Beginning at Moses: Who is the Serpent Crusher?

The legend goes that Ernest Hemingway is eating lunch with some fellow writers at Lüchow’s, a German restaurant near Union Square in Manhattan. Hemingway, with a background in newspaper was known for his writing style, is challenged to write a novel in six words. He scribbles down these six words on a napkin: “For sale: Baby shoes; never worn.” For anyone who has lost a child, these six words put a knot in your stomach. Without explaining the background or incidents, Hemingway captures our affections. Whether this story is true or apocryphal, the point stands—good stories don’t need lots of words. Leaving something to imagination is powerful.

The Sound of the Gospel in the Garden

Not to be outdone, God has crafted the grandest story of all time. However, the story was veiled in darkness until the arrival of the God-man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. The first hint we get at Jesus arrives in Genesis 3:15.

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Review: Michael Reeves’ Rejoicing in Christ (IVP Academic)

About half way through in the margins of my copy of Rejoicing in Christ, I write “punchy, down to earth, and full of merriment.” That’s my review. Reeves surprises (meant in the most positive fashion) with equal parts verve and gladness. He’s not afraid to turn a phrase or punch you in the nose with an arresting metaphor. I found myself lost many times in worship as I read. That is rare and to be praised. Reeves has done it again.

What’s odd about Rejoicing in Christ is that Reeves admits it’s run-of-the-mill:

Once upon a time a book like this would have utterly run-of-the-mill. Among the old Puritans, for example, you can scarcely find a writer who did not write—or a preacher who did not preach—something called The Searchable Riches of Christ, Christ Set Forth, The Glory of Christ or the like. Yet today, what sells? What puts the smile on the booksellers face? The book that is about the reader. (9)

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Review: Scott Sauls’ Jesus Outside the Lines (Tyndale House)

I’ve appreciated Scott Sauls’ writing ministry for some time now. He is honest about his own struggles and need for grace. His writing is firmly rooted in the amazing truths of the gospel. And he tackles flammable cultural issues with a firm winsomeness. All of that leaks into Jesus Outside the Lines. It’s always disappointing to pick up a book that starts strong, but fizzles out by the end. Jesus Outside the Lines starts strong and gains momentum like a wave. The book begins with Sauls stating, “I am tired of taking sides . . . . Are you?” (xi). And each chapter builds on the core truth that “When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and least offensive people in the world” (xiv).

Sauls starts with the hot topic—politics. He points us back to the kingdom of God as our primary citizenship, not the party on our voting card. He says, “[T]he Kingdom of Jesus advances through subversive acts of love—acts that flow from conservative and progressive values” (17). He ends with the ever-pressing topic of doubt about Christianity. These discussions form an inclusio of sorts for everything in between.

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Known by King Jesus

We followed the backgrounds home in our green pickup truck. Open communications has always been important as I parent my three daughters. On these ride homes from school, I ask one or two open ended questions until the floodgates open. Once they open though, they don’t close easily.

That day Claire and I had a productive conversation, but as we pulled up to the curb of our home she said, “Madelynn is so popular dad. Everyone knows who she is and likes her. She even got the main part in the song for music class.”

I didn’t know what to say. I stumbled over a few words. I’m sure most of what I said was forgettable. I know it was because I don’t remember what I said.

Then it hit me. Simple. I turned the truck off. Looked her in the eyes and said, “Claire, who loves you more than Daddy?” She thought for a moment, “God does.”

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Culture Creators: An Interview with Michael F. Bird

One of my favorite ongoing blog series is LifeHackers' How I Work. Simple questions about how people in a variety of workplaces get stuff done. As I read more and more of these, I kept thinking about wondering about creative people I know and what their answers might be. That got me thinking. Why not host an interview series at my own blog with Christians who are working with excellence, who I admire, and who do creative stuff? I was concerned about getting enough people to host a meaningful series, but the yeses kept rolling in. So here we are.

Who is Dr. Michael F. Bird: Dr. Michael Bird (Ph.D University of Queensland) is Lecturer in Theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry. He is the author of several books including Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (2006), The Saving Righteousness of God (2007), A Bird’s-Eye View of Paul (2008), Colossians and Philemon (2009), Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (2009), and Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (2009). He is married to Naomi and has four children.

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Review: J.A. Medders’ Gospel-Formed

“Above all, worship Jesus. Make much of Jesus. It’s about him” (13). Jeff starts Gospel-Formed with this admonition. I take it as his target for the book, and so it’s only fair to measure the success of what Jeff does by it. I’ll cut to the chase and argue that he achieved his goal. He starts off reminding his readers it’s all about Jesus and to take in the Scriptures through out the book which are the real focus because they tell us about Jesus. And I think he hits his mark. Jeff gives us a gospel punch that will capture our attention and drive our gaze to the risen Savior.

Gospel-Formed is designed for daily reading. Jeff recommends reading one chapter per day for one gospel-packed punch. The chapters work well with this format. They each do stand alone, but there’s also steam that builds as he progresses through each chapter and each section (Worship, Identity, Community, and Mission).

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Review: Michael Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord

I’m fairly certain that Michael Bird publishes more books per year than the average person reads. But it’s not just the quantity of his output that’s impressive—the depth and quality across a wide range of topics (e.g. 1 Esdras, Pauline studies, historical Jesus, Christology, systematic theology, etc.) is just as notable. And sprinkled throughout his excellent scholarship is always a generous dash of humor. Bird’s latest The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus is “concerned primarily with the questions of how the Gospels came to be, what kinds of literature they are, and how they relate to Christian discourse about God” (viii). Hence it’s not a gospels survey, as it doesn’t deal with issues typically found in books on the gospels such as provenance, content overview, and life of Christ. “Primarily this volume is focused on the origins and development of the books we call ‘Gospels’ in the context of the early church” (ix).


After some introductory remarks, the first issue The Gospel of the Lord tackles is the purpose and preservation of the Jesus tradition. Some of the questions addressed are: “Why did Jesus’s followers attempt to keep his teachings alive, tell stories about him, and narrate the story of his death and resurrection? In addition, did they transmit these stories and traditions in a way that faithfully communicated what actually happened?” (22).

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Jesus Is Better: Recap

Jesus is better than . . . insert whatever you love, cherish, or value more than him—the core idol of your heart. Do you believe that? That Jesus is better. How can you when sin’s temptation and immediate pleasure seem so tangible? That’s the tension we as Christians battle living in the now of this fallen world. John Calvin once said,

Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . Every one of us from our mothers womb is an expert in inventing idols. . . . Man's mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God. . . . To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth. . . . Daily experience teaches that flesh is always uneasy until it has obtained some figment like itself in which it may fondly find solace as in an image of God. (1.11.8)

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Jesus Is Better—Make My Heart Believe

The story of Jesus healing a boy with an unclean spirit is one of the most powerful encounters recorded in Mark’s Gospel. Found in chapter 9, the writer tells us about a violent spirit that has tormented a young boy since birth. The account is graphic, and it’s difficult to read the story and not feel compassion for the disturbed boy.

However, hidden in the narrative is a curious phrase that has provided encouragement to saints throughout the ages. Tucked away in verse 24, the father cries out “I believe; help my unbelief!”  In five words, a first-century father captures the wonderful tension of Christian living.

When we gather for corporate worship “I believe; help my unbelief!” is the same tension in which we find ourselves living. We hear sermons, read Scriptures, and sing songs where our hearts are often cold to the truth we proclaim. Verses like “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” sound grand, but are they actually true?

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What I’m Thankful For

Nothing fancy here folks. However, it’s important—because we were created to give thanks and for gratitude. Jonathan K. Dodson says, “Gratitude is not complete until it is expressed. I can be grateful for my wife in my heart, but if she never hears it, she never benefits. Express your gratitude with words. Like a fountain, like God, gratitude for goodness should overflow.”

That’s what this post is—a fountain overflowing with gratitude. 2014 has been a big year of change for me and my family and I want to spend time giving thanks.

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Jesus is the Better Atoner

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues that “we feel the rule of Law pressing on us so ­ that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility...human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.” He says that even though humanity knows what is right and wrong, “they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it.” Truth and untruth are hardwired in us but it’s in the dabbling with untruth that we know there is a culpability. It is in the “breaking” that we taste the bitter loss of innocence. The result? We just can’t seem to get out from under the anvil of guilt.

It all finds it origins in Genesis 3. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:7­8). After disobeying God, the first actions of our first parents were to cover up and hide. These are the activities of ones who find themselves mired in disgrace.

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Our Earthy Future Home

During the Arian controversy of the early church, Arius’ heresy spread through song. The heterodox presbyters wrote songs that the common man could easily learn, so while the Church determined Arianism was heresy, the popular vote went for the heresy. It’s not a stretch to say that what the church sings it will confess.

Many in the church today have a wrong view of end times and that has a lot to do with the songs she has been singing. In the tradition I grew up in we often sang,

This world is not my I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

A song meant to steel our nerve as we sojourn through this dark and perilous world. It’s a song that sets the Christian apart from her culture, neighbors, and the world. We do not engage and create anything in this world worth relishing, rather we are waiting to be called to Gloryland by angels where we will meet friend Jesus and shake hands with our loving family.

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Jesus is Better Than Materialism

Do you make fun of reality TV but secretly enjoy it? I do. One show that I can't help but watch is Hoarders: Buried Alive. Each episode enters the life of a compulsive hoarder who has accumulated so much stuff in their home that they require an intervention from a close friend or family member. The cameras are rolling and things get ugly.
The hoarder usually fills their house to the brim over the course of decades with things ranging in use from thousands of valuable dolls to hundreds of empty milk gallons. Family members bicker about what is important to keep and what is garbage. In one particular episode, the hoarder could not part with old books that were soiled in rat feces.

Doesn't this person realize what they're doing?!
I would argue they don't. Idolatry leads to blindness, and those people cannot see what they are doing (see Psalm 135:15-18). These people love their stuff over loving the God who created them and their stuff. Their love for stuff ties their heart to things that can be destroyed by rust, moths—or in this case, rats.

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Jesus Is Better Than Financial Security

For most of the last decade, I measured my family’s financial progress based on how well we moved through Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. Since we planted a church five years ago, the progress was slow, but we rejoiced in every step towards greater financial freedom. Divine providence brought that progress to a halt over the last eighteen months. Each year we opted for a lower level of health insurance instead paying more for a higher premium. Then in April 2013 we welcomed our third daughter. This priceless gift from God who brightens our day brought with her something we had not experienced with the birth of our first daughter—crippling medical bills. Each dreaded trip to the mailbox brought more bad news and the final price tag meant we would be paying doctors and hospitals for over a year.  We started cutting back in places we never thought we could cut back, and all the extra money going on the mortgage and into savings started going towards medical bills. With a new year came another premium increase and the reset of our deductible. In the first four months of 2014, I had walking pneumonia, an unexpected surgery, and one of the girls made a trip to the Emergency Room. In just over a year we received over $10,000 in medical bills.

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Jesus Is Better Than Possessions #JesusIsBetter

As humans we are naturally drawn to obtaining possessions. I can remember at a young age watching commercials for Transformers, G.I. Joes, and Hot Wheels and constantly asking my parents for those items. I would do whatever I could to convince them that I needed a particular toy and little did I know that I was beginning to mold my mind to seek after possessions. This train of thought only continued to grow, especially as I got older and was able to earn my own income. My desire for possessions went from toys, to brand name clothes, to wanting certain cars, game systems, and a nice house. In and of themselves these things are not bad, but when one’s life is centered on getting those things the never-ending pursuit of possessions will waste your time and life away.

Just think about it for a second, most people do not desire to earn more money to help other people; the desire for more income is usually centered on being able to buy nicer items, take better vacations, or to have the freedom to do whatever we want to do when we want to do it. We see commercials everyday that play to our lust and desire for the so-called “good life.” This often leads to an existence of seeking after possessions whether we realize it or not.

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Jesus Is Better Than My Name Being Great #JesusIsBetter

One of my favorite quotes comes from Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, who was a catalyst for the 100-year long Moravian prayer movement. It’s reported he said, “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” However, that’s only half true. I mean, I want it to be one of my favorite quotes, at least the principle behind it: embracing the obscurity of my vocation—which in my case, is pastoral ministry—and being content with my name not being recognized, except by the people I shepherd. What if I never write a book or even another article? What if I never get to speak at a conference or have the type of “ministry success” that seminary students only dream of? I come back repeatedly to these questions as I continue to battle this one nagging temptation: I want my name to be great.

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