One more reason why Sunday evening services are disappearing

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Recently, Thom Rainer shared a few reasons for the possible demise of the Sunday evening service. Yesterday, Tim Challies chimed in from his perspective, suggesting that it could be linked to a diminished view of preaching, our amusement culture and the growth of amateur and professional sports, among others. But there’s one other reason I’d like to suggest:

A diminished view of discipleship and leadership development.

This has been a growing problem not only in the church but in the culture at large, despite it being one of the most oft-cited practices of good leaders (and all who’ve read a book on leadership said, “Amen”). Younger potential leaders need guidance from seasoned leaders—to learn from their experience (both positive and negative). And seasoned leaders do their most important work when they’re investing in those coming up behind them and ensuring that there are strong leaders to take the reins after they’ve retired or moved on to another opportunity.

Yet, despite the common knowledge that developing leaders is a good thing, this is missing in the cultures of many organizations—including churches.

This should never be. After all, we see a pretty strong emphasis on this kind of development in the New Testament. Although, you’re not going to find a verse saying, “older leaders, thou shalt raise up younger ones,” what you will find is Paul exhorting older men and women to invest in younger ones (Titus 2:1-6), Paul shepherding younger men like Timothy, whom he calls his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2), appointing elders (Acts 14:23) and tasking his protégés to do likewise (Titus 1:5).

Going a little more broadly, this kind of investing in others is part and parcel with the great commission itself—we are to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. This necessarily requires the older (or more mature) to train and teach the younger.

Factoring all that in, rather than think of it as leadership development, maybe it’s more helpful to see it as discipleship.

Back to Sunday evening services for a moment: what both Rainer and Challies mentioned is that many pastors simply don’t have time to prepare two different sermons for each Sunday. This is very true. The responsibilities pastors carry are great, and one of the most important is their proclaiming and teaching of the Bible. But no one says senior pastors have to be the ones preaching on Sunday evening.

Sunday night services are a prime opportunity for the training of younger preachers—men who have shown some aptitude, but need experience to both identify their strengths and confirm whether or not a calling to pastoral ministry exists. It’s also a positive way to disciple the congregation as a whole. By having someone else preach, even someone who isn’t super-experienced (and may preach a lemon or ten), the congregation is protected from developing a cult of personality (you don’t need to have a big church for this to happen). They’re learning to be discerning, as well as being reminded that they’re trust is to be in the Word, not in the words of a messenger.

These are just some of the practical values a Sunday evening service brings. While I don’t attend a church that has one (we meet in a public high school and it’s not included in our lease agreement), I have been invited to preach at other churches for their evening services. And every time, it’s been a really positive learning experience and (thankfully) the congregation leaves encouraged. The more I do it, the more I am grateful for the churches that continue to hold these services.

Now, obviously, the solution to the leadership development and discipleship issue isn’t just “bring back Sunday night services;” that would be far too simplistic a thing to suggest. But what it should make all of us consider is how are we intentionally investing in and discipling younger potential leaders—and, honestly, whether or not we’re doing it at all.

What is an evangelical?

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The term “evangelical” is colored with different shadings in various parts of the world. In North America until very recently, it was used to refer to Christians who are loyal to both a formal principle and a material principle. The formal principle is the truth, authority, and finality of the Bible. The material principle is the gospel as understood in historic evangelical Protestantism. While not wanting to minimize the theological and ecclesiastical differences in that heritage, we might summarize that heritage in terms such as these: We insist that salvation is gained exclusively through personal faith in the finished cross-work of Jesus Christ, who is both God and man. His atoning death, planned and brought about by his heavenly Father, expiates our sin, vanquishes Satan, propitiates the Father, and inaugurates the promised kingdom. In the ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, God himself is supremely revealed, such that rejection of Jesus, or denials of what the Scriptures tell us about Jesus, constitute nothing less than rejection of God himself. In consequence of his triumphant cross-work, Christ has bequeathed the Holy Spirit, himself God, as the downpayment of the final inheritance that will come to Christ’s people when he himself returns. The saving and transforming power of the Spirit displayed in the lives of Christ’s people is the product of divine grace, grace alone—grace that is apprehended by faith alone. The knowledge of God that we enjoy becomes for us an impetus to missionary outreach characterized by urgency and compassion.


D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, 445 | Photo: Lightstock

Christian, you can’t win the Internets!

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Blogging—oh, let’s be honest, the Internet—has a tendency to encourage a certain, shall we say, zeal for one’s viewpoint. Simply, many of us just want you to know you’re wrong and make sure you know it (and we won’t let Wheaton’s Law stand in our way).

Emily reminded me of this last night when discussing an article she was reading. Ever since we started thinking about homeschooling, Emily’s been reading the blogs of homeschoolers to get a sense of what to expect. What’s she’s found has been… “interesting.”

Yesterday afternoon she was reading a 2009 article by Reb Bradley on her mistakes as a homeschooling mom, where she confessed that her approach was far too “me-centered” and consumed with outward appearances than the actual well-being of her children. (It’s long, but really good.)

Then she found a response article that, in a nutshell, said, “Nope, you’re wrong; you were right the first time, and you’re wrong to feel the way you do. Here are some Bible verses.”

You can see why this might be unhelpful, right?

Although the Internet encourages a certain kind of zeal for one’s own views, we should always strive for something better. The Internet is not something you can win, therefore we shouldn’t try.

Instead, we should try to do these things:

1. Take a deep breath. Don’t get your fauxtrage on, friends. Or at least, don’t post/tweet/update/pin/plus/twerp when you’ve got it on. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Have a cookie. Get away from your device for a while to see if your rage is legit or you’re just a rampaging rageoholic. Who knows? You might just be gassy.

2. Try to actually understand the point. This might be a tall order, but I’m confident it can be done. A great way to do this is to ask good questions, which also means avoid leading or entrapment style ones whenever possible.

3. Keep our mouths shut. Sometimes the best thing we can do when we disagree with something on the Internet is to just say nothing. This is especially important when we’re dealing with other people who really, really want to goad you into a fight with click-baity blog posts and tweets. Remember, those people are trying to win the Internets, too. And if you take the click-bait, they win.


photo credit: Jan Tik via photopin cc

“What will they do before the sentence of God?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (5)

Then Christian said to Hopeful, “If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do before the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?”1

Personal reflection

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I remember a conversation with my first pastor about money. At the time, Emily and I had a lot of debt and we were trying to figure out how to pay it off (a little faster than paying a bit at a time). We were brand new Christians, and said, “If we took the money we give and applied it to the debt instead, we could have it cleared in about a year. Would that be okay?”

“No, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he replied. “The problem is you won’t do it.”

“Why?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

I’ll never forget his answer: “You said ‘if.’”

The “if” statements we make when it comes to money reveal a lot about us. If I make more money, then I’ll start giving. If I get the bonus, I’ll make this donation. If this happens, then…

If, if, if.

The problem with the ifs is we use them as an escape from doing what the Lord has already called us to. We know we’re to be generous, but really, we like our stuff better. And it’s a sore spot for us. So when we hear a sermon that talks about money, or when we read a book that describes the radical self-sacrificial nature of the Christian faith, we get our backs up, pull the legalist card and bail.

But the words that confront us—these are the words of men. And we cannot stand before them. How then will we stand “before the sentence of God”? Without a broken and contrite heart, we cannot.

Reading with Ryken

The interaction between the travelers and the worshipers of wealth is a temptation scene par excellence. Here the danger is not external hostility but the allurement of worldly success. The allegorical antagonists are not bullies but qualities (such as Money-love and Save-all) that make life easy in the name of religion. Accordingly, what the conflict requires from Christian is the ability to provide convincing intellectual reasons against the claims that religious people can pursue wealth and success as their highest goals.2

Next time

The next discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters 10 and 11 (I should note: chapter breaks are based on the 2009 Crossway edition).

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Here are a few questions to help guide our discussion:

  • How does the temptation to live an easy life in the name of religion?
  • Consider 1 John 2:15-17. How do you see John’s warnings exhibited in the worshippers of wealth? Why is this form of worldliness so dangerous?
  • How can you protect yourself from it?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

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.


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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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