The best or worst of times?

weeds-wheat

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That’s how Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities opens. That sentence seems to describe our world today pretty well.

We live in unprecedented times for the worldwide church. People in the global south and previously difficult countries like China are coming to Christ quicker than we can report. We have the Bible in more languages today than ever before. Technology makes the spread of Bibles and Christian literature easier and more cost effective than ever. Christ is completing His promise to build His church and is using hoards of workers, resources, and training programs to make it happen. Reaching every people group on nation with the gospel seems closely in reach.

On the flip side, the secularization of western civilization is accelerating rapidly with growing persecution likely just around the corner. Europe, the birthplace of the Reformation and locus of Christendom for so many centuries, has all but totally rejected their Christian heritage. Terror groups like ISIS and Boko Haram move like juggernauts in the Middle East and spread their evil ideologies like gangrene to the rest of the world through social media—maybe even to your own neighborhood. At times, the church doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot better with abuses of power, wars over worship styles, or pastors falling into sin.

Is our world getting better or worse?

Matthew 13:24-30 has the answer for us in Jesus’s Parable of the Weeds:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

This parable teaches that God sowing good seed in the world that will grow into a harvest. It also teaches that the enemy works sowing weeds in the midst of the wheat God has planted. Since the weeds can’t be pulled out from amongst the wheat, they must grow together until the harvest.

This answers my earlier question: our world is both getting better AND worse simultaneously.

This parable is a call to balanced and sober thinking about the world we live in. That means we should rejoice as we see the banner of the gospel advance forward against the darkness in this world. It also means that we can’t think that the good things happening today are ushering in Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

When weeds pop up in our community, workplace, or church, we can’t give into despair. Jesus said this would happen. We need to suit up the armor of God and stand firm in this spiritual war and do what we can to advance the cause of Christ even in the darkest situations.

That’s what one man captured and executed by ISIS recently did.1

In his last moments, he gave his executioner his Bible. The killer who once enjoyed killing Christians, took the Bible and began to read. Soon he dreamt of a man in white who told him, “You are killing my people.” This man in the dream soon revealed Himself as Jesus, asking the ISIS member to follow Him. And that’s exactly what this former-ISIS member now is doing by God’s grace.

God can transform the weeds into wheat.

That’s what He showed us clearly on the cross—the event that simultaneously demonstrates the judgment incurred for wickedness, yet so clearly reveals to us the glorious mercy of God for sinners like us. Even though it may seem like the worst of times, in Christ we know the best of times await us.

Let us be realistic about our situation, people of prayer, and ready for action. Even when it seems all is lost, a simple act of faith like handing your executioner a Bible could be the spark God uses to transform weeds into wheat.


Kevin Halloran is a servant of God, husband, and blogger at Word + Life. Serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors worldwide to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. You can follow Kevin on Twitter.

Photo credit:The Writings of Charles Dickens v20 p220 (engraving)” by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz), published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company – Own work, see User:Mdd4696/Dickens. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Designed with Canva.

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Longevity and Millennials in the Workplace

Eric Geiger:

I learned a lot from my father about work ethic and offering your best, but I have not spent the last two decades in the same role or place. Few from my generation [Generation X] would quantify longevity as “the same role for your entire life,” and few from my generation will stay in the same role/place. In other words, longevity means different things to a Boomer and an Xer. And different things still to a Millennial.

You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much

This was really good:

Some people think that Americans just prefer work to leisure; a strong work ethic, according to this theory, has become a badge of honor for anyone with a college degree. If you’re busy, you seem important. There is also the pride that people can have in their work; they also find love and free food at workplaces, and go to conferences as a form of vacation. Others think the rise in work must somehow be related to inequality: as people at the top of the income ladder earn more money, each hour they work becomes more valuable. And there’s the theory that our needs and desires grow as we consume more, producing an even greater need to work.

Too Big Not To Fail

Jared Wilson:

If we look at Babel as the prototype for the pursuit of fame and power, we see a few interesting things by way of diagnosis. First, the pursuit of renown is really a pursuit of significance. Why do I want you to notice me, to tell me how great I am? Not because I fundamentally trust or value your opinion, but because I fundamentally distrust any notion that I’m anything in anywise special. The proof in that is that one ounce of praise from a few isn’t enough; I want more from many. Secondly, the pursuit of renown is the result of fear. “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” We seek security in attention.

Like the Babelists, we build our towers, not knowing the great dangerous irony — that the stronger we get, the more vulnerable we become. The fall is prefaced by pride. The split second before the great collapse is the proudest we’ve ever been.

Is the Apocrypha Scripture?

Mike Leake:

The books in question were all written by Jews in what is known as the “inter-testamental” period (430 BC-AD 40). Some of these books can be helpful for understanding the history during this time. Other books are entertaining stories. Some sound like typical biblical Wisdom texts like the Psalms or Proverbs.

So why don’t we accept them as Scripture? There are 5 main reasons, but first I think its important to understand a fundamental difference in the way Roman Catholics view the formation of the canon and the way we Protestants view the formation of the canon.

Six Lessons Learned in the Waiting

Chris Hefner:

Nearly five years ago, I walked into Dr. Greg Mathis’ office and shared with him that I believed God was leading me to become a Senior Pastor. That seems like a long time ago. In some ways, those years seemed an eternity. In another sense, they passed rapidly. When I first shared with Pastor Greg, part of me thought I would enter into a Senior Pastor position quickly. Well, that didn’t happen. Let me offer some of the lessons I’ve learned in the waiting process.

Good writing, prioritizing and gospel communication

words-servants

Some of the best advice I ever read about writing came from Seth Godin.

Now, I know Godin’s a pretty divisive figure for some—he’s either beloved as a marketing genius, or he’s derided for speaking almost exclusively in buzzwords and sound effects. But when I was a brand-new writer, there was one thing he wrote on his blog that made writing make sense to me. He wrote,

Most people work hard to find artful ways to say very little. Instead of polishing that turd, why not work harder to think of something remarkable or important to say in the first place?

In the years since reading this, the advice has stuck with me. And the more writing I’m exposed to—whether from paid professionals, authors, bloggers, or folks writing emails in the office—the more I realize just how hard a time we have communicating well.

I’ve read entire books where the author’s said virtually nothing. I’ve read three page letters that could have been a paragraph. (I’ve probably even written a few of them.) We would all do well to remember that brevity is essential to good communication. Although I’m a fan of playful writing and treating writing as art (points I discuss in greater detail in the Write More Better eBook), it’s easy to forget that communicating simply is an art, too.

In their book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath, put it this way:

Simplicity isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about prioritizing.… What’s the core of your message? Can you communicate it with an analogy or high-concept pitch?

A commitment to simple communication doesn’t reject beautiful writing. It reminds us that our words are servants of the message. And this is where I see much to be encouraged by in the Scriptures.

In the Bible—and especially in the gospel message—there is a marriage of simplicity and beauty in thought and form. The message of the cross is profoundly simple in many ways: the entire gospel message can be summarized as simply as “Jesus died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures… he was buried… he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). It’s a simple statement, but it’s foolish to treat it as simplistic. It tells us the major beats, yes; but invites us to delve deeper. It hooks us. It makes us want to discover more (or at least it should).

That’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about—that’s what simple and simply good communication does.There are other examples, of course: many of Jesus’ parables, John’s epistles and even much of Paul’s writing can be easily understood, and invite us to plumb their depths. And that’s the point: in the same way the Bible embraces this “profoundly simple yet simply profound” form of communication, so should we as Christians. We need to recognize that the gospel isn’t a complicated message (even if its implications leave our heads spinning). We need to be thankful for that fact. And when we write, we should always make it our aim to let our words serve the message, rather than our message become muddled by our words.


This post is adapted from an article originally posted in June 2010.

Photo credit: Aftermath of the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Why delight in the Word?

Delight

Why delight in the Word?

When a person delights in it, when he or she meditates on the Bible consistently, and the Holy Spirit is working in him, there will be fruit. It will always be there, even if only incrementally at first. But why does that fruit exist? Consider Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

The metaphor the psalmist uses in Psalm 1:3 is that of a tree in fertile ground, a healthy one that bears fruit in its season. Does a tree need fruit? Does it do the tree good? I mean, it doesn’t nourish the tree. The soil does that. It doesn’t give it life. The water does that. But its fruit does spread life—the fruit begets and nourishes new life.

In the same way, it’s not the fruit of our faith that gives us life—the living water that Christ gives us and that we come to know in His Word—that water gives us life. Our fruit benefits those around us—serving as encouragement to them, and perhaps being a catalyst for them finding new life in Christ.

So just think of one biblical example of two people who bore tremendous fruit for a moment: Timothy and Epaphroditus. In Philippians 2:19-27, Paul wrote that, “there is no one like him [Timothy] who will be genuinely concerned for your [the believers at Philippi] well being.”

There was no one like Timothy, among all those with whom Paul served. Think about that. Timothy was incredibly self-sacrificing. He would, without question, put aside his own interests for the sake of others. He wanted to see the gospel’s work completed in their lives. His love and concern—his Spirit-wrought love of others—was the fruit of his faith. Similarly Epaphroditus, Paul’s “brother” in the faith, his “fellow worker and fellow soldier and your messenger and minister to my needs,” was greatly distressed because Philippians had heard he was ill. He wanted their hearts to be glad. His desire was for their joy.

That is good fruit. That is the kind of fruit that nourishes and begets life. That’s the kind of fruit that comes from a life devoted to the Lord, to knowing his Word, to meditating on it day and night. The Spirit will always work through his word to bring about this kind of fruit.

Friends, if we are lacking in fruit, our response should not be to try harder or make promises to do more better. Instead, let’s turn to the word of God. For as we devote ourselves to the word, the Spirit will bring about much fruit.


Photo credit: Shepherdia argentea via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

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Why Gay Marriage Can’t Be Christian Marriage

Ben Witherington:

At the end of the day either we realize that gender matters, and gender difference is essential to a real Christian marriage, or we totally change the definition of what counts as marriage, what counts as husband and wife, what counts as mother and father Biblically speaking. It is in no way surprising that in the most individualistic and narcissistic culture on the planet, that Americans would like to be able to even choose their gender, their own biology. But in fact you can’t do that, and since gender matters Biblically speaking when it comes to Christian marriage, you also do not have Biblical permission to redefine marriage, husband, wife, mother or father.

I Don’t Know, And That’s OK

Nick Horton:

Why are so many of us uncomfortable saying the words, “I don’t know?” It’s incredibly freeing, I recommend you try it  some time. We give voice to the truth that we are not God when we do so. The expectation of full and total knowledge is nothing more than unmasked pride, quivering in its rush to be like God. Yet we will never know everything, now or in Heaven. Omniscience is a divine attribute and as such does not convey to us.

The Distracted Worshipper

Check out the first part of a new series at the Leadership Resources blog.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding

Matthew Everhard:

There is no book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding, but if such a volume is ever to be written, I have a feeling that I may inadvertently be its protagonist.

Incidentally, The Bible Design Blog may well be my new favorite blog.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say to Your Wife then…

Erik Raymond:

We have all heard the expression, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” This may be good advice for elementary school children but it is not preferred for husbands.

Am I saying, “Feel free to insult your wife.” Hardly. Instead I am saying that we need to try harder, look deeper, pay more attention.

Snakes on a plain

snake

For my daily Bible reading, I’ve been following the M’Cheyne plan and working through D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (you can do so as well at this blog). In April, it brought me to Numbers. Numbers is not usually high on anyone’s list of anticipated devotional reading. I can generally sympathize with this, but I think Numbers gets a bad rap for at least a couple of reasons.

First, most people encounter it after committing to read the Bible in a year, and they’ve gotten to Numbers after all the rules and regulations in Leviticus. The excitement of the Exodus is long gone, and the story seems stalled. If this is the only Bible reading you’re doing every morning, it can seem tedious and boring.

Second, the book starts off with the type of Scripture we seem to cherish the least: lists of names. Most people don’t relish reading genealogies and organizational flow charts, but the early chapters of Numbers seem to be very much that. Censuses and camp layouts are not exactly something I feel like I can apply to my life today.

But, as you continue reading, Numbers has actually has some pretty interesting and important stories. While everyone’s familiar with John 3:16 , not everyone may realize the story involving Moses in John 3:14-15 comes from Numbers. In chapter 21, because of their continual grumbling, the Israelites are dealing with very deadly snakes on the plain. In order to be saved they must look to a bronze serpent that Moses has been instructed to lift up on a stick. Those who look to the serpent will be healed from their bites. The name for this serpent on a stick is the Nehushtan, and it may be an underlying source or inspiration for the Rod of Asclepius, which you might recognize from being on the emergency services star of life (among other places). If that’s the case, the symbol of healing in our medical services is also the symbol John said represents true healing found in Christ.

Further, consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13, ESV)

While most people might be familiar with the last verse, the stories that Paul alludes to mostly take place in Numbers. He says in verse 6 that these stories took place as examples for us. The “us” in the original was Paul and the Corinthians, but it also applies to “us” today. Especially considering how often we draw correlations between the Corinthian climate and our American culture, it seems like what Paul thought was applicable for them is easily applicable for us. As Gordon Wenham comments,

For the writers of the New Testament the book of Numbers stands as a great warning. Despite the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, and the daily evidences of God’s provision for their needs, Israel refused to believe and rebelled against their Saviour. Numbers records a trail of spectacular judgments that ought to provoke caution in every believer.

In this passage Paul describes the experiences of Israel in the wilderness in such a way as to make clear the parallels with the situation at Corinth. Most of the sins of Corinth are thus prefigured in Numbers, and if Israel was punished so severely, what can the church of the new covenant expect?(Numbers, 56-57)

In their Introduction to The Old Testament, Longman and Dillard suggest “Each generation of Christians should place themselves in the position of the new generation of the book of Numbers. God has acted redemptively in our midst, and by so doing, he has given our lives meaning and hope. Just like the Numbers generation, we are called upon to respond to God’s grace with obedience” (100). Reading Numbers in that light, genealogies included, can surely prove profitable to the Christian life. At the end of the day, the struggle may simply be that reading Numbers well requires thought beyond the time it takes to read the chapters in order to see Christ more clearly and understand how this part of Scripture can be profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and ultimately training in righteousness.


Nate Claiborne an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. He writes regularly at NathanielClaiborne.comFollow him at @nateclaiborneThis post originally appeared on Nate’s blog in April 2015. It has been lightly edited for timeliness.

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B&H has a pile of books related to homeschooling on sale:

Also on sale:

9Marks sale at WTSBooks

Westminster Bookstore’s got a terrific sale on the entire 9Marks collection of books. You can get the complete 17 volume set for $125, or individual titles for 40 percent off their regular price. Go check it out!

What is Supernatural is Not Necessarily Mystical

Michael Kelley:

Christians deal in the realm of the supernatural all the time, even if we don’t recognize it. We believe the natural, the default, posture of the human heart is sinful. When we commit acts of sin, it’s a very natural thing for us to do because that’s our bent. It’s an expression of who we are. But when we believe the gospel, something supernatural happens. Our default changes. We begin to act in accordance with our new nature. We do things and think things and believe things and say things that are out of place in the natural order of the world.

I Thought Planned Parenthood Protected Family Values

Rosaria Butterfield:

And today, as I reflect on the outrage of Planned Parenthood, I think of my life.

I could have been Dr. Deborah Nucatola. I was groomed to be her. I could have been videotaped pausing between bites of arugula salad and salmon to pontificate on the price of a dead baby’s intact heart and lungs.

The Book of Numbers

This is cool:

The Distortions of Progressive Christians: How Religious Liberty is in Danger

Matthew Lee Anderson:

Many conservative Christians have taken to describing the current environment as one in which they are being persecuted for their faith. Some Progressive Christians, like Rachel Held Evans, have argued strenuously against such claims, pointing out that conservative evangelicals still wield an enormous amount of influence. Donald Miller said something similar last year, albeit in a much more slapdash way. And while I think Miller and Evans distort our current moment in serious ways, they have a point that conservative Christians need to hear.

Top 10 Résumé Mistakes from My Recent Children’s Minister Search

Eric McKiddie:

When I was serving for a premier catering company in Chicago during my undergrad days, there was a phrase we used to throw around regarding the presentation of the plate: they take the first bite with their eyes. I’ve found this axiom to be true in so many contexts of life, not least of which the résumé.

The following ten mistakes were on résumés actually submitted, oftentimes on more than one. I’m sure no one who reads this blog would commit a faux pas such as is listed below when applying for a church position, so I post these for entertainment purposes only.

Links I like (weekend edition)

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No Kindle deals for you today, but I do have a couple of notable books (and Bibles) worth considering:

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice a new book edited by Owen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell will be released at the end of the month. It features chapters by Denny Burk, Brandon Smith, Joe Rigney, Trillia Newbell, Gloria Furman and a whole bunch of others. The paperback edition doesn’t release until the end of the month, but you can get the Kindle edition right now.

Also worth checking out is Westminster Bookstore’s sale on the Psalms in the ESV translation.

Will Millennials Be the Generation to Ban Abortion?

Chris Martin:

The turning-a-blind-eye approach to abortion that has persisted for decades, and there is real reason to think that will only continue among Millennials. The idea that individuals are not allowed to impose their religious, ethical, or otherwise convictional opinions upon others has never been stronger. Science may advance, minds may change, but Millennials continue to compel each other to keep their convictions to themselves.

 

Is Your Faith the Right Kind of Simple?

Mike Leake:

Sometimes I wonder if Skynrd’s mama hasn’t counseled many within the church. After all how many times have you heard something like this: “I don’t need none of that fancy book learnin’, just give me a simple faith.” What we mean by that is that we want a faith that we can understand—that we can wrap our minds around. We want just a plan and simple type of faith.

A Both-And Woman and Her Bible

Allison Burr:

I have sat alongside many puzzled Christians in Bible studies over the years, and I used to be the first among them. These struggles often center around the hard providences of God — how God wields his power and authority — either in the Scriptures or in the difficult corners of our lives. We begin by asking, “Well, if [insert painful, confusing, awful, inconvenient reality] is true, then how could God . . . ” The ellipses are replaced with “be good” or “allow this to happen” or “also declare this other seemingly contradictory reality to be true.”

This setting is where a both-and hermeneutic brings clarity and comfort — and not just to our minds, but into virtually every situation in life.

 

The evolution of Chuck Jones

How Should Christians Respond to Attacks and Insults?

R.C. Sproul:

Years ago, I received a letter from a friend who is a pastor at a church in California. In it, the pastor included a copy of an article that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Although the article included a photo of him standing in his church and holding his Bible, it was basically a vicious personal attack against him.

When I saw that picture and read that article, I felt a great deal of empathy for my friend because I had recently had a similar experience. A person I believed was my friend made some very unkind statements about me publicly, and word had gotten back to me. My feelings basically vacillated between despondency and anger, even though I knew I needed to respond with joy (Matt. 5:11–12).

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Both of Joe Thorn’s excellent books are on sale this week for $3.99:

Also on sale:

Jesus is on the wrong side of history

This is an older piece by Trevin Wax, but it’s well worth reading.

What if the baby isn’t healthy?

Micha Boyett:

My son Ace was born seven weeks ago. He is my third baby, a boy like his brothers. He has blue eyes and sandy brown hair that’s making way for blonde. He can already reach out and grab the toy that hangs over his head. He has rolled over twice (accidentally, I’m pretty sure).

Yet everything feels different. My pregnancy with him was different.

In December my husband and I received a prenatal diagnosis that shook us. Though we shared it with close friends and family, we didn’t tell anyone else.

Student in a School of Fools

R.C. Sproul Jr:

When I was a younger man I looked upon virtually every conversation as an opportunity for battle. As a college student I regularly called my dad after class and let him know of the great victories I imagined I had won. He, being wise, cautioned me—you can learn something from all of your professors. You’ll serve yourself better being a discerning student than a tilting Quixote. Trusting the teaching of my own father, I have sought to be just that, a discerning student.

The message of the Bible in a sentence

Dane Ortlund asked 26 pastors and scholars to give it a shot. This is what they came up with. Bonus points to Greg Beale for providing a paragraph while keeping it technically a sentence.

‘Apollo 13’: When Will We Be Going Back?

E. Stephen Burnett:

The film showcased Americans’ boredom with the space program … and today our disinterest in space exploration is even worse. Today the answers are the same: Not anytime soon, and likely no one alive today.

The film showcased Americans’ boredom with the space program — until astronauts’ lives were at risk — and today our disinterest in space exploration is even worse. As a Christian, this renews in me a groaning for lost opportunities but even more for a lost paradise.

I also ask what the film’s Lovell left unasked: If we’re refusing to go back, why is that?

The Fresh Prince theme as a blues song

YES!

HT: Aaron

The limits of love

heart

One of the greatest lies we tell children is a nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating this to myself as a little boy, over and over again, with tears running down my face, as the terrible things other kids said about me kept repeating in my head. I was desperate for it to be true.

It never was.

So I get how so many Christians feel living in a thoroughly post- or anti-Christian culture, as many of us do in the West. Recent political decisions only officially made legal what was already approved culturally. Those who hold to the traditional or biblical definition marriage have long been called intolerant, bigots, homophobes, and numerous other pejoratives. One website ran an entire article that existed only to direct the F-word (and I don’t mean “fundamentalist”) at us, and particularly politicians and political figures who voiced concerns about or opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

The intolerance of tolerance is at work.

The hurtful words are terribly discouraging. No one wants to be called a bigot, or a hate monger—no one. And yet, this is what is happening and will continue to happen until the West falls or Jesus returns, because we have to understand that love has its limits. There are places that, because we love people, we cannot go and ideas we cannot embrace or endorse.

I was reminded of this again by Sam Storms in his devotional, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3. In writing of Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians, Storms describes them as a church that had “20/20 discernment.”

They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance.… This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth. (41)

The Ephesians understood that Christian charity could not give room to false teaching within the church. Whatever else was going on in the culture, whatever trials they would face, whatever persecution they would be forced to endure, they would; but they could not suffer the usurping or perversion of biblical truth. And, again, Jesus commended them for this. Why? Because, as Storms writes, Jesus hates moral and theological compromise.

Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves. (43)

This is the position we find ourselves in today. The culture has spoken and, while we can (and I believe should) disagree with the outcome, we should at least acknowledge the reality. This means the hateful and hurtful words are going to keep coming, with a promise they’ll stop as soon as we are willing to stop believing what we believe. If we can just embrace same-sex marriage, and then polyamorous relationships, we can all get along. But is that the best way to demonstrate love to our unbelieving neighbors and our fellow believers?

No. Instead, we need to be willing to affirm that love has its limits. And just as the Ephesians were forced to in the face of the Nicolaitian heresy, we must ask what we must say no to for the sake of our devotion to Christ—and in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to all.

God’s plans are good (even when we don’t like them)

god-plan-good

There’s a verse that’s in every Christian household or office space (and not just because it’s in our Bibles). Maybe it’s on a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Perhaps a poster or a greeting card. Or perhaps it’s featured on a decorative throw or a tattoo. It’s the life verse of virtually every women’s ministry leader and children’s ministry director.

Of course, you know I’m referring to Jeremiah 29:11, and it’s assurance that God knows the plans he has for us, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It’s a wonderful encouragement, isn’t it? We look at it and say, “Wow—God has a plan for me!” That plan, of course, is one we assume to be free from any sort of difficultly, strife or conflict. But to paraphrase the oft-quoted line—this verse you keep using; I do not think it means what you think it means.

When we read this verse, we typically do so through the lens of the western desire for prosperity, safety and security. That God’s plan obviously includes a full bank account, a big house and kids who remember to wash their hands after using the toilet. But as much fun as those things might be—especially the last one for the germaphobes out there—this isn’t really what’s promised by God to the Israelites. And make no mistake: this verse offers a promise to them, first and foremost.

Although we all (should) know this, we can’t forget that Jeremiah 29:11 comes as part of a larger conversation between God and the newly exiled Jewish people. After years of rejecting God, of consistently rebelling against him and his commands, Jerusalem and the nation of Judah was finally overtaken by  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was there to witness the whole thing. As they sat in Babylon, many so-called prophets came to them with messages promising a swift return to Jerusalem and a restoration of their fortunes.

Surely, God wouldn’t leave the people in exile, away from the promised land, for more than a few months. Maybe a couple of years, tops. But any longer than that, come on…

And yet, of these prophets God said, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (8-9). They were liars, deceivers who preyed on the people’s hopes and dreams. But their promises and prophecies were empty babbling. They were fanciful ideas from their own minds, and nothing more.

Instead of a swift return, God had something else in mind for his wayward people:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:5-7)

So, rather than telling them not to unpack their belongings, God says get comfortable: Settle in Babylon. Get jobs. Get married. Have children. Be a blessing to this city, because you’re going to be here for a while. For the rest of your lives, in fact.

And it’s in this context that God says to his people, “For I know the plans I have for you.”

Despite this being primarily a promise to the Israelites, there is a principle that is true for us as well. Though, to be honest, I doubt us Christians feel anymore joyful about it than the Israelites of the day. Sometimes we’re in communities and context where we’d rather not be. It’s difficult to imagine trying to be a faithful Christian in an incredibly harsh context—one where you can be killed simply for your beliefs. And yet, for many, that’s the reality they live with. But God is still good, isn’t he?

Even here in North America, there are certainly times when we might prefer to hunker in the bunker or move somewhere far away from all the people who need Jesus because they really don’t like this Jesus we represent. And yet, it’s to them God has sent us. And he has a plan for us here: it is to serve those in need. To proclaim truth of the gospel. To do all we can to encourage all around us to thrive, and to be “a light to those who are in darkness” (Rom. 2:19b). To seek the wellbeing and welfare of our communities because those who are perishing need to see that Christians really do care for them.

In other words, God’s plan for us right now is to be his ambassadors in a foreign land. And God’s plans are always good (even when we don’t like them). We aren’t to sit on our duffs and just wait until Jesus returns. We are to go about the work he has commanded us. Because that is the plan he has for us—and it is the best future any of us could hope for.


Adapted from an earlier post written in October 2009.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few classic books for your consideration today:

The Problem of Emeth in The Last Battle

Aaron Earls:

Clearly, we should remember The Chronicles of Narnia is fiction. Lewis is using a fictional world to present pictures and myths that point to real truth. We should not necessarily expect a one-to-one correspondence.

But beyond that, I think three facts from within the Narnian world should be kept in mind when evaluating the issue of Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country.

What’s up with the Witch of Endor

Stephen Dempster on 1 Samuel 28:

This text raises all kinds of theological questions. Did the witch have the ability to bring the departed spirits of the dead back to predict the future for the living, or was this simply a demonic delusion? Does not only God have the power to predict the future? Or do departed spirits or evil spirits? What about other sources of revelation besides the Word of God? Does this text not prove that such exist?

Forgiveness and the Christian’s Piety

Donny Friederichsen:

What is the danger of withholding forgiveness or failing to ask for forgiveness? Again, Watson is helpful in seeing the necessity of forgiveness as part of the Christian’s piety. He uses a colorful but, I believe, very appropriate metaphor in describing this problem. He describes an unforgiving spirit as an “obstruction in the body” or “bowels which are shut up.” The person who will not forgive is like one whose colon is impacted to such an extent that excrement can no longer exit. Grotesque as that might sound, quite literally, the unforgiving person is full of it!

The Precious Gift of Being Offended

Trevin Wax analyzes Ian McEwan’s commencement address at Dickinson College:

It’s helpful for McEwan to make his case by appealing to the common ground (he hopes) all will agree on, no matter our political or religious persuasion. That’s why it’s instructive that he issues this warning in a way that crosses these lines. It’s in danger from all sides,and therefore it must be protected by all sides.

Why does free speech matter so much? Because “freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy,” he says. “Without free speech, democracy is a sham.” McEwan compares the Western world to free speech in other parts of the globe, or rather, the lack of it. He diagnoses the condition of free expression as “desperate” in many parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, Asia, and in much of Africa.

How Can Millions of People All Be with Jesus in Heaven and Receive Personal Attention?

Randy Alcorn:

Though it’s possible we may cover vast distances at immense speeds in God’s new universe, I don’t believe we’ll be capable of being two places at once. Why? Because we’ll still be finite. Only God is infinite.

Because the resurrected Christ is both man and God, the issue of whether He can be in more than one place at the same time involves a paradox not only in the future, but also in the present.

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Elisabeth Elliot (1926–2015)

Elisabeth Elliot, wife of evangelist Jim Elliot and celebrated author, died yesterday morning (June 15, 2015). Several Christian leaders paid their respects with some lovely (and informative) posts including:

Yoga, Hospitality, and Cultural Appropriation

I’m glad to see an author wrestling with whether or not yoga should be practiced by Christians (though I suspect we would differ on our conclusions if I’m reading the post correctly).

Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles

Erik Raymond:

Most people when asked about their Bible reading say: I have been really busy. This may be the truth; people are very busy. However, it is not the reason. I think we can distinguish between realities and reasons. Those same people who are really busy do have the time to eat food and sleep. I know people who have their entire day (and evening) mapped out for them. They are extremely busy; yet they still read their Bibles. There is time for even the busiest of us. However, others who claim busyness also are up to date on the news, watch movies, use social media, exercise, and a host of other things. In pursuit of a true diagnosis here, let’s be honest: none of us are truly too busy to read the Bible. We may be busy but we choose to put the Bible aside for one reason or another.

Let me give you a few reasons why many Christians do not regularly read their Bibles.

Don’t Return To Your Vomit

Geoffrey Kirkland offers some helpful points here in considering our application of Proverbs 26:11.

Why Bloggers Are Calling it Quits

Amy Julia Becker:

Stepping away from the very platforms that shaped them and popularized their careers, these celebrities raise questions about the future of blogging in particular and of social media in general. In announcing their departures, Whedon, Sullivan, and Armstrong all mention wanting to move away from the barrage of “haters” who leave their reckless disagreements and insults in comment sections and replies.

You know they’re not in conflict, right?

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It’s probably safe to assume that any time the “religion vs. Jesus” thing comes up, I’m going to wind up annoyed. Some Christian gobbledygook of this persuasion popped up in my Twitter feed the last night, this time on how to use the Bible—find out what it says and follow that, or find out how it points to Jesus and follow him.

Now, before I go any further, I agree with the whole “do vs. done” element of the general argument. And I also firmly believe you should absolutely read the Bible with an eye to how it points to Jesus because he is the one we not merely follow, but worship as God. If you don’t read your Bible this way, you’re not reading it as a Christian (he says, preaching to the choir).

But this whole “follow the Bible” vs “follow Jesus” thing… Can we just not, please?

Let’s be honest, this sort of either/or—either follow what the Bible says or follow Jesus—isn’t really all that helpful. It’s actually kind of dumb. Let’s not forget:

Jesus followed commands in the Bible. Jesus was a devout Jew. Devout Jews kept the Law. Jesus kept the Law perfectly, as no one else did or could.

Jesus gives us commands. It’s true. “Follow me”, and “abide in me” are commands. Not only that, he tells us to pray (and even says “like this”), to love others, to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s… He even says “if you love me, you will obey me.” Those don’t sound like suggestions, do they?

The commands Jesus gives us are in the Bible. At least, that’s where they were the last time I checked. (Yep, still there.)

We are expected to do what we’re told in the Bible. When we read that we are to “love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”, it’s not a suggestion. It’s an imperative, which means we are to do it. Repent and believe? Yep, that’s another one we are expected to do. Make disciples? That one too. Submit to one another out of love for Christ? Ditto. Have nothing to do with false gods? You know it. These are things we are to do, as obeying the commands of God1 is evidence of our love for Christ.

Pitting Jesus against the Bible comes across like a kid trying to pit mom and dad against one another. The only one it’s going to go badly for is the kid.

So, yeah.

If we could never do that again, that would be super.