Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

A gift for youIn his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan famously asked, “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” In a society that glorifies the prosperity gospel through shows like this one, it’s probably a fair question to ask.

But it also isn’t a new question that’s relevant to our culture only. About 1500 years ago, another Christian leader, Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, asked the same thing of his congregants. In its volume on the gospel of Mark, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture quotes him as preaching the following: Continue reading Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

A Big God for Little People

I’m reading John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013 during my devotional time this month. If you’re not already reading something specific to focus on and celebrate the Incarnation (or even if you are), go download the book. It’s free. You can’t beat free. The readings so far have been deep, meaningful, and encouraging. Today’s entry on Luke 2:1-5 was especially good, emphasizing how God uses the big things of this world to bless the little people who are his. Here’s the key section (emphasis mine): Continue reading A Big God for Little People

Philippians 4:13: A Statement of Empowerment or Dependence?

I don’t have a lot of memories of my parents embarrassing me when I was a kid, but one in particular stands out. I was probably about 10-years-old (give or take a year or so) and playing baseball for the local little league. My team was in a big game, and it had gone into extra innings. I was standing in right-field, waiting for the next pitch, when all of a sudden I heard my mom’s voice screaming, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!”

I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I was mortified. Being an introvert, I don’t particularly like the spotlight under normal circumstances. But when all eyes are on you because of a crazy lady shouting Bible verses, it’s a special kind of misery. Suffice it to say that I never again gave her trouble about not paying attention at one of my sporting events. In fact, from then on, I was happy to look over in her direction and see her reading a book instead of watching the game.

But while I was embarrassed that my mom was attaching that verse to my performance on the baseball field for me, applying Philippians 4:13 to a sporting event or other accomplishment or aspiration is hardly a novel concept. Somehow Paul’s declaration that he could do all things through Him who gave him strength has been transformed into a personal missions statement promoting self-empowerment and a “can do” attitude that belies Paul’s original meaning. Continue reading Philippians 4:13: A Statement of Empowerment or Dependence?

To the Class of 2012

I wrote the following for the senior class at Trinity Christian School as part of a special issue of the student newspaper that was dedicated to them:


Beloved Class of 2012,

I am so thankful that God gave me the opportunity to play a role in your lives and development (1 Thess. 2:8). As you head off to college, allow me to impart some final wisdom. Continue reading To the Class of 2012

The Motivation to Serve

10      But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.
11      “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.
12      “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.
13      “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
(Matthew 26:10-13)

A few things stand out at me from this passage: Continue reading The Motivation to Serve

Woe to You

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
17 “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?
18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’
19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering?
20 “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it.
21 “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.
22 “And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
(Matthew 23:13-22)

I have mixed feelings about this chapter. On the one hand, I love it because it obliterates the image of Jesus as a dull, boring, serious guy with no sense of humor. There are exclamation points everywhere (at least there are in translations other than the NASB, which I quoted here). He calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and blind guides. He uses hyperbole and sarcasm to drive his points home. I can just imagine spectators with their mouths agape or snickering into their hands as Jesus verbally undressed these men who took themselves entirely too seriously. On the other hand, I hate it because it exposes my own Pharisaical heart. It’s hard to laugh too much at Jesus’ exaggerations and insults without wondering if they are aimed at me as well.

In verse 13, Jesus begins pronouncing 7 (or 8, depending on your translation) “woes” upon the scribes and Pharisees for actions that motivated his use of the word “hypocrite” to point out that they were appearing one way while acting another. Their very attempts to give the appearance of righteousness showed their lack of righteousness, and today Jesus goes beyond their appearance to expose their hearts. This entire section reminds me of James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The Pharisees failed to correctly teach and lead the people God had entrusted to them, and Jesus judges them harshly. Let’s look at why. Continue reading Woe to You

How We Relate to Government

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)

In his commentary on Romans 13:1, John Calvin writes that

There are indeed always some tumultuous spirits who believe that the kingdom of Christ cannot be sufficiently elevated, unless all earthly powers be abolished, and that they cannot enjoy the liberty given by him, except they shake off every yoke of human subjection. Continue reading How We Relate to Government

Producing Fruit

The parable of the tenants reminds me a little bit of Nathan confronting David over the Bathsheba incident. Nathan got David to condemn himself by condemning an anonymous person for a similar crime. Jesus does the same thing to the religious leaders with the parable of the tenants. After telling them the parable, he asked them what the master of the house will do when he discovers what the tenants had done. They replied that he will put the tenants to death and find other tenants who will give him the fruits of the vineyard when they ought.

In today’s verses, Jesus, like Nathan before him, tells his audience that they have condemned themselves with their answer:

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:42-43)

I’m not sure what the religious leaders thought Jesus was trying to tell them with the parable, but it clearly wasn’t this. In verse 42, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 to show that he is the son that the tenants rejected and killed. As we saw when we looked at Matthew 16:18, this idea of Jesus being the rejected cornerstone was not lost on the early church, especially Peter (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4-8). In verse 43, Jesus confirms that God, as master of the house, would indeed take his vineyard (the kingdom of God) away from the tenants who rejected and killed his son (Israel) and give it to people who would produce its fruits (typically interpreted as the Church). Continue reading Producing Fruit

A Resolution Worth Keeping

Every year on January 1st, teenagers around the country resolve to try harder in school, eat better, exercise more, get a job, save money, or be less distracted by the opposite sex. And every year on January 2nd, those same teenagers decide that it’s easier to just do nothing, and their resolutions are forgotten more quickly than information after a test is handed in.

As Christians, instead of setting goals that deal only with surface issues and are dependent on our own efforts, we should think like Paul, who wrote in Philippians 3, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 12-14). Paul wasn’t pressing on toward a healthy diet, a 4.0 GPA, or a PR in track. He wasn’t forgetting last marking period to press on in this one. Rather, he was counting everything except Jesus as loss (v. 8) and straining (because it’s not easy!) to become like Jesus in his life and in his death (v. 8-9) that he might gain Christ (v. 8) and the resurrection from the dead (v. 11). And he was doing it all as a response to what Jesus had done for him (v. 12). Paul’s goal wasn’t focused on self-improvement or motivated by pride; it was focused on Christ-likeness and motivated by reciprocating the love that he had been shown. He went on to say, “Let those of us who are mature think this way,” (v. 15) and, “join in imitating me” (v. 17). This isn’t something that only super-saints like Paul are called to do. It is to be every Christian’s goal. Every year. Every marking period. Every day. Continue reading A Resolution Worth Keeping

Ministers of Reconciliation

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Paul packs so much into these few verses that it’s a little overwhelming to try and tackle it all so let me just make a few observations on how this all relates to evangelism. Continue reading Ministers of Reconciliation