Category Archives: Opinion

Identity Myopia and the Maker's Image

When you only understand yourself with respect to the details of your life and not to the bigger picture, you're experiencing identity myopia. The epidemic is ubiquitous; it affects us all.

So explains Hannah Anderson to Mark Mellinger in a conversation about themes from her new book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image (Moody, 2014). "When we take the various spheres of our lives (e.g., wife, mother, writer) and then define ourselves by them," she observes, "it creates a myopia that prevents us from seeing the full picture." But far from being ends in themselves, the purpose of such spheres is to enable us to image our King. Identity in Christ, then, isn't merely about being right with God; it's about being restored to sort of image bearers he created us to be (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

Watch the full eight-minute video to hear the writer and pastor's wife from Roanoke, Virginia, discuss singleness, motherhood, physical appearance, and more.

Hannah Anderson from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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On My Shelf: Life and Books with Russell Moore

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.

I talked with Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, about what's on his nightstand, books he re-reads, his favorite fiction, and more.

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What's on your nightstand right now? 

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On my nightstand right now are the following books: Walter Kirn, Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade; Arthur W. Hunt III, Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Man-Made Environments; Andrew Smith, Grasshopper Jungle; Carlene Bauer, Frances and Bernard; John Updike, Buchanan Dying: A Play; Paul Taylor, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown; and William G. McLoughlin, ed., Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

I find that I regularly re-read almost the entire C. S. Lewis corpus, and I'm often surprised by how much of his thought I've absorbed while forgetting he was the one who taught me. I regularly re-read Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, and his essays, especially those in Signposts in a Strange Land. I also return often to Irenaeus's On the Apostolic Preaching and Augustine's Confessions and The City of God. I re-read J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism rather often, and always find it prophetic and timely.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

John Leland's biography is very influential on my view of the relationship between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this age. Other influential biographies or autobiographies for me include Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor, Willie Morris's North Toward Home and New York Days, and Peter Brown's Augustine of Hippo. I like biographies and memoirs of musicians, too: Terry Teachout's Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, David Cantwell's biography/cultural analysis of Merle Haggard, and Michael Streissguth's Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville are some I've enjoyed in recent days. For whatever reason, I'm drawn to the biographies or autobiographies of losing presidential candidates, whether I like those candidates or not, ranging from William Jennings Bryan to Henry Wallace to Barry Goldwater to Hubert Humphrey to George Wallace to Walter Mondale. This isn't technically a biography or autobiography, but I return often to the correspondence between Walker Percy and Shelby Foote.

What are your favorite fiction books?

My favorite fiction books include Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces (which is the funniest book I've ever read, and I re-read it often if for no other reason than to hear the voices and accents of my home region—accents that are fast erasing, even most lamentably long ago from my own voice, in a culture-flattening America), Eudora Welty's short stories, and Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. I also like John Updike, Anton Chekov, and Tennessee Williams.

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Also in the On My Shelf series: Jared WilsonKathy KellerTullian TchividjianJ. D. GreearKevin DeYoungKathleen NielsonThabiti AnyabwileCollin HansenFred SandersRosaria ButterfieldNancy Guthrie, and Matt Chandler.

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I Love My Black Letter Bible

With the way some Christians talk, you might be forgiven for wondering why the canon includes more than four books. Sure, the Old Testament is useful in tracing the development of human reflection on the divine, and the New Testament in conveying the thoughts of some of Jesus' earliest followers. But if you really want to know what God thinks about something, you hear today, you'll need consult the recorded thoughts of Jesus. And if you want to do that, you'll need to stick to the "red letters." In other words, flip to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (or that less traversed terrain, Revelation 2-3) and stay put.

To be sure, I understand the impulse. It makes some sense in light of the differences between the sinless Son of God (on display in the Gospels) and the bona fide sinners who penned most of the rest of New Testament (unbelieving James and Jude, denying Peter, blaspheming Paul, and so on). Dubious résumés, to say the least.

Nevertheless, Christians have always recognized the God-breathed character of their words. The miracle of inspiration means the whole Bible is the voice of God. While central and foundational, the fourfold Gospel witness is no more true or reliable or relevant or binding than the black letters that precede and follow. Indeed, when we treat the red letters more seriously than the black ones, we muzzle the Son who speaks in all of them.

The Pages in Black Fulfill the Promise in Red

It's foolish to downplay the Bible's black-lettered pages if for no other reason than they're fulfilling a red-lettered promise. Consider Jesus' words to his apostles:

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I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15, emphasis added)

Now ponder the words of Paul:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12, emphasis added)

Did you catch the parallel? Christ's promise finds fulfillment in Paul's teaching. The ministry of the Savior marches on in the ministry of the apostle. Jesus said that he had more to say. He promised further revelation of truth to his apostles through his Spirit. Paul is just Exhibit A.

As John Murray put it:

Prior to his ascension, Christ's teaching was directly by word of mouth. But afterward he taught by a different mode . . . by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers. The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus' ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh. How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus' spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture. The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension. . . . The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus' own speaking. (Collected Writings, Vol. 1, 40)

The apostle Peter goes so far as to say the prophetic word of Scripture is a revelation "more sure" than even Christ himself in transfigured glory (2 Pet. 1:19). That's a stunning claim! He then exhorts us to recall the "commandment of our Lord and Savior through [the] apostles" (2 Pet. 3:2; cf. Acts 2:42). No wonder Paul enjoins his protégé to heed the "sound words you have heard from me" (2 Tim. 1:13) with no less urgency than the "sound words of our Lord Jesus" (1 Tim. 6:3). Or elsewhere claim his instructions are "the Lord's command" (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:15) imbued with heaven's authority (2 Thess. 3:14).

When I write, the result is a tweet or a blog post. When Paul wrote, the result was holy Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16).

Is the church's authorized foundation, then, Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11) or the Bible (Eph. 2:20)? Yes.

The Word of God: Jesus or Scripture?

Another related mistake is the popular tendency to imply that since Jesus is the Word of God, Scripture must be something else. But once again this is a false dilemma. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God's Word (e.g., John 1:1-2; Heb. 1:1-2; Rev. 19:13) and that it is God's Word (e.g., John 10:35; Acts 17:11; Heb. 4:12; 13:7). The urge to wrest an "either/or" out of a "both/and" smells more of Enlightenment rationalism than biblical Christianity. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

As Kevin DeYoung observes:

God's gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated Word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out Word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.

Diminishing the integrity of the Word inscripturate in the name of upholding the integrity of the Word incarnate is, ironically enough, the quickest way to domesticate and diminish him.

Jesus Blinders

I recently heard a remark that only in Jesus do we see God "as he is." While this statement may sound profound and even have a ring of truth—Christ is the "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3) and the point of the biblical story (Luke 24:27, 44)—it is finally misleading since it does not reveal the whole picture. The Lord's self-disclosure was not exhausted by the Son's earthly life. Jesus' appearing neither nullified the revelation that came before (Matt. 5:17-18) nor rendered redundant the revelation that followed after (John 16:12-15).

On the surface, "Jesus shows us what God is really like" language appears pious and even Jesus-exalting. In reality, it betrays a tragically truncated view of the Jesus of the Bible. We see God "as he is" by gazing with the eyes of faith on the pages of his Word—all of them.

One day, our faith will vanish into sight, and we will at last behold the king in his beauty. Until then, however, we live and move and have our being in the age of the ear. "For now," Augustine taught 1,500 years ago, "treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence."

If you love Jesus, you'll love his voice wherever it appears—even in the black letters.

When Jesus Said Farewell

We Christians sometimes buy into a lie. We assume that if we're not like those hateful, judgmental people who call themselves Christians, then the world will see that we're actually pretty reasonable folks and want to follow Jesus. We believe that if Christians just cleaned up our act, then Jesus could finally captivate the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

The only problem with this view is that it has no basis in the example or teaching of Jesus. Nice Christians don't always finish first. Even though Jesus loved perfectly to the end, his closest friends and disciples abandoned him when the political and religious authorities pinned him to the cross. Peter rebounded from his shameful denial of Jesus and vowed to love Jesus by loving his people. His reward? Jesus told him to expect that he, too, would stretch out his hands in unwanted death that would nevertheless glorify God (John 21:15-19).

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesThe apostle John did not endure such a gruesome demise. But he heard and recorded Jesus' farewell discourse, in which the Son of God told the disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Jesus and his heavenly Father for convicting them of their sin (John 15:24).

"If you were of the world," Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, "the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:19-20).

We should not be surprised that Christians today so easily forget or overlook these bracing words from Jesus. Just days after Jesus said farewell, while they hid behind locked doors in the aftermath of the crucifixion, the disciples obviously missed the significance of their Savior's teaching: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). They had expected triumphant, bloody insurrection, and instead he gave them a cold, empty tomb. Only in the aftermath of the resurrection, when they saw and heard and touched Jesus in the flesh, did they finally begin to understand that the way of glory passes through Golgotha.

Acting Like Jesus

When we assume the world will love us if we start acting like Jesus, then we're not actually acting like Jesus. We love to cite Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as evidence of the kind of humble compassion we should emulate. Indeed, it is. But eleven pairs of these feet washed by Jesus scattered away in fear, and one infamous pair scampered to find the chief priests and officers to arrest Jesus as he prayed.

Love for the world motivated by anything other than love for Jesus inevitably fails to offer the kind of love the world needs. Don't think that Jesus would be any more popular in our day than he was in his own hometown, even his own family. Jesus was known to speak with uncommon authority because he told the truth about bankrupt religious practice. He would do the same among us, calling out the religious and non-religious for idols we have harbored.

When our love is motivated more by approval of the world than faithfulness to Jesus, then we turn against other Christians we believe hinder our goals. Have you noticed this trend? Consider someone who fears that Jesus' teaching against greed (Matt. 6:19-21) hinders churches from reaching upwardly mobile young professionals. His enemy becomes those Christians who teach "poverty theology" and reject the goodness of creation and the necessity of amassing resources in order to advance the kingdom of God. Notice: rarely do you hear anyone openly say we should disobey Jesus' teaching. After all, Jesus told his disciples that if they would abide in his love, then they must keep his commandments (John 15:10). Rather, the person asking you to disobey Jesus instead seeks to convince you that the church won't grow and the world won't follow Jesus unless you love the world enough to rethink your biblical interpretation. Should you plug your ears to this siren song, you will be accused of being part of the reason why the world has rejected Jesus.

But as we've already seen from the example of Jesus, we could change the content or confuse the clarity of his teaching, but the condition of our hearts would still prevent us from following him. Not until Jesus breathed his Spirit on the disciples (John 20:22) so they could recall what he taught them earlier about the coming persecution (John 16:2) did they finally find the strength to obey and proclaim the good news. Apart from the Spirit it's impossible for us to resist the world as necessary. The world tempts and confuses Christians. Even the enemies who try to kill us think they offer service to God (John 16:2). The apostle Paul regarded himself zealous in his love of God until Jesus blinded him with forgiveness for his sins and grace to walk in true righteousness. When Jesus reveals himself he gives believers eyes to see our sin as futile and his teaching as good and perfect.

Love One Another

Along with sending his Spirit, Jesus gave us a key test of discipleship before he said farewell. "A new commandment I give to you: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

We can see the problem when other Christians lose Jesus by lacking love and prayerful concern for their enemies (Matt. 5:44). But how many of us have likewise forgotten Jesus because in our pursuit of the world we have not loved fellow disciples? We're so eager to win the world's approval that we violate the most basic commandments and dare to invoke Jesus' name in our defense. Don't trust anyone who attempts to justify his anger at other Christians. And don't think you can win the world by disobeying any of Jesus' commands. Jesus' life, death, and teaching offer our only sure basis for unity among the body of Christ and effective mission in the world.

"Unity should never be attained at the cost of truth," Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor write in their new book, The Final Days of Jesus, "yet unity is essential among God's people, particularly in regard to a shared mind and purpose and mutual love in the work of fulfilling Christ's mission to the world."

In keeping with Passover custom, Jesus and his disciples would have likely sung Psalms 113-118 together before he said farewell. As Jesus prepared to drink the cup given by his Father (John 19:11) and ascend the cross, the words of Psalm 118 in particular must have offered great comfort and courage in his unique mission. We know he had cited Psalm 118:22-23 in debate with Jewish religious leaders: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:22-23).

We must also consider the repeated refrain that begins and ends this beloved psalm: "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1, 29). His covenant love endures even the worst cruelty the world can conceive. It endures the betrayal of close friends. It endures age after age, from Jesus until now and forevermore.

We, too, need these comforting, sobering words today. "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes" (Psalm 119:8-9). We must neither seek nor expect the world's approval. And we must claim the promise of God's Word that we can find refuge in Jesus. As he empowers us to obey his commandments and love his disciples, we testify to a watching world that Jesus has come from the Father (John 17: 23) offering eternal life to all who repent and believe (John 17:3).

Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one's Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has "forfeited his own personal privacy" to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God's written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more.

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You claim that "what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus." Aren't you guilty of bibliolatry here? 

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Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, "Well, we worship the 'Word Christ' not the 'word the Bible.'" Which is true in a sense. We don't prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don't worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God's speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most "live" among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture's perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We've seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say "that's just your interpretation" instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God's truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we've misread the Bible, let's see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What's wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It's better to obey the Bible when you don't like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God's will and God's ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he's like.

What do you mean when you claim God's speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don't have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don't have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ's work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture's sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute "most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians"?

It's wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can't be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I'm thinking of people who make their sense of "calling" more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I'm thinking of denominational groups I've been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I'm talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say "yes," but then often live out "no."

Mama's Hands Are Full: Gloria Furman on Treasuring Christ in the Trenches

It was 8:00 a.m., and I already longed for bedtime. I'd refereed two conflicts over toys. I attempted to tackle the mountain of laundry that seemed to quadruple overnight. I repeated instructions multiple times to easily distracted minds. "It's time to brush your teeth." "Keep your finger out of your nose." "Only use kind words." My head and throat hurt, and I could feel a fever brewing.

Motherhood is a life that stretches you both inside and out. It's a daily practice of laying down your will and desires for the care of others. It's an energy-sapping life where you start each day with less energy than you had the day before. Nothing belongs to you anymore—not your space, not your time, not your sleep. Some days feel like a bad version of Groundhog Day, a repeat of the day before.

As a mom, I usually get caught up in the details of my days. I get wrapped up and consumed by the chaos and unexpected situations that come my way. I struggle in my weakness against the current of life's challenges, only to make no headway at all. And most of the time I end up spent, weary, discouraged, and alone.

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On that day, when I felt sick and sapped of all strength, physical and otherwise, Gloria Furman's new book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway) [video trailer], arrived in the mail. It was the perfect word of truth and encouragement my weary heart needed. The title alone spoke to me because my hands are always full. But too often I focus on everything I'm carrying in those hands rather than on my treasure, Jesus Christ.

Gloria's book is filled with gospel wisdom from cover to cover. She reminds us that Christ is with us in every situation we encounter as mothers. Not only that, but we can treasure him amid every chaos, every sibling spat, every sickness, and every cup of spilled milk. These meditations cover situations to which every mom can relate. Filled with examples from her own life, Gloria weaves gospel encouragement into every page, bringing hope to the daily challenges of motherhood.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full reminded me that the gospel is for all of life—including motherhood. Our theology of the cross and the redemption purchased by Christ's blood intersect with bedtime battles, fatigue, and easily distracted children. What Jesus accomplished can be applied to every moment of our lives. Even when our head throbs from the resounding echoes of little voices calling our name all day, gospel peace is always available through Jesus Christ.

I asked Gloria a few questions about her new book to learn how moms can find quiet times, why she doesn't offer more "how-to" advice, and what passages of Scripture have encouraged her lately.

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What inspired you to write this book, and what do you hope women take away from it?

Busy moms have their hands full, and I want them to revel in the hope that comes from the gospel and see how their hands are full of blessings in Christ.

I appreciated your honesty in sharing the challenges you faced in early motherhood with having regular quiet times with the Lord. I remember this struggle myself. Finding quiet and solitude with God is hard. But, as you point out, the Lord is just as near to us in the chaos of our day as he is in the alone times. Do you think that moms can have a tendency to just give up on communing with God because of their season of life?

Sometimes we think that if only we could have peace and quiet in the house then we will have peace and quiet in our heart. How easy it is for us to relegate Jesus' presence to an easy chair in a picture-perfect living room (with an accompanying cup of hot coffee)! For the mom facing that challenge of finding quiet time, I'd want her to know that, solitude or circus, it makes no difference in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to give you everything you need for life and godliness.

In a day where mom blogs saturate the internet with "how-to" counsel and "5 steps to getting your kid to _______," it seems we often clamor after quick fixes and step-by-step advice. Do readers ever complain that your writing is "just too much gospel" and not enough practical "how-to" advice? 

There's no shortage of resources and practical tips for helping moms navigate the challenges they face; I surf these websites for tips all the time. I hesitate to share my practical advice because it really only works for my set of unique circumstances a pitifully tiny fraction of the time, and whenever I give other moms "how-to" advice I have to preface it with that disclaimer.

But I can, however, share the gospel confidently without reservation because the cross teaches us what to expect when we're expecting challenging situations in motherhood—"mercy and grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Of course, solid practical advice is a mercy and a grace, but the cross addresses our deepest and most urgent need, which is to behold our God. In short, we can gain great benefit from practical how-tos, yet the implications of the help and hope we receive from the gospel are inexhaustible.

Is there one passage of Scripture, or a few passages, that have given you particular hope and peace during the often chaotic and busy season of motherhood?

Yes! In this particular season I have been particularly encouraged by Isaiah 40:11, Zephaniah 3:17, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Matthew 28:18-20, and the book of Ephesians.

We're All Over-Protected Now

In the March 2014 issue of The Atlantic, celebrity journalist Hanna Rosin turned her attention to America's coddled children. "The Overprotected Kid" traces Rosin's experience with her son at a Welsh playground called The Land, which is a cross between Blade Runner, a garbage heap, and a sandbox. In short, it sounds awesome.

Rosin argues in her perceptive piece that American parents are beset with "safety paranoia." Where once children roamed the land, built forts, and did daring things like cross city streets, now they risk a 911 call if they venture out of eyesight of their parents. Rosin's thesis is worth considering, even if many fathers and mothers will recognize the limitations of what one could call the "state of nature" movement.

I found the piece compelling because it speaks to me of problems not merely gymnastic, but spiritual. I think many of us evangelicals have our own "safety complex." We've been trained to live life fearfully, to damp down any sense of risk at all costs, and to believe that failure is the worst possible fate on this earth. I think we've got it wrong.

We've Been Trained to Adore Safety

It's hard to pinpoint how many of us have been indoctrinated into safety-hunger and inoculated against adventure. We surely have, though. Here are some factors:

1. We are, in relative terms, beneficiaries of an era of unprecedented wealth. Capitalism comes in for hard critiques, but studies show that its advent coincides with soaring life-longevity and material prosperity. When you reach this state, you don't want to leave it.

2. We have grown up in a church-friendly culture (now under major renovation). I don't decry this history as some do. But we all have to acknowledge that being a majority culture will cause us to be less prophetic, less daring, than we might otherwise be.

3. We live in the age of the mega-watt spiritual celebrity, people who promise us wealth and ease and unending upward mobility. Whether we know it or not, easy-believism affects us all.

4. We've bought into a theology of grace that softens every edge and cushions every fall. More than we know, we're therapeutic and psychologized. There's a "gospel-driven" form of this problem. I call it "gospel self-help." Just like the secular kind, it makes us the focal point of our faith. Narcissism easily suffocates a courageous spirit.

5. We want to fit in more than ever, in part because our identities—even as evangelicals—are so this-worldly. We care tremendously what other people think of us. The worst thing for an undergrad today isn't an injury—it's to be "awkward" (in sing-song). We all fear man now. God and his inter-galactic holiness seems far off; your self-aware neighbor with her judgey gaze seems all too near.

We could go on. Suffice it to say that these cultural factors end up getting baked into the church's main course. Our preaching trains us, week after week, to manage the status quo, keep the boat un-rocked, and experience greater self-fulfillment. At the same time, somehow, we're told to dream big dreams, undertake grand schemes, and discover who we truly are. But here's the strange thing: even in this me-centered air, few of us actually seem to end up launching anything grand. The fulfillment of our "dreams" seems to end up looking a lot like secular versions of the good life.

We're over-protected Christians.

We Need Something Bigger

Lest you think I deride "normal life," I do not. I think it's good and honorable. In my book Risky Gospel, I esteem the ordinary things: church membership, family-building, cultivating a vocation. But I do think all our lives could stand an infusion of risk. What do I mean? I want to re-enchant our daily Christian lives. I want Jesus to cease being the first-century prosperity-lite preacher we think he is and to once more disturb the peace.

I want Christians to read the wild stories of God calling his people to himself in the Old Testament. When God showed up, people hit the ground. Moses was afraid. Ezekiel didn't even dare to lift his eyes before Yahweh's likeness (Exodus 3; Ezekiel 1). I want believers to see Jesus calling and saving us less as an invitation to lifelong spiritualized therapy and more as a summons to a lifelong spiritual quest. I want us to see the gospel as our means of acceptance, yes, but also as the precious cargo that must be taken and preached and translated to every people group on the earth. I want us to see our lives not as a project to be curated but as a drink offering to be poured out to the glory of God.

Toward this end, I want to see fathers who lay their lives down for their families, women who boldly reject the pattern of Eve for the beauty of godly femininity, college students who study to know the mind of God, workers of all kinds who labor as if God were beside them in the design room or the classroom or the sawroom, and church members who treat the body of Christ as if it is the only infinity-spanning institution on this earth (because it is).

With many others, I want to see all of these people pushing as many workers as humanly possible to the leading edge of global mission (per Matthew 28:16-20). This goal will mean that tons of Christians stay where they are and earn all they can, valuing their day-to-day lives even as they savor the chance to support worldwide evangelism. This work will also mean that many other Christians break away, see their family members once every two years, and embrace the bewildering and even frightful realities of ministry in a pagan village, a pluralized meta-city, or a socialist state.

The two parts of this great work are not disconnected or at odds. The staying church is the sending church. The sent church does the work that the staying church knows must go forth. The two churches are one. They pray for one another; they support one another; they depend upon one another.

There is no guilt complex here. One must send, the other must go. All must be fully committed to the awesomeness of God, and to a life of self-sacrifice in order that the word of Christ might spread over all the earth, and the kingdom of Christ with it.

So What's the Secret?

The way to get to this point is to break with a spiritual culture that fetishizes personal safety and comfort, and to embrace once more the concept of risk. Risk is for every Christian. We hear its tones over and over again in Scripture. Jesus called the apostles to follow him on the spot (Matthew 4:19). When he evangelized certain people, he told them to "count the cost," because it would be heavy (Luke 14:28). When he named Peter as the rock of his early church, he indicated that Peter's fate would be bloody (John 21:18). When beatific Stephen was slain, all who witnessed or heard of it discovered that Christianity would not fit the glossy promises of ancient prosperity preachers (Acts 7:54-60).

Being up front in the church did not mean you would be coronated early, but that you might well die young.

I recently heard a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator tell me of a child he knew who was adopted by a godly family. The child had been told for years that he couldn't walk. So he didn't. He was carried everywhere. When he came into this Christian home, the father thought to himself, This little guy can walk. He may not dunk a basketball in the future, but he can walk. He began encouraging the boy to do so. Within days, the child walked up the family's stairs. A lifetime of low expectations, of zero risk, undone in a few days' time.

I wonder if our churches are under a similar spell. We feel the heat rising in the culture. Either we issue our jeremiads, our cultural diagnoses, on the one hand, or we quiet our voices. We go to church, but we don't want prophecy, with its challenging and all-too-personal implications. We want comfort, spoonful after spoonful of it. Spiritual therapy.

You Have to Wonder

You have to wonder what Jesus thinks of this response. You have to wonder if, like a child trapped indoors for an unending school-day, we might look out the window and see him outside, kicking some tires, walking around, pacing. Deep in thought. Preoccupied and bothered. Maybe he's restless, itchy, frustrated.

Maybe he wants for us to pause the Serenity Prayer, lift our gaze to the nations, and get active in the role he's given us, whether the sending church or the sent one. You have to wonder if Jesus is eager for his people to rise up, risk everything we have, and watch as his Spirit re-enchants our lives. This life of risk might mean you work harder at home; it might mean you mentor a child; it might mean you move to a foreign country to do evangelism. Whatever your work for the Lord, you can do it knowing that God will preserve your soul and reward you beyond your wildest envisioning in the life to come.

That protection doesn't pamper you and me. It propels us.

malaysia-flight-370

I Lost My Dad in a Plane Crash, Too

Today, with new satellite imagery from the Brits, officials are nearly certain that Malaysia Flight #370 crashed into the Indian Ocean. Over the next few days officials will probably be able to find some type of debris in the ocean that confirms this new satellite data. As someone who served as a Marine Air Traffic Control officer and who lost a relative in a plane crash (my father's body was never recovered in the Atlantic Ocean), I've been closely following the search and rescue efforts. I was deeply saddened when I heard about the initial loss of the aircraft, and have been perplexed by the strange, known movements of the aircraft that have been disclosed on the news networks. I know the family members are distraught with this new information, since they were clinging onto the hope that somehow the aircraft might have landed somewhere on the possible northern route into Asia.

malaysia-flight-370

Perhaps one of the most difficult things the grievers face is the lack of a body. An airplane crash makes it even more dramatic, too, since the loved one is seen by friends and family one moment only to take off on a plane the next and never be seen again. A body provides closure. A vast ocean with fathomless depths fills the mind with ungraspable questions. Did my loved one suffer? Was it traumatic? Did they have time for any last thoughts? Did they survive the crash only to die in the open ocean? Is their body sitting in the plane at the bottom of the ocean? Or is it floating on the surface? Then there are the deeper questions. Why did this happen to them? What if they'd taken an earlier or later flight? If only. The "what if" scenarios can play out in your mind forever.

This Could Have Been Any of Us

Then there's the question some may be thinking but probably not voicing: Were these people worse than others who arrived safely in Beijing on different flights that day? One idea prevalent in many world religions, including much of the modern West, is karma—good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. If we obey God and help others, in other words, God is obligated to give us longevity of life, nice possessions, healthy relationships, and good health. But if we're selfish and harm others, we're doomed to a terrible existence and possibly tragic death.

The reality according to the Bible, however, is that "good people" don't exist. We are all sinners deserving death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Paul puts it like this: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:11-12). Even Christians, he later says, are still subject to pain and even tragic death: "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:22-23).

So the answer to the question is that these people who perished were no worse than you and me. They were all sinners in need of grace. Perhaps some were even Christians. Considering the large Christian population in China, and that most of the passengers were Chinese, this is quite likely. But because of sin, we are all subject to death, perhaps even a tragic death like this one. And I think that's what's captivated so many about MH370. We've all played the scenario out in our minds. What if this were my parents, my wife, my husband, my children? What if I were on that jet?

Tragic Death Reminds Us to Flee to Christ

When I was a boy, God used my father's tragic death (he was a Christian) to open my eyes to the sudden reality and finality of death and judgment. He used it as a beacon to lead me to Jesus.

And that is Christ's intent for we who are following the search for this missing jet.

Some people once asked Jesus about a tragedy in which some Jews, who'd been worshiping in Galilee, had been slaughtered by Pontius Pilate. Jesus replied, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3).

Jesus' point is that every one of us is a sinner deserving death and that death often comes unexpectedly, bringing us before the judgment of God. People who experience tragedy are no more deserving than we are. The suddenness of death reminds us to repent of sin and flee to Christ Jesus, so that we can escape eternal death in hell. That's what Jesus is talking about. He continues: "Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4-5). (For a helpful theological explanation of this passage, see R. C. Sproul's article "When Towers Fall.")

What does Jesus mean by using the word repent? He's talking about more than a guilty conscience or convicted feeling regarding something we've done wrong. He's referring to a change of heart about who we are as people (sinners before God) and who Christ is (our righteous sin-bearer). As John MacArthur explains, "[Repentance] is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. In the context of the new birth [it] means turning from sin to the Savior."

How We Should Respond to Malaysian Flight #370?

So how do we respond to this new information that MH370 crashed in the ocean?

  • We should pray for those grieving that they'll find out as much as possible about the last moments of their loved ones' lives, and perhaps even find their loved one's body.
  • We should remind ourselves that we too are still subject to death, and in fact will all die, unless Christ returns. We must continually look to our Savior, then, who has conquered death for us.
  • We should look for opportunities to share the hope of Christ Jesus, since everyone we know will also face death and ultimately stand before God in judgment.
  • We should thank God that those in Christ will experience a resurrection of life. Paul declares: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:52-55). And this resurrection unto life includes the bodies of saints that have been lost at sea.

I would love to hear your thoughts about how God has used tragedy in your life to bring you or others to deeper (or perhaps saving) faith in Christ.

most-the-bridge-2

If All Religions Are True, Then God Is Cruel

The short film Most made its way onto the big screen more than 10 years ago. A brilliantly moving piece of cinema, the film tells the story of a single father who lives with his son in the Czech Republic. The pair share simple yet content lives together. The father works as a bridge engineer—he is responsible for raising and lowering a massive draw-bridge that allows ships and trains to pass at scheduled times. One day, the boy happened to be at the bridge with his father. As he's playing outside, he notices a train rapidly approaching the station.

most-the-bridge-2It was an hour early. The bridge was up. And the train was heading right toward it.

He yells and shouts at the window of his father's booth, but to no avail. The train was quickly running out of track, and the bridge needed to come down. Hundreds of people were potentially onboard. So the boy decides to manually lower the bridge by pulling a lever near the tracks. In a heart-stopping moment, he accidentally falls into the gear-works that enable to bridge to operate.

A series of heavy, metal gears and levers surrounded his body on all sides. The flicker of movement catches the father's eye. He turns to see his son fall into the gear-box and lie helpless there.

Realization dawns upon him: If he lowers the bridge, the gears will crush his boy.

Left with the soul-shredding decision to kill his boy, he cries and screams and punches the wall. With only moments to deliberate, he reluctantly pulls the lever. He hears the gears turn and lets out a guttural scream. The camera then moves and presents us with the haunting image of the boy's lifeless corpse. Hundreds on the train were saved, but at the biggest price to the father. He killed his son.

Another Way Out

Now picture the same scenario, but with a twist this time. Suppose the boy had fallen into the gear-works, and the train was rushing towards the raised bridge. But this time, the father had two levers: one to lower the bridge and kill his son (like in the original scenario) and one to divert the train onto an alternate track that took it over a second, parallel bridge. It would be madness for the father to choose the first lever and kill his son with the second lever within reach. Why would he kill his son when he knows fully well that the second lever is capable of saving both the lives of all the train passengers and also the life of his son? Such a decision would be utterly appalling. Only a monster would choose the first lever.

And yet this is exactly who religious pluralists make God out to be.

"All religions are true."

"All religions lead to God."

"All roads lead to the same destination."

While I can understand the sentiment of inclusivity, this idea pictures an evil God. Religious pluralists often reject exclusivist positions for positing a cruel God who only made one way to reach him. But if all religions are true, then God is cruel. And not just cruel—God is an incompetent, cosmic child-abuser. If religious pluralism is true, then God is the father in the second scenario. He saw the train coming, yet he decided to pull the first lever and kill his son, rather than pull the second lever.

Is God Cruel or Incompetent?

If Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and all the other world religions are true paths to God, then why did God kill his Son, Jesus, in order to make a way for men to come to him? The very notion is absurd and insulting to God. It paints a portrait of a God who is just plain cruel. He sent Jesus into the world to live a miserable life of scorn, rejection, poverty, betrayal, humiliation, sorrow, and ultimately, torture and death, in order to create a path whereby men can come to know him. Yet all the while he knew that following the Five Pillars of Islam or the Noble Eight-fold Path could accomplish the same thing. What a waste! Jesus' life—God's plan of salvation— is completely in vain, for the same result could be achieved by simply adhering to the tenets of any world religion. God is not only cruel but also incompetent for putting into effect the worst salvation plan possible.

But God is not cruel. He is not incompetent. He would not kill his Son needlessly. He would not put into effect a ridiculous or cruel salvation plan for mankind. Hence, religious pluralism cannot be true. This argument does not show Christianity to be true, but it does show that not all religions can be true, for if they were, then God would not be a God of love.

Chapell Greear McKinley

How to Preach Books of the Bible You Don't Like

How do you preach a passage you don't particularly like? Many pastors, of course, would just find a different one. But for those committed to expository preaching, sometimes the text staring you in the face isn't one you would've picked.

"If I don't like a passage it's usually because I either don't understand it or don't see how I'm going to preach it," Mike McKinley explains in a new roundtable video with Bryan Chapell and J. D. Greear. Yet time and again, the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia observes, "I've learned God is pleased to use things that don't impress me."

"If I understand what the Lord is saying but just don't like it, I have to learn to love it," says Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. "I've got to try to figure out the reason God put it there and then fall in love with that reason."

"I look back on my early years and am embarrassed by how little confidence I had in the Word of God," admits Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina. "But though there have been books of the Bible I didn't think I would like, I can honestly say I've never preached one that didn't prove to be profound and life-changing."

Watch the full nine-minute video to see these pastors discuss Monday morning terror, why Chapell bowed out before finishing Daniel, when application unburdens, and more.

Difficult parts of Scripture from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.