A Highly Misguided Way to Talk About Jesus

A blog comments the other day (different blog) said this regarding Jesus’ compassion:

Yes, Jesus was compassionate when confronted with a need, pausing to help the faithful (and in a few cases we know of, non-believers)…that was to show his authority and glory.

I will be direct about this: this is a highly misguided way to talk about Jesus’ compassion. You could perhaps try to parse it in a way that is technically accurate (maybe), yet it gives the completely wrong impression. Here are two problems.

First, it downplays the depth and nature of Jesus’ compassion. By reading this, you get the impression that compassion was just not a big deal for Jesus — that he only did it “to show his authority and glory.”

But in reality, the gospels often speak of Jesus has being motived by compassion (Matthew 9:36; John 15;12-13; Romans 5:15). It was not something Jesus did just to show his authority (and why would that matter for us, anyway, if his authority didn’t exist to be used for the good of people — that is, for compassionate purposes?). It was something he did because he cared. That’s the meaning of compassion, and it is not to be downplayed in the slightest.

And in relation to Jesus’ glory, his love and compassion are themselves a large part of his glory. In other words, his compassion is itself part of what makes him glorious. We know this because the Scriptures speak of God’s grace as the pinnacle of his glory (Romans 9:23; 1 John 4:8; Ephesians 1:6, “to the praise of his glorious grace“).

Further, the author speaks of Jesus simply “pausing” to help the faithful. This makes it sound like he didn’t give significant attention to it, or that it wasn’t a chief purpose of his mission. It was something he simply “paused” to do, while he was on to other more important things.

Instead, Jesus’ own theme verse for his ministry makes compassion the very center of his ministry (Matthew 9:12-13). Everything Jesus did — to the pinnacle of his ministry of going to the cross for our salvation — was motived by compassion. Compassion is central to Jesus’ heart and way of thinking.

Second, it downplays Jesus’ ministry to non-believers. The author says that there are only a few cases we know of where Jesus helped non-believers. This is a strange thing to say about the one said that he “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

This way of thinking contributes to setting up walls against compassion. It makes it seem as though helping non-believers is not very important, because Jesus only did it a few times.

But in fact, Jesus helped unbelievers all the time. In a very real sense, every single person that Jesus helped was an unbeliever. The reason is that, even if they were already a believer when he physically helped them, that simply meant that his Spirit had first worked in them to bring them to faith. 

And today, the gospel is going to all nations at his command, helping millions of unbelievers everywhere by bringing them to faith. 

This issue is very important because it goes to the very heart of who Jesus is. I take issue with this commenter because I am seeing this thinking more and more, and it is a very subtle thing.  Jesus is appealed to in order to almost justify a type of aloofness and separation from people’s real needs, in the name of “responsibility” or “authority.” It’s as though we think God wants boundaries more than he wants love – which is often messy.

Sometimes we even minimize Jesus’ compassion for the apparent sake of his glory. It’s as though we are afraid that acknowledging that Jesus was compassionate and loved people is going to diminish God-centeredness or something. Instead of allowing Jesus to challenge our own lack of empathy, we end up finding justification for it in him by coming to the gospels with our own preconceived notions.

This is not right, and it gives a wrong view of Jesus — which, in turn, stands in the way of people following him. Who could follow a Jesus who is not filled with compassion? We need more than that.

It is a great irony that people can miss this about the most compassionate person in all of history. And yet, it happens all the time.

 

 

Do Hard Things

I enjoyed this post on Alex and Brett Harris at the Gospel Coalition. It starts:

“Do hard things,” Alex and Brett Harris told their fellow teenagers six years ago. Get up early. Step out of your comfort zone. Do more than what’s required. Find a cause. Be faithful. Go against the crowd.

Be better than your culture expects….

“We do hard things, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved,” Brett told me. “Our willingness to obey God even when it’s hard magnifies the worth of Christ, because in our hard obedience we’re communicating to the world that Jesus is more valuable than comfort, than ease, than staying safe.”

Indeed, we are saved by grace and created for good works (Eph. 2:8-10).

In the Harris family, “do hard things” is just a fresh way to say “do good works,” Brett said. “We’ve found it a helpful way to say ‘do good works’ because we often need to be reminded that doing good works is hard, is supposed to be hard, and puts the spotlight on God—where it belongs—because it is hard.”

I love the way they put that. “Do hard things” is another way of saying “do good works.” The rest of the article then looks at the hard things they are each doing right now, and it’s worth reading.

Come to Technology and the Glory of God This Saturday in Ames

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If you are in or around central Iowa, it would be great to see you at the Technology and the Glory of God conference this Saturday, hosted by Stonebrook church in Ames.

Tim Challies and I will be speaking on, you guessed it, technology and the glory of God.

One of my sessions will be a Q&A, and I especially love hard questions. So feel free bring your most difficult and challenging questions. (Or just ordinary ones are fine too, of course!)

Doors open at 12:30 and the conference goes from 1:00 to 7:00.

You can register and see more details at the Eventbrite page.

God is Not Served by Technical Incompetence

Dorothy Sayers, in Why  Work:

The worst religious films I ever saw were produced by a company which chose its staff exclusively for their piety.

Bad photography, bad acting, and bad dialogue produced a result so grotesquely irreverent that the pictures could not have been shown in churches without bringing Christianity into contempt.

God is not served by technical incompetence.

The Gospel and Money

The Gospel And Money from mattperman

This is my presentation on “The Gospel and Money” from the workshop I did at The Gospel Coalition 2008 national conference.

In this presentation, I answer three questions:

  1. How should we understand prosperity in light of the biblical texts that seem to take a wealth-negative view?
  2. Is maximizing our financial giving always the best way to serve others?
  3. Can we glorify God in spending money as well as in giving money?

And then I talk about being creative, competent, and audacious in addressing global poverty.

You can also listen to the audio:

 

Speaking at Catalyst Labs October 1st

Come to Catalyst Atlanta this October 1 – 3!

Catalyst is the best leadership conference for young leaders who love the church. If you’ve never been to Catalyst before, it’s unlike any conference you’ve ever been to. It’s exciting, innovative, and yet grounded in excellent content and substance. Here’s a short description:

Catalyst unifies change makers — equipping you with impactful content and experiences that transform thinking, provoke action and cultivate community. We’re challenging leaders who love the Church to break the bounds of an ordinary existence and find the courage to embrace and radiate bold change.

Main speakers this year include Andy Stanley, Matt Chandler, Craig Groeschel, Tim Keller, John Perkins, and more.

If you come on October 1st, the day before the main conference starts, you can attend Catalyst Labs. I’ll be doing a lab session and would  love to see you. The title of my session is: All the Good You Can: How the Gospel Changes the Way You Lead, Get Things Done, and Change the World.

I believe it is possible to change the world, and that God in fact calls us to do so. It isn’t just an inspirational idea or a dream of people who like to think in big terms without doing the hard work to create that change. But we do need to understand changing the world in a God-centered way, and we need to understand how this affects the way we lead and the way we get things done. God has a particular way in which he wants us to change the world. We need to know what that is and how it affects everything we do. So that’s what I’ll be talking about in my session.

You can learn more about Catalyst Atlanta at the website, and register here. It would be great to see you there!

(And here’s a great, quick video on the vision for the conference:

The Gospel in Ecclesiastes?

In the latest issue of The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Eric Ortland has an excellent article called “The Gospel in the Book of Ecclesiastes.”

It is an excellent article. I don’t think the JETS articles are online, but if you subscribe to JETS, check it out.

Here is one of the most helpful and meaningful things in the article: Ortlund points  to the term “already” in Ecclesiastes 9:7: “Go, eat with joy your bread, and drink with a good heart your wine, for God has already approved what you do.” The passage then goes on to refer to work and the other aspects of life.

The point in this passage, shown by the term “already,” is that God gives us the gift of our work and its results, and delights in these gifts to us “prior to and irrespective of what we accomplish.” 

This is an authorization and affirmation of meaningful work. God does not wait to see the results of our work to identify if it is meaningful; rather this passage is saying that the endeavor itself is meaningful. 

This is incredibly freeing. You don’t have to ask if God approves of you working with all your heart and with great purpose. Yes, he already approves of that. So go do it. 

Is it Really the Case that People Don't Value that Which is Free?

When I was at Desiring God and we were implementing the vision of posting everything online for free, this was a common objection.

I think the people who make this objection are very smart. Further, they have some good evidence for their thinking. For example, who hasn’t returned home from a conference with a huge pile of free books that they are not interested in and might actually just throw away? Or who doesn’t get annoyed by marketers trying to stick them with “free” stuff as they walk by.

And I have to say that one of the most annoying things to me is websites that try to promote their newsletter or other stuff by putting FREE in all caps, as if we are dogs programmed to salivate at any idea of “free” and as if we don’t have enough to do already. My question whenever I see that is always “who cares if it’s free; will it actually add value to my life?” Much of what is “free” actually takes value away from you by taking your time and creating hassle.

In other words, “free” is often a value vampire.

Of course, though, the problem here is that in these cases, we really aren’t dealing with free at all. We are dealing with low-value stuff that imposes a cost on us — the cost of time and hassle, all in the service of the marketers aims, not the recipient’s aims. By definition, that is not free. That’s called taking. It’s taking in the guise of “FREE.”

Back to something like abundantly free online sermons (like at Desiring God) or even the case of free books. The fact is, sometimes we do value free stuff — and sometimes we don’t.

You can’t just make a blanket statement that people don’t value free stuff, or that they do. Experience constantly contradicts this.

For example, think of your favorite TV show (if you have one). If it’s on one of the major networks, it is free to you. Does that make you value it less? For years my favorite show was Lost, and I didn’t value it less because of the fact that I didn’t have to pay to watch it. Likewise, just because I do pay for an episode of something now on iTunes doesn’t mean I am going to value it more. I value it based on how much I like it, not based on how much it cost me.

The biggest factor here of all, though, is the issue of salvation. Salvation is fully free (Romans 6:23). Does that make us value it less?

Of course, based on the behavior of some Christians, some people might actually argue that the answer is yes! But we know that can’t really be the case, for God would not set things up such that the way he grants the right to heaven is intrinsically flawed so as to make us devalue it.

I think the answer is this. People value free things when those free things meet immense needs or enable them to invest in things that matter. 

In the case of free online sermons, if a person simply has a consumer mentality, they might not be valuing those free sermons the way they should. But the free sermons aren’t there for such people. The sermons are there for the people who want to take what they learn from those sermons and invest it into their lives and into other people. 

Note that in these cases, the person is actually doing a lot of work. But the work is not to earn the right to the free items (in this case, sermons), but in learning from them, applying them, and living them out. That is very demanding, and causes people to value the sermons very much. (I’ve spoken to pastor after pastor, for example, that has remarked on how they use the sermons in their research as they are preparing for their own sermons.)

And that’s why making something free does not necessarily diminish its value. Sometimes, it actually enhances its value by enabling the person to focus on the real purpose of that which is free — namely, putting it to use.

Why distract people from that purpose by putting up additional barriers?

The Goal is Not to Show How Bright You Are By Shooting Holes in Ideas

Anyone can do that.

Right?

Jim Collins nails the problems with this in his excellent book Beyond Entrepreneurship:

Most of us have been trained to do just the opposite [of acting on good ideas rather than spending hours deliberating on all the reasons they can’t work]. We’re well schooled in criticism, having learned that the way to show how smart we are is to cite all the reasons that something is a stupid idea or doomed to failure.

We’ve noticed many new MBAs, for example, are adept at finding all the flaws in a business idea, but they’re much less practiced at coming up with ways to make the idea work.

Many times we’ve stood facing a self-satisfied person who has just done a marvelous job of demolishing a new product idea during a discussion. Then we ask, “Yes, we know it’s an imperfect idea. But then no idea is perfect. So, now how do you intend to make this idea successful in spite of its flaws?”

Some people rise brilliantly to the challenge when they realize that the goal is no longer to show how bright they are by shooting holes in ideas.

But, alas, others do not. They’ve been trained too well in the ethos of criticism, and to build a great company, they’ll have to overcome this negative training.