5 highlights from #TGP15

On Monday, I had the opportunity to be in Nashville, where I and a few other bloggers and dudes who spend more time on Twitter than we should, were live-tweeting LifeWay’s Gospel. Life. Ministry online conference.

This free event featuring short messages from a few dozen pastors and thought leaders from around evangelicalism, including Matt Chandler, David Platt, Tripp Lee, Gloria Furman, Eric Geiger, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Trillia Newbell.

If you missed the livestream, the videos—along with some newly created discussion guides—are available now to stream for the next couple of weeks (note: you will need to register in order to view them). Here are a few highlights from my perspective:

Faithful leaders in the church

Every speaker shared for about 10-15 minutes about a topic they were particularly passionate about, and there are few topics Thabiti Anyabwile is more passionate about than the need for faithful leaders in the local church. Probably the most important statement he made in his talk was this: “A good leader submits himself to God’s Word and receives correction from others.”

A good leader is humble (or is imperfectly pursuing it). He doesn’t run away from correction or buck against it. He receives it. And if a leader isn’t willing to do this, then he is unfit for ministry.

The good news does something

Jeff Vanderstelt’s session was a powerful appeal to embrace an active faith—that Christians should be people whose lives should be a powerful apologetic that confirms their words. And this is important because if our lives don’t look that much different from those who don’t follow Jesus, what does it say about us? We should always remember “The gospel is good news that actually changes things.” It starts with us individually and moves out from there.

Revivals can’t be scheduled

I’ll be honest: the whole idea of scheduling a revival service gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m all for revival—I’m all for the Lord moving in a powerful way in the lives of people—but it’s something we don’t have control over. As Ray Ortlund put it well in his talk, “We don’t cause revival. Revival is a gift from above.” So if you long to see revival, there’s only one thing to: pray that God would bring it about.

Why we don’t like repentance

“Repentance is controversial because it presupposes that there is something wrong with us.” This, for me, was the line of the conference, and it was courtesy of Trevin Wax. Trevin did a wonderful job of cutting to the heart of the issue here. For people who don’t think they’re practically perfect in every way, the call to repent is an offensive idea. It shatters the lie we’ve convinced ourselves of. No wonder the “Jesus loves you just the way you are” message of Joel Osteen and friends draws such a huge crowd—it only serves to feed the lie, rather than supplant it.

Trevin Wax and Ed Stetzer: the meme off

Finally, one highlight that wasn’t about the teaching components, but was most definitely one of those “I can’t turn away from this” things. Trevin Wax and Ed Stetzer (the managing and general editors of The Gospel Project) served as hosts of the webcast, appearing in short bumper videos filled with a hearty helping of snark between each session. Eventually, people started to have some fun with it:

And one more:

Be sure to check out the conference messages while you can. It’ll be well worth your time.

3 favorite teaching moments from #TGC15


From April 13-15, 2015, around six thousand Christian men and women came together in Orlando, Florida, for The Gospel Coalition’s 2015 National Conference, to consider the new heavens and the new earth. Yesterday, I shared three personal reflections on the conference, and today, I wanted to share a few of the standout moments from the plenary sessions:

1. John Piper on Christians as radical truth-tellers. As Piper applied his texts, Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65 (the whole message was terrific), he declared that Jesus is “calling us to be people of radical truthfulness. To not make judgments on appearances, but on truth.… We are to be radically truth-driven Messiah people.”

His key example? Ghostwriting among Christian authors:

“If you write something, put your name on it! If you didn’t don’t put your name on it! If someone wrote it with you, put both names on it. We do not use the ways of the world to write a book or win a soul!”

2. Keller on what a circumcised heart is. “When the Bible talks about the heart it’s the control center of the whole being. Hearts put their trust in something. They face things. … The thing your heart looks to is what you think about when you don’t have anything to think about. What the heart wants, the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find desirable.”

And this is why God commands us to have circumcized hearts. This, external sign of being obedient to the law of God. Circumcision of the heart, he said, “means that the innermost will wants to do those things. Our pleasure and our duty are the same. What you ought to do and what you want to do are the same things.”

But it’s the illustration he gives about why God commands that particularly intimate part of the body be involved in physical circumcision that got me. It’s to remind us of the grossness, the vileness of sin.

3. Ligon Duncan on why the “not yet” matters right now. Most Christians are familiar with the idea of the already/not yet, or the now and not yet of reality. The gospel has present affects, but has future implications. And yet, so many people seem to think that if you pay too much attention to the “not yet” you’re good for nothing right now. As he preached on Romans 8:16-25, Duncan politely called bunk on this idea. “There are a lot of people who say if you care about the ‘not yet’, you won’t care about ‘now’, and you’ll be escapist in your view of the Christian life. But the Bible says that the ‘now’ matters forever, and ‘forever’ matters right now.

You must have your eye on that future hope. If you’re just hoping in the now, you’re not hoping as Paul is telling you to hope. The reformed doctrine of justification in grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone ended slavery in the British empire. We’ve been told our doctrine isn’t “social” enough. We need to modify it to make it more social. No.

It is the doctrine of justification in grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone that caused Wilberforce and his coworkers to expend their last breath to set captives free! You can’t live now unless your hope is in the not yet. The now is so overwhelming, if you really look at it, you can’t survive without the not yet.1

(Sadly there’s no clip of this available, but it was great.)

Were you at TGC15 or watching the livestream? What was a top moment for you?

3 personal reflections on #TGC15


This week, around six thousand Christian men and women came together in Orlando, Florida, for The Gospel Coalition’s 2015 National Conference, the theme of which was the new heavens and the new earth. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing a few reflections on the teaching we all received, but I first want share a few of personal reflections from the event. As you may know, for many of us, these conferences are as much about relationships as about the material (if not more so). Here are three highlights:

Connecting with friends, old and new. When most people think a conference full of introverts, they usually don’t think relationship stuff would be high on the list of priorities. Yet, one of the best things about TGC and other conferences is catching up with friends, and making some new ones. Yesterday, I finally reconnected with Julian (a pastor who lives in Toronto), spent time with Noel (also a pastor in the Toronto area), Andrew and Gary (both of whom minister north of my community). I also enjoyed a great lunch with Kevin Halloran (loved hearing more about the ministry where God has placed him), and talking with Chris and Alyssa (and cuddle up with their baby girl, Geneva Mae).

And then there was Disney. Yes, Wednesday night I, along with my friend Matt and a couple of his colleagues, when to Downtown Disney (couldn’t do the theme park this time) to enjoy dinner and try to pick up something for our kids. But the magic we were to experience on the outskirts of the magic kingdom was black with what was perhaps the most comically bad service any of us had ever experienced in a restaurant. It did, however, lead to many hilarious (for us) comments, some of which I will now share with you, with very little context:

Matt: “First John was full of lies and second John was full of inconsistencies.”

Second John: “I’ve got the perfect surprise to end your night.”
Me: “You’re going to murder us?”

After we received our “surprise”:

Every staff person in the restaurant, ever: “Oh, wow! Doesn’t that look amazing? Isn’t it good? We had 13 people in our group during training and we couldn’t even make a dent out of it.”
Me: “Well, it’s… big.”

The only thing that could make us feel better was getting our picture taken Cinderella:


(Or, at least a statue of her.)

Celebrating their successes. My friend Matt’s 12 week study of Hebrews releases in June. Dan’s got a new book coming out with Baker. And then there’s Derek, a great guy I met two years ago at TGC and had not yet published his first article on the site. Now he’s taking the TGC-friendly blogosphere by storm. This has been wonderful to see, as Derek is a really sharp guy and a gifted communicator. (And if you don’t follow him, you really should.)

Cultivating new opportunities. This week, I also had the chance to talk with friends and acquaintances from the publishing world, which I always love. Out of that, I have a couple of proposals I’m putting together to shop around that, if one or both are accepted, would be a lot of fun to write. I’ll keep you posted on how those go (and your prayers are much appreciated).

There’s a lot that happened over the course of the last three days, and I’m sure I’ll remember something else that was absolutely amazing tomorrow, but these are probably the three biggest moments of the conference from a personal perspective for me.

Were you at TGC this year? What was a particular highlight for you?

Why I’m probably not live-blogging #TGC15


I stumbled into live-blogging almost by accident. It was my first TGC conference, back in 2011. I was attending and took copious notes and decided to post them on my site. That was literally all the foresight that went into it. After that, I did it again at T4G in 2012. And I was invited to live-blog a couple of other conferences. Then I came back to TGC in 2013 and live-blogged the pre-conference and all but one session of the main conference.

Then, at T4G in 2014, I didn’t at all. Instead, I just took in the sessions, and made some notes for myself. I wound up sitting out of a couple sessions out of necessity. And it was great It was an actually relaxing conference experience. (Imagine that…)

So what am I doing this year?

Honestly, I’m probably not live-blogging it. As I’ve said before, live-blogging is fun, but it is a lot of work. But I’m not sure it serves the purpose it once did when livestreams weren’t quite as ubiquitous. And then there’s the whole problem of Internet connectivity…

My plan for this year is to continue with the sort of approach I took to T4G 2014:

I’m going to go to be flexible. I’ll go to what sessions I can, but I’m not going to lose sleep if I miss one. I’ll still probably write a ton of notes, but I’ll really only interact with the points that resonate most with me here. Most importantly, I’ll be spending more time enjoying the rare opportunity to meet with people whom I might not otherwise or only see at events like these.

Live-blogging has some benefits, for sure—particularly the immediacy factor for those who are best served by about reading for 10 minutes rather than listening to something for 45. However, a strategy like this helps me better keep my sanity.

And, if you’re at TGC15, be sure to say hi!

Why aren’t unknown pastors headlining Christian conferences?


Christian conference season is in full swing once again, which means there’s inevitably going to be a flood of blog posts and tweets from various corners of the Interwebs about this or that event. Some folks will be live-blogging. Others will be live-tweeting. And some will be lamenting the fact that there aren’t any “ordinary” pastors headlining anything.

I’ve wondered about this for a while. We’re all equal in Christ, after all. Those who are more obscure in their ministry have as much to say (sometimes even more) than those who are extremely well known. So why do our conferences seem to focus primarily on the latter group? What’s the deal?

Why aren’t unknown pastors speaking at big events? The answer is actually pretty simple: it’s because you wouldn’t go if they did.

Now, before anyone thinks I’m accusing any groups of propping up the so-called “Christian celebrity industrial complex,” or that I’m telling people who complain about such things to knock it off, let me tell you a story:

A few years ago, I went to a three-day conference here in Ontario, which featured several speakers (and only one of whom was fairly well-known among theology nerds like me). The location was quite accessible, located just off the 401 highway (and had free parking, even!). The word spread, sponsors and volunteers signed up… However, maybe two hundred people showed up.

A year later, a big two-day men’s event was announced, again here in Ontario. Three of the four speakers were, without question, Christian celebrities (even if one of those three is anything but in his demeanor). The location was in a city’s downtown core (and therefore had some challenges with parking especially). Again, the word spread, sponsors and volunteers signed up… This time, about eight thousand men showed up.

Which was the more edifying event? Having attended both, the former, by far. But significantly more people went to the latter. Why? Because they wanted to hear the big name speakers.

And that’s a huge reason people go to big conferences—it’s not that the conference organizers are trying to perpetuate Christian celebrity-ism. It’s that people will only go if they make it worth their while. There has to be a draw.

For some people, it’s the topic. For example, TGC’s focus on the new creation in 2015 is really exciting to me. It’s a big part of why I’m going (social and personal ministry reasons aside). But some people are going, really, just because they want to hear John Piper or Tim Keller speak. And that’s cool, too, as long as they’re learning. If they’re going only to get selfies with them, though…

But think about it: A lot of the folks who bemoan certain groups for perpetuating celebrity-ism are just as guilty of it—they just have different celebrities. If you’ve asked John MacArthur to sign your Bible, guess what? You’re doing it because he’s Christian-famous. He is, for lack of a better term, a celebrity.

But just because MacArthur is well known doesn’t make the Shepherd’s Conference evil, any more than Tim Keller being well known makes TGC’s National Conference evil. Or Kevin DeYoung increasingly becoming well known makes T4G evil. Or… well, you get the point.

A few bad eggs1 aside, many of the Christian-famous Christians we know—whether MacArthur, Keller, Piper, or whomever—are not so because they’re trying to make a name for themselves. God has simply chosen to give them a larger platform. This doesn’t mean those of us with smaller platforms don’t have anything worth contributing—it’s just that God has chosen to do something different in our lives compared to these other people. And that’s okay.

Also, don’t ask people to sign your Bible. It’s just weird.

How to pray for TruthXchange 2015


This evening, TruthXchange’s 2015 Think Tank kicks off, and after a long (loooooong) day of travel, I’ve finally made it to the promised land. Or at least, a land without ice and snow (I’m easy to please).

With the fun getting started this evening (if you’re attending, be sure to say hello), I wanted to suggest a few ways you can be praying for us over the next few days:

Wisdom for the speakers. The conference theme, Generational Lies and Timeless Truths, is an important one. There is so much confusion out there among Christians in particular on a host of issues, from sexuality to social justice, and we want our messages to be as helpful as possible to our hearers.

The wellbeing of everyone working behind the scenes. TruthXchange’s staff and volunteers have been working tremendously hard to make this event great. Please be praying for the health and wellbeing of all those people, that they would be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors and they’d have the bandwidth to handle any unexpected surprises (my delay last night was definitely one of those).

The practicality of the messages. We want people to actually be able to do something with what they learn at this event—specifically to be stronger witnesses for the Lord in their every day lives (and I want this as a speaker, too).

The centrality of the gospel. Because of the very nature of the subject matter, it’s easy to skew negative and treat the topics as though everything is going to hell in a handbasket. And while there are many things to be concerned about, we want to focus on the good news, and why the Christian worldview—and more specifically, as a faithful follower of Jesus—is so much better than the alternatives being offered in the culture today. Please pray that each speaker would keep focused on the main thing: Jesus Christ.

Why you—yes, YOU!—need to come to TruthXchange 2015


There are a lot—a LOT—of conferences you could go to every year. In all honesty, probably too many. But with all the options out there, how do you decide where to go?

One of my favorites to attend is the TruthXchange Think Tank, a conference I’ve been a part of as an attendee and now as a speaker for several years. Here are three reasons why I think you should come to this year’s Think Tank (that have nothing to do with beautiful southern California weather):

1. Its celebrity-free culture. I first learned of the ministry in 2010, when I attended a Resurgence conference in San Diego, and met its founder and executive director, Dr. Peter Jones. During the event, I was impressed that Dr. Jones didn’t do the thing you so often see with speakers: rather than being off hanging out with his fellow speakers, he was out in the foyer at the TruthXchange booth, interacting with the attendees.

When I attended my first Think Tank in 20111, I was impressed to learn this wasn’t just Dr. Jones’ personality, it was something he and the team have built into the culture of the ministry and these events. There isn’t that kind of strange celebrity vibe that you get at a lot of other events—the one that seems to create a peculiar division between the attendees and speakers (which, in many cases, I genuinely believe is unintentional). Instead, and perhaps it’s because it is a smaller group, or perhaps because the speakers really are just like the rest of us, everyone interacts with one another quite heavily, and it’s just really cool to see.

And if you don’t believe me, just remember: I am speaking at this year. Point proven.

2. It’s about the message. Related to the the previous point, one of the things I often see people lament about some conferences is the “I’m really looking forward to hearing [insert name here] speak” attitude that comes up. You see it everywhere—people go to T4G because they want to hear Mohler, Dever, or Piper. They go to TGC because they want to hear Keller, Carson, or Piper. People go to the Shepherd’s Conference because they want to hear MacArthur, DeYoung, or Piper.

And it’s not that these guys don’t care about their message (far from it!), nor is it wrong to appreciate them and their teaching. But at an event like this, the attendees aren’t there because they’re hoping to get a selfie with Chris Poblete and me. They’re coming because of the message.

3. The message really does change lives. Built upon the foundation of Romans 1:18-25, the fundamental message of TruthXchange’s ministry is helping Christians see the beauty of Two—to see, understand and celebrate the Creator-creation distinction, and how it makes the world make sense.

Does it get a bit heady sometimes? Sure. But when you begin to wrap your mind around the simple-yet-not concept that there are only two religions—Oneism (all is One) and Twoism (all is Two, or the biblical worldview)—when you begin to recognize how the failure to acknowledge God as God is playing out in our world, it helps you understand how to better engage the lost in our communities. And it also helps us to see the dangers within our own local churches, and encourage our fellow believers as we minister to others.

And that’s the important thing to grasp: this isn’t a message that’s for you—it’s for you to use to equip others. What I learned at TruthXchange was the foundation of what I was able to teach the teens in our homeschool co-op. And the great thing is the kids got it. And this was such a great blessing to me, not because it meant I did a sufficient job teaching, but because it means there’s a good chance they’re going to be able to use it in their own lives going forward.

And if those reasons aren’t good enough, remember: It’s California in February. If your backyard more closely resembles Hoth than anywhere hospitable for human life, that’s a pretty compelling reason right there.

This may or may not be my backyard right now.

This may or may not be my backyard right now.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself registered now!

Generational Lies; Timeless Truths

I never gave God much thought before becoming a Christian, unless it was to make fun of Christians. But what I did know didn’t really make sense when confronted by God’s character as revealed by God.

I was not alone in this. When you talk to people around us—both outside the church and within it—you quickly see that many have some strange ideas about God:

  • We treat Him like a divine butler whose existence is centered around making us happy.
  • We act as though God doesn’t matter or exist at all, until a loved one dies unexpectedly; then we ask how God could have let this happen.
  • We imagine God as being solely about love, and forgiving us is His job.

As we all become increasingly confused about who God is, and what He demands of us, it’s more necessary than ever for us to be able to understand what lies beneath the lies we believe and be ready to respond lovingly and clearly.

Generational Lies; Timeless Truths

That’s why I’m excited to be a part of TruthXchange’s 2015 Think Tank, “Generational Lies; Timeless Truths.” During this event, the speakers and participants will be discussing the lies we’ve passed on for generations, and respond with the unchanging and life-giving truth of Scripture. Speaking at the Think Tank are Peter Jones, Calvin Beisner, Joe Boot, Ted Hamilton, Rebecca Jones, Jeffrey Ventrella, Thaddeus Williams… and me.


(And yes, Canadian friends, the idea of being on the same roster as Joe Boot is just as terrifying as you’d imagine.)

What will I be speaking on?

I’m speaking on a subject close to my heart: social justice. I love that there are so many young people—both Christian and non—who are fired up about helping those in need and making a difference in society. But that zeal needs to be built upon a solid foundation. So, in my session, I’ll be digging into the roots of the “deeds, not creeds” mindset and offering a look at how the gospel informs and transforms our desire to act on behalf of those in need.

When is it happening?

The Think Tank will be held February 3-5, 2015 in Escondido, CA at New Life Presbyterian Church. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll make it out for what is sure to be a challenging and edifying few days. Register now at TruthXchange.com.

My top 5 highlights from #T4G


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?

Why I may (not) be live-blogging #T4G14


Over the last few years of attending conferences, I’ve tended to live-blog them, taking copious notes and sharing them here in real-time or something close to it. This year, although I have no doubt I’ll be taking lots of notes, I’m not sure if I will be live-blogging at T4G. It’s hard work and fun work… but man, it’s a lot of work.

So here are a few reasons why I may or may not do it this time:

1. My notes tend to be more like on-the-fly, loosely paraphrased transcripts. I don’t catch everything, but I do manage to get about 80 percent of what’s said in a pretty faithful form. This is tricky to do, but I know a lot of people find them helpful.

2. I don’t want my note-taking to be distracting to other attendees. Conference venues like the Yum Center tend to not be set up to handle live-blogging well. And because my tendency is to not be a gentle typer, I am concerned about my clickety-clacking distracting the other attendees.

3. Not live-blogging gives a little more flexibility to my schedule. I don’t “have” to be there on time or at all, if something requires my attention elsewhere (I’m thinking a work or family-related emergency).

4. Sometimes it’s fun just to sit and watch. I’ve never really just sat back and watched at one of these. This might be a good thing to try.

5. Sometimes sharing the material online is fun, too. I’ve received a number of emails from folks saying they’ve found my notes helpful in the past, and I do appreciate having the opportunity to help others when possible.

6. There’s a livestream. The livestream is really handy and allows people to listen in as they go about their day.

So what say you all? Live-blog or not live-blog?

God’s Love Compels Us: a free #TGC13 eBook

On April 6-7, 2013, The Gospel Coalition held their 2013 World Missions pre-conference, “God’s Love Compels Us.” With permission from the kind folks at TGC, I’ve put together my notes from the conference into a free eBook (.pdf format), which is now available for download.


Here’s what’s included:

  1. Don Carson: The Biblical Basis for Missions
  2. Andy Davis: Are People Without Christ Really Lost?
  3. David Platt: Why the Great Commission is Great
  4. John Piper: The heart of God in the call to proclaim
  5. Michael Oh: the individual’s suffering & the salvation of the world
  6. Stephen Um: Jesus and Justice
  7. Mack Stiles: The Ministry of Reconciliation

The conference was a tremendous blessing to attend and I trust you’ll be both encouraged and challenged by the messages included in the book. Enjoy!


Gary Millar: Jesus Betrayed and Crucified #TGC


My notes from Gary Millar’s session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)

If you’ve ever flown into Ireland—north or south—you can’t help but notice it’s remarkably green. And the tourist board fails to tell you the obvious reason why: It rains a lot. After 45 years in Ireland, God mercifully uprooted our family to Australia, where the tourist line is “beautiful today, perfect the next.”

We don’t easily take the weather for granted, but we do all too easily with people. And though the consequences of taking people for granted is toxic for our relationships, it’s even more toxic to take our relationship with God for granted. It’s possible that even some of us here are taking the Lord Jesus Christ for granted right now.

Are we more drawn to ideas than to Jesus? To success than Jesus? Is it possible our hearts are here but elsewhere?

We’re all more than capable of taking Jesus for granted. We may love theology, strategizing, theology, exegesis, preaching… but the prior question is: Do we love Jesus Christ?

If not, then we need to read the gospels. Because hte gospels give us a person. The gospels are dripping with theology, but the theology is embodied in the person of Jesus. And we must not miss how Jesus stands out in this long passage (Luke 22:39-23:49).

Jesus stands out as the one who keeps his head while everyone else is looking theirs.

Jesus leads the way to the Mount of Olives. He’s the one who meets Judas. He’s the one who stops the disciples rebellion the moment it begins. He is the one who is making things happen; he is the one in control.

The contrast between Peter and Jesus couldn’t be more stark. Where Jesus is calm, Peter is panicked. Where Jesus speaks calmly, Peter blurts out lies.

There’s even a sense that the one who is on trial is the one who orchestrates the trial.

His silence with Pilate is telling. His silence in verse 23 is not despair; he stays silent to move things forward to his ultimate goal. Jesus hasn’t given up, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He won’t break his silence to defend himself in a sham trial.

He knows what he is doing. He is in perfect control.

When he does speak, it shows his mind is in perfect control, as we see when he speaks to a group of grieving women. Even there, he is concerned for others more than himself. He knows that things will get worse for them according to verse 31. But he is completely collected.

Even when Jesus is hoisted up between two thieves, he is in perfect control. He is mocked for not saving himself, but what does he do? He prays, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

He is the judge of all creation, the one who rules over all things. And he is in perfect control.

He is calm under extreme pressure. He’s under unimaginable stress—sweating drops of blood—but he remains calm. This is where he leaves everyone else behind. He’s not just in control of himself, he’s in control of the events themselves.

It’s not just that he knows how to respond to what he’ll find, he already knows what he’ll find. He is in control of the entire sweep of human history, and so he is in calm.

Yes, he is the lamb led to the slaughter, but we must also see Jesus as he is:

The sovereign God in action.

When we have control, we use it to make live better for ourselves. But not so with Jesus. When we say Jesus is Lord, we say he is in control of all things. And we see this perfectly in his walk to the cross, where he uses his control over all things.

Jesus is also perfectly innocent.

As he is interviewed over and over again, he is called innocent.

Jesus is praying, Judas comes with armed men. Jesus is silent in the kangaroo court, because his evidence is obvious. They rush him to Pilate who says he finds no fault in this man. Herod does the same implicitly. NOw that doesn’t stop them from treating him shamefully and harshly, and sending him back to PIlate.

Pilate should have let him go, but the people demanded Jesus’ death—and Pilate knew he was condemning an innocent man to death. If you needed any more evidence, you need only look at the ending verses of our passage. Certainly, this man is innocent.

This is the most stunning miscarriage in all of history. But Jesus isn’t just the wrong man, he’s the perfect man—and we killed him. He is the Son of God who walked the earth—and we condemned him.

Place him next to anyone else in the world and it serves only to illuminate his perfect innocence. Aren’t you so glad he came?

At last, here’s a man we can look up to. A hero worth having. A man with no secrets, no pride, nothing he’s keeping from us. A man so brimming with perfect innocence that he gives himself up for us.

Really, how could we take this innocent man fro granted?

Jesus stands out as the one who trusts God in the most horrific moment ever to happen to a human being.

Yes, he is the one in control of his emotions, yes he is orchestrating the events in a sense, but he is the one who trusts the Father perfectly. “…nevertheless not my will but yours be done.”

This again is voiced at the end, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Luke wanted us to get the fact that this man who is in complete control, he also trusts God flawlessly.

Have you ever thought about this: our situation is so hopeless—we actually need to trust God for us? Even the best of us can’t pull it off properly. Which is why it’s such a relief that Jesus trusts God perfectly for us.

My problem isn’t that I’m not trustworthy, it’s that I’m incapable of trusting God perfectly myself. And the same is true for you.

Jesus stands out because he’s in control even when everything is falling apart, even when he is innocent, even when others are determined to condemn him, because he trusts God perfectly.

Sometimes I think we take Jesus for granted because we don’t think about how awe-inspiring and trustworthy he actually is. He is not a cardboard cut-out. He is the one in whom power, beauty and majesty come together.

This is our Lord Jesus Christ—the sovereign God in the flesh. HOw can we fail to run ot him? How can we take him for granted?

How can Jesus not stand out here—not just because of who he is, but who he is surrounded with? Luke wants us to know about the people who stand by Jesus, bump into Jesus…

Jesus is surrounded by weak people. 

The disciples are falling apart. While Jesus is wrestling with having to die for us, but the disciples are so emotionally exhausted that they struggle to stay awake.

Peter is terribly weak. His actions display this–in his rush to attack the guard; his denial of Jesus… earlier he’d said he’d go to prison or death with Jesus. He couldn’t live up to his bold claim. When he was confronted by his weakness, he wept bitterly.

Jesus is surrounded by evil people 

Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The evil of the leaders and priests is displayed too—they could have taken him at any time, but they did so at night. The guards, the crowds, the thief on the cross… Jesus is surrounded by evil people who are consumed by self-interest.

Pilate released Barabbas instead of him because of political self-interest. Herod wanted a magic show and when he didn’t get it he joined the soldiers in mocking Jesus.

We are utterly self-centered, too.

Jesus is surrounded by oblivious people. 

They have no idea what’s going on—they have no clue. Simon of Cyrene. The people at the fire with Peter. The crowds and the soldiers who were looking to add a bit of dark humor to their job. They all had no idea of the significance of what was going on in front of them. People who maybe get a bit of it, but not all of it.

The women who recoiled at the injustice of everything going on. But Jesus’ response tells us they don’t quite get it. But he dies for them—and for you and me.

Why does Luke write this? Why doesn’t he write the theology of the events?

This is the theology. Here is one man dying for the ungodly—here is Jesus Christ.

This becomes clear in the case of Barabbas—a man called Son of the Father who was a murderer, who is replaced by the Father’s Son who had done no wrong.

In the Hunger Games series, the heroine, Katniss, takes the place of her sister in an utterly selfless act. But it’s an understandable one. It’s her little sister.

But Jesus’ sacrifice is different. We are the ones for whom Jesus is dying. We are the one for whom Jesus drinks the cup.

It’s clear that people don’t get who Jesus is throughout the gospel.

But then he is recognized by a thief, a terrorist.

A terrorist is the first to recognize Jesus for who he is. He is the first to receive the invitation to join Jesus at his banquet table. He somehow gets that Jesus is the King they’ve been waiting for even with all the clamoring around them. And he asks the only thing that makes sense—”Jesus, remember me in your kingdom.”

Then, as the world is recognizing the death of Jesus, its creator, the sky turns dark, the ground shakes. And a gentile soldier recognizes who Jesus is—the innocent one who died for weak, evil, guilty people.

Jesus dies for us, even though he is the perfect Son of the Father, and we are utterly unworthy.

Luke invites us to stand with these people. To see and savor this Jesus. To acknowledge this Jesus as the one who takes our guilt. The Lord of the universe who forgives us by bringing about his own death.

This is the heart of the gospel. How can we take this Jesus for granted?

Stephen Um: Jesus and Money #TGC13


My notes from Stephen Um’s session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)

Jesus talked a lot of money. He talked about greed about ten times more than he did sexual sin. This is not to minimize sexual sin, but it helps us recognize the insidiousness of greed—the danger of the love of money.

When someone is committing adultery, no one needs to come alongside them and say, “Hey, you’re committing adultery.” But when it comes to greed, we’re not always sure. That’s why Jesus says, “take care, be aware, be on guard.”

There are no accountability groups for greed in the church. There’s no computer software. But we need to recognize the seductive power money can have in our hearts.

Before we start, we need to recognize three things: we need to disaffect our view of money because we often look at money and think it’s a dirty word. Obviously because we live in a fallen world, we’ve seen money used and abused—but God gives money to us as a gift. Secondly, we need to view money as a tool. It’s not any more inherently evil than any other thing God has created. Thirdly, we need to have an intentional theological understanding of money.

There are three truths I’d like us to understand from this passage:

The problem of money

What’s going on in our passage is Jesus is telling a story to his disciples, that there was a very rich man who told a manager to turn in his records, and then we was going to fire him. The loss of the position as manager in Roman culture meant the forfeiting of your social status.

1. The first danger of money is clearly seen here in that it can become your security. 

The manager had to make a fundamental choice about his allegiance. Money is morally neutral, but the heart isn’t neutral. He could have repented of his dishonest actions, he could have been like the younger son in Luke 15‘s parable, but we see he wasn’t repentant. The unjust steward instead looked to himself, asking “What shall I do?”

He turned to himself for the solution, instead of away. The danger of money is it can become our security.

This person is extremely anxious, he’s insecure. He’s afraid—he says, “What am I supposed to do?” His identity was wrapped up in his work. So what does he do? He comes up with a plan.

The problem is he went back to the problem for the solution. He didn’t look outside the problem for the solution. Why is this man in this situation? Because he wasted his master’s possessions. THe word “wasted” here is the same word used in Luke 15 for the younger son who “squandered” his property. It refers to reckless living—the manager misappropriated funds for his own purposes.

It’s a character issue, not a competence one. [Read more…]

Kevin DeYoung: Jesus and the Lost #TGC13


My notes from Kevin DeYoung’s session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)

When I was first asked to speak on Luke 15, my first thought was, “Awesome, I know what’s in Luke 15.” My second thought was, “Ugh, everyone knows what’s in Luke 15!”

I want to tell you one thing you need to know to understand these three parables, two things about God and three things we need to do with it:

The context

There’s a deliberate pattern where some event or some question will prompt Jesus to give a teaching or tell a parable. Looking back in Luke 10, a Lawyer comes to Jesus and asks “what must I do to have eternal life?” And Jesus tells him, but the lawyer seeking to justify himself asks, “who is my neighbor?” And this prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the good Samaritan. Or the scribes and Pharisees who are clamoring for the seats of honor and it prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the wedding banquet… Luke is very helpful to us in that he gives an introductory statement to so many of Jesus’ parables, and he does so here in Luke 15. The sinners and tax collectors were drawing near to Jesus, and the scribes and Pharisees grumbled.

They didn’t like the company he was keeping.

Sinners and tax collectors.

“Sinner” is a pretty broad term—it could mean non-Pharisees, non-Jews, those who aren’t walking with God… in short, they’re people who sin. They’re not obeying the commands of God.

Tax collectors is a narrower term and it’s not a compliment. These were people who bid to Rome to collect taxes in Judea. The problem with the tax collectors is not that they collected taxes, but that they were cheating and swindling the people. They were almost always thieves and swindlers—they could do just about as they pleased.

The closest analogy might be the old city bosses or the mafia who had bought all the authorities and were virtually untouchable by the law.

In the Mishna, a Jewish document written about a century after Jesus, it mentions thieves, sinners and tax collectors in the same breath. The liberal and conservative wings of Judaism both agreed it was acceptable to lie to tax collectors.

But here’s Jesus—not just ministering to them, but receiving with them. Eating with them.

It would be like setting up to hand out literature at an abortion clinic and seeing your pastor walk about of the clinic saying, “See you at seven, okay?”

We all have our categories. we have “sinners,” and we have our “tax collectors.” You love the poor, but do you love the rich? [Read more…]