Now ye need not fear the grave

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

All our fear is ultimately the fear of death. It is, as Paul says, “the last enemy.” It is the ultimate worst case scenario.

My grandmother died this year. She was 92. She lived a beautiful life, passed her final days in my parents’ home being cared for by those she loved the most, and died trusting in Christ. This is the way to go. Having seen her decline, and knowing she was tired and ready, I had even prayed that God would take her before too long.

And yet, this was the toughest blow of a tough year for me. I think of her daily. I miss her terribly. It hasn’t fully set in that I can’t pick her up and take her to dinner the next time I’m in Georgia.

This is because death, even a good death, is awful. It’s an intrusion into the good world God created. And we pass our entire lives under its shadow, knowing it awaits us all, awaits those we love. Death is inevitable. The fear of this makes us subject to life-long slavery.

Jesus stepped into time and space, became human with all that entails, in order to change this. He was acquainted with death, more so than many of us. He lived in a time when death was much more a part of everyday life than it is for us. People didn’t get taken to the hospital and then the funeral home; they typically died at home, were mourned at home, and were buried by the family and community.

Jesus seems to have lost his earthly father at a fairly early age, as Joseph departs the narrative between his adolescence and young adulthood. He saw children die– doubtless more than just the few he raised from the dead. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But more than all this, he passed his entire life on earth in the shadow of the cross. He knew it was coming. He knew what he was here to do. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

The fact that he also knew the Resurrection was coming didn’t change the fact that the suffering was coming as well.

Hebrews 2:14 and following is one of my favorite passages, and especially my favorite passage for Advent. One thing that always strikes me: The author doesn’t say that Jesus delivers us from death. Of course, in the greatest sense he does, but unless we are alive at his return, knowing Christ does not deliver us from the physical experience of death. He does, however release us from slavery to the fear of death.

This is not just about knowing that heaven is coming, though it is that. It is about knowing that because Jesus’ humanity is so genuine, his becoming one of us in every way so complete, we are united with him in every stage of our life, including the final one. How has he destroyed the power of death, and the work of the devil? Through death itself. He didn’t pretend to die, or seem to die. He died. His death destroyed death forever. And he accomplished this for us– for “the children” of whom he is unashamed, who share in the flesh and blood that he willingly adopted.

“Now ye need not fear the grave.” Because Jesus has been there already. And so we will not go there alone.


Made perfect through suffering

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one. (Hebrews 2:11)

Suffering is an inevitable part of the human life. For the Christian, good things can happen through suffering. There are lots of good lines about this from lots of Christian authors. One of my favorites is attributed to Samuel Rutherford: “The King keeps his best wine in the cellar of affliction.”

In my experience, there are three stages of processing this truth. First, the stereotypical naive person, often young, who hasn’t suffered very much. Sometimes a seminary student, though those poor guys get a bad rap. I have been this person. Lines like this one from Rutherford, usually encountered through John Piper or somewhere similar, sound so good, and repeating them makes you feel wise.

Then there’s the person actually going through suffering. I have been this person. At this stage you can really believe the thing is true, and want it to be true, but also think “I would like to get the results without the process.” In some of my valleys, I have thought “Right, God’s going to show me his goodness, but I know enough Bible to know he might do that by sending me a really awful affliction that I would like to avoid.” So in the moment, the thought isn’t as always as comforting as one might hope.

Finally, there’s the person who has been through suffering, has gained some distance from it, and is able to look back and say “Yes. This is true.” I am that person. It actually is true that most of the seasons of growth in my walk with God, most of the times where I have been most aware of his presence and his care, have been hard seasons, not easy ones. (I’m also still relatively young, most likely with plenty of suffering still to come, so who knows how naive I’m being right now.)

So God does good things through suffering. This is probably a truth best expressed after we have experienced it personally, when it has cost us something to affirm it.

One thing that’s common to all of us: We don’t go out looking for suffering. We don’t choose it.

We might choose situations that we know full well could end in suffering. That’s true of deep friendship, of bearing and adopting and raising children, of having parents. To love is to risk suffering. But we don’t really choose the suffering itself. We don’t have to. It finds us. That’s part of being human.

It’s a part of being human that Christ did choose. The author of Hebrews tells us that God, in order to “bring many sons to glory”– that is, in order to restore us to full humanity through relationship with him– determined to “make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Why did Christ, the eternal Son of God, have to be made perfect? Why was suffering the way to do it? Because it’s a key aspect of being human, and it was something the Son had not experienced prior to the Incarnation.

“For he who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one.” Jesus is so closely united to us, so committed to bringing us all the way home, that he willingly chose a life of suffering in order to bring about our sanctification, our restoration to glory. Not an ordinary life of suffering, either. Being limited in time and space, being born with all the mess that entails, being able to be hungry and tired and sick– that is true suffering for a divine being. He went further. He suffered physical torment, relational abandonment, the persecution of those he came to save, the rejection of his own family. All this before the cross, before bearing the full extent of God’s wrath.

He did all this to be truly, perfectly united to us. He took on this role knowing what it would cost. He was willing. He is not ashamed to call us his brothers. This is why, in the moments of our deepest pain, we are never alone. We are united to Christ, who is eternally morally perfect, and who stepped into our world in order to be made experientially perfect. He suffers with us in order to bring us to glory.

Born to raise the sons of earth

At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:8-9)

Do you realize what a big deal it is that in a year, we seem to have come up with at least three vaccines that have the potential to stop a global pandemic in its tracks? Along with the necessary infrastructure so that it’s likely most people who want the vaccine could have it before Easter? That a year from now, COVID could have gone the way of measles and polio?

Humanity is capable of incredible things. Of course, we’re capable of terrible things too. “Heaven have mercy on us all– Presbyterians and pagans alike– for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”

Since the Garden, this is what it means to be human. We bear the image of God, every single one of us. And yet, we also bear the unmistakable marks of sin and disease and death. So much potential for good, so much depravity. Not in different types of people, but in each one of us.

Hebrews 2 is at points a little tricky, because it’s not always clear who the pronouns are about. The author quotes Psalm 8, which praises God’s work in creation and marvels at the privileged place mankind has at its apex, and then by verse 9 we’re clearly talking about Jesus. Between the two, it’s a little unclear. “He [God?] left nothing outside his [man’s? Jesus’?] control.” “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to [man? Jesus?].”

The answer, I suggest (following smarter people), is to see the significance of Jesus as the second Adam, the true representative Man. As I said yesterday, he became human in order to experience everything we experience. But in becoming human, he also suffered what he did, and accomplished what he did, for us. He redeems our humanity, raises us back to our proper place. “In him the tribes of Adam boast / More blessings than their father lost.”

The consummation of our redemption is not yet complete. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to mankind. The earth still bears thistles and thorns. Vaccines are still needed because disease is still present. “Man, at war with man, hears not / the love song which they bring.”

Yet what do we see? We see Jesus, the True Man, the representative Man, the second Adam, who reinstates us in our Father’s love, who shows us what it means to be truly human, who gives his Spirit to perfect us more and more in his image. This is what Advent tells us: He came to redeem our fallen humanity, by taking it upon himself. He has redeemed us, he is redeeming us, and as we look to the second Advent, we know that he will redeem us.

He is “born to raise the sons of earth,” that we may become once more the sons of God as he intended. Because he is crowned with glory and honor, we will rule over the beautiful renewed creation as we were made to do. “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

On Christmas and showing up

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

Several years ago, while we were spending a season in the States, a dear friend’s mom died. It was unexpected, but the family had had some time to prepare, and I had been on the phone often with my friend. When the end came, I was conflicted about being able to make it to the funeral. It was a 6-hour drive away, and there were some specific things going on that had me reluctant to leave Melissa and the kids.

I talked to another friend, who gently but firmly said “I think it will mean a lot to him to see you, even if it’s just for a few minutes. People remember who shows up.” Of course he was right. I knew it the second he said it.

I made the drive down for the visitation. When I saw my friend’s sister, also a close college friend, she said “Wow, you were there when my dad died too.” After the visitation our tight little group went out to eat, watched a Georgia game, laughed and were silly together. It was the first time in years we had all been together, and it hasn’t happened since. I drove back the same night, and never regretted it for a moment.

People remember who shows up.

I remember who showed up in each of the darkest trials I’ve walked through. The immediate phone calls from pastors in the US when Eliza was diagnosed, and the friends who took turns flying over to spend a week playing with our kids and washing dishes. (The absolute champion mother-in-law who stayed for over 2 months!) A friend who drove 3 hours both ways to see me the last time I was in Georgia.

This is the glory of the Incarnation, and the heart of what we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus showed up. We rightly sing of the Cross and his sacrifice. But before he did that, he had to become flesh; he had to become one of us. He had always been the eternal Son of God, the “radiance of his glory, the exact imprint of his nature,” had always “upheld the universe by the word of his power.” He became human. He made his dwelling among us. He showed up.

He did this in order to heal the breach that had opened in our relationship with God due to sin. He also did this to fully experience what it means to be human: to be fallen from our original state, to live in a world that is broken and that breaks us, to be able to be sick and hungry and tired. To experience the death of loved ones. To suffer and to weep.

Christmas celebrates Jesus coming into the world that is. We don’t have to pretend it’s a perfect Dickens village. He knows the real thing. He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. He chose not to leave us alone. He chose to show up.

Enjoying Good Friday, and how weird that feels

IMG_1973Normally, the week before Easter, often called Holy Week, is a very busy time in my line of work. (I stuck that “often called” in there for a reason, which we’ll come back to.)

But this is a strange Easter in a strange year. Basically, all over the world, most people are sitting at home. Churches do all sorts of different things around Easter, but odds are, whatever your church usually does, they’re not doing.

As a pastor, my job both has and hasn’t changed in the past few weeks. I talk to people, I write and preach sermons, I do admin. A lot of that I can do at home. Like most people, I’m having a lot more Zoom calls than normal, and like most pastors, I’ve learned more about live streaming than I care to know. The very real crisis honestly feels distant, as the Czech Republic has done a fantastic job of flattening the curve.

But today, which is often called Good Friday, 2 days before the Sunday that is often called Easter, when Christians have historically celebrated the Resurrection of Christ, I’m not leading a Good Friday service. I’m not making sure everything is squared away for Easter Sunday, or double checking with Melissa to make sure no one’s left out of Easter dinner. All those things would be normal.

Instead, I’m sitting in my happy place: at a table in our garden, watching meat cook on the smoker, smelling charcoal and hickory, hearing my kids run around and birds chirp and normal neighborhood sounds.

This is one of my favorite things to do. But it feels weird today. Shouldn’t I be mourning over the death of Christ and my sin that made it necessary, or at least watching a Good Friday service? Maybe we should have planned one. Maybe I’ve failed to call our people to meditate on the Cross and God’s redeeming love. Maybe this is a huge missed opportunity. All of these thoughts have gone through my head in the last hour, and maybe they’re right.


I’m a pastor in the Reformed tradition, which is vast and varied. The stream I generally line up with has historically not made a huge deal of the church calendar. Calvin, from what I understand, didn’t preach Easter sermons and Christmas sermons. He preached whatever was next in the Bible. He was very sensitive, for very good reasons, about innovation and observing man-made traditions.

(Can we just agree not to argue over that right now, and follow me to the point.)

I’m not as hardcore on these points as Calvin. I love Advent and Christmas, and I really love preaching my tail off at Easter and singing “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.” A pattern of observing major events like the incarnation, the cross and resurrection, and Pentecost (you forgot about that one, didn’t you) is a great way to make sure we take time to emphasize those aspects of the work of Christ.

But man, am I glad to be a Protestant today.

The Bible tells me to reflect on the priceless gift of the Lamb of God, slain for my sin. It tells me to rejoice that Christ is risen, that death no longer has mastery over him. It does not tell me I have to celebrate the Resurrection on the first Sunday following the first full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox. It does not tell me that I have to keep the Friday two days before that in any particular way. Again, these can be helpful rhythms. I’m not anti-Easter; the sermon is written and ready to go.

But my little back-and-forth with myself today has pointed me to one more reason to rejoice in the cross: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—not my proper celebrating of them—has purchased the forgiveness of my sin, brought me home to God, and secured for me all his benefits.

Am I sufficiently sober and worshipful today? No. I never have been a day in my life. Have we emphasized the story of Holy Week enough with the kids? No, though we’ve tried. Am I thinking enough about the Resurrection and not too much about the deviled eggs I’m planning to make for the first time? Almost certainly not. And that’s OK, because one thing Jesus purchased for me with his death is the freedom not to worry about those things.

Jesus’ work on the cross is complete. He has purchased for me every kindness I receive from God, from forgiveness of sin to this quiet moment with the smell of the hickory. He died so that I can receive these gifts from my Father, and not fret over whether I’m responding sincerely enough.

Tonight we’re planning to watch the Jesus Storybook Bible video on the crucifixion, then wait until Sunday to watch the one about the Resurrection. Our 3-year-old, who’s new to our family, hasn’t heard the story in all its details, so we want her to sit in the sadness and then experience the joy. I’m about to read and meditate on some hymns about the Cross. I’m also going to listen to my daughter jump on the trampoline, probably have a beer, and thank Jesus for loving me enough to give me all these good gifts. I believe it will be a good Friday.

Only One Chapter

A train ride

Imagine you’re on a two-hour train ride. In your compartment are just you and one other person, and after a while you strike up a conversation. Your fellow traveler casually mentions being part of a church. A Christian church. This intrigues you, because she’s young, apparently educated, and gives an overall impression of being a normal person. She is not what pops into your head when you think “Christian.”

So you ask a few questions, she asks you some, and the conversation is surprisingly normal. About halfway into the train ride, your seatmate reaches her stop. She says “It was nice talking to you. This is kind of weird, but I have this copy of the New Testament, and I’d like to give it to you. Just read it and see what you think.” That’s it. No hard sell, nothing creepy. She gets off the train.

After a few minutes, you decide to take a look at the book she gave you. It’s a fairly thin paperback. You open it up to the very beginning. The Gospel According to Matthew. You start reading.

The first half of Chapter 1 is basically a list of names. Kind of boring. Then there’s a story about Jesus’ parents, and finally his birth. You close your eyes for a minute, then doze off. You wake up when you hear the name of your stop, and in the rush to pack up and leave, you forget the Bible. You leave it there in the train compartment.

All you read was Matthew 1. The first chapter of the first book of the New Testament.

If you never read another word of the Bible for the rest of your life, what would you know?

After one chapter…

You would know that this is a book about Jesus.  “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

You would know that the Bible at least claims to be real history. The genealogy anchors the birth of Jesus not only in his own day, but in a long history of a certain people group in a certain time.

You would know that the Bible teaches that God is active in human history. Again, the genealogy, and also the way God intervenes supernaturally around the birth of Christ.

You would know that Jesus is the Christ. Matthew 1:16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ… Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows” (Matthew 1:16, 18).

You would know that the Bible teaches the virgin birth. Matthew 1:18 When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This is further emphasized in the quotation from Isaiah (1:23) and in the statement that Joseph “knew [Mary] not until she had given birth to a son” (1:25).

You would know that the New Testament writers believed the Old Testament talks about Jesus. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Matthew 1:22).

You would know that the Bible says Jesus is divine. “ ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23).

You would know that the Bible says Jesus came to save sinners. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).


On further reflection

If you had very good reading comprehension, the words might stick in your head, and you might keep thinking about them. Upon further reflection, you might have a few more thoughts:

The Christ was born from a family of human beings. This means that, at least according to Matthew, he is somehow both human and divine.

Jesus was descended from a royal family. Maybe that foreshadows something important about him.

Godly people can defend their rights without humiliating others. That might seem to come out of left field, but it’s exactly what happened with Joseph. His plan, before the angel visit, was neither to marry an adulterous woman nor to shame her publicly. He found a way to defend his own honor without destroying the person who (he thought) had wronged him.

Several women are mentioned in this list of Jesus’ family tree. That might surprise you if you previously thought the Bible treated women like property.

If, by chance, the New Testament you were handed had some simple study notes, you might have learned some helpful background information.

The women included in the genealogy point to some scandal. Not that the women themselves are scandalous. At worst they’re making the best of a bad situation; in some cases they’re great examples of faithfulness.

The fact that there’s literary crafting in the narrative doesn’t mean it’s not historically reliable. Skipping generations in a genealogy, for example, was a common way of giving structure and drawing attention to specific details.


What’s the point?

The Bible is a long and complicated book (which is a collection of a variety of smaller books). People spend their whole lives studying it, without getting at everything that’s in there. But the Bible is also refreshingly simple. You can get what you really need to get, without a master’s degree or a particular skill in understanding ancient texts.

Lots of us wish we knew the Bible better. There are great resources to help you do this. But for many of us, the best thing to do is pretty simple: Sit down and read. Take notes. Ask questions. Sit and think about things you don’t understand. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom and insight. Do all this in community with others.

When we open our Bible and read, God is speaking to us. One of the best ways for us to know him better, experience him more deeply, and protect ourselves against false ideas is simply to listen to his voice. For most of us, if we leave that first New Testament on the train, it’s not that hard to get our hands on another. Maybe even spring for the whole Bible. If we do that, once we reread Matthew 1, there are 928 more chapters waiting to teach us even more of who God is.


Vain the Stone

Every Easter we sing one of my favorite lines in a hymn: “Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.”

A few years ago a friend’s father died somewhat unexpectedly. The family had young kids, and our friends weren’t sure how to help them understand what it meant that Grampa was gone and wasn’t coming back. So the dad did something that wouldn’t have occurred to me: He sat with his kids after the graveside service, and they watched the entire burial happen. The casket was lowered into the hole in the ground, and the guys came with the machines and filled the hole with dirt. They tapped it down and covered it with sod. When they were finished, the ground over the grave looked just like everything else. At that point, my friend said, his kids understood what had happened. Grampa’s body was in the box, the box was in the ground, and that was done. Grampa’s soul was in heaven with God.

These little kids were able to understand that burial is final. Once a body is in the ground, that’s it.

Now, contrast this with the approach of Pilate and the Jewish leaders after the death of Jesus.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

I love what Pilate says: “Go, make it as secure as you can.” Do everything you possibly can to make sure that a dead body doesn’t go anywhere. Do everything you can to make sure that a 2-ton stone doesn’t move. Do everything you can, professional soldiers with javelins and swords, to make sure a bunch of terrified fishermen who ran into the night as soon as their leader was attacked don’t come and steal his decaying body. These guys literally have one job.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. The professional soldiers, having failed to keep the dead body and the 2-ton stone in place, are in trouble. So what’s the plan? A cover-up.

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

I want to be at this meeting where the soldiers explain “all that had taken place.” So, boss, here’s the deal. There was an earthquake, and an angel, and we, uh, passed out, and when we woke up the stone had moved and the body was gone.

You notice what the religious leaders don’t say? “Those rascally disciples!” They know that’s not what happened here. But it’s the story they go with. So the narrative becomes:

  • The professional soldiers all fell asleep. Asleep enough that
  • The disciples snuck to the tomb, rolled the 2-ton stone away, grabbed the body, and carried it away.
  • The professional soldiers did not notice all this.

The longer you think about it, the worse of a story it is. But at Matthew’s writing, it was the official version of the events among the Jews. It still is among a lot of otherwise intelligent people. Because they have to deal with the empty tomb.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.

Pilate couldn’t stop that body from rising, despite all the resources at his disposal. The religious leaders couldn’t stop the word from getting out that Jesus was alive, despite all the resources at their disposal. Because it had been determined from eternity past that the Son of God would become man, would live a perfect life on behalf of his people, would die for them, and would rise from the dead, having defeated death and sin and hell forever. Nothing was going to stop that.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal. Vain the schemes of the devil. Vain the lies of God’s enemies. Vain the cowardliness of the disciples. Christ had risen, and the people in charge were powerless to deny it.

This is still the case for us today. Christ is risen. You can deny it if you want, but it’s just like denying that the sun came up this morning. Your denial doesn’t change the reality.

This is bad news for God’s enemies, then and now. But it is very good news for us.

If we are in Christ, the same unstoppable power that raised him from the dead now works for us. The devil can accuse us; our own sin can cause all kinds of problems; our enemies can persecute us; death can even seem to take us out for a time. But it’s all in vain. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal. Vain every attempt the world, the flesh, and the devil can make against God’s people. The Resurrection proves this is true. He is alive. He lives forever. And because of him, so do we.

When the wreckage washes up

This Vanity Fair piece about how Tinder is changing dating culture was disturbing, though not all that surprising. (Some offensive content at that link, but that’s kind of the point.)

My first response was to plan on sending my children of both genders into seclusion from about ages 15-35. My second was to want to punch the guys quoted in the article, and give the girls a hug.

My third, most rational response was a sense of mild encouragement. The wreckage of the sexual revolution is beginning to wash up on the shore. As the Tinder generation ages, the whole sex-without-intimacy thing will, for many, become deeply unsatisfying. It will also leave them with incredible baggage as they attempt to build marriages and families (still pretty popular among the upper-middle class). Some of them will show up in our churches, carrying this baggage. This is an opportunity. What will we do?

I was a church kid in the 90’s. “True Love Waits” was pretty much the extent of our Christian teaching on sexuality. I was fortunate to get that at home as well as at church, and don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for it. It protected me from a lot of (certainly not all) sexual sin and brokenness. But it’s no longer enough. And as we look at where we are now, in the church as well as in the world, we can see that it was never enough.

It’s not enough to assume biblical sexual ethics. To the extent that most people even know them, they reject them.

It’s not enough to tell people what not to do, because most people have already done a lot of what’s on that list.

It’s certainly not enough to say “Told you so!” when people show up at our churches with sexual baggage.

Here’s where my sense of mild encouragement comes in. The church has Good News for the sexually broken. Not just “here’s what you should do” or “here’s what you should have done,” but good news for where they are. Suffering the effects of their own sin, others’ sin, or quite likely both. Wondering if there is hope for their marriage, or their singleness, or their struggle with temptation of various kinds. Wondering if they are irreparably screwed up, damaged goods.

We have good news for these people because we are these people. We have experienced, are experiencing, the grace of God in the face of our brokenness. My sense is that increasingly this will be a felt need among our neighbors. Let’s be the kind of people who step in to the messy places, show compassion, and offer hope.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

The Pastor’s Kid

I haven’t done a book review in years. For no particular reason, here’s one now.

I’ve been looking forward to Barnabas Piper’s book The Pastor’s Kid for a few months, and got to it on vacation last week. Short review: I appreciated it, and recommend it especially to fellow pastors.

Slightly longer review: The book is worth the price (and the quick, easy read) simply to get that there are challenges inherent to being a PK. Barnabas has done us pastors a favor by sharing out of his own experience what some of those challenges are. He also offers advice on how pastors can help their kids through those challenges, maximize the benefits of being a PK, and perhaps lessen the drawbacks.

Since I work overseas and our church culture is different, I think my kids avoid some of the grief that PK’s in the States get. We haven’t seen much of people in the church bossing them around, or expecting more out of them than they do other kids. (They get MK/TCK issues instead. You’re welcome, guys!) But reading about the in-home challenges, the ways that simply having ministry parents impacts kids, was good for me. My two biggest takeaways:

1. Be your kids’ dad before you’re their pastor. Don’t look at every conversation as a way to make a spiritual point. Focus on knowing your kids, making them feel known and enjoyed. Of course, teaching your kids about the Gospel is an important part of being a dad, as Barnabas would agree, but they don’t need to ever doubt that you love being their dad first.

2. Have shared hobbies and passions with your kids, other than Bible/theology/spiritual stuff. Invite them into that if they’re interested, but show them you’re a normal human being who likes to have fun, and likes to have fun with them. This hit me especially because I have one kid I think might be into that kind of stuff, and one who might not. It would be bad for the one who’s wired more like me to have more access than the other.

The strength of the book is in pointing out the challenges PK’s face. As far as weaknesses, I would have appreciated more on the advantages. He does mention some, like learning the Bible well, but I would say the overall message of the book is that being a PK is hard. That left me feeling kind of bummed for my kids, maybe even a little guilty. More on the positives would have been nice, but that could also be me wanting Barnabas to tell a story that’s not really his so that I’ll feel better.

The book also could have benefited from more stories and illustrations. There were lots of quotes from PK’s, which showed that Barnabas had interacted with lots of them in researching and writing. Sharing more anecdotes from Barnabas’ life and others would have helped me understand his points better.

These small things aside, this really is a good book. I imagine PK’s would enjoy hearing that others’ experiences are similar, and pastors should listen to Barnabas’ perspective even when it’s hard for us to hear.

What Easter gives us


Each year our church has an Easter sunrise service at about the same place where the above photo was taken. (For those of you who don’t live in Prague, you have my sympathy.) We like to worship the risen Jesus at that spot because we love our city, and it’s one of the best places to get a good look at her as the sun comes up. For some of us the pictures taken from this site were one of the first things that grabbed our attention and drew us to Prague. It’s a beautiful city that has enchanted us, a city we love to call home.

We also know that for all the beauty, there is darkness in this city. Everything from government corruption to the sex trade to a lingering feeling of loneliness, of weariness that many of the people feel.  We know all that stuff isn’t the darkness itself, but symptoms of the darkness.

So we look at this city, knowing the darkness, and yet loving the beauty, especially as the sun comes up first thing in the morning. The beauty is there despite the darkness.

The Apostle Paul came to a city like ours once. It was a beautiful city with great history, yet Paul was “provoked in his spirit” as he saw that it was also filled with the worship of false gods. When he got the chance to address people of that city, this is what he said.

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

So Paul gives a fairly straightforward presentation of the Gospel: God is holy, we are created to know him, our relationship to him has been broken by our sin, he commands us to repent. But Paul goes further than that. Unlike most of our gospel presentations, but like most of the ones in the Bible, he goes all the way to the resurrection of Jesus; in fact, all the way to the final judgment.

Paul says all men should repent, because God will judge world in righteousness “by a man whom he has appointed”—Jesus the righteous one will be the Judge. Then he says that God has given assurance of this final judgment by raising Jesus from the dead.

What does that mean?

It means the Resurrection is God’s demonstration that all the promises of the Gospel are true.

It means Jesus really did have the authority to say the outlandish things he said, to call all people to come to him, to command us to repent and believe.

It means Jesus really did die, not for his own sin, but for ours.

It means God accepted Jesus’ death as a substitute for ours; that he could stand in our place.

It means we can escape God’s judgment by believing in God’s Substitute, the Man he has appointed, the Righteous One, Jesus.

It means not only that we should repent, but that we can repent, because God is willing to pardon repentant sinners who come to him by believing in Jesus.

The Resurrection is Jesus putting his cards on the table, saying “I was not bluffing. I really am the truth, the life, the way. I really do lay down my life that I might take it up again. I have defeated death by taking it on myself.”

In other words, Easter gives us a Gospel to preach. It gives us good news for the 1.2 million people in our city, many of whom still walking in darkness. It gives us something to tell them: not just that they must repent, though that’s true, but that they can repent. It lets us tell them that there’s a throne of grace to run to, with a sympathetic and kind and understanding and living high priest.

Easter takes all these things from realm of religious theory, unverifiable and unfalsifiable, and makes them unquestionable. Jesus is either dead or he’s not. If he’s dead, we can believe whatever we want, with no consequence. If he isn’t, the news is better than we could imagine.

Easter gives us a gospel to preach. It gives us good news to believe and to share. Do you believe Jesus is alive? Then that changes everything. Go share that news with your neighbors.

“Of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” He is not here. He is risen. Amen.

(this post was adapted from my sermon at this year’s Easter sunrise service)