palace. He is the head of a new administration. How will he be received? Will the Temple receive him as enthusiastically as the common people did? The Temple leadership should have received him with the same enthusiasm and affirmation that the common people did just a few moments before. They did not.

After ransacking the Temple Jesus hangs around all week teaching (see Mark 11:22-13:1) openly in the Temple courts. It’s like he’s taken over. He has “moved in” so to speak. What would you think if a friend of yours showed up at your door and moved in without asking permission or negotiating a rental agreement? He is making the Temple a short-term seat of his governing word.

Later Jesus tells a parable within a parable about a keystone rejected and a vineyard owner’s son murdered. Both of these intertwined parables are a commentary on the Temple leadership of the day usurping Messiah’s divine authority over them.(see Mark 12:1-12)

Then most shocking of all Jesus declares that this Temple must come down. He is not interested in renovating the Temple system, but in its removal and replacement. This is his way of saying that he is the new temple. (see Mark 13:1 and following)

 tip: it helped me to understand the significance of the Temple Cleansing when I started to see it as an event connected to what happens before it and after it. In the BEFORE (the triumphal entry) Jesus is received as King Messiah as he makes his was to the Temple, the climax of this procession, (note: after Jesus ‘cleansed’ the Temple the children were chanting “Hosana, Son of David” – thus the kingly procession continues with the children what was begun with their parents the day before)


in the AFTER (the parable of the vineyard’s son murdered) Jesus assumes all authority over the Temple, its operations, its doctrine and its final destruction. Jesus isn’t claiming only to be God. He is claiming full sovereignty as he moves in and about his Father’s House.

These are sign posts to the sovereignty of Jesus. He is not assistant manager, not vice president, not even prince of the realm with a life time appointment. Jesus is fully and completely sovereign.

The fact of Jesus’ sovereignty is often missed when we conservative Christians talk about the Temple cleansing event. For a long time I saw this Temple “cleansing” event as basically about the dishonest dealings of the Temple leadership or having concern for the poor.

That is true, but there is more. Jesus is “the messenger of the covenant” (see Mal 3:1), an arresting officer, prosecuting attorney and supreme judge all in one. This is Yahweh “suddenly coming to the Temple” to see if covenant stipulations are being obeyed.

They are not.

So with the full authority of the covenant behind him he acts as the covenant’s lord (because he is) and prosecutes covenant sanctions (see Dt. 28) on the corrupt leadership. Jesus has at his disposal full authority to foreclose on the Temple.

And he does.

Jesus is sovereign.

How did I miss this for so long? The Temple leadership saw this. They approached Jesus the next day to confront him on this very point.


[with restrained sarcastic tone]

“Where do you think you get the authority (sovereign right) to do

these things (in our temple)?”

[intense stares while waiting for his answer]


 * * *


This, then, is a brief explanation of Jesus’ sovereignty in ransacking and occupying the Temple. He did more than clean the Temple. This is a kind of take over. It’s not a hostile take over, but it is a bold theological take over.

So now you ask, “How does the grace half of this Gracious Sovereign show up in the Temple ransacking?”

Ah, good question. His grace is in his declaration about the Jubilee while he is “cleansing” the Temple.

More about this Ultimate Jubilee next time.


“We stop trying so hard to be

good Christians when

we see how good it is to

be in Christ.”

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Mark’s Gospel: Temple ‘cleansing’ points to Jesus’ mercy

Jesus, the Merciful

{thots from the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple by Jesus} Mark 11:11-22

Mark's Gospel header

{entered the Monday after Easter 2013}

Yesterday, at the end of a very blessed Sunday, I sat down to read my copy of the Quran. I turned to Surah (chapter) number two and read a few verses. I flipped through several other chapters. My eyes settled on this line:

 ‘In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful.’

 This line is deeply ingrained in Islamic culture. It’s repeated over and over throughout the Quran. This is the opening line to nearly every chapter of the Quran, a reminder to its adherents that Allah is beneficent, that Allah is merciful. In my translation it’s in caps – Beneficient…Merciful – a reminder that Allah is the embodiment of goodness and mercy.


Yesterday was not any Sunday, but a high day of worship. It was Easter. Seems like an odd thing to do at the close of a day for Christian worship – to read the central text of another religion.

 But there is beauty in contrast. There’s capacity of thought in seeing the starkness of a thing.

Recent in my thots,  almost alive, is Jesus cleansing the Temple. I could see Jesus rushing through the Temple the week before he was crucified. I see him slinging a whip. I see him upturning tables. I see him welcoming the blind and lame, unclean horde, into the Temple courts (see Matt 21). The vividness this “cleansing” the Temple washed the quranic text into the background.

 How do I know, I mean really know, that Jesus is merciful, that he is beneficent? 

Firstly, I know this temple cleansing, so called, is not really about cleaning the Temple. Jesus did not come into the Temple courts with a bucket and mop…or a shovel and broom as if to clean up after the animals. This event doesn’t look like a house call from Merry Maids (or Messiah Maids).

This is among other things a show of mercy. Yes, there’s bit of grand standing by Jesus, but it’s not surprising. Why not? The offenders had it long time in coming.

We know Jesus is mercy filled because he shows it. From the depths of his sincerity he doesn’t clean the Temple. He ransacks it. He intervenes. He brings its operations to halt even if only for a short while (“he forbid the vessels from passing through”). He displays the interruptive power of mercy. The greed and abuses by the Temple leadership were a stench on this holy place, but who would confront this? One man. Often mercy walks and runs and stoops alone. 

 Secondly, when Jesus ransacked the Temple he came into that space as a Defender. Yes, he was defending his Father’s expectations for covenant faithfulness in the one place on earth where it should not have faltered. And he was defending the weak, the outcast, the Gentile, the widow, the poor who wanted access to God. Jesus, an army of one whose weapon is mercy.

 I found it helpful to compare accounts from one gospel to another. When reading Mark’s account I also went over to Matthew’s.

So cool was it to notice that Matthew adds into his telling of that event that just after Jesus ransacked the Temple “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Mt 21:14).

“No way Jesus! You can’t do that!! Those…those people have to go through the process just like the rest of us. What in the world are you doing? Haven’t you read our laws?”

I conclude that Jesus was not only upset about the bilking of the money changers. He was upset that those hordes of people considered to be “unclean” were being excluded from worship except for their having to go through an intense – even expensive – process to be made ceremonially clean.

Jesus by his actions effectively says forget all the “red tape” ya’ll. Come on in! Just as you are. I’m going to heal you right here and now so you can immediately dispense with the frivolous gangway of man-made rules.

 Instead of being a place that breathed grace it had become a place tarnished by financial oppression and graft, a place where the outcasts felt very much like outcasts, where Gentiles seekers were threatened with capital punishment if they went past a certain point.

 You see, I know that Jesus is merciful, even if he were to say it over and over (but he didn’t), because he showed mercy. He lived it right in front of our eyes. I know for sure that Yahweh is merciful because I see Yahweh in the flesh being merciful, defending mercy.

 The one whose name means “Yahweh saves” comes defending and initiating his long storied intentions to make access to God free, open, without strings attached and priceless in its simplicity.

 I know Jesus is indeed the embodiment of mercy because he shows it. He charges solo into a Den of Thieves (see Jer 7:11 with Mark 11:17) for the sake of mercy. Then about a week later he hangs on a common cross for the sake of mercy, for the sake of bringing it to the world.


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Shall we do CPR on Mr. Pelagius?

File:CPR training-03.jpg

Apparently Pelagius, hero to the health wealth, prosperity and let’s spread groovy vibes crowd, still has a following. Despite the philosophy of Pelagius being soundly defeated by Augustine over 1,000 years ago, it seems that some Pelagian hold outs have migrated to the State of Georgia.

enter the

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

* * * * * * *


Contributions of Pelagius

Whereas the historical record of Pelagius’s contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance, and   whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition, and  whereas his restitution as a viable theological voice within our tradition might encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God’s creation, and   whereas in as much as the history of Pelagius represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans,   Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition  And be it further resolved that this committee will report their conclusions at the next Annual Council.

Submitted by the Rev. Benno D. Pattison, Rector, the Church of the Epiphany

* * * * * * * *

What else might this Committee of Discernment be able to discern?


grace the DIY way?

I heard a sermon recently (not at my church) teaching that Christians need to eventually move beyond the Gospel. I used to think that too. BUT, I’ve been taking a closer look at Jesus and His Gospel. I’m seeing that the Gospel is not just for the lost. It’s for Christians.

What happens when we move beyond the Gospel? We go back to being Do It Yourselfers – holy Do It Yourselfers (yish, the worst kind I might add).

So also did Pastor Tullian Tchividjian proclaim (and continues to do so):

“My hope is that we would never become a church that thinks about the Gospel of grace as simply being the ABCs of Christianity – that once God saves us He then moves us beyond the Gospel of grace into something bigger or deeper.

“There is nothing bigger. There is nothing deeper than the Gospel of grace. Once God saves He doesn’t then move us beyond God’s Gospel of grace. He moves us more deeply into God’s Gospel of grace. It is the one ever flowing fountain that your weary soul and mind need on a daily basis.

“There is nothing…more difficult for us to get our minds around than the grace of God…as one writer put it, ‘We are seasoned do it yourselfers.’”

you can listen to the rest of that sermon here

(number one in a series called ‘Pictures of Grace’)

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is the Atonement limited?

The Atonement (Christ’s work on the Cross) is limited in the sense that…

–         it is not automatically applied to all

(Rom 3:10-26)

–        it’s realization is dependent on biblical faith and repentance

(Mark 1:15)

–         it is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some

(John 3:14-18)

–         it is infinite in its value, but particular in its fruition

(I John 2:1-3, I Tim 4:10)

–        it is not a universal means for “ultimate restoration” of all men

(Rev 20:11-15)

–         it is not now in process nor conditioned on other factors

(Rev 13:8)

–        it is not governed by the determinations of man

(Eph 2:8-9)

–         it is for the sole glory of God; not a ½ ounce of glory going to man

(Rm 11:36, Eph 1:1-14)

–        it is substitutionary for the individual

(Gal 2:20, II Cor 5:21)

–         its efficacy is not lessened by those who reject it

(I Tim 1:3-6, Rom 14:9)

–        it is administered by Christ alone in the power of the Godhead

(Heb 9:11-15)

–        the Church is not an agent of the Atonement nor within its processes

(Acts 20:28)

–         it is definite only for the elect

(Rom 8:31-34, II Tim 2:10, Act 13:48)

–        it is the penalty for sin, not just an ethical metaphor

(I Peter 2:14)

–        it is the only sacrifice that can fully satisfy the wrath of God

(Is 53, Gal 3:13)

–        it is the means by which there is no other possible means to save souls

(Heb 10:14)

–         it is the whole work whereby we are justified by faith; no more is needed

(Heb 10:12)

–        it is not a mutual project between God and myself.  I cannot contribute to the

Atonement for my sin.  God did enough and more to give men a way back to Him.

(I Peter 3:18)

The above list brings together truths revealed throughout Scripture on this subject.  This list helps us see that the Atonement is not a magic wand that we shape to whatever purpose suits us.  Thus, the Atonement of the Cross is limited not in a minimizing sense.  It is limited in the grand sense.  The Atonement is limited in the grand sense from being controlled by man-centered ideas – ideas that try to reshape it like universalism or Roman Catholic synergism or emotional methodologies like that of Charles Finney and the seeker-sensitive stress on pop vox (‘the voice of the people’).  A proper understanding of ‘limited atonement’ keeps in check the notion that the Gospel is mostly for us, when in truth it is nothing but from God, of God and for God.

Also, we must never forget that in such detailed theological discussions doctrine should not serve itself.  Doctrine is for doing {as we talked about in the lessons on “Christian Manhood.”}  AND most definitely doctrine is for delight.  We may disagree on various ways of expressing the doctrines of grace, but we can passionately delight in the power of the Cross to save.  The Good News is that the glorious Atonement of Christ is at the center of God’s free-offer of salvation.  Let’s delight in this.  Let’s live the Gospel.  Don’t let the Gospel be in the past tense.

“Sovereign grace o’er sin abounding; waves of love in power swell;

‘Tis a deep that knows no sounding; who its breadth or length can tell?

On its glories, on its glories, let my soul forever dwell.”

(John Kent, 1766-1843)

this post copyright2010Mark Olivero all rights reserved.

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saving grace

Kristi pointed this out to me (after Lord’s Day worship).  She noticed how well Spurgeon’s devotional today fit with Pastor Mazak’s AM sermon from Colossians 3.  God’s people are so blessed and so undeserving of His saving grace.  Rejoice Christian, rejoice.


C. H. Spurgeon ——————————————————————————–

“The Lord’s portion is His people.”

 Deuteronomy 32:9


How are they His? By His own sovereign choice. He chose them, and set His love upon them. This He did altogether apart from any goodness in them at the time, or any goodness which He foresaw in them. He had mercy on whom He would have mercy, and ordained a chosen company unto eternal life; thus, therefore, are they His by His unconstrained election.


They are not only His by choice, but by purchase. He has bought and paid for them to the utmost farthing, hence about His title there can be no dispute. Not with corruptible things, as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s portion has been fully redeemed. There is no mortgage on His estate; no suits can be raised by opposing claimants, the price was paid in open court, and the Church is the Lord’s freehold for ever. See the blood-mark upon all the chosen, invisible to human eye, but known to Christ, for “the Lord knoweth them that are His”; He forgetteth none of those whom He has redeemed from among men; He counts the sheep for whom He laid down His life, and remembers well the Church for which He gave Himself.

They are also His by conquest. What a battle He had in us before we would be won! How long He laid siege to our hearts! How often He sent us terms of capitulation! but we barred our gates, and fenced our walls against Him. Do we not remember that glorious hour when He carried our hearts by storm? When He placed His cross against the wall, and scaled our ramparts, planting on our strongholds the blood-red flag of His omnipotent mercy? Yes, we are, indeed, the conquered captives of His omnipotent love. Thus chosen, purchased, and subdued, the rights of our divine possessor are inalienable: we rejoice that we never can be our own; and we desire, day by day, to do His will, and to show forth His glory.