Monthly Archives: November 2013

Unicorns and Ponies: lessons from Paul in what to think about when you’re sad

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable —if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8, HCSB)

These two verses are so famous among Christians, that if you are one, you likely thought back to a personal trial in your life upon reading it.

It’s a passage for experiencing peace, and it carries such emotional weight that it triggers events in the mind like a familiar scent from a distant memory. I still carry this verse around for those times I’m too distraught to think of anything else. Philippians 4:8 is there, ready to meet me in my moment of need. But there’s a problem.

What exactly is lovely?

If you were to search the word in a dictionary, you would find this meaning: “very pleasant or enjoyable; delightful” (NOAD). And pure? That can range in meaning from “untainted by immorality” to being “undiluted.” When you put the list together, you’re left with a bunch of moral commands that are as ambiguous as they are inspirational.

Does Paul mean we are to think through a list of arbitrarily nice things to experience God’s peace?

If so, can I just put together a laundry-list of items that are true, pure, and lovely by which to draw heavenly energy from? If that’s the case, I choose unicorns and ponies. Those fit the imprecise nature of all the terms in verse 8. But that just draws me deeper into madness! If experiencing the peace of a transcendent God depends only on visualizing unicorns and ponies, then how is Christianity any different from the strange forms of positive thinking found in some New Age streams and Word of Faith spirituality? For that matter, why do I need Christianity at all, since I can duck the other moral obligations (and verses that frustrate me) and simply find my “happy place?”

A clue lies in verse 9,

“Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me”

Whenever Paul uses phrases like “received” and “learned” he is nearly always referring to a transferred, organized body of doctrine.

(Examples: 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1-3; 2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:12; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6).

Also synonymous with received is the “pattern of sound words” (2 Tim 1:13) that Paul tells Timothy about, and to which the Apostles consistently defer to when they are instructing the church: the gospel. My suggestion is that if verse 9 has any connection with verse 8, Paul is presupposing that what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, and praise-worthy is something deeper, exacting, and objective.

Philippians 4:8 is referring to the gospel of the crucified Messiah and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

In other words, anxiety is not effectively subdued by daydreaming of unicorns, ponies, flowers, cute girls/guys, a promotion, positive thinking, the ocean, or an endless list of other wonderful things. Freedom comes from the gospel, as we know. But Paul also seems to suggest that the experience of that freedom comes by ruminating over the gospel. When you fill your mind with the person and work of Christ, the peace of the living God envelops your soul.

So do this: whenever you encounter a difficult situation that might normally cause you to despair, think of who Christ is to you in the midst of that problem, and what Christ has done for you despite that problem, how Christ will eventually right that problem, and how desperately you need Him in every situation… Well, I’ve gone on enough.

Book Review ~ The King In His Beauty, by Thomas R. Schreiner

I had this book on my wish list the year before it came out. 

For the following reasons. First, Dr. Thomas Schreiner is one of my favorite scholars. I read through his prestigious commentary on Romans, and developed a deep appreciation for his scholarly writing voice, and well as the sheer width of his focus. Second, Biblical Theologies are a favorite area of study for me—at least for the last year. It is often entrenched in complexity, so Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition will serve the purpose of this blog post well: Biblical Theology is “the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible” (Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, 40). To boil it down further, it’s the unifying storyline of Scripture, which I address more in this blog postThird, the name alone is awesome: The King in His Beauty. This just makes me want to pick it up and swim in glorious truth!

Now that I’m done with this hefty book (700+ pages), I’ve provided a not-brief summary of what it’s about, some reasons for reading it, potential drawbacks, and a few concluding remarks. Let’s go for a swim!


The King in His Beauty is foremost a Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Biblical Theology (BT) may sound confusing if you’ve never heard the term before, because we sometimes use the word “biblical” when referring to something correct or orthodox; so it may sound like we are talking about a theology that is orthodox. But that’s not what we are talking about (although it assumes the theology is correct!). BT is an area of study, dealing primarily with the story of Scripture, a search for the “center” to that story, and the process of how God reveals that story. Think of it as a view of the Bible from 30,000 feet: you are taking it all in at once.

Schreiner’s intent with writing a BT is simple: to focus on a prominent Biblical theme as it is unfolding so that the average, non-academic reader can understand and enjoy. As Schreiner moves through Scripture, he does so in segments which I’ve found very helpful in following both his train of thought, and the storyline of Scripture. The segments are as follows:

  • Creation to the Edge of Canaan (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
  • The Story of Possession, Exile, and Return (Joshua-Esther)
  • Israel’s Songs of Wisdom (Job-Song of Songs)
  • Judgment and Salvation in the Prophets (Isaiah-the Twelve)
  • The Kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts (Matthew-Acts)
  • Eternal Life in the Gospel and the Epistles of John (John, John’s letters)
  • The End of the Ages Has Come according to the Apostle Paul (Paul’s 13 letters)
  • Living in the Last Day’s according to the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter-Jude)
  • The Kingdom Will Come (Revelation)

As Schreiner moves through these segments of Scripture, he shows them all anchored in the prominent theme of the Kingdom of God, or as he refers to it, The King in His Beauty. He argues that the Kingdom of God, defined as the rule of God spanning the cosmos, including human beings, by means of covenant, and expressed in judgment, “thematically captures the message of Scripture” (xiii-xv).

The book was not written for scholars, but is scholarly (the footnotes are a feast!). So as he teases out the theme of God’s Kingdom in the Bible, he stays out-of-the-way, yet within close distance to the events as they happen, speaking with a depth of clarity and simplicity even in such seemingly abstract books as Amos or the Psalms. It is this simple clarity on complex topics that makes Schreiner magical. Here are a few other delicacies in the book… Read the rest of this entry

Chris Lazo | Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

Evangelism and Social Justice


Kyle Barton on the tension between evangelism and social justice. Great post.

Originally posted on conversant faith:

16. Because of this, evangelism cannot be divorced from the preaching and practicing of justice.

The big question with the pursuit of justice is whether it is personal or institutional. No one denies that justice in the world around us is important. Jesus Himself directed the Pharisees to the practice of justice (Matt. 23:23). But how, why, and to what extent justice should be pursued is debated. Bosch seems to lean heavily toward an institutional approach that is sympathetic to the ethos of liberation theology and the World Council of Churches.

In this approach, the work of the kingdom is focused on social justice, political reform, international tensions, violence, liberation, security, labor-management relations, economic opportunity, full stomachs, human dignity, ecological responsibility, and opportunities for our children.

Christians should do something about the world around them. Something major. Something to enact structural change. They shouldn’t sit around talking about…

View original 1,156 more words

Needed vs. Called

Jon Tyson wrote a great article last week called, Driven vs. Called, where he revealed two ways we find motivation to serve. One is from a sense of calling, where God directs us to do something; the other is drive, which Tyson identifies as the pressures of ministry. The latter is steeped in a high view of our own merit, a low view of Christ’s work in us, and will end up draining the most well-meaning Christian. But there’s another motivation that confronts divine calling. It’s need.

A need-driven person is driven by anything urgent.

A lot of urgencies are menial, tedious things, such as crisis management, pressing needs in the community, issues that other people want you to champion, even answering email, replying to texts, and making important phone calls. Many of these things are necessary, but as Stephen Covey brilliantly suggested, they are pressing, and this is what makes them so difficult—they are the needs that demand the most attention. And because they demand attention, they sometimes steal attention from those things which are most important, though not always urgent.

What’s necessary often comes at the expense of what’s important.

Important things can include vision, passions, preventative measures, forward-movement, planning, and in this case, calling: those things we know God has led us to do, not more or less.

My dad and I once had to tear out an entire yard of ivy. The garden used to be beautiful—full of other plant life, but now, it’s just an enclave of overbearing vines. My dad explained that this ivy might look nice in a potted plant, but once it lays down roots it will quickly take over. After that, you’re done growing anything else—it’s simply a matter of maintaining the problem. That’s kind of what it’s like to be need driven. You say yes to so many urgent needs, that you have no time to spend for the things that are most important; it’s simply a matter of maintaining the problems.

The Scriptures are replete with people who were overwhelmed by urgent needs.

But instead of learning from them, we use their stories to bury ourselves further in the pressure to be better (i.e., more productive) Christians! For example, we read of all the radical things that happen from Genesis to Revelation, and think that a faithful Christian life should include all said things. But not even Jesus did everything. For example, he was called, not to the Gentiles, but specifically to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24)—even though Jesus’ mission was a part of God’s redemptive plan for the Gentiles. Even the things that Jesus did, were not always done. For example, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Why not? Because He said that he came to do “the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34; 6:38). Jesus was call-driven. He got his call from His Father. And in the grand scope of the Biblical story, we see that Jesus wasn’t being heartless; he was committed to that which mattered most. And eventually, his obedience would offer salvation and redemption to everyone with needs.

How does this slice of God’s redemptive plan, as seen in Jesus ministry, shape our practice? First, consider a few things.

1. We have union with Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live like him.

A part of that enablement comes, albeit counterintuitively, when we focus, not on what we need to get done, but on what has been done for us in Jesus. The Gospel, then, becomes the motivation we need to do what we are called to, and to not do everything life demands of us. Why?

2. Because we trust in the sovereignty of God to handle the universe and it’s overwhelming needs.

God’s satisfaction in us through Christ frees us from the pressures of doing everything; and in moments of self-doubt, we can continually fall back on those things we must to do, not those things we should do.

Our union with Christ allows us to enter into the freedom of being call-driven, and frees us from the pressures of answering every need. Eventually, every real need will be met in Jesus. We are called to be faithful.


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