Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’


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:


Getting Free by Pursuing Jesus

Chances are you have seen Jefferson Bettke’s viral video: “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” which has now been viewed almost 27 million times. A lot of has happened in Jefferson’s life since the release of that spoken word video. God has given him a great platform to share the gospel in unique and powerful ways. He is out with a new book, Jesus>Religion. I had the chance to interview Jefferson for my weekly blog at Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur. I asked him about one of the subjects of his public speaking ministry: the grip of pornography on young men:

Pornography has been a subject of much of your public speaking. How can the gospel free young men from porn’s grip?

The good news of Jesus is that he has brought new creation right here in the midst of the old one. The kingdom is near as he says and that means his rule, his reign, a place of beauty, and shalom is right next to us. Because of this Jesus and new creation are more beautiful than anything we can imagine. So we don’t have to white knuckle our behavior modification, but apply effort and discipline under the banner of grace knowing that going towards Rev. 21 is a lot more beautiful place and brings depth and richness into our life. The good news is that Jesus bore all the evil, shame, guilt, hurt, on the cross for us so we are free and getting free is a matter of leaning in on that truth and pursuing Jesus.

Read the rest of the interview with Jefferson Bettke here: 


Finding Joy In a Fallen World

I’ve been deeply convicted lately, about my own writing and interaction on social media. I enjoy keeping up with current events, politics, and movements in the Church. I like writing in reaction to news stories, helping people think biblically about what is going on in the world. I’d like to think I do a fair job at doing this, but I know that because I see “through a glass darkly” even at my best, my view of the world is tainted by sin. It’s a good thing to help people size up the world biblically, but if we’re not careful (and by we, I mean me), people can assume that the Christian faith is all about cynicism, negativity, and opposition.

I recently read, afresh, Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

We typically use this verse as a guideline for what kind of entertainment we allow ourselves to view. Some tape this to their television set or computer. This is a good application of this verse, but I wonder if seeing this only as a sort of entertainment filter limits the application. I think there is more here.

Think on these things. Paul is repeating a theme common to his writing. He’s applying the gospel message to the way we think. God has given us minds with which to love him. And Paul is asking a question, “How are we stewarding our thought lives?”

There is a lot of bad in the world. There is a lot of sin. There are many injustices which demand the prophetic voice of God’s people. There is a lot of bad in the Church. There is a lot of sin. There are injustices, even in the Church, which demand the prophetic voice of God’s people.

And yet . . . should the negative occupy all we speak and write about? Should we be primarily reactionary? Or, does Paul counsel us here to operate our ministry from the position of what is beautiful instead of what is ugly? Let’s review where Paul is write now as he’s writing these words:

He’s in jail.

He’s been unjustly treated.

He lost his religious freedom.

He’s in the Roman Empire, governed by one of the most sadistic, authoritarian madmen ever put in power.

He’s got friends, Christian friends, who’ve betrayed him.

He’s probably very sickly.

And yet Paul says, to paraphrase, “In light of what we have in Christ, let’s think on these things: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, what is commendable and what is praiseworthy.”

In other words, let’s not singlehandedly focus on what is bad in our world, let’s not simply react to everything negative. Even though this world is so tainted by sin and there are evil people and tragic circumstances, there is still a lot of goodness and beauty and joy in this world. Let’s find those things and rejoice in them. Let’s ponder them. Let’s revel in them.

Yes, there is time for lament and sorrow and weeping. But given that we know the Man of Sorrows who has born our grief, let’s train our minds to find what is beautiful in this world, what is lovely and pure and wonderful. Let’s rejoice in a golden sunset. Let’s revel in the beautiful laughter of our children. Let’s appreciate good art, regardless of the source. Let’s enjoy a sport event without guilt. Let’s revel in deep friendships. Let’s love our spouses and enjoy their company. Let’s admire a well-crafted piece of furniture. Let’s laugh and cry at a good theatrical production. Let’s let the best music run through the ears into the deepest part of the heart.

As a Christian, we can look at what is beautiful and we can do it to the glory of God. Why? Because anything beautiful or lovely or good can catapult our hearts into worship of the Creator who made it. Every time your child laughs and gives you joy, you can silently worship God who is the giver of all good gifts. And you can do this with a delicious meal, a glorious soundtrack, a delightful conversation, or anything that brings you wholesome pleasure. You can do this because you know each and every glimpse of beauty is a reflection of the One who is beautiful: Jesus.

What Paul is really saying, I think, is this. Don’t be cynical. Be grateful. If it was ingratitude (according to Romans 1) that turned man’s heart from Creator to creation, then it is gratitude that turns man’s heart the other way. For if we listen to Paul and think long enough about what is good and lovely and just and commendable and praiseworthy, we’ll find Jesus.


What Is Your Thing?

As a pastor I meet a lot of interesting Christians. I have people who attend my church, people who call or stop by to promote their ministry in our church, and/or people who send me information via email or mail. The common theme is that every Christian seems to have a “thing.” That is to say the one theme of their life and their advocacy.

For instance, there are those whose specialty is defending Genesis. For others it’s Christian political activism. There are outreaches and emphases on Jewish ministry, men’s ministry, Christian education, eschatology, and a host of other specific niches. Pastors get hit with appeals for these on an almost weekly basis.

In one sense, I love this because it demonstrates how God has uniquely gifted and called individual Christians and ministries. Their laser-like focus helps educate and edify God’s people. For the busy pastor, who sees the whole church, having speakers or curriculum or small group studies can help sharpen the faith of this people.

And yet sometimes I see an unhealthy imbalance where your emphasis becomes your “thing.” Let me explain. I’ve had conversations with people passionate about science around Genesis. I find this compelling and I’m in agreement with the view that Genesis describes a literal six-day creation. I enjoy hearing from smart scientists who defend this view. But an emphasis or a calling to this field can easily become a “thing” that seems to drive everything about a person’s life. And rather than Jesus becoming their animating theme, defending against evolutionists is their animating theme. Every conversation, every concern in the church, every social ill must become a debate about origins. I think this is unhealthy.

I”m not just picking on creationists here. I’m just using this as an example. I see this in every other specialty. And this can happen with any particular focus of Christian ministry. Where what we are most passionate about becomes less the gospel and more our pet “thing.”

It’s unhealthy on a number of levels. First, what was a good interest and a worthy calling can become a source of conflict with other believers. When the gospel animates us, then we are humbled enough to work toward unity in our local body of believers and in the body worldwide. But when our pet “thing” animates us, we become argumentative, looking always for opportunities to prove how right we are. Secondly, I think the enemy is okay with us focusing on a “thing” rather than focusing on Jesus and using our gifts and talents, ultimately, to build God’s church through evangelism. Third, an unhealthy imbalance divides people into categories and suddenly we don’t see the unchurched as objects of God’s love in need of the gospel, but people on the wrong side of an issue. And we don’t see brothers and sisters who disagree with us people we should love, but people who we must win over to our view of things.

Unhealthy imbalance can also create a culture, in the home or the church, where the gospel is actually not the main thing we’re concerned with passing to the next generation. Teens sniff this out right away. They quickly get what we are most passionate about. If this is not the gospel, the “faith” once delivered to all saints” (Jude 1:3), they may reject our faith. Because our faith in Jesus is the only thing contagious enough to be “caught” by the next generation.

I guess what I’m saying is this: everyone has a “thing”, a special calling or emphasis they feel is important to ministry. But this must always be surrendered to the larger “thing” which is the call to live and share the gospel with those who are far from Jesus.

At the end of my life, I don’t want it said that what drove me most was that I believed in a six-day creation or that was a dispensationalist or that I was a political conservative. I want it said that I loved Jesus, that I faithfully taught His Word, and that I loved those God has called me to love. That’s what I want most to drive me.


Why Mother’s Day Will Be Harder for Us This Year

I’m thirty-four and so Mother’s Day has endured several new seasons for me. There was the season of my birth, which I don’t remember of course. Then there was the seasons of childhood where I came home from church on Mother’s Day with hand-made cards, where I partnered with my dad and siblings to make meals, create artwork, and honor my wonderful mom. There was the season of junior high and into high-school where I offered the obligatory thanks to Mom, but didn’t fully appreciate her investment in my life. And then of course there is college years where I’m pursing my dreams and slowly begin to appreciate Mom.

Then there where new and fresh seasons of Mother’s Day. When I married Angela, I added another mother to my life. Angela’s mom, Linda, was a wonderful new addition. And then, when we began having children, Mother’s Day was given a whole new meaning. The first year of parenthood I didn’t fully appreciate this. That Mother’s Day I went about as usual, buying gifts for my own mother and making sure we took care of Angela’s mom. Big mistake. I had forgotten that this was a day to honor my wife, who is the mother of my children, who was laboring hard to make our house a home for the children God entrusted me. It was a lesson I didn’t ever forget.

This year, as Mother’s Day rolls around, we’re experiencing yet another season. In January of this year, Linda Sullivan, Angela’s Mom, my mother-in-law, slipped from this life into glory. It was a tragic loss for us. This Mother’s Day will be especially difficult for Angela, the first without the woman who so shaped her life. It’s also a hard day for me, to lose a wonderful friend, listening ear, compassionate soul, cheerleader, and mentor. The ten years I knew Linda were good years. We wish we had at least ten more with her, but we don’t.

In a way, the varied seasons of Mother’s Day are helping to shape my own ministry to others. Until this year I didn’t realize the mixed feelings or even outright pain most feel on this holiday when it seems everyone is celebrating motherhood. If you’ve lost a mother, this particular Sunday in May revives those emotions afresh. If you’ve experienced the sting of infertility, this is a day in which you’re not sure how to act. Anger, jealousy, sadness, embarrassment, grief. If you’ve lost a child, you may just want to roll right past this Sunday in the calendar.

As I get up to preach on Sunday, I hope to offer Jesus as solution to the empty parts on Mother’s Day. I hope each new seasons allows me, like Paul, to care for God’s children “like a nursing mother taking care of her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). But ultimately, I know that each loss we experience on Mother’s Day is a fresh reminder of God’s sovereignty over all things and that even the best relationships, the ones we’ve experienced with our mothers or mothers-in-law are but small pleasures pointing us to the ultimate joy found in relationship to Christ, who fills all the empty places in our hearts.

Sunday, I will do my best to help Angela grieve the loss of her mother and to honor Angela’s own efforts as mother of our four small children. Like most on this holiday, I suppose we’ll limp along less triumphalist as we may have in the past when everything was just right on Mother’s Day. And I encourage you to do the same.

When Sunday approaches, make sure you give your mother and your mother-in-law quality time and affirm your gratitude for their contribution to your life. If you’re married, honor your wife. If you have children, doubly honor your wife. And when the day is over, whisper a silent prayer of thanks to your Heavenly Father, who sustains and holds all things in His loving hands.


Friday Five: Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine; he authored the “Foolish Things” column for CT. Stan writes opinion pieces for and His articles have been honored in the Evangelical Press Association’s Higher Goals in Christian Journalism competitions.

Stan has appeared on National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More,” WGN’s Milt Rosenberg program, ABC’s Nightline Twittercast, WFMT, and many Christian programs, including Moody Radio’s “Chris Fabry Live,” “Inside Look,” “Prime Time America,” and “New Day Florida.” An inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for a debate with Christopher Hitchens entitled “Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?

Stan is married and has three children. 

He is the author of several books, including his latestAll That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us. Stan was kind enough to stop by and answer questions about this book for today’s Friday Five.

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Why Hobbies are Better When They are Not Idols

John Calvin famous said our hearts are great “idol-making factories.” A good, wholesome, beneficial pursuit can quickly become an idol. For me, I find that my pleasurable hobbies can often lead to idolatry. Sports is perhaps the biggest threat. I’m a big time fan of team sports. I love the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball (when our Chicago teams are competitive.). Sports is a terrific way to enjoy leisure time, great way to occupy creative and emotional parts of our minds and to find common ground with others. But it can also become an obsessive pursuit. Let me explain.

There are seasons when I’m so completely locked in on sports. For instance, last NBA offseason and the season were terrific, perhaps one of the best in many years in the League. During that season I was checking Twitter constantly to see where LeBron might be signing. I watched many regular season games and most playoff games. And I was constantly listening to sports radio in the car. None of those are wrong, but they began to consume my time. In increasing amounts.

And do you know what was interesting about this newfound idol? It didn’t satisfy. When I began to look to my sports addiction as something that can fill me when I’m discouraged or distract when I’m convicted by the Spirit, it became a lousy friend. The reason for this is simple. Sports was never created to satisfy me. It can only bring temporary pleasure or enjoyment and provide a prism thru which I may appreciate and glorify God more.

I’ve found something else interesting. When I unplug from sports (or whatever my idol is that season) and dive deeper into the Word through prayer, preaching, and good reading, I find I still have an affinity for sports like the NBA, but I tend to enjoy my limited exposure to it. Do you understand what I’m saying? Too much of a pursuit/hobby I love not only becomes a bad thing, it becomes a terribly object of worship. But when sports is in its rightful place in my life, I find my limited moments indulging become true enjoyment. The expectations for satisfaction are way lower. Sports becomes what it was supposed to be for me: a time to rest, relax, reflect, unwind. But not my Master and my source of delight.

Only God gives this. And our hearts are wired only to find pleasure in Him. So the answer, I guess, is not to completely abandon all good things that can be turned into great, but it is to keep them in their place. When our pursuits begin to look like worship, we should scale back, dive back into the Word, and then realize we only find life in Jesus.


Christianity, Six-Inch Headlines, and Fear

I’ve had several conversations with folks in the last few weeks, fearful of the state of the world. Economic downturn, failed leadership at all levels, personal tragedy, and just really bad news all around. A lot of people are starting to think that this is the worst time in history. At least American history. I’ve heard various versions of “America has lost its greatness.” or “America is headed downward.” It’s interesting that I only seem to hear this from Christians when a certain party is out of power. Then suddenly, when someone we like is in the White House, suddenly things are sunshine and roses again and America is “back.”

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t troubling indicators in America. Unsustainable debt, paralysis at the top levels of government, a culture embracing ungodliness, and a seeming decline in Christian influence. But I wonder if our fear is less about reality and more about our increasing knowledge in this 21st Century. Everyone knows all the bad news all time and in real-time. That makes a huge difference. We live in the days when bad news travels to us like a never-stopping ticker, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, news sites, or screen crawls on the bottom of cable news channels.

There are advantages to this, of course. When disaster strikes, we can mobilize quickly to help those in need. But there are extreme disadvantages. Such as the paralyzing fear that is sinking into the hearts of people.

I’ve recently been reading history, some biographies centered around the 1940’s to 1960’s. I’m amazed at the threats the world faced then. Three menacing powers threatened to take over the world: Stalin in Russia, Hitler in German, Hirohito in Japan. These weren’t some garden-variety nut threatening to use a nuke, but marginalized by the world powers. These were real, massive, imposing armies on the march. Civilization, literally, did hang in the balance. But for the courage of men like Churchill and FDR, perhaps Hitler would have won. (As a Christian I argue that God intervened in the course of history). It was a harrowing time, followed by decades of more fear: Korea, Cold War, Vietnam, division and racial tension in the U.S., assassinations of world leaders, economic stagnation, Watergate. It was a time of fear.

Fast forward today and you might say, “Yes, the world is in trouble” and you’d be right. You’re right to pray and vote for leaders with spiritual and moral courage. But you’d be wrong to assume you’re living in the worst time in history. Far, far from it. Think back throughout human history and you find a sordid tale of man’s inability to govern himself, the ravages of sin upon the human race, and very few pockets of stability and freedom.

Today the average American enjoys, even in economic decline, unparalleled wealth compared to the way people have lived throughout history. He enjoys something completely rare in all of history: religious freedom. He enjoys opportunity not granted to any other group of people in the history of the world.

You wouldn’t know that by checking Drudge’s sensational, six-inch headlines every day. But imagine if Drudge had given blow-by-blow accounts of, say, D-Day or the Great Depression or the Civil War? Yeah, maybe it’s good the Internet wasn’t around then.

I’m not saying we’re not in scary times. We definitely are. But we are also in good times. It’s just that we’re not conditioned for any kind of disruption of our comfort. Perhaps it would be good to study history and realize how good we have it today. Let’s pray that America’s very serious problems will be solved and that good leadership will rise. But let’s also be grateful to God for allowing us to live in such a blessed, prosperous age. And let’s model Paul’s spirit from a Roman prison, “I have learned, in whatsoever situation I am to be content”(Philippians 4:11). And let’s pray that our awakening to everyday bad news will bring believers to their knees and unbelievers to the cross.