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

The last days of Jesus: the purifying Lord

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On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city. (Mark 11:12-19)


Jesus’ days leading up to the crucifixion were pregnant with meaning. Consider the cursing of the fig tree. Most of us have read this and been confused—why did Jesus react so strongly to the fruitless fig tree? Did He wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Was he suffering from low blood sugar? But Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree is only understood when read in light of what happens next in Mark’s gospel—His cleansing of the Temple.

What Jesus did figuratively with the fig tree, He did literally to the Temple. This was meant to be a place where the fruit of true worship could be seen. It was to be a house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7) to draw people from all the nations to see the glory and goodness of the Lord. Instead, it had been perverted into a house of commerce, one where man’s greed could be seen but God’s glory was hidden.

When Jesus came to the Temple this day, it was not as a pilgrim preparing for the Passover—it was as the sovereign King, passing judgment on the fruitless Temple and its works. Fruitless religious behaviour would end. Like the fig tree, it would wither and die (Mark 11:20). The tables were overturned. The moneychangers were run out. The religious leaders were condemned.

The Lord’s house and the Lord’s people would be purified. But rather than be purified themselves—rather than submitting to their king—the religious leaders determined to destroy the Purifier.


Father, the warning in the fig tree is clear: the outward appearance of spiritual health isn’t enough—we are to be people who bear fruit at all times. Cleanse our hearts, purify us, rid us of our sinful thoughts and motives, Lord. Allow us to show your glory to the world and bring honour to the name of Jesus. Amen.


Photo via Lightstock

My top 5 highlights from #T4G

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Last week, I travelled down to Louisville, Kentucky, for Together for the Gospel 2014, three days of heavy duty teaching, singing, and visiting with friends from around the continent who you only see at events such as these.

This was my second time at T4G, and it was a very different experience for me this time around.

I didn’t live-blog (sorry folks who were looking forward to it!). I didn’t take copious notes. I even missed a few sessions due to some other commitments (I’m catching up on those now!).

But, y’know something? It was probably the best conference experience I’ve ever had. Here are my top five moments:

1. People who are more than profile pics! These conferences are always a double-edged sword for introverts like me. I have to work really, really hard to be social as it’s tempting to curl up in a corner with a book and hide. But over the three days I was in Louisville, I got to see many older friends (Alex Leung, Chris Poblete, Pat Aldridge, Dave Jenkins, Derek Rishmawy, Dan Darling, Matt Capps, and Jonathan Howe among them) while meeting several folks for the first time who I’ve really enjoyed interacting with via Twitter like Matt Sims and (all-too-briefly) Mike Leake.

2. DeYoung brought it. Of the messages I was present for, Kevin DeYoung’s may well have been the standout moment of the entire conference. He offered a powerful exposition of Jesus’ view of the Bible—a defence of inerrancy that wasn’t intended to encourage mental assent, but delighted and devoted confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.

A few standout quotes:

  • “Is your chastened epistemology a sign of humility or that you’re hard of hearing?”
  • “If quoting Deuteronomy to the devil was enough for Jesus, it should be enough for us.”
  • “When we become proud of our doubts, we are guilty of the sin of unbelief.”

John MacArthur, a man not known for positive hyperbole, had this to say: “Not only is this one of the finest talks you’ve heard, it’s one of the finest you will ever hear.” Listen at T4G.org.

3. Listening to 7000+ (mostly) men sing. Loudly. Once again, Bob Kauflin led us all in singing praise to the Lord, and once again, it was the one of the best and most genuine times of singing I’ve been a part of. There was nothing showy, no lasers or smoke machines, just Kauflin and a piano. The attendees sang—and more importantly, they sang like they meant it.

(Worship leaders, there might be a lesson here…)

4. The gospel by Numbers. In what I’d definitely call as the close-second to DeYoung’s inerrancy message, Ligon Duncan showed us the gospel in a passage you wouldn’t have expected: Numbers 5:1-4. These verses, the defilement laws, “show that those who are unclean make everything they touch unclean,” but they also have a massive gap: there’s no way to be made clean in them. In the gap, they serve an essential purpose: to point us to the One who makes all things clean!

“Jesus is the One who makes all things unclean clean… All this he does so you can say when sharing the gospel, there’s nothing he cannot touch, nothing he cannot make clean…. so that we might become the righteousness of God.”

Isn’t that the kind of Jesus we want to tell people about?

5. The freedom to rest. Wednesday night I was completely bagged. I had a lot to do that day and was pretty wiped by the time 7:30 rolled around. So, rather than walking over to the Yum Center and catching Matt Chandler’s message, I did something new for me: I went to my room, wrote for a bit and relaxed for a couple of hours. Feeling the freedom to actually go and rest is new for me, and it’s something I’m really grateful for.

So those are probably my favorite moments of T4G 2014. Now, to get back to the normal routine and figure out where to put this big stack of books that came home with me!

Were you at T4G or did you listen online? What was a highlight moment for you?

The last days of Jesus: the triumphant King

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 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” (John 12:12-19)


There is profound irony in Jesus’ triumphal entry.

In a scene straight out of Zechariah’s prophecy, the people’s King had come, righteous and bringing salvation with Him, to the rejoicing of the people (Zechariah 9:9). They waved palm branches while crying out, “Hosanna”—“Oh save!”

Of course, the people spoke better than they realized.

During the reigns of David and Solomon, Israel was the most powerful nation in the region. Now, they were a marginalized people, weak and powerless under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. Over the years, there had been many self-proclaimed saviours who’d attempted to liberate the nation from Roman rule by force. They’d garnered a following, but all wound up dead.

But Jesus was different. He came performing signs and wonders—even raising the dead to life! He preached with authority, not like the other religious leaders (Matthew 7:28-29). He proclaimed peace with God and the forgiveness of sins, welcoming the marginalized and the outcast into His company. This could only be the Messiah, the promised Son of David who would bring glory back to Israel.

The people were right, and yet so, so wrong. Jesus was their Messiah, this was true. He was their King. But they couldn’t see past their immediate circumstances. They expected a warrior who would bring their oppressors to their knees. Instead, they found a Messiah who was humble in spirit and a servant of all.

This is the great irony of the triumphal entry: the problem was not Jesus. It was their expectations. Their “Jesus” was too small, but they couldn’t see it. Jesus had a greater enemy in His sights than Caesar and his empire. He was coming not to liberate His people from a man-made empire, but from their—and our—captivity to a greater power: sin. All of human history was building to this moment, the moment when Jesus would drink from the cup of God’s wrath (Matthew 26:39) and rescue His people from bondage to sin and death.

And so those same people who cried, “Hosanna!” on Sunday would be calling out for Jesus’ blood on Friday—so He could defeat their greatest foe.


Father, we are grateful you don’t exist to meet our expectations, and that your plans are so much better than what we can imagine. Thank you that Jesus didn’t come to defeat a mere human leader, but our greatest enemy. Turn our hearts away from ideas about you that are too small. Prepare our hearts to celebrate your victory this week, Lord. Amen.


Photo via Lightstock

New Easter devotional: The Last Days of Jesus

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The events of Easter are among the most important in the Christian faith—the death and resurrection of Jesus, which brought about the end of our separation from God and gave those who believe the promise of new life!

To help Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death, I’ve written a new devotional in partnership with Compassion Canada,1 The last days of Jesus: eight readings through the death and resurrection of Jesus.


Download the devotional


There are a couple of ways you can read these devotionals:

  1. Download the PDF and read at home (print it out or view it on your eReader).
  2. Visit here or at compassion.ca from April 13–April 20, 2014, to read the latest entry.

I pray these devotional readings will be a blessing to all who read them as you prepare your hearts to celebrate the good news of Easter. Enjoy!

The tension of talking/not talking about your giving

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I’ve seen a theme pop up again and again over the last several years when it comes to talking about giving, one that typically presents itself in one of two ways:

1. From those trying to motivate Christians into giving more: “Statistics show Christians are not generous! If they just gave X percent more, we could [meet budget/fund a church plant/end poverty/build a castle for the pastor/etc.].”

2. From revisionists who try to deflect inquiries and arguments from orthodox Christians: “If these so-called orthodox evangelicals spent half as much time caring for the poor and needy in the world as they do fighting about abortion and homosexuality, the world would be a better place.”

Notice the common theme:

You’re not doing enough, you’ve got the wrong priorities, and you need to do more. 

Now, of course, with all generalizations, there’s a nugget of truth. Some Christians almost certainly are of an ungenerous disposition. Generally speaking, though, those are nominal believers and/or false converts (see what I did there?).

Generosity is a natural byproduct of the gospel (see Acts 2:42-47; 2 Cor. 9:6-15). If one has truly experienced the grace of God, they can’t help but be generous.

But not everyone who is generous is so because God’s grace in Christ has been at work in their lives. Some are generous simply because they want to be seen as generous. The classic example, of course, comes from Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Read that carefully and pay careful attention to the words of the Pharisee’s prayer: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” This is his spiritual resume. He’s sharing this ostenibly with God, but more likely boasting to all those who are within earshot. It’s the same hypocrisy Jesus condemned in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:2-4:

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The proud—the hypocrites, as Jesus calls them—need to be seen as generous by others. They need to be seen as “world-changers,” activists, poverty warriors, or just the most generous family in the church. And so their checks are accompanied by a big show.

But Jesus, in contrast, emphasizes a sanctified kind of secrecy. The humble don’t need to boast about what they give to their church, to missions, or to relief organizations. Their reward comes from their Father.

Which takes us back to the theme noted above: You’re not doing enough, you’ve got the wrong priorities, and you need to do more. 

So what’s a faithful Christian to do?

I believe the answer really comes down to the principles given us in Proverbs 26:4-5: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

1. Sometimes the best thing to do is say nothing. Honestly, a lot of the time, people—and this especially applies to the revisionists—are just trying to trap you, much like those who were trying to trap Jesus with their word games. And unfortunately, reasoned responses tend to fall on deaf ears, so sometimes the best thing you can do is say nothing and carry on, knowing that Jesus will vindicate His people’s faithfulness in the end.

2. Talk about the ministries you support that you’re passionate about. For example, if you sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion and it’s a really meaningful part of your family’s life, you should be talking about the difference it makes in your life. The point there is not to show how generous you are, but to say, “I didn’t realize the impact doing XYZ would have on my faith and my family.” This, in other words, is offering encouragement to others.

3. Ask qualifying—and clarifying—questions. We have to question bad statistics, and I suspect many of the touted stats on giving are less than indicative of what engaged, orthodox Christians are actually doing. We’ve seen this to be true with the frequently cited stats on divorce among Christians, as well as the rate of young people leaving the church (they’re not). So question the stats being given and encourage the user to fact check.

Talking and not talking about our giving is a tension that’s only going to grow. I can only hope and pray that all of us who consider ourselves orthodox evangelicals will navigate the tension with wisdom.

“When enduring all this persecution…” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (4)

While enduring all this persecution, Christian and Faithful remembered what their faithful friend Evangelist had told them about the suffering that would happen to them. This strengthened their resolve to bear all the abuse and await patiently the outcome of their situation. They also reminded one another for their mutual comfort that whichever one of them suffered death would have the best outcome. Therefore each secretly hoped that he might be the one chosen for that fate. Nevertheless, each committed himself to the wise plans of Him who rules all things, and so they were content to remain in their current condition until it should please God to use them otherwise.

Then at the appointed time they were led to their trial, which was planned with only one purpose in mind—the condemnation of them both. First they were brought before their enemies and formally charged. The judge’s name was Lord Hate-Good. Their indictments were the same in substance, though somewhat varying in form. The contents were as follows: “That they were enemies to, and disturbers of, trade; that they had made commotions and divisions in the town and had won a faction over to their own most dangerous opinions, in contempt of the law of the prince.”1

Personal reflection

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One of the tragic fruits of cultural Christianity, at least as it’s stood in the West for the last 50-odd years, has been our being lulled into a false sense of security. We expect the culture to be “for” us, when it’s only natural that it would be against us. After all, the gospel is an offense to those who do not believe. When it takes root, things inevitably start changing, from business practices to sexual ethics.

So is it any wonder, then, that (as we’ve just seen in New York) churches can be barred from renting public spaces and lease agreements can be cancelled? Is it any surprise that someone holding to a traditional view of marriage would be forced to resign from his position in the name of keeping corporate America “inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all”?

Is it any wonder, then, that we seen so many Christians fail under the weight of the temptation to compromise, to give in and go along with the cultural scene?

Christian and Faithful endured their trial, one met his end. This is not (yet) the world we face in North America. But it could be, eventually. If we can barely whether the storm of cultural distaste, how can we stand against true opposition? Lord, grant us mercy.

Reading with Ryken

The episode of Vanity Fair became so famous in the cultural history of England and America that it has held the status of a proverb and familiar metaphor for the cheap and trivial. On the story level, Bunyan does two things to make the episode come alive in our imagination. First he draws upon his great descriptive ability to paint a verbal picture of a crowded local fair or concentration of street booths for selling trinkets and entertainment. He secondly creates a plot conflict of the utmost intensity as the evil crowd victimizes a pair of helpless travelers. This expands into a false trial with a stacked jury. Everything in the episode makes our blood boil in protest against what is happening.2

Next week (in a couple of weeks, actually)

The next discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters eight and nine.

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, again, is a bit of insight from Ryken to help guide our discussion:

There is no more modern or contemporary chapter in Pilgrim’s Progress than this one. Our day specializes in the cheap and tawdry, and Vanity Fair in effect gives us an outline into which we can fit manifestations from our own culture. What links are suggested to you? Equally, the unwillingness of an unbelieving society to allow Christians to live their religious lives in peace is something that every Christian faces; what have been the examples of persecution and discrimination in your own life and observations? The temptations to a life of wealth and earthly success are also always at hand in the modern world; what forms have they taken for you? On a broader cultural scope, what are the current manifestations of the “prosperity gospel” that By-ends and his friends represent?3

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

God is not a Magic 8-Ball

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As part of my re-reading project this year, I’m going back and reading a number of books I really enjoyed and looking at them again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. The most recent on the list is Kevin DeYoung’s little book, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.

One of the things I love in this book is DeYoung’s ability to lovingly deconstruct our sometimes goofy notions about how to know God’s will. His major beef? That we think we “need” to know God’s specific plans for us at all:

God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience and invites us to take risks for Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know—and need to know—what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than wisdom.

The better way is the biblical way. Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going. (26)

As much as we think we need to know God’s specific plans for our lives, we really don’t. Instead, can—and should—enjoy the freedom given in His explicit command: seek first the kingdom. God will take care of the rest.


photo credit: somegeekintn via photopin cc

What inspires generosity? Only one thing…

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The apostles, following their baptism in the Holy Spirit, went about proclaiming Christ in Jerusalem, and every day more were added to the church. God the Holy Spirit was bringing men, women, and children to faith in Jesus, regardless of social class. Those who saw what was happening were left in awe at miracles that were taking place. But there was something else—genuine community began to form. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” Luke wrote (Acts 2:42-43).

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47; see also Acts 4:32-37).

So strong was the bond between these believers that they had a great desire to meet one another’s needs. Nothing was off-limits. Homes and lives were open. People were giving away what they had, exchanging their earthly treasures for treasure in heaven. It’s amazing to consider, possibly because the whole concept is so foreign to those of us living in the western world.

What’s going on in this picture of the early church? Was it some form of proto-communist experiment? There is no record of anyone suggesting, much less commanding them to do this. Despite what some proponents of poverty theology might suggest, personal property was not seen as wicked or sinful in the early church. Indeed, even during this time, many believers continued to own homes where they would meet (see v. 46)—in fact, Acts 5:4 indicates that the believers were under no obligation to relieve themselves of all their earthly possessions.

So, why this outpouring of generosity? It was motivated by the grace of God. It was a spontaneous response to God’s lavish generosity toward them in not holding back the most precious treasure of all— free and unmerited salvation through the Son. No command or guilt trip can inspire the openhanded lifestyle.

Awaiting a Savior, p. 84-85


photo credit: Zoriah via photopin cc

4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie

Russell Crowe as Noah

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

What I liked: they nailed the problem of sin.

Seriously. They absolutely got it right—the problem of sin wasn’t—and isn’t—external. It’s inside each one of us. There’s a quite brilliant scene where Crowe’s Noah is describing the problem to his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and she counters his argument, trying to remind him of the virtues of each of their sons. But Noah tell her how even those good qualities—and even their love for their children—can be perverted by sin.

Throughout the movie, you see this over and over again: in this film, there is no denying that humanity is twisted and evil to its core. The destruction of creation, the competing narratives of Noah and Tubal-cain (who treats God’s command to have dominion over creation as permission to abuse it rather than faithfully steward), the possible cannibalism… this is a dark world filled with wicked people. You can’t blame God for wanting to destroy it.

What I didn’t: the empty hope of the film’s second chance.

The big idea in the end is that the Creator is giving Noah and his family a second chance, to let humanity be the way it was intended in its relationship to creation. And yet, given the rest of the film, the note of hope falls flat.

As much as the filmmakers get right in their depiction of sin, they still get a key thing wrong: they still show it as something that can be mastered by human will. And so the hope rings hollow. We can try all we want to master the beast, but eventually it’s going to eat our faces.

What I liked: they gave us a human Noah.

Noah is a bit of an enigma in the Scriptures. Because we don’t know a lot about him, so there’s a lot of whitespace to be filled in. Aronofsky, naturally, has to take a lot of liberty in giving him a personality (to say nothing of giving his wife a name…). He is a man with a clear sense of justice. He takes the call to wisely care for creation seriously. He cares for his family until…

What I didn’t: they gave us a very human Noah.

There’s a lot to like about this Noah, but he’s also one who you struggle to relate to. A religious zealot, a man obsessed with obeying his God and utterly lacking in compassion and mercy in the task. And when he finally exhibits those characteristics, he believes he’s failed the Creator.

But this just isn’t the picture we’re shown in the Scriptures. Instead, we’re shown a man who was declared righteous, who was shown grace by God and spared by God to be a type of Christ—a “second” Adam through whom all the people of the earth would come.

What I liked: the Creator—God—is a central figure in the story.

There are no atheists in this film. No one doubts the existence of the Creator. Truly, I am grateful the filmmakers didn’t go the cheesy and blasphemous route with having Liam Neeson’s voice come out of a cloud, or Morgan Freeman show up wearing a white suit. There are no two ways about it: God is a powerful presence in Noah.

What I didn’t like: the Creator is hard to understand.

And while His is a powerful presence, He’s still not a character. Because the Creator in the film speaks in dreams and visions to Noah, as opposed to clearly speaking, what He wants to communicate can be obscured by the recipients interpretation.1

This is what leads Noah into his compassionless quest, one where he believes that his family is not to repopulate the earth, and what leads him to believe he’s failed in his mission when he shows compassion at a key moment. This is not the kind of Creator we need, and thankfully it’s not the kind of Creator we have.

What I liked: Discussing the movie with Emily afterward was actually more fun that watching it.

Honestly, the movie itself is pretty okay. It’s not a life-changing film, but it’s also not a waste of a movie ticket. But talking about it with Emily afterward was terrific. We spent about an hour chatting about what each of us noticed about the movie, and more importantly, thanking God that He did speak clearly to Noah, and that He continues to speak clearly to us today.

Did you see Noah or are you planning to? What are your thoughts on the film?

“All this is true, and much more.” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (3)

Apollyon accused, “You almost fainted when you first set out, when you almost choked in the Swamp of Despond. You also attempted to get rid of your burden in the wrong way, instead of patiently waiting for the Prince to take it off. You sinfully slept and lost your scroll, you were almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions, and when you talk of your journey and of what you have heard and seen, you inwardly desire your own glory in all you do and say.”

“All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention,” Christian agreed. “But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. Besides, these infirmities possessed me while I was in your country, for there I allowed them to come in. But I have groaned under them, have been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my Prince.”1

Personal reflection

If I ever flirted with the idea of the Christian life being one of health, wealth and happy relationships, God effectively ripped such notions out of my head and heart very quickly. My earliest weeks as a believer were filled with strife and conflict.

  • Sins I’d committed (all related to speech) were levelled against me.
  • Conflict with family over lifestyle changes created tension.
  • Trying to untangle the mess of Emily’s and my pre-Christian life together into something pleasing to God nagged at us.

This was a time of intense accusation mixed with serious conviction.

I wonder if this is the case for more of us than we think—and I wonder if it’s part of the reason so many get frustrated in their walk with the Lord? There seems to be an assumption that everything should be coming up Milhouse once we put our faith in Jesus. And as soon as anything remotely bad (or mildly inconvenient) comes up, we start shouting, “Why isn’t this working? Where are you, God?”

We forget that the Christian life is a war. It’s a war that’s already one, to be sure, but a war nonetheless. Our enemy is constantly accusing us, and yet we do not need to despair. We win the battle when say with Christian, “All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention… But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.”

Reading with Ryken

At a purely narrative level, the two episodes are among Bunyan’s most inspired creations. They take their place among the best of epic and romance adventures and are triumphs of the literary genre known as “fantasy.” Doubtless the book of Revelation was an influence on Bunyan’s imagination when he composed this chapter. The journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is equally heightened, replete with such archetypal details as a place “as dark as pitch” and a narrow path with “a very deep ditch” on one side and “a very dangerous” bog or quagmire on the other. Adventures such as the two in this chapter require a childlike willingness to be terrified by monsters and dangers. C. S. Lewis’s comment on Edmund Spenser’s allegorical poem The Faerie Queene applies equally to Pilgrim’s Progress: it requires a dual response, one childlike and the other sophisticated and able to figure out the allegorical meanings of the details.

On the allegorical level, then, we are given pictures of the power of evil in the form of what the Bible calls “principalities and powers.” Compared to these giant threats, the more subtle obstacles to the Christian faith represented by people named Talkative and Timorous seem rather tame. The dangers through which Christian passes in this chapter are more than human.2

Next week

Next week’s discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters six and seven.

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. A few questions and points to consider:

  1. How does Christian’s battle with Apollyon reflect your own experiences as a believer?
  2. What similarities do you see between the physical details of Christian’s adventures to this point and the dangers we face in our spiritual lives?
  3. What means has God given us to overcome these dangers?

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

Three tips for choosing a charity

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How do I choose a charity to give to? 

This seems like it should be a no brainer in some ways. After all, the Scriptures show us that in the heart of every true believer is a deep desire to be generous to others with their time, talents, and treasures. Maybe not all in the same ways or all the same causes, but if we’ve seen the richness of Christ, we will not be people who withhold from those in need.

Which takes us back to the question: How do you choose what charity to give to? In Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, I shared three factors to consider:

Do they share the gospel?

First and foremost, give to organizations that demonstrate Christ’s love, not only in practical ways but also by explicitly sharing the gospel with those they serve. “Deed ministry” and “Word ministry” cannot be divorced. It is not enough to give a child clean drinking water; that child also needs “living water.” (cf. Jer. 2:13, 17:13; John 4:10; Rev. 7:17)

Are they trustworthy?

Equally important is an organization’s ability to prove its trustworthiness. How do they handle money? Can they prove that what they say they do actually happens? This is ultimately a wisdom issue.

Do you align with their values?

Finally, consider whether or not their goals and methods resonate with your values. If what you really care about is giving people clean water (along with the gospel), then do it. If you care about seeing a little boy or girl go to school, do it. If your heart is for training pastors in the developing world, do it. Get involved in whatever cause you find motivating.


photo credit: Zoriah via photopin cc