Archive for the ‘Friday Five’ Category

Apr
18
2014

Preparing Our Hearts for Easter

How should Christians prepare their hearts this Easter? I asked this of Andreas Kostenberger, research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and author of the new book, The Final Days of Jesus coauthored with Justin Taylor. It’s a terrific resource, harmonizing the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, and resurrection.

What advice would you give Christians in preparing their hearts this Holy Week?

Take Easter week as an opportunity to reflect on the essence of your faith, on what the gospel is all about. Make sure you understand the key elements of the biblical story of Jesus’ final days on earth so you can pass it on to others, especially to the next generation.

That’s why I’m particularly excited to use The Final Days of Jesus as a tool with my own children as we read through what happened each day of Easter week – Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc., and discuss the significance of all the events culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. We watch the videos posted on the Crossway website, we read the relevant Scripture passages and the associated commentary, and we spend time talking about what Jesus did for us and thanking him for it in prayer. Let’s not succumb to busyness or be so anti-liturgical that we react against traditional ways of Easter observance and miss out on the opportunity to reconnect with the heart of our faith—Jesus crucified, buried, and risen (1 Cor 11:3–4).

Read my entire interview here:

Feb
28
2014

What Does Calling Look Like?

How do we best prepare young people for their future vocation and calling? This is a question Christian parents, pastors, and influencers continually face. My friend, Alex Chediak has come out with a brilliant new book Preparing Your Kids for College. Alex is an educator who has thought through these issues in great depth. His book is a practical new resource for parents. I had the chance to ask him a few questions for this week’s Leadership Journal. Here is one of my questions:

Seems the church does a good job telling teens about following Christ, but not so well in helping them flesh out what that calling might look like. How can we be better at this?

Too many teens have a truncated view of Christianity in which prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, and worship services are important, but everything “secular” is somehow useless at best and contaminated at worst. Spiritual disciplines are vital, but Christian teens need a vision for glorifying God in the classroom, in the lab, in the library, on the sports field, in orchestra practice, in a part-time job, and everywhere else. The Bible teaches us to love God with all our minds. Teens should love learning because God gave them a brain, and he calls us to develop it in order to make the most of our talents. High school is a time to prepare for adulthood.

One idea would be for youth groups to occasionally bring in adults to talk about how they seek to glorify God and love others through their employment. High school is the ideal time for teens to identify their interests and talents (in terms of potential college majors or vocational directions). Let’s help them also find Christian adults who work in these fields—science, business, health care, and so on—who can talk to them about it, giving them accurate expectations of what college and the career would be like. For example, in the book I cite a Barna Group youth poll conducted in 2009, which found that 52 percent of teens aspire to science-related careers, but only 1 percent of church youth workers said they had addressed issues of science in the past year. If the youth pastor isn’t comfortable talking about it, a guest speaker could be invited. We don’t want to give teens the false impression that “Christians don’t do science.”

Read more here:

Feb
14
2014

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a Muslim home, but came to faith in Christ after a search for meaning and truth. He tells his conversion story in a new book,  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters ChristianityI had the chance to interview Nabeel today for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. This is one of the questions I asked him:

What finally drove you to a point of decision between Islam and Christianity? What was holding you back—and what finally drove you forward?

The first thing that had to happen was that someone had to show me the truth about Christianity. Only when I saw the truth would I be able to assess whether I would follow it or not. David didn’t just tell me why he believed in the gospel, he showed me how we could be confident it is true and therefore everyone should believe it. The historical evidence he provided for Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as Jesus’ claim to be God, made all the difference. When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam I knew that intellectually there was no comparison. So I asked God to reveal himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.

Read the entire interview here:

Feb
07
2014

The Last Week of Jesus

Even for those who know the Bible well, it can be difficult to piece together the final week of Jesus as it is chronicled across the four gospels. This is why I’m excited to see a brand-new book by one of my favorite people: Justin Taylor. Justin is a popular blogger at Between Two Worlds, a senior vice-president and
publisher for books at Crossway, and an author and scholar in his own right. He has teamed with Andreas Kostenberger on a book that is sure to be a terrific reference for Bible students: The Final Days of JesusToday I interviewed him for Leadership Journal. Here was one of my questions:

Did anything surprise you about the last week of Jesus?

On the one hand, the story is so familiar to many of us that there are no blockbuster surprises. But it’s one of those stories where there is always more to see in what we see. For example, it makes the doubt and skepticism of Thomas all the more poignant and ironic when we remember that he had already witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead not that long ago (cf. John 11:16).Or, as another example, take the two thieves on the cross who hung on either side of Jesus. If you only read only Luke 23:32, 39–43, you might get the impression that one starts off open to the gospel of grace, while the other is already hardened in his rejection. A close reading of Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32, however, demonstrates that both men started off by reviling Jesus, mocking him, wagging their heads, using their diminishing energies to hurl insults at the only man who could save them. But only one of them had his eyes opened to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior.And as we vaguely recall the story, we tend only to remember him asking Jesus not to forget him in paradise. But if we read Luke 23:40–42 carefully, we see that this mocker turned seeker now had new spiritual eyes to see, and that in a very short while he really understood the heart of the gospel, that (1) the holiness of God was to be feared, (2) the sin in himself deserved condemnation, (3) the innocent one was being punished, (4) Jesus was the king, ruling from the cross, and (5) only Jesus could offer him mercy and eternal salvation.

Read the rest of the interview here:

Jan
27
2014

Equipping Students with the Tools of Leadership

Last year Angela and I were enjoying some downtime in Orlando Florida. The hotel we were staying at was also hosting a student leadership conference hosted by Student Leadership University. We had the chance to speak to the organizers there and came away impressed by their vision for student discipleship. Last week I had the chance to interview the president and founder of SLU, Jay Strack, for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. Here’s a portion of that interview:

It seems we speak a lot to young people about following Christ, but don’t often flesh out what that looks like specific to them and their unique calling. Why do you feel this is an important part of their development?

At SLU we believe that 1 Corinthians 14:8 is spot on: “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” We attempt to put students in a very distinctive unique environment. Since we are clear that our goal is to help them experience a 20-year quantum leap in learning how to think, dream, and lead; we deliberately put them in a corporate hotel, with world-class speakers, and a lot of behind the scenes opportunities.

This could mean a leadership session at a shark tank, whale tank, or dolphin experience at SeaWorld, or a launch pad at Cape Kennedy, or the Pentagon, White House, or Congressional Briefing, or lessons on leadership on the beaches of Normandy, Churchill’s cabinet war rooms, or walking the wall of ancient Jerusalem, or a lesson on the floor of the Roman coliseum, or serving at Give Kids the World for terminally ill children, serving in an orphanage in Kenya, or ministering in the slums of the planet.

We call this EPIC opportunities—Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich, and Community Connecting. In this environment and background we want students to be able to experience a call on their life. Since this generation is more numerous, affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse than any other, students want an experience. They don’t want to talk about something or hear about something—they want to do something. When students begin to hear and understand God’s call with crystal-clear clarity they tend to be quite responsive. It is a very exciting moment when the light goes on and they understand that “if God is for me who can be against me.”

It is also our conviction that the Lord doesn’t call us to a position per say—he calls us to a personal relationship with him. We believe this call is not merely a game changer—it is a life changer. We then try to equip students with the rules and tools of leadership and a biblical world-view that will allow them to live out this calling in an ever-changing society.

Read the entire interview here: 

Jan
21
2014

Thomas Kidd on Christians and History

Last week for Leadership Journal, I interviewed one of my favorite historians, Thomas Kidd. Kidd is professor of history at Baylor University, and the author of books including Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. He is currently writing a biography of George Whitefield for Yale University Press. It was a fascinating discussion. Below is one of the questions I asked him.

There is a temptation for evangelicals to either sanitize American history, or ignore it. But you call for a third way of knowing, understanding, and learning from our history.

Yes. George Whitefield (the preeminent evangelist of the First Great Awakening and subject of my current book project) spoke of how Christians sometimes make a “pious fraud” out of the heroes of the past. We might be tempted to act as if the people we admire in the past were entirely sanctified saints who never made any mistakes. It is interesting that the Bible never adopts this approach: the great heroes of the faith, from David to Paul, were often also some of the worst sinners.

Some Christians who are also great admirers of the American founding generation are also tempted to fashion the Founding Fathers as exemplary saints, too. This is even more problematic, not only because the Founders weren’t all perfect Christians (and, in some cases, weren’t Christians at all), but it can turn them into heroes of a quasi-Christian patriotic faith. American civil religion is dangerous and something Christians should avoid, no matter how much they admire the founding generation’s accomplishments. Admitting that someone like George Washington was imperfect (he owned slaves and refused to take communion at church, for example) is not only honest, but it helps us remember that all humans, no matter how noble, are flawed by sin and the limits of our culture.

You can read the rest of our discussion here:

Jan
03
2014

Preaching as a Craft to Be Cultivated.

I love preaching. I love the act of preaching and I love listening to preaching. There is something wild and mysterious and beautiful about God’s Word flowing through a flawed man empowered by the Holy Spirit as a primary delivery method for spiritual change.

This week I had the chance to interview Matt Woodley, managing editor of PreachingToday.com, an excellent resource for pastors and church leaders. Our conversation was wide-ranging, really. I queried him on plagiarism, fact-checking pastors, etc. But my favorite part was reading Matt’s thoughts on the act of preaching itself. Here’s a question I asked him:

If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming pastor or church leader about preaching, what would you tell him?

Love preaching. It is a craft like mending shoes, fixing cars, throwing a curve ball, writing poetry, performing surgery, teaching British literature, and so on. You can grow as a preacher. So apply yourself to the craft. Learn from other preachers. Read good sermons (and reading is better than listening). Get feedback. And for Christ’s sake (and I mean that literally) stop being so defensive about your preaching! My gosh, it’s not like a sermon is your child or something. But when it comes to preaching, decide right now that you will be a lifelong learner of the craft.

But on other hand, don’t take your preaching too seriously. You aren’t primarily a preacher. You are a child of God. You are a member of the body of Christ. You are a friend, spouse, and parent. Your identity is not wrapped up in how well you preached last Sunday. So read and do lots of stuff that have absolutely nothing to do with your role as a preacher. Preachers who just preach are really boring. Be an interesting person, do interesting stuff, go to interesting places.

Read the entire interview here: 

Dec
18
2013

Is Power Always A Bad Thing?

How should followers of Jesus think about the use of power? That’s a question Christianity Today executive editor Andy Crouch addresses in his latest book, Playing God. I had the chance to ask him about this and other questions in a wide-ranging interview for Leadership Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Your latest book, Playing God ventures into what you might call the “third rail” of evangelicalism, the idea of power. It seems we are afraid of power—is that due to so many examples of corruption and tyranny?

Evangelicalism inherits the legacy of dissenting churches that were disenfranchised (by choice or by others’ force) from their culture and the more established churches, and folks who found themselves in a minority position. It’s also a movement that has always leaned towards individualism and away from institutionalism, for better and for worse. So it’s not surprising that power is a topic that has seemed distant or downright dangerous for many evangelical Christians. Power is what Rome or the Church of England had in the 18th century, or the mainline Protestants had in the twentieth century, or “the culture” has today—not something “we” have.

But I’ve discovered that almost no one really thinks they have power. Everyone can quickly come up with a list of people who are more powerful than they are. And this can become an excuse for not being accountable for the power we do have. I think it’s time for us to be more honest in owning the fact that we have power.

It’s easier to do that when you come to believe, as I argue in the book, that power is not the same thing as violence and domination. Power is meant for flourishing, and especially the flourishing of the vulnerable—and in fact, the vulnerable do not flourish unless others exercise power. This is true for every single one of us, by the way, not just the poor—because all of us were babies. Every human being has been and will be vulnerable; and every human being, created in the image of God, has power that can be used for the flourishing of others. With that perspective, it’s not something to be afraid of, but something to be accountable for.

Read the entire interview here: