Is anyone really surprised?

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This past week, rumors surfaced of Oprah joining the cast of a new faith-focused film—playing the role of God.

The film? The Shack, based on Wm. Paul Young’s dangerously stupid book. If the rumors turn out to be true, this would be perfect casting.

I read the book in the summer of 2008 right around the time it was first attracting serious attention. Tons of people were talking about this book—it was a topic of conversation online, at our church and in my office. Lots of folks were raving about how amazing the book was, and how they felt like they better understood God and the reasons for suffering…

But the god they were connecting with wasn’t the God of the Bible.

It was the god of Oprah.

The god presented in the book is a bizarre combination of new age spirituality and conflicting first century heresies. It’s a god who appears as (a bizarre stereotype of) an African-American woman, a flighty Asian Spirit, and a Middle Eastern man. It a god who has a preference for uncertainty, rather than a God who is confident in His knowledge of all things. A god who speaks to you subjectively, in and through your own thoughts, rather than with clarity in the Bible.

It is a god of our own imagining, and the kind of god, if we’re honest, many of us actually want.

It’s a god who doesn’t offer us any challenges or pushback (not really); a god who has no desire or ability to hold us accountable for our actions. A god who is all about relationship, and not about rules.

A god who wants us to have the life we want, but not the Life we need.

And really, who better to portray such a god than one who is so adept at perpetuating the myth of its existence?

No doubt there will be many who flock to see this film when it eventually sees the light of day. And make no mistake, it will be made. Some professing Christian leaders—the same ones who encouraged reading the book—will no doubt encourage their congregations to see it.

But rather than present a pretty picture of a pretend god, and encourage people to connect with a god who doesn’t exist, how about we give a grander picture of the God who does?


photo credit: Barack Obama via photopin cc

160 of the most terrifying words I’ve ever read

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A man is “without Christ” when the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be seen in his life. Who can avoid seeing, if he uses his eyes, that myriads of professing Christians know nothing of inward conversion of heart. They will tell you that they believe the Christian religion; they go to their places of worship with tolerable regularity; they think it a proper thing to be married and buried with all the ceremonies of the Church; they would be much offended if their Christianity were doubted. But where is the Holy Ghost to be seen in their lives? What are their hearts and affections set upon? Whose is the image and superscription that stands out in their tastes, and habits, and ways? Alas, there can only be one reply! They know nothing experimentally of the renewing, sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost. They are yet dead to God. And of all such only one account can be given. They are “without Christ.”1

What is it about these words that is so terrifying?

The fact that we can so easily deceive ourselves about the state of our souls. That we can say the “right” words, have a good marriage, go to church regularly—that we can be the model “good” Christian—and only be kidding ourselves. That what we think of as fruit may not be fruit at all.

“But where is the Holy Ghost to be seen in their lives?” 

That should give us pause, but not in a nasty, unhealthy, navel-gazing sort of way. The last thing the Lord wants us to be doing is spending our days worrying endlessly about whether or not our faith is genuine. Discerning the reality isn’t that difficult. We look at the affections of our hearts, our desire for God and His Word, our ongoing battle with sin, and our love for God manifesting itself in our love for others, and we can gain a sense of how the Holy Spirit is at work.

Even the concern about whether or not the Holy Spirit is at work in your life can be evidence that He is…

But the most terrifying thing of all? That some of us can hear these kinds of warnings, and not be concerned at all, beyond being offended that someone would even pose such a question.

That we could not truly see the Holy Spirit at work in our lives—and not really care.

That is terrifying.

The one reason you should support the Gosnell documentary

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If the name Kermit Gosnell is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. You’ve probably not seen his name on CNN. You’ve likely not read an article about him in the New York Times.

So who is Kermit Gosnell? Arguably the greatest serial killer in American history.

In 2013, Gosnell was convicted of the murder of three infants born alive in his Philidelphia medical clinic, as well as 16 counts of violating the state’s informed consent requirements, and guilty of 21 counts of performing abortions after 24 weeks of gestation, the legal limit in Pennsylvania.

But the 24 lives represented in Gosnell’s conviction are not his only victims. Over the course of his 30-year career, he performed thousands of abortions. No one knows how many healthy, full-term babies were murdered by Gosnell. But the mainstream didn’t feel his trial warranted our attention.

Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, best known for their documentary FrackNation, want to change that.

They’ve launched a crowdfunding project to make a documentary about Gosnell and the media cover-up surrounding his trial. And already, the project’s made waves—notably for being booted off of Kickstarter before finding a home at Indiegogo.

As of this writing, they’re about three-quarters of the way to their goal. Recently, my wife and I chose to support the project. We want to see this documentary get made. And while there are many reasons you should support the making of this film, here’s the reason I felt it was important:

Collectively, we need to be confronted by the atrocity of abortion.

Every year, abortion takes the lives of millions of children around the world. In 2011, around 1.06 million abortions were performed in America alone. This is something we collectively sweep under the rug as a society. And no wonder, when you consider what the grand jury said in its report:

This case is about a doctor who killed babies … What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors …. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it.   (Report of the Grand Jury)

Conservative Christians are often given a lot of flak for making a big deal out of abortion, but consider for a moment that we’re called to “speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” (Proverbs 31:8 HCSB). This means Christians are necessarily called to speak into a whole host of social issues, bringing gospel light into the darkest corners of society. We’re to speak about poverty, sex trafficking and child slavery… we’re to defend the need for the poor to have access of all the basics of life.

And that means we must speak about the most basic need—the right to live. 

I hesitated on reprinting that excerpt of the report, which I think says something, doesn’t it? Abortion is unpleasant business. It’s not something we like to think about—the taking of a life. It’s murder, plain and simple. We need to be confronted by that fact, especially those of us Christians who are afraid to speak out on this issue, not with words of condemnation but of conviction—words that bring the power of the gospel to bear on the matter. To see hearts and minds changed, not because an argument has been won, but because people have been won over by Jesus.

The Gosnell documentary won’t be made for this purpose—but what I’m confident it will do is challenge the complacency of many regarding the issue of abortion. It will rattle them. And maybe then some real discussion can start happening.

 

Mission can’t be reduced to preparing people for this life

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The gospel is the good news of how God reconciles his rebellious image-bearers to himself by the death and resurrection of his Son. This good news properly entails transformed living that touches all our horizontal relationships, but which is never reducible to horizontal relationships. The proclamation of this gospel that has freed us and prepared us to meet our Maker is our joyous privilege and solemn responsibility. When the discharge of this mission is met with God’s blessing, it produces men and women who are ready for both this life and the next.

Thus Christian mission can never be reduced to preparing people for this life. It can never be properly Christian if all that it aims to do, if all that it accomplishes, is to effect some reforms in government, or to improve social, moral, and economic standards. I cannot imagine a church profoundly shaped by Scripture that will not want to reform government and improve social, moral, and economic standards. But if that is all the church is trying to do, if it is all that individual Christians are trying to do, they have lost their moorings. There is a primacy to preparing people to meet God which, though its horizon is eternity, will also change how people live here and now. To put the matter another way, the notion of realized eschatology is ridiculous unless it is predicated on futurist eschatology. The ethics and values of the End cannot be brought back into the present if there is no End.

D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, pp. 434-435


Photo: iStock

Who are the false teachers?

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The whole concept of false teachers and false teaching is one that makes many Christians squirm. We don’t like to think about the idea that there are people who are actively trying to deceive believers, to turn them away from the truth of the Christian faith. But all one has to do is look around at a Christian bookstore and you can see it—deception is present.

So who are they?

Anytime someone writes on this topic, it’s tempting to name names. Tim Challies has been profiling a number of them over the last several weeks, for example, looking at false teachers throughout history and up to our present day. Making the cut are luminaries such as Benny Hinn, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Pelagius, Arius… even the Pope made the cut!

Trying to make a list can be a double-edged sword. One danger is becoming too narrow, letting a secondary issue take precedence and become the measure of orthodoxy (think: egalitarianism vs complementarianism, or Calvinism vs Arminianism). A second is being too open, lacking any firm criteria upon which to make a judgement about orthodoxy whatsoever.

And it’s this error that I want to challenge in particular. When you start to examine the nature of false teaching, it tends to consistently focus on three primary areas:

The nature and character of God (including the person of Christ).

I wrote about this in a bit more detail in Contend, but imagine you’re standing dominoes up in a line to watch them fall. You’ve set up all your pieces just so and you’re ready to push the lead one. If you’ve got that first domino in the right place, when you knock it down, the chain reaction can begin, with every properly situated piece falling in exactly the right way. But if your first domino is pointing in the wrong direction or is placed too far away from the others, it’s just not going to work.

Our understanding of God is kind of like that. If we get God wrong, nothing else will truly fall in place. We won’t understand the gospel and there will be no energy or momentum to drive us forward into a life of fruitful labor to the glory of God. Thankfully, due to the immeasurable gift of the Bible, we have everything we need to get that first “domino” right. Indeed, if we begin to grasp even the most basic truths regarding God’s nature and character, that changes everything.

What this means for us is grasping as comprehensive picture of God as we can from Scripture—we see Him as immanent (He is personal and knowable), transcendent (He is far above us in every meaningful way) and Triune (He is one in essence and three in persons). He is many things—loving, jealous, just, and merciful… but undergirding all of this is his holiness. It is this fact that reminds us that God is perfect and distinct from the world He has made, it calls on us to pay attention to all He is. So we don’t take one aspect of His character at the expense of another—love doesn’t trump justice and vice versa; instead, we see God’s love as holy and His justice as holy. They spring from the same source. They are perfect and wonderful and glorious.

And this is what false teachers consistently attack. They strive to make God smaller, more distant, less intimidating… Honestly, if the thought of standing before God in His glory doesn’t make you want to wet yourself in terror a little bit, you probably don’t understand the God of the Bible.

The gospel.

Ask “what is the gospel” to 100 people, and you’re likely to get 101 answers. But the gospel, in its most basic and essential form, is this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

There’s much that could be said about this, but notice the key elements: Christ died, and more specifically, He died to pay the penalty for our sins). He was buried, meaning He was truly dead. And He was raised to life again physically—not spiritually, not emotionally, not in our hearts or any such notion.

Without these things, there is no gospel, period. And when someone fudges on any of these, a different gospel is preached, and it’s one that damns its teachers to hell (Gal. 1:9). Yet this is what we consistently see in false teaching—men and women who make the gospel about something other than what Christ has done, and make it about giving us an example to follow, or giving us a Jesus who didn’t physically rise from death… But according to Scripture, such things are nonsense.

The authority of the Bible.

The final consistent point of opposition is the Bible itself. Notice how even with His gospel summary above, Paul consistently pointed back to the Scriptures—meaning, these things that happened to Jesus, God said would happen in His Word. And throughout the Bible, we see this kind of emphasis on the Bible’s authority and trustworthiness. Two examples:

Peter says that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).  And this prophetic word, he says, was not produced “by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Paul, likewise, describes all Scripture as “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

But look throughout and you’ll find this repeated emphasis on the authority of Scripture. And this is what false teachers consistently strive to undermine, even before they’ll go after the nature of God or the gospel. They do it with appeals to experience and emotion as authoritative, and arguments designed to obscure the clarity of the Bible… it all amounts to the same trick the serpent played in the beginning, asking “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Thankfully, we have a “more sure” word than one that can be obscured easily. In the Bible, we have something we can rely on and trust. Kevin DeYoung, commenting on 2 Peter 1, says it well:

We do not follow myths. We are not interested in stories with a nice moral to them. We are not helped by hoping in spiritual possibilities which we know to be historically impossible. These things in the gospel story happened. God predicted them. He fulfilled them. He inspired the written record of them. Therefore we ought to believe them. Nothing in all of the Bible was produced solely by the human will. God used men to write the words, but these men did their work carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is an utterly reliable book, an unerring book, a holy book, a divine book.

So who are the false teachers out there? Look at how a teacher views God, the gospel, and the Scriptures. That will likely tell you most everything you need to know.

The glamor of God-honoring grammar

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One of my favorite books you’ve never read is The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley Green (which I reviewed a looong time ago). This book didn’t exactly light any fires on the sales charts, but man, did it ever pack a wallop. Why? Because it makes a connection that once seen, you can’t unsee:

The farther we get from the gospel, the more impaired our thinking becomes.

Green demonstrates this by appealing to history, theology and philosophy, showing that the Christian faith encourages a rigorous intellectual life. But when the gospel is set aside and eventually abandoned, our ability to reason inevitably goes with it.

Our culture is certainly proof of this. We routinely see very intelligent people come to incredibly stupid conclusions. We see it at play in our peculiar understanding of tolerance, and in our frequent appeals to our feelings as the final arbiter of truth. And we even see it in-house among professing Christians, as many who call for grace and charity routinely (and intentionally) misrepresent their opponents’ views in order to stir up controversy.

This is hardly the fruit of right thinking. 

But impaired thinking goes beyond these big issues and flows into the little things of everyday life—including our ability to write coherently.

“In an era of skepticism about the possibility of meaning, we should therefore expect to see poor sentences,” Green writes. “We should expect, in a post-Christian culture, to see poor grammar, poor composition. And this is, of course, exactly what we see” (The Gospel and the Mind, 123).

In other words, when meaning is lost, coherent language follows. 

Again, look at the plethora of examples out there. Read a status update from a teenager on Facebook. Read a tweet (almost any will do). Read any number of Christian books… (Yeah, I went there. Sorry guys.)

Christians must—must—be people who communicate clearly and communicate well. This means we should be people who pursue excellence in our use of the written word. We shouldn’t be satisfied with a crass perfunctory approach to writing, treating it purely as a function and not as a skill or an art. We should revel in clever wordplay. We should delight in coherent sentences. We should rejoice in God-honoring grammar.

We should pursue and celebrate excellent writing, with restored hearts and renewed minds, for this pleases the Lord.

What will they hear next weekend?

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Easter always has a lot of buzz around it, both from Christian and non-Christian sources. News outlets are always looking for a big, salacious Jesus-related story to plaster across magazine covers, newspapers and websites. Over the last few years we’ve seen big “exposés” on the gospel of Jesus’ wife, the Jesus family tomb, and the gospel of Judas, all of which have gotten some people talking about Jesus… but pretty quickly fizzled out of everyday conversation.

Christians, likewise, make a big deal out of Easter. This is one of the big times of year for programmatic evangelism in a lot of churches—encouraging every regular attendee to invite a non-Christian friend of family member being the most common. (There’s also the spectacle silliness some churches engage in, but let’s not talk about that right now, mmmkay?) And it’s a big deal. I mean, tons of people—whether nominal believers, adherents of other religions, agnostics, and even some atheists—show up every Easter.

Looking around the auditorium at the high school where our church meets during first service, I couldn’t see a single open seat (and second service was undoubtedly even more packed). The children’s ministry was filled to bursting… And most importantly, the gospel was preached, with clarity and conviction.

I’m guessing the Easter Sunday experience was similar for many of you, too.

It’s a safe bet most visitors to a church in North America heard the gospel this weekend (again, except for in those ones that engage in a lot of silliness…). This is something we should thank God for, to be sure. The resurrection of Jesus holds the promise of the gospel—that Jesus’ death on the cross actually did satisfy the wrath of God, that our sins are paid for, and that all who trust in Jesus will be forgiven and given new life.

But, here’s a question that’s on my mind:

What will next weekend’s visitors hear?

I’m thankful there are many churches, including my own, for which Easter Sunday is more-or-less the same as every other Sunday. The gospel is front-and-center every weekend. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the thing we celebrate together each week without fail. So, you know what visitors to churches like those will hear?

The gospel.

But for far too many churches—churches filled with really great people—yesterday’s message was kind of an anomaly. Next weekend will begin a new sermon series offering steps to handle finances, raise obedient children, or have a better marriage… and the gospel, while not denied, won’t be quite so front-and-center. They won’t hear about the only hope they have (and may not realize they need).

They might hear a call to moral living, but they may not hear a call to bow before Jesus.

And if they’re not hearing that, what are they really hearing?

While I don’t believe we should be gearing our worship gatherings toward the needs of unbelievers, we should never forget that they are always present. Visitors will be in the room. People who don’t know Jesus will be there. What will they hear next weekend?


photo credit: ACOUSTIC DIMENSIONS via photopin cc

The last days of Jesus: the Sent One sends

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On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:19-21)


The third day had come. The tomb was empty, just as Jesus had promised. But instead of finding the disciples rejoicing and boldly proclaiming the resurrection, we find them hiding behind a locked door, afraid of the Jewish leaders who had put Jesus to death.

And then Jesus showed up and everything changed.

“Peace be with you,” He said, holding up his hands and showing His side. And their fears were gone. Jesus’ promise was true—He had risen from the dead. This was not a hoax or an imaginary story. This was the living, breathing Son of God standing before them, who was about to tell them something important: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Now, Jesus said, they were to go and speak. They had seen with their own eyes. Jesus had won victory over sin and death; He had paid for their sins in full. And now, they—and we like them—were to go and tell the world. The Sent One became the Sender, and the world would be turned upside down.


Father, thank you for the resurrection of Jesus, and that because of this day, we have such good news to tell the world. Just as Jesus sent out His disciples to make disciples of all nations, you’ve called us to do the same. Please give us boldness to speak as we ought, to not keep the good news of Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin and death to ourselves but to share it gladly and joyfully as we worship You. Amen.


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The last days of Jesus: the resting Lord of the Sabbath

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And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)


God created the heavens and the earth—light and darkness, time and space, land and water, plants and animals, man and woman… And then, He “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” His work of creating all that is was complete.

It was finished.

During the days leading up to His death, Jesus was preparing to complete His greatest work: the redemption of sinners. And so He was arrested, beaten, tortured, nailed to a cross and left to die. And as He hung on the cross, in a loud voice he cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

And then, He died.

The Bible says very little about what happened on the day following Jesus’ death, but we do know one thing: it was the Sabbath. It was the seventh day, the day set aside as a time of rest before the Lord. No work was to be done. And this was what brought Jesus into so much conflict with the Pharisees. He was continually doing “works” on the Sabbath—and for this, they persecuted Him. But Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath, and just as His Father was working, so too was He working (Matthew 12:8; John 5:17).

But now, His work was finished.

And the Lord of the Sabbath “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done”—just like His Father.


Father, few words should fill us with more joy than those telling us how you rested from your work. Thank you that Jesus imitated you completely by resting from His own work, the redemption of our souls. Help us to follow in this example as well—to enjoy the rest that you have given us, not only from the work of our daily lives, but the futile work of trying to save ourselves. Amen.


Photo via Lightstock

The last days of Jesus: the despised but undefeated King

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And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-39)


After hours of mock trials, brutal torture, having been made to carry His own cross to the place of His crucifixion and finally having spikes driven through His hands and feet, Jesus’ work was nearly done. Darkness covered the land and a cry came from Jesus, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

From the cross, as Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22, we’re left to wonder what was happening in that moment. What was happening between the Father and the Son, no one can say. But as Jesus cried out, intentionally quoting this psalm of David, we gain a better picture—for in all its details, this psalm is about Jesus.

Perhaps, it was a final reminder to the people that all that was occurring was happening according to the Scriptures. He was scorned by man; He was despised my His people. He was mocked, just as the psalmist said He would be (Psalm 22:6-8).

“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35)

And when He breathed His last, and as the temple curtain was torn in two, those witnessing the events were left in awe, just as the psalmist sang:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28)

Jesus was despised, but He was undefeated. The King of the Jews would die, but through His death “all the families of the nations” would worship Him.


Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us. Thank you that He endured the punishment we all deserve so we can truly worship you. Please help us to stand in awe when we consider the events of Good Friday, just as those who witnessed the death of Jesus did. Amen.


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The last days of Jesus: the submissive Savior

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Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46)


When we think of Jesus, we often think of Him as sure, strong and confident—the paragon of unwavering faith in the Father. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the idea of Jesus being terrified. And yet, this is what we see on the night before the crucifixion.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, mere hours before He would be betrayed by Judas and led away to His death, Jesus experienced fear in a way He never had before. The full, unrestrained fury of God’s wrath against sin was about to be poured out on Him. He would endure all the punishment due for the sins of His people. So overwhelmed was He that Jesus began to sweat what appeared to be drops of blood! To say Jesus was terrified is a massive understatement. And so He asked the most important question anyone could ask: Is there another way?

How many of us have wondered this? After all, throughout the gospels, Jesus performed amazing signs and wonders—He even forgave sins with just a word. Did Jesus have to endure such torture? Wasn’t this kind of excessive? While this is difficult for us to understand, we need to take comfort in Jesus’ prayer:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus asked the Father if there was another way. How did the Father answer? He said no. The only way to rescue His people from sin was for Jesus to die. And Jesus responded by submitting to the Father’s will. By doing so, Jesus’ resolve was strengthened. His terror subsided. He stood, ready to face His betrayer, the submissive Savior, ready to die for the sins of the world.


Father, thank you for this picture of Jesus’ humanity—that He truly was a man, even as He was truly God. Help us to make His prayer ours, that we would be encouraged and strengthened as we submit our wills to Yours’, knowing that Your plans are far greater than anything we can imagine. Amen.


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The last days of Jesus: the delivered Deliverer

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When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” (Matthew 26:1-5)


Although they’d tried, the priests and scribes could not challenge Jesus’ authority. They couldn’t discredit Him. So there was only one thing to do: kill Him. But Jesus had a massive following—He was a hero among the people of Judea who were convinced He was the prophet Moses spoke of (Deuteronomy 18:15). Any action they took would be met with an uproar. The people would riot if Jesus were arrested during the Passover. If the priests were serious about their plan, they’d have to do it in secret.

But their plan wasn’t only theirs. It was Jesus’, too. In fact, it was He who, from eternity past, determined with the Father that this plan would come to pass. All the events that would occur were according to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This is why He could say to His disciples that in two days, He would “be delivered up to be crucified.”

He knew all the circumstances surrounding what would happen because, even as Caiaphas and the elders were making their plans, the plan belonged to Jesus. Jesus would be delivered over to them. He would be crucified. But He was being delivered up in order to be the Deliverer of His people.


Father, it’s hard for us to understand how human plans and Your plans work together, but we know from your Word that they do. Thank You that from before time began, You, the Son and the Holy Spirit planned to deliver Your people from their bondage to sin. You intended the plan of the elders, one meant for evil, to be used for good. Help us to see how You continue to work in this way even today, using the plans of men so You would be glorified and Your people would be saved. Amen.


Photo via Lightstock

The last days of Jesus: the unchallengeable Authority

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And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33)


The conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is not unlike many in our day. We see it time and again: Jesus could not have been God; he was merely a “good teacher.” But when challenged, most opponents can do little more than shrug in frustration and say, “I don’t know.”

Jesus would not allow the priests and scribes this luxury.

They had seen the signs He’d performed. They’d heard His powerful teaching. They’d witnessed Him tossing the moneychangers out of the Temple… And they wanted to know: on whose authority was He doing these things? Jesus was not a priest nor a recognized authority on the Scriptures according to their standards. He was the son of a carpenter from an unimportant town in an inconsequential province.

And yet, somehow, He was turning the world upside down.

And so they spoke up. “By what authority do you do these things?” they asked, with that barely concealed frustration you see when someone’s desperately trying to keep their cool. But Jesus knew their hearts better than even they did. He knew they weren’t sincere and so he backed them into a corner. If they answered His question, He’d answer theirs.

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Immediately, they saw the trap they’d walked in to. If they said John’s ministry was from God, Jesus would rebuke them for not believing his words. If they said it was from man, the crowd would lynch them, for they knew he was a prophet.

So they answered, “I don’t know.”

And so their ignorance and lack of sincerity stood revealed for all to see. But Jesus had no time for such things. He would not entertain their ignorance. They could not challenge what they did not know. They could not take away what was not theirs to give. And, they would learn, they could not even take His life unless He first gave it.


Father, we live in a time when so many challenge the authority of Jesus. They question Him, they reinterpret Him, they deny Him… Even in our own lives, we struggle to acknowledge His authority and submit to Him. Help us not to question Him out of ignorance or out of a lack of sincerity. Help us to honour and obey Him in all things, for our good and your glory. Amen.


Photo via Lightstock

Would Paul have used video? Here’s a better question…

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If Paul were ministering today, would he use video?

This is an important question, and it’s not one that is as clear cut as you might think. Many who have embraced video venue gatherings point to Paul as their example. Because he was all about becoming all things to all people in the hopes of winning some to the gospel, he would surely use any (non-sinful) means at his disposal to extend the reach of the gospel.

That’s generally how I’ve seen the argument go, anyway. (I realize I’m probably oversimplifying a bit.)

The question of whether or not Paul would use video is an important one, but I wonder if it might also be the wrong one.

Would Paul use video to share the gospel? Probably, sure. But, more importantly, what would he use it for?

See, here’s the thing with Paul—he was, by and large, an itinerant minister. With the exception of his time in Ephesus, he never seemed to stay in one place all that long. His ambition was “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest [he] build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). This wasn’t a vanity thing for him—he simply wanted as many people as possible to hear the good news about Jesus.

He was all about fulfilling the great commission.

But he would frequently communicate with other churches. Some, like the churches in Galatia, Ephesus and Thessalonica, were ones he played an integral role in starting. Others, like the church in Colossae and (likely) Rome, were established by others. But regardless of his connection, Paul wrote to teach, correct, encourage, and strengthen them in the gospel.

But he also wasn’t their pastor. Even in the churches he had helped start, he had commanded that elders be established to equip “the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). These elders were the ones charged with “keeping watch over [their] souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). These were the ones who would regularly proclaim God’s Word and teach the believers.

So what was Paul? Paul was not serving as the primary teaching pastor of any of these churches. He didn’t need to. These churches had faithful men like Titus, Timothy, and so many others. In his letters, he might be better viewed as the guest preacher.

And when you look at Paul’s letters more closely, there’s another interesting thing: this expectation that those letters will be shared with other churches. In Colossians 4:16, for example, he explicitly told them, “when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 5:27, he made them swear they would “have this letter read to all the brothers.”

So even letters meant for specific churches weren’t meant for them exclusively.

So that takes us back to the real question:

If Paul had access to the technology in his time, what would he have used video for?

Here’s my hunch, with all the necessary caveats in place: I suspect Paul’s use of video might look similar to an event like Secret Church.

If you don’t know the concept, Secret Church is an intensive six-plus hour Bible study modelled after the meetings of the underground church in countries where religious freedom is either extremely restricted or entirely nonexistent. The idea is to “take what we’ve learned and pass it along to others … to use what we’ve learned during this gathering to make disciples of Christ—both locally and globally.”

They host a live event and simulcast it to host churches and homes around the world. This isn’t making TV screens serve as pastors, or extending the brand of a single man. The goal is to teach, correct, encourage, and strengthen believers in the gospel, while also encouraging the spread of the gospel.

I might be crazy, but that certainly sounds an awful like Paul’s model, doesn’t it?


photo credit: ACOUSTIC DIMENSIONS via photopin cc