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!

“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

Three things we are learning about forgiveness

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One of the things we’re working with our children on is the concept of forgiveness—how to ask for it and how to offer it. My oldest typically does the begrudging, sullen, “Sorry…” thing and tries to leave things at that. My middle one is very honest and when you ask if she’ll forgive you says, “I’m not sure, I have to think about it.” And for the moment, Hudson remains a quasi-sociopath. Because, well, he’s two.

But talking with my kids about forgiveness is tricky, in part because it requires me to check my own heart on how I approach it—do I withhold forgiveness as long as possible? Do I do anything that cheapens it?

Here are three things I’m trying to remember and impart to the wee ones:

1. Assume the best—and be honest when you’re having a hard time doing so. Whenever someone asks forgiveness, I want to assume they’re genuinely asking. That there is true, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought  conviction. I’ve not been perfect with this; in fact, I’ve been down right terrible at it a lot of the time. But rather than putting on a nice face, sometimes it’s best to be honest about this struggle, rather than damage a relationship further by saying you forgive but are harboring bitterness.

2. Always pray and watch for the fruit of repentance. To be clear: our offer of forgiveness doesn’t mean we don’t care whether or not people change. It actually means we care very, very much. One of the kids really struggles with telling the truth right now, and we’ve told her that when she makes a habit of lying, it’s hard for us to trust what she says. We frequently pray with her that God will help her tell the truth, we coach her on honesty (and remind her that the consequences are always less severe when she’s upfront about something), and we watch. This requires a lot of patience because the fruit of repentance develops over a long period of time.

3. Protect the repentant from falling back into sin. Sometimes you can’t remove a person from a situation. For example, my daughters share a bedroom because we live in a three bedroom townhouse. This is going to be their reality for the foreseeable future. As a result, there are some things we’re not going to be able to protect our girls from, such as Hannah’s desire to irritate Abigail as much as possible.

But if a privilege or a responsibility offers too much temptation to sin, we remove it  for a season (or indefinitely) and explain why. We’ve done this with making choices at various ages (such as what they’d like for breakfast or choosing their own outfits), and we’ve also done it with an extended bedtime for our oldest (who, it turns out, is a much chipperer person when she’s gotten a little extra bit of rest).

None of these are things I’m perfect at, but they’re things I want to improve in and to train my kids to understand the importance of. Forgiveness is too important to cheapen with faux-repentance or withhold from the genuinely contrite. It is serious business. Lord willing our whole family will continue to see it that way.


photo credit: quantumlars via photopin cc

Links I like

Fred Phelps and the Anti-Gospel of Hate

Albert Mohler:

Fred Phelps became infamous due to one central fact — he was a world-class hater. He brought great discredit to the Gospel of Christ because his message was undiluted hatred packaged as the beliefs of a church. Even Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to Westboro Baptist Church as “this so-called church.” The damage was due to the fact that his platform for hatred was called a church. That provided the watching and listening world with a ready target and case study for the accusation that Christian conviction on questions of sexual morality is nothing more than disguised hatred for homosexuals. And, like radioactivity, Fred Phelps’ hatred will survive in lasting half-lives of animus.

Flee youthful passions

Ray Ortlund:

In this world of blatant, horrible wrongs, it is not hard to get angry.  It is hard not to get angry.  But “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  It just doesn’t.  Because it can’t.  No matter how right the cause is, the anger of man only makes things worse.  Sometimes the youthful don’t see how clever evil is, how easy it is for us to add to evil while intending good, how hard it is for us to be angry and not sin and complicate things further.  Exposing and confronting wrongs — real wrongs with real victims — is good, but not simple.  Not for us.  What is simple is creating more victims by rushing to judgment with guns ablazing and a golden heart pursuing a noble cause.

The Problem With Victory Focus

Mike Leake:

There is a difference between obedience and victory.

In my mind I picture a team of solider bunkered down behind enemy lines. They are mostly surrounded by enemies and at the point of frustration and despair; death seems certain. Then a most wonderful word is transmitted to them—a decisive victory has been won and rescue is coming. They are given instructions on how to do battle while they await ultimate rescue.

Was Jesus Still God in the Tomb?

David Murray:

Yes, it was right to worship Jesus as God in the womb, in the manger, on the breast, at play, in school, in the workshop, in the court, and on the cross; but in the tomb? Surely not. Jesus was in heaven for these few days, His human soul still united to His divine nature, rightly being worshipped there for His saving work of suffering and dying for sinners. Yes, that worship is theologically sound and totally appropriate. But was Jesus not also on a cold slab of rock in a Middle Eastern cave? Yes, He was. While His human soul was separated from His body, His divine nature was separated from neither and never will be. His divine nature was as united to His lifeless body on earth as it was to His glorified soul in heaven. That means I can worship Him equally in the grave as in glory!

Justin Taylor offers a very interesting counterpoint here.

How Should We Understand this Promise of Jesus?

R.C. Sproul Jr. on Jesus’ promise in John 14:14, “if you ask anything in my name I will do it”:

But what about when we are asking for things we know God would approve of? In my home I and the children pray nightly that God would be pleased to help us to grow in grace and wisdom. What we are seeking is that we would be made fully into the image of Christ, that our sanctification would be complete. That sounds like a good thing to ask in Jesus name. Second, every night we pray that God would be pleased to magnify His name by rising up and protecting all the unborn in Orlando, Florida, these United States, and around the world. How could that not be a prayer in His name? And yet, thus far our prayers have not been answered.

Sad but not strange

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photo: iStock

It is sad that Jesus finds it necessary to exhort the followers closest to him to believe his words, and therefore to believe that he is himself the revelation of the Father. Sad, indeed; but not strange. Is not our own unbelief proof enough of the commonness of unbelief? Even after we have been assured of God’s love for us again and again, of his sovereign pleasure to bless his people with what he judges good for them, do we not retreat to practical skepticism when difficult circumstances seem to call in question his goodness or his power?

Jesus’ first disciples in John 14 are experiencing difficulties of several kinds. They are perhaps intellectually slow to believe the daring claim on Jesus’ lips, made repeatedly, that he is in the Father and the Father in him. Worse, they are bound up emotionally as well as intellectually as they wrestle with talk about death, betrayal, Jesus’ departure, their inability to follow him at present, and the like. What they need more than anything else is to believe Jesus, to believe that what he is saying is true. If only they believe, then the uncertainties surrounding these other large matters will be swallowed up by confidence that Jesus is none other than the revelation of the Father. There is no belief more basic to spiritual triumph than that.

D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

Links I like

3 Ways to Support an Author You Like

Barnabas Piper:

This post is self-serving. Many of you know I have a book releasing in July called The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, so yes, I am giving you pointers on how to support me. But I’m also asking you to support Stephen Altrogge, who has written several books and is nice enough to let me blog on his site. And these tips apply to any author, whether they are a NYT best seller or a self-published specialist in something. You might also find it to state some rather obvious ideas. Ok, but are you doing them? These three simple actions can have a remarkable collective effect on the success of authors and their books.

More on Millennials

Joe Thorn:

Earlier this week I was playing cards with some locals at the cigar shop in town. I spend a lot of time in this place both studying and hanging out with people in the neighborhood. At the table with us was a young lady—college student studying music at the local university. We had a good conversation about the Millennial generation, and their lack of interest in the local church and even the Christian faith. We talked about what is that keeps Millennials distant from the church. She agreed with the current research that shows that they find the church to be irrelevant and insular, over-interested in politics, and under-interested in social justice. What can we do to bring them to the faith, or back to the local church?

Introducing Logos Reformed base packages

Logos Bible Software has recently unveiled a new series of base packages exclusively featuring resources from a Reformed theological perspective. If you’ve been hesitant to try it out prior to this, now might be a good time to jump in! (I’ll also be sharing some thoughts on one of the base packages in the coming weeks.)

Five Things We Teach Our Kids When We Don’t Know They’re Watching

Melissa Edgington:

Kids have minds like gloriously uncluttered steel traps.  If she remembers some completely inconsequential thing that her daddy told her four years ago, before she even started kindergarten, how much more does she remember about the important stuff she’s seen and heard?

As adults we often tend to believe that kids aren’t paying attention.  But, we teach them so many things when we don’t even realize that they’re tuned in.  And, for the record, kids are always tuned in, even when they seem mesmerized by the TV.  Here are five things we teach our kids when we don’t know they’re watching.

Get God in Our Midst in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the hardcover edition of God in Our Midst by Daniel Hyde for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • A Survey of Church History (vol 1) teaching series by W. Robert Godfrey (audio & video download)
  • The Beatitudes teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Whither the Prosperity Gospel?

Russell Moore:

The prosperity gospel isn’t just another brand of evangelicalism. It isn’t “evangelical” at all because it’s rooted in a different gospel from the one preached and embodied by Jesus Christ. The prosperity gospel is far more akin to the ancient Canaanite fertility religions than it is to anything announced by Jesus, the prophets before him, or the apostles after him.

God might call you to be ignored

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In Isaiah chapter six, in one of the most stunning pictures of the pre-incarnate Christ recorded in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne. When he lays eyes on Him, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah is so distraught that he curses himself—he knows that no one can see the Lord and live (Exodus 33:20). But he doesn’t die—instead, an angel takes a piece of coal from the altar and cleanses him, touching the burning coal to his lips. His guilt is taken away; his sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:7).

And then the Lord speaks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Almost every time this story is shared, this is where it stops. We get to see Isaiah boldly answering the Lord’s call, in what I always imagine is a rather heroic fashion, as though he’s saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this!”

And this is how so many of us treat this passage—as though it’s a call to “our” moment to go and do great things for God. To move mountains and make the sun stand still.

At least, if we stop reading at verse eight and totally ignore Isaiah’s marching orders. This is what God commands:

Go, and say to this people:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed” (v. 9b-1o).

Essentially, Jesus tells Isaiah he’s going to be ignored by the people to whom he will be sent. He will preach judgment upon Israel, and promises of the coming of the Messiah to rescue His people…

And they’re not going to listen to a word of it.

Isaiah’s ministry, like so many of the prophets, is marked by stubborn disobedience that comes as a response to his preaching. The people won’t hear, because they cannot. That’s the point. His ministry is to “make the heart of this people dull.”

Can you imagine how difficult that would be? To know that your calls to repentance will have the exact opposite effect?

Maybe this is what God’s calling you to, as well.

This isn’t a pretty thought for many of us. This is not the stuff mega-churches are made of. And yet, it’s probably the reality for more of us than we realize. We speak, we pray, we plead… and there’s nothing. For many, your words are nothing more than the incoherent mutterings of Charlie Brown’s school teacher.

This is the reality I deal with on a regular basis, in fact, as I try to share the gospel—it’s like it passes right over them. And it can be unbearable, if you don’t remember where to find hope in the midst of discouragement. Again, Isaiah helps us:

…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

There’s a confidence here that grounds the exuberance of Isaiah’s cry of “send me!” It puts flesh on the bones of Isaiah’s cry, if you will: God’s word does exactly what it is purposed to do. It means some hearts will be hardened by the unapologetic proclamation of God’s Word, while others will turn and be saved. As Spurgeon said so well, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.”

This truth should cause us not to despair, but to rejoice. We need not be ashamed of the gospel, and we need not be despondent when its truth goes unheeded. God’s word will still accomplish all that He purposes. Whether we’re heard or ignored, that has to be enough for us.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in May 2009.

Being present, as Christians, with lost people

Jeremy Writebol (@jwritebol) is the husband of Stephanie and daddy of Allison and Ethan. He lives and works in Wichita, KS as the Community Pastor at Journey the Way and the director of Porterbrook Kansas. He is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and The Resurgence Training Center. Catch up with him at jwritebol.net.


everPresent

For years in ministry I’ve struggled with how to get the gospel to the lost. I’ve wanted to be a good evangelist and share my faith. I’ve wanted to help people who don’t know Christ to see how great and gracious he is and come to faith in him. I’ve wanted to see new-birth, conversions, life-change, salvation or whatever you want to call it. The problem for me, however, was that I was paralyzed in living on mission. I was stuck trying to wade through the mountain of techniques, methods, and skills required to find, invest in, and hopefully convert a non-Christian to Jesus. I was frustrated with my lack of ability and felt disobedient to the call of Christ to “make disciples of every nation.” Theologically, I knew how it worked. God is the one who draws and saves at the declaration of the word of Christ. Practically, however, it was not happening.

As I spent time reflecting on my problems, I had to take a look at all the methods I was relying on to make me a better missionary. As I processed through the “how” of making disciples, the Holy Spirit brought into focus the real issue. I was lacking presence with unbelievers. I didn’t know any of them. And they didn’t know me.

Then I had a moment. A friend one day was pressing me on what it looked like practically to live on mission in the midst of unbelievers. We were discussing sports and how we can build relationships based around the common interest of sports. My friend challenged me to come up with practical ways that the sporting-life would transfer to Christianity. I had to admit, I was a bit stumped. The only thing I could come up with was the opportunity it created to be present with lost people. And that idea, of being present with lost people, became a watershed moment for me.

The watershed moment brought a further insight about the nature of God. He is a God who is present everywhere. Theologians have labeled this attribute God’s “omnipresence.” Wayne Grudem defines omnipresence: “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”1 As I reflected on this truth about God, I had to move the theology of God’s presence into the practice of my life. As image-bearers of God, we are called to reflect who he is to the world. This includes attributes like omnipresence. This is where the watershed moment was for me. How do I, as a limited, finite creature, reflect God’s omnipresence? By being present.

Understanding God’s presence throughout the Bible and our relationship to him as the ever-present God has transformed my understanding of missional living. Once I realized he is present everywhere, in and through his people, I discovered that the method for being on mission to the lost was really simple. I had overanalyzed it. The method is: be present, as a Christian, with lost people.

My goal in everPresent is to help you see how being present in the everyday places we inhabit is missional living. You don’t need amazing practices or innovative techniques to help you live on mission. If anything, I’ve already told you what the technique is. Be with lost people. Even that is difficult in today’s world. We are promised the ability to be everywhere through technologies that replace face time with Facebook. At a recent birthday party for one of the children in my daughter’s school, I observed several parents who were present, but they weren’t engaged. They were lost in their smartphones and Instagrams. Even though they are physically in the room, mentally they have left it altogether. As we consider the theology of God’s presence and place, that theological reflection should lead to practical application. My purpose in this book is to help you understand God more fully so you will live as his people more faithfully. I want to bring the technique of disciple-making down a few notches to show you how God equips everyday, ordinary people to be his “sent ones” as they live their lives in the presence of unbelievers.

I am eager for you to see God’s presence in your life so that we can go and be present in the lives of unbelievers for the sake of the gospel. When this happens, we will reflect an ever-present God by holding out an ever-present gospel.


Jeremy’s new book, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present is now available at Amazon (paperback) and Gospel-Centered Discipleship (eBook).

The church is closest to heaven-sent revival when…

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photo: iStock

The authority of Jesus to heal and transform is implicit in his person and mission. The authority is already his. He needs only to will the deed, and it is done. Few lessons are more urgently needed in the modern church. Hope for reformation and revival lies not in campaigns and strategy (as important as such things may be), but in the authority of Jesus.…

Our generation is in danger of forgetting this.… The church is closest to heaven-sent revival when it comes to an end of its gimmicks, and petitions the great Lord of the church, who alone has the authority to pour out blessing beyond what can be imagined, who alone opens doors such that none can shut them and shuts them so that none can open them, to use the full authority that is his (Matt. 28:18) to bless his people with repentance and vitality and thereby bring glory to himself. Only his authority will suffice.

Links I like (weekend edition)

 I Reject Christianity Because….

Matt Smethurst with a great interview with James Anderson about his book, What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (reviewed here). Here’s a snippet:

It’s narrow-minded and intolerant to claim Jesus is the only way to God. No religion has the whole truth—including yours.

If it’s narrow-minded and intolerant to claim that Jesus is the only way to God, then Jesus himself must have been narrow-minded and intolerant, because that’s exactly what he claimed about himself (see, for example, Matthew 11:27 and John 14:6). Jesus also claimed to be the Son of God from heaven and that only those who believe in him will have eternal life. Yet when we read the four Gospels, we don’t encounter a narrow-minded, intolerant, arrogant man. Rather, we see a wide-hearted, selfless, and humble man, full of grace and compassion toward others.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a roundup of a number of Kindle deals that have come up this week. Be sure to take advantage while you can:

Celebrity Pastors: A Retrospective

Carl Trueman:

If there are people out there who still believe that there is such a thing as reformed evangelicalism as a trans-denominational movement, if they believe that this movement will play a key role in the future of the church, and if they believe that they are important leaders in this movement, then they need to speak directly, clearly, and firmly to precisely these issues.  You cannot be a leader without leading publicly on the major issues and major personalities of the day who impact your movement and your chosen constituency.

Who Was St. Patrick?

Kevin DeYoung:

Determining fact from fiction for Patrick is difficult, in part because his writings were not always passed along reliably. More important, Patrick wrote in particularly poor Latin.… But here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

The Problem of Christian Unity

Michael Patton:

When it comes to objections to Christianity, there are striking similarities. We stress the problem of evil (if God exists, how do we explain all the evil?), yet fail to realize the “problem” of good (if God doesn’t exist, how do we explain all the good?). Atheists say theists must give an answer to the creation by God, while at the same time dismissing their own obligation to explain the existence of everything else! Skeptics talk endlessly about the discrepancies in the Gospel stories, but are silent about the myriads of agreements which far outweigh what appear to be disagreements, both in number and significance. The unfortunate consequence is that many people (including Christians) become discouraged and full of doubt due to the many disagreements that Christians experience among themselves. Catholic vs. Protestant. Baptist vs. Presbyterian. Calvinist vs. Arminian. Premillennialists vs. Amillennialists. Young Earth vs. Old Earth. The truth of the matter is that for centuries Christians have disagreed among themselves concerning many issues from the interpretation of certain Scriptures to the role of tradition as an authoritative norm in our faith. However, I would encourage people to gain some perspective here. It is time to call on Christians, as well as non-Christians to focus not only on our respective disagreements, but also observe and gain strength from the many areas in which we agree.

Are Christians really free to smoke pot?

marijuana

Yesterday, Andy Crouch wrote a thoughtful piece on marijuana and Christian liberty. In it, he explains that while the editorial position of Christianity Today is that Christians are free to smoke marijuana recreationally where it is legal, “when it comes to pot in our particular cultural context, we think it would be foolish to use that freedom.”

This subject is not an easy one to deal with, but it’s an important one. Marijuana is legal in several states, and its legal status has been disputed in my homeland for well over a decade1—so it’s a subject we’re all going to have to deal with sooner or later.

Now, there’s a lot I agree with in Crouch’s article, particularly its conclusion that Christians shouldn’t smoke weed, even if they’re free to do so.

“The Christian’s freedom is a gift that leads to serving others, with care, attention, skill, and singleness of heart,” Crouch writes. “It’s a freedom that willingly sacrifices easy pleasures in order to serve. And by that standard, it’s hard to imagine that pot will be helpful any time soon.”

So while I agree with his assessment that if we are free to do this, we still shouldn’t, I’m honestly uncertain about the if itself. In other words, I’m not certain the Bible actually allows for this to fall under the domain of Christian liberty. Here are two points to consider:

1. Is it really lawful? The Christian liberty argument centers on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:23: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” One of the challenges we face is with how to read Paul’s words. His quoting of the Corinthians insistence that all things are lawful or permissible may not have been approvingly. In fact, based on his response, “but not all things are helpful… not all things build up,” it could well be that he was outright refuting their claim.

Further to this, we see Paul’s insistence on a life of Spirit-fueled self-control (Galatians 5:22; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 8). While we should be careful to not read into this an outright prohibition of substances that can impair our self-control (after all, the Bible does not forbid the consumption of alcohol), we should take it seriously: If something impairs my ability to think clearly or to practice moderation, am I really free to partake?

2. Is it really good? This is probably the more fundamental issue. Crouch writes that, “Christians despise no created thing. The marijuana plant is a part of a world that was declared good by its Maker every step along the way.”While God certainly did create everything “good” in the beginning, we also have to recognize that all things are not as they should be.

In the beginning, the first man and woman were free to eat of everything in the Garden—everything but the fruit of one tree. But when they sinned, the entire world was affected, and today it groans under the curse, as it awaits the inauguration of the new creation (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:17-19; Romans 8:22). As a result of the curse, we see that plants that were once created “good” are now “bad” for us.

Before the Fall, no mushroom existed that would poison us if we ate it, and no leaf would cause a rash if it touched us. Simply, we need to recognize that—just as with certain types of wild mushrooms and Poison Ivy—the effect of marijuana on the mind is likely not the original intent as seen in God’s good creation . In fact, it is more likely the result of the curse! Thus, we should be careful about classifying it as “good,” lest we inadvertently call something “evil” “good” (Isaiah 5:20).

Which takes us back to the beginning.

I agree with Crouch that even if Christians were free to use marijuana in moderation for recreational purposes, they should not—but, I’m uncertain that the if in this case is really an if at all. I’m just not sure the Scriptures support such a position.

What are your thoughts on this?

“What shall I do?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (1)

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came to a certain place where there was a cave; and I lay down in that place to sleep. As I slept, I dreamed a dream, and in this dream I saw a man clothed in rags, standing in a place with his face turned away from his own house. He had a book in his hand and a heavy burden upon his back.

I looked and saw him open the book and begin to read; and as he read, he wept and trembled. Not being able to contain himself, he cried out in a loud voice, “What shall I do?”

It’s impossible to overstate the power of the opening words of The Pilgrim’s Progress.1 Bunyan masterfully captures the plight of man in his description of Christian—he is a man burdened, weeping, utterly destroyed by the book he carries. But he cannot turn away from its pages.

He can only read and cry out, “What shall I do?”

Personal reflection

How many of us have faced a similar crisis in our own hearts? Conviction comes—and what shall we do?

Many of us, like Christian, keep it to ourselves for as long as possible. We pretend everything is fine, even though we’re troubled to the core of our being. Sooner or later, though, we reach a breaking point and can no longer keep what’s going on hidden—”For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

And, as is so often the case, when we speak, people begin to reject us. They find our message absurd, laughable, ignorant. Family rejects us. Friends scorn us. Some come alongside us and encourage us to stay on the path; others seek to draw us away. We have moments of joy, from which we quickly slip into the slough of despond…

This is how the journey to the celestial city begins for so many of us.

Reading tips from Ryken

But the first chapter of The Pilgrim’s Progress is equally as demanding as it is captivating. As Leland Ryken puts it well in his guide to this classic book, “Part of the genius of Pilgrim’s Progress is that it requires readers to analyze the symbolic level of the story and in particular to figure out the nuances of the theological truth that is embodied in the narrative details.”2

So as we feel our way around the first chapter, we need to consider what each detail symbolizes and what it teaches us about the Christian life at the point at which Christian finds himself on the journey. But even so, we would do well to heed Ryken’s advice as he offers four tips for reading this book:3

(1) The most important prerequisite for enjoying this book as literature is the ability to abandon oneself to the travel motif and the adventure genre. At this level, the book is like Homer’s Odyssey or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—a continuous series of narrow escapes and threatening ordeals. (2) Equally, we need to relish the technique of allegory in which places and characters bear the names of abstract qualities. But the word allegory does not quite do justice to what is happening, so we need to add the concept of symbolic reality, which results when we enter a realm of the imagination in which the leading ingredient is a “forest” of symbols. (3) Putting the previous two points together, Pilgrim’s Progress requires us to read at a physical level as the basis of everything else, but also to see that the two protagonists have undertaken a spiritual and psychological journey in addition to the physical journey. (4) The primacy of the spiritual governs everything that Bunyan does in the story and determines his storytelling techniques and choice of material.

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. Two points to consider:

  1. How does this chapter portray the lost state of man?
  2. How does what you’ve read in this chapter reflect or differ your own experience?

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