Thursday Links: ‘Who was the real St. Patrick?’ (Justin Taylor)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Ever wondered why we celebrate this day? Well, Justin Taylor posted a great 2 minute video explaining the truth about this shamrock loving Saint (who actually wasn’t a Saint and may not have loved shamrocks). Check out the video here:

The real St. Patrick


(HT: Barry Wallace, among others)


Wednesday Word: ‘He Who Stirs Hearts’ (Ezra 1-2)

I voted yesterday. The presidential primary elections for the state of Missouri took place and I did my civic duty to cast my ballot. For the record, I do not pay that much attention to politics and remain a one issue voter (as soon as something more important than life becomes an issue, then I will think about changing my approach, until then…) Even so, it is hard to not be at least interested in what will happen this November. The coverage of the candidates is all-consuming and thanks to social media we can all pick our man (or woman) to back as publicly and profusely as we like. (Could someone please create a button that will filter all political posts from my Facebook feed?) To be honest, I am usually not paying that much attention at this point in the process, but this year it is hard to ignore.

With all that in mind, I ran across this quote while studying Ezra 1-2 last week:

“Are you worried about recent political developments? About what your government is doing? Do you believe Proverbes 21: 1 (which states: ‘A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses’)? This world is God’s stage. The bad guys have their strongholds, but they remain God’s characters. This is God’s cosmic drama. He will have His way.” (From James M. Hamilton’s ‘Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah’)

Now that is a helpful quote for an election year. How does he get this idea from Ezra 1-2?

In order to understand that question, you have to back up a bit in Israel’s history. The Lord rescued His people from slavery to Egypt and then gave them the Law so they could live as His own. Yet, they struggled to obey. From the judges to the kings, Israel’s history is not marked by faithfulness to the Law. In fact, the list of wicked kings far outweighs the list of obedient ones. The situation became so dire that God raised up prophets to warn the people of coming judgement and call them to repent. He raised up men like Isaiah and Jeremiah. But the people would not repent. Instead they refused to listen to the prophets and God sent them into exile. They became slaves again to the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

The Lord knew that this would happen. In fact, He raised up Nebuchdnezzar for this purpose. But He also knew that the exile would not be the end of Israel. He had a plan to set them free which He also revealed to Isaiah and Jeremiah, long before it came to pass. And this was not just some general idea, it was specific. He told them how long the exile would last (70 years) and who would set them free (Cyrus). Listen to what God tells them before it happened:

“For thus says the Lord: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place (Jerusalem).'” (Jeremiah 29:10)

“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my Shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built, ‘ and of the temple, ‘Your foundations shall be laid.'” (Isaiah 44:24, 28)

The Lord will tell Isaiah that He will raise up Cyrus and let him conquer nations “for the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen” (Isaiah 45:4). The Lord tells Isaiah and Jeremiah how the exile will end long before it comes to pass.

And what happens? Listen to the first verse in the book of Ezra:

“In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…”

And what did the Lord stir up Cyrus to do? He says to the Israelites:

“Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:3)

So the Lord warns His people of coming judgement through the prophets and then promises them future deliverance from exile through a king named Cyrus, then raises up Nebuchdnezzar to capture them, then gives the Babylonians to the Persians, and then stirs the heart of Cyrus king of the Persians to send His people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. So let me ask you: ‘Do you believe that God is sovereign over all? Do you believe that He is in control of all things, even the decisions of kings (and presidents)? Do you believe that He will have His way?’ Make no mistake, Cyrus was serving his own ends (he wanted help from any and every ‘God’ he could find and perhaps a buffer from Egypt in the south). But God was still accomplishing His purposes. He was still fulfilling His plans. He was still in the heavens, doing whatever He pleases.

It is tempting to feel a bit rattled by the election year. It is easy to worry and be anxious about the future. But we do well as Christians to remind ourselves of the truth of God’s sovereignty. He is our Rock and our Redeemer.  For it was also His plan to send us a Savior who would pay for our sins at the cross. And just like Cyrus, He would use Judas and Herod and Pontius Pilate to accomplish His plan.  So that by grace and through faith, we might turn from our sins and be saved by King Jesus.  He who stirs the heart has accomplished all of this. All glory to Him!

So go cast your vote.  Be a good citizen and get involved in the process.  But just remember:  ‘This is God’s comic drama. He will have His way.’


Wednesday Word: ‘We are the wicked’ (Romans 3:9-20)

A church member recently sent me an article that made a distinction between sinful people and evil people. They were wondering if I agreed with such a distinction. At first glance, it seems to make sense of our experience. Most of us would freely admit that we are sinful and that the Bible clearly teaches that all are sinful (Romans 3:23). Yet, there also seems to be those who take their sinfulness a step further. They don’t just make mistakes or have momentary lapses of morality, they actually delight in their sin. And they don’t really care who gets hurt in the process. They lie, they manipulate, they cover up. We may all be sinful, but they are evil.

In order to support the distinction, the author pointed to several passages from the Psalms. Over and again we see the various writers of the Psalms calling their enemies ‘the wicked’ and ‘evil men.’ The author argued that these men were different from ordinary sinners like the rest of us. So is this true? Does the Bible identify two categories of depravity? Does it make the distinction between sinful and evil people?

I don’t think that it does. Yes, the Bible speaks of God giving people over to their sins (see Romans 1) and Jesus talked about a worse judgment coming on those who rejected His ministry (Matthew 11:20-24), but it does not seem that it ever teaches a distinction between sinful and evil. The hard truth is that we are all evil. We are the wicked in the Psalms. This is what Paul teaches in the conclusion of his argument for human depravity in Romans 3. He has argued that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God. Those with the Law are sinners and those without the Law are sinners (see Romans 1-2). He concludes:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? Not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written…” (Romans 3:9)

To support this conclusion Paul goes on to quote from several different Psalms that speak of our depravity. These are the wicked, evil men. They do not seek God. They have become worthless. They do no good and regularly lie. They shed blood and scorn peace. They do not fear God. This is not Paul’s description of the ‘really wicked people out there.’ This is his description of us all. We are the wicked.

Or think about it this way, when you read the Bible, do you see yourself as the good guys in the story or the bad guys? Are you Cain or Abel? Are you David or the Philistine Giant? Are you Judas or one of the other eleven? The truth is, we need to see ourselves as both/and not either/or. We are the Pharisees. We are the prodigal son and his older brother. We are the wicked nations that God has made His chosen people through Christ.

We all want to see ourselves as better than we are. Sure we may not be perfect, but we are not wicked and evil. But the truth is that we are what we despise. We are the bad guys in the story. And the glorious good news is that Jesus came to give grace to wicked people like us. He came for the sick (Luke 5:31-32). He came to save those that Paul described in Romans 3, for the apostle goes on:

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:22b-24)

Our experience will tempt us to believe that we are not wicked or evil or as bad as the other guy, but the grace of God in Christ Jesus teaches us the opposite and compels us to share the good news with all. We are the wicked, all of us, and we are gloriously redeemed through sovereign grace! We believe what the Bible says about the bad news because we believe in the overwhelming goodness of the good news!


Tuesday Books: ‘The Great Forgetting’ (James Renner)

Since watching Amazon’s “The Man In the High Castle”, a series based on a book by the same title, I have become more and more aware of stories that fit into the alternate history genre. Simply put, the storyline revolves around something taking place in history that did not actually take place. It is essentially a ‘what if…’ story. What if Kenedy wasn’t shot (Stephen King’s book ’11/22/63′)? What if Germany won WWII (‘The Man in the High Castle’ and ‘The Great Forgetting’, see below)? If you want to know more about this genre, you can check out the Wikipedia page, or for a list of books, check out Uchronia (I plan on reading some books off of their list).

‘The Great Forgetting’ by James Renner is a book from the alternate history genre. It is the story of a man looking for his friend who has been missing for over three years. When he starts visiting with the patient that his friend was treating before his disappearance, he begins to suspect that something very strange is going on. As he continues to search out the truth, the web of lies grows even more and more tangled. Before long, he realizes that he is one the verge of discovering the largest cover up in human history, aptly referred to as ‘The Great Forgetting.’ The challenge then becomes what to do about it: let people continue in their blissful ignorance or wake them up to the harsh truth? I don’t want to give too much away, so you will have to read the book to get more!

I enjoyed the idea of this book. I may have enjoyed the idea more than I enjoyed the actual book, but I did enjoy reading it. The plot is a bit slow at times and I struggled finding a character that I really liked, but overall I enjoyed the book. The alternate history part was fun and some of the way that he used real people in the alternate reality was interesting (like Stephen Hawking and D. B. Cooper). The ending sets the stage for a follow-up (maybe ‘The Great Remembering’?) and I would read that. It definitely makes me want to read more in this genre. Interesting stuff.


Wednesday Word: The Fear of Shadows (Psalm 23, James 1:17)

One of my friends recently posted about the day that she and her husband found out that their unborn daughter showed signs of having Down syndrome. It was a year ago and she was reflecting on the love of her church and the beauty of her daughter (now 8 months old) and the faithfulness of God. In her honesty, she wrote about the struggles of that day and those that followed, mostly the struggle of fear. Looking back she can see God’s good and right plan for their lives, but she admits that the struggle was real. She writes: “I was so afraid of the what ifs…the shadows…the things I didn’t know to be true. How kind is my God to be faithful to me even when I was so full of fear.” When I read that sentence, the Lord stopped me in my tracks. As I sat there on my couch getting ready to head to bed, it was if the Lord pulled back a curtain and gave me a moment of clarity. I could not help but think: ‘How often have I feared the shadows? How often have I trembled at things that might, or might not, come to pass?’ I want to believe that my faith is strong in those moments, we all want to believe that. But if we are honest, like my friend was being in her post, we cannot deny our fear of the shadows.

As I thought about her post over the next day, the Lord brought to mind two passages that deal with shadows. The first is the most famous poem/song in the Bible, namely Psalm 23. We use this psalm often at funerals to comfort ourselves as we think about death and dying. Yet, in our familiarity, we sometimes forget the original setting of the psalm. David was a man who was very aware of the constant threat of death. Maybe the next lion would get the best of him. Maybe Saul’s spear would find its mark. Maybe the Philistines would finally defeat him in battle. He knew that death was certain and he knew it could come for him at any moment. Yet, Psalm 23 is a song about the comfort and peace he had even in the midst of the threat of death. He writes:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

How could he not be afraid? From where did his comfort come? He tells us:

“…for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

David did not fear the unknown because he knew that the Lord was with him. God never promised that things would go easy or that no trouble would come, He just promised to be with us. His promise is not peace and ease but presence. Even when we sit in the presence of our enemies, even when their threats are all around us, even when the shadows are dark and unknown, even then, the Lord prepares a feast for us to enjoy. Even then, our cup overflows.

The shadows of the unknown are always before us. What will happen with my job? What will happen with my finances? What will happen with my children and my family? What will tomorrow bring? What is lurking in those shadows? The truth is, we don’t know, we can’t know. Sometimes the next day will bring sorrow and sadness. Sometimes we can look back and laugh at our fears. But during the dark night, we cannot know what the morning will bring. Yet, we can be certain about this: Our God will be there and He will be for His people. How do I know that? Because of the second passage that I thought about after reading my friend’s post:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17)

No variation or shadow due to change. Everything around me can change, but not the Father of lights. There is no shadow in Him. And through Him, through faith in Him and what He did for me in sending His Son to ransom my soul at the cross, I can overcome my fear of the shadows.

I am so thankful for the honesty of others as they share about what the Lord has taught them in difficult times. It helps me understand my own struggles and hopefully prepares me for the ones I have yet to face. It helps me see that in Christ I have no reason to fear the shadows.


Tuesday Books: ‘Hey, Jack! The Big Adventure’ (Sally Rippin) and ‘You Choose’ (Sharatt and Goodhart)

My son’s school is encouraging reading this week. His teacher let my wife and I go and read to the class today. I am thankful that being a pastor allows me to do things like that! So today I got to read a couple of books to the 2nd grade. Here’s what I chose:

1. Hey, Jack! The Big Adventure: There are several books in the ‘Hey, Jack!’ series. This one tells the story of Jack going camping with his family to the beach. He wants to have an adventure, so in disobedience to his parents, he wanders into a cave and gets stuck when the tide comes in. SPOILER: He survives by getting his dog (not named Lassie) to help rescue him. Moral of the story for second graders: if you disobey your parents you will drown in a dark, scary cave! (Just kidding, or am I????)

2. You Choose: The second book I read is a conversation starting book. Each page allows the kids to choose what they want, which will hopefully get them talking about why they would choose a certain thing. For example, one page asks what job they would choose (the page is filled with pictures of people working all kinds of different jobs). When the kid answers you can talk with them about why they would want that particular job. The kids really liked this one and gave some funny answers!


It was a fun time reading to the kids and hopefully they enjoyed the books (Quick commercial, both of the above books are Usborne books that my wife sells). My hope is that each of those second graders will grow into adults who love good books! Maybe they could read my blog on Tuesdays!!


Thursday Links: ‘Why this election makes me hate the word evangelical’ (Russ Moore) and ‘5 Distinguishing Marks of a fruitful Church’ (Jared Wilson)


I have a couple of links for your reading pleasure today:

First, who doesn’t want to hear some of Russ Moore’s thoughts on the election this year? He is not super excited about the way in which the word ‘evangelical’ is being used by anybody and everybody. Give his article a read here: Russ Moore on this election year.

Second (for those tired of thinking/reading/hearing about the election), one of my pastor friends (HT: Josh Boley) just posted a link to this article on measuring church fruitfulness, which I think is excellent. Give it a read here: 5 Distinguishing Marks of a fruitful Church.



Tuesday Books: ‘Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah’ (James M. Hamilton)

I will be starting a new series through the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther in a few weeks at my church. Preparing for this always involves purchasing some new commentaries. I have different reasons for selecting which commentaries I will use: I want at least one that is technical and one more devotional, I like certain authors, and I like certain commentary series (Pillar, Reformed Expository, New International Commentary, etc.) It is the last reason that led me to purchase ‘Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah’ by James Hamilton, who is currently teaching at Southern Seminary (they have some exceptional graduates who write great blog posts). I was drawn to this commentary because it is in the relatively new (2013) series called “Christ-Centered Exposition.” What makes this series different? The editors (David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida) write in the preface:

“Finally, as the name suggest, the editors seek to exalt Jesus from every book of the Bible. In saying this, we are not commending wild allegory or fanciful typology (always good to avoid those, wm). We certainly believe we must be constrained to the meaning intended by the divine Author Himself, the Holy Spirit of God. However, we also believe the Bible has a messianic focus, and our hope is that the individual authors will exalt Christ from particular texts…Therefore, our aim is both to honor the historical particularity of each biblical passage and to highlight its intrinsic connection to the Redeemer.”

I love this approach. I know that other commentaries I have read do a good job of pointing the reader to Christ from most passages, but I am excited about a series that seeks to do that with every passage. As a preacher, I hope to do this each and every time I get into the pulpit. It is not enough to simply draw moral lessons from the text, we have to see what it says about Christ. If I am not doing that then I am not preaching as faithfully as I should. Thus, I want to study and learn and teach what Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus teach us about Jesus, how they point us to the Savior. I am really looking forward to diving into Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther to learn the same. I believe Hamilton’s work will help me in that effort.


Monday Music: ‘Wings to Fly’ (Plankeye)

I am a sucker for a good guitar solo. Growing up listening to 80s and 90s rock music made me vulnerable to the allure of heavy distortion and speedy riffs. Unfortunately, it was not always easy finding any decent Christian Rock during those days (some even claim that such a genre does not exist, but I beg to differ). One of my favorite bands of that genre during that time was a band by the name of Plankeye. I stumbled across them by spending hours in my local Lemstone Books listening to every tape I could find that even looked like it might have a guitar solo in one of the songs. I discovered just such a tape when I found Plankeye’s album “Spark”. It is a great rock album with several really good songs. My favorites include: ‘Open House’ and ‘So Far From Home.’ But the greatest song on the album is the almost bluesy ‘Wings to Fly.’ It is actually a simple praise song set to three chords and a funky lick. When the drums and the distortion come in hard on the chorus, you can’t help but smile. I love it.

But all of that just sets the stage for one of my favorite guitar solos of all-time. It starts low and slow, mostly just feed back, but then gradually builds and builds into pure shredding. And just when you think it is going to end, he takes it one step higher for one more run. In fact, even when they take it back to repeat the chorus, the guitarist is still wearing it out in the background. He doesn’t stop until the last chord. It is great! So if you like a little funky praise with a serious solo, you have to check this out:

Wings to Fly

We probably won’t be adding that one to our praise set anytime soon, but man I love it.