Thinking Out Loud

September 28, 2015

Resolving the Four Different Versions of the Sign on The Cross

sign on Jesus' cross

A few weeks ago here I reviewed the new book by J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene and back in 2013 we looked at his first book Cold Case Christianity. Of all the various possible approaches to Christian apologetics, the methodology used by this cold case detective is really resonating with reviewers and readers as the internet is abuzz with positive responses from the denominational spectrum.

Still there are times when I look back at my reviews — especially after a book really takes off — and wonder if I could have done more to whet my readers’ appetite for the author. So when I saw this excerpt sitting unattended in an unlit corner of the blogosphere, I figured, ‘Hey, Wallace is all about crime, let’s do some stealing.’ I think you’ll agree what follows is worth reading, and since my own detective work reveals you guys don’t always click through, the excerpt is here in full. (Click the title below to read at source.)

Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them here at One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

• Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Cold Case Christianity• Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

• Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

• Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

• Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.

~J. Warner Wallace

Both Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene are available from David C. Cook Publishing where you buy quality Christian products.

July 25, 2015

Worship Moments

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

Last week we attended an outdoor Sunday service in which the focus was honoring and respecting God’s creation. Toward the end, I was reminded of a poem I thought we had posted here, only to learn I had done so on a different website. On Friday’s post at Internet Monk, there was a statement that “American readers will refuse to read poetry.” Reading the poem there, I was reminded again of the one below.  I know nothing of the author of this poem, which I had memorized when I was much younger; in fact I had always thought it was written by Tennyson. Some conservative Christians will bristle at the phrase “Mother Earth,” but I love the premise of the first verse and last verse especially.


Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.

July 5, 2015

If It’s Not Working, Check the Connections

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord

If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.

If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.

If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.

If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

April 10, 2015

Staring at the Screen

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:40 am

Albert remembers that afternoon in 1975 as if it were yesterday. He was 15.

It was July, hot and humid as you would expect. The sofa had been positioned to face the television set and he was jammed into it with his brother Barry, 13, sister Cathie, 10 and youngest brother Douglas, 8. They were all wearing shorts and tried not to let their legs touch because of the sweat the hot farmhouse was causing.

Short StoriesTheir father Ernie had resisted getting TV saying it was “the devil’s instrument;” and that “nothing good would come from having it;” but he couldn’t resist when a neighbor farmer offered him his old console set for $20 so he could make the move to one with better color.

The siblings spent their summers doing chores, but this day was so hot they had stripped down to shorts and t-shirts for lunch, and because the intensity of the noon-day sun, Ernie allowed them to take a rare full hour break, so they headed to the family room and settled in front of the television.

The set however, was not on.

After capitulating to pressure of the culture of the day, Ernie had second guessed himself after installing the set in its place. The set connected to the wall plug by way of a utility cord that was actually detachable — something they did back then — and he had yet to turn the set on for more than a few second to determine it had survived the move on the back of the pickup  and was capable of receiving a few off-air stations. Then he removed the cord and placed it somewhere out of sight.

So Albert and his brothers sat staring at the blank screen. Cathie found the TV listings in the Sunday paper that was still sitting by the fireplace, a routine placement for kindling for fires that weren’t needed in July. “Let’s see, it’s 12:30 PM on Friday, so what would we watch?” The kids talked about shows their friends often mentioned as the screen simply stared back silently, showing their reflection in the glass. They had television, so to speak, or at least they were making some progress.

Forty years later Albert remembered the absurdity of that summer lunch hour. A few days later his father caved in and the kids sat glued to it at every opportunity. It was harder for Ernie to get the kids to do their chores, but it also brought a wealth of information into their home which they had lacked for so many years.

Why remember this now?

The day came back to mind as Albert stared at the blank, blue screen on his computer, wondering who he should call to get it working again.

March 4, 2015

Wednesday Link List


Read the screen carefully: The modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Read the screen carefully: Some who are part of the modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Don’t forget to read the short-takes following the featured links…

Sundays are Still the Worst – A year ago here we linked to a website dedicated to stories of servers in restaurants who are forced to deal with an influx of church-goers whose behavior is abominable. Sundays Are The Worst still gets submissions, but this recent one shows in great detail what all this looks like from the other side. ” I wasn’t expecting a tip, but I also didn’t expect any of the nasty notes (calling me a whore, slut, telling me I’m ugly and too stupid to do anything besides serving, that I was incompetent, that I was going to hell, etc.) from the women. Some of them even finished off their notes by stating that they’d “pray for me to better myself.” But the icing on the cake? The notes from the husbands of three of the women who left their phone numbers for me. This was the experience that ended it for me. In tears, I collected all of the notes, finished clearing up the table, went to my manger and showed him the notes, and told him that I quit, and that I wouldn’t be coming back.”

Essay of the Week: Tradition vs. Nostalgia – “Michael Spencer, having been rooted in Baptist traditions in the American South, used to write just as strongly about churches that were little more than memorials to the ‘good old days’ of the post-war era, when people wore suits and dresses to church, sang the ‘old hymns’ (actually, fairly recent revivalistic gospel hymns), filled age-graded Sunday School classes, heard ‘real preaching’ from the King James Version, and went forward for the invitation. Lots of good in all that, I’m sure. But Michael had seen how wistfulness for all that had killed churches dead. Real dead.”

You Should Feel Like a Room Without a Roof – “I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is an inherently optimistic – and even happy – faith. Now I get it, even as I make that assumption more than a few of you are objecting to it. Your objections are most likely rooted in your view of the depravity of humanity, or your eschatology that believes some level of impending doom is imminent. It also might be true that you know of human suffering – particularly the suffering of other believers who live under regimes and find themselves at the wrong end of the wrath of various non-believers. I won’t contest any of those realities, but I still contend that our faith ought to be optimistic.”

Well Remembered but not Remembered Well – The FBI released 250 pages of documents relating to Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. On the one hand, “Multiple FBI bulletins describe Phelps as ‘keenly aware of what his rights and limitations are… He and his followers carry a video camera with them to film those who attempt to stop them from demonstrating.'” On the other hand, “The feds also suspected they were dealing with a mental case, according to a 1987 document that stated: ‘[Fred] Phelps was felt by office of origin to be in need of psychiatric care as a result of persons interviewed claimed Phelps to be irrational.'”

Creating Environments for Sex Abuse Recovery – Responding to past article here at Leadership Journal: “In more than a decade of research, almost every article I’ve come across addressing sex offenders in church communities reveals pastors and leaders focusing exclusively on the sex offenders—the theological grounds for their presence, the church’s obligation to care for them, how to support them, how to monitor them, how to protect ministries from potential lawsuits due to their presence, and so on… But offenders are not the only ones in need of a welcome in our churches. Too often when victims/survivors are considered, it is offender focused. Survivors are told they are required to forgive or reconcile with offenders… we must find true empathy for victims/survivors and how sexual abuse has affected them.”

Definitely Not a Midweek Service – A look at a church in Syracuse, NY which holds one of its weekend services on Thursday night: “I started our Early Weekend Service (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.) because I realized what a huge need there was for it.  A third of the American workforce works on the weekend. At least 60% of families with children between the ages of 6 – 17 participate in organized sports, with many of those having weekend events. We are located in an area where a large number of people have camps/vacation homes that affect their attendance during the summer. Throw in both parents working and chores to be done, lawns to be mowed and families just wanting to spend time together, and church on the weekend wasn’t always making it on the calendar.”

Religion and America’s Top Office – “There are arguments for and against our need to know what presidential aspirants believe… Not so long ago, it was enough for most Americans that our culture’s vibrant religious traditions fostered personal morality, civic virtue, public-spiritedness and a commitment to the common good. We expected our presidents to adhere to some faith, but few were obsessed with parsing out his views on specific doctrines…The trouble with making presidents’ religiosity just another weapon in our ongoing ideological war is that we may have ruined religion for presidents themselves.”

Kids, Death and Funerals – The author of this piece notes that, “the biggest segment of disenfranchised grievers are children. Children are disenfranchised for two reasons: their parents haven’t confronted death on a personal level and have become so frightened of it that their natural reaction is to shield their children from the perceived “monster of death.”  And two, parents simply repeat the evasive cliches and religious euphemisms they’ve been taught, leaving kids to believe that the deceased is just “sleeping” or “gone to be with the angels.” Cliches act as an unintentional defense mechanism that often keep the children from full death confrontation and thus grief.” He then offers ten ways to involve the children.

Does This Make Me Look Pious? – “Luma [Simms] opens saying that one of the reasons that she converted to Roman Catholicism was so she could wear a mantilla. She states, ‘The mantilla is a lace veil women have worn over their heads while worshipping God since the time of the New Testament Church.’ But was it? While women did wear head coverings in the New Testament Church, the mantilla is a more recent, fashionable custom that originated from Spain and seems to have made its way into the west around the 1960’s. Women in the New Testament church were not wearing lace.”

The Moral Neutrality of Mathematics – “Surely there’s one thing Christians and atheists can agree on—math. Like dirt and rocks, it’s not good or bad—it’s just a tool. 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what you believe. You don’t need the Bible to appreciate and use tools properly . . . right? I’ve often heard Christians, even Christian teachers, say that some aspects of our lives, such as math, are just tools, neither good nor bad. No “Christian perspective” is required to fully understand and use them…The argument that math is neutral like rocks ignores the fact that God called all creation, even the rocks, good when He created them on the third day…”

No, no, no! It's Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee An, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples' names matter.

No, no, no! It’s Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee-In, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples’ names matter.

If you’re reading this on its release day, Wednesday March 5th, don’t forget that tonight is the opening night of a very limited run for The Drop Box movie in major U.S. and Canadian cities.

Short Takes:

There is absolutely no reason for Mark "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" Gungor's picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn't he?

There is absolutely no reason for Mark “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” Gungor’s picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn’t he? Watch the podcast at

January 31, 2015

Faith Itself is Not a Destination

Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.”

~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, an eightteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009

January 30, 2015

Getting the Gospel Right

Christianity in a single sentence

Four years ago I ran a piece here that began with Dane Ortland, a senior editor at Crossway Books, who asked some people in his Rolodex to summarize the gospel in a single sentence. (Does he still use a Rolodex?) At the time, I was reading all Christian bloggers somewhat equally, but today with the dominance of Calvinist/Reformed voices at Crossway, I probably would have tempered my introduction with a warning that many of the responses probably emanate from people in the same doctrinal stream.

To be fair, the question asked was to summarize The Bible in a single sentence. But it’s a re-hash of a familiar theme among certain blogs were repeating over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: What is the gospel?

I remain perplexed by this preoccupation, this obsession that certain people in the Reformed tradition have with trying to formulate the ultimate definition of the evangel; the good news. Without being flippant, I think that, like pornography, you know it when you see it; or in this case hear it or read it.

Mylon LeFevre, the musician from the early days of CCM put it this way, “If it didn’t sound like good news, you haven’t heard the gospel.”

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

That God loves us and cares for us enough to intervene — that incarnation should ever take place at all — is such a mystery. Why mess it up with over-analysis? Instead of reading about the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and — oh my goodness! — blogging endlessly about the gospel; would it not be better to get out into the streets and be living the gospel? I said at the time that my answer would simply be:

  • It’s the story of the history between God and humankind.

Is that not sufficient?  Maybe today I would add, ‘and God’s workings to repair that relationship where it has been broken.’ But already I’m making it longer where I think such a statement needs to be concise.

But why? Why? Why? Would someone from within the Reformed tradition be so kind as to give me a reasonable solution to this riddle: Why so much time, so much energy, so much angst over trying to answer a question that never seems to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction?

Nonetheless, here are few answers to Dane’s question:

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God. (Leland Ryken)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)

Two of the authors merely paraphrased a familiar verse in John 3:

  • God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life. (Grant Osborne)
  • God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life! (Dan Block)

I thought there was actually more life in the answers given in the comments section:

  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succintly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)
  • The Triune God of Eternity restoring the demonstration of His glory in that which He has created by the redemption of creation through God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rick from Dallas)

But at the end of the day — if you haven’t already spotted the pattern here — my favorite item in the comment section is this one:

  • Why didn’t you ask any women to contribute? (Gillian)

To read many of the other featured definitions; and dozens of other comments; click over to the original article at Strawberry Rhubarb

Looking back four years later… In an environment where so many churches spend so much time and energy trying to draft mission statements and tag lines to put under the church logo, it’s interesting that our perspectives vary enough that we don’t emerge with something more common to all.  However, we do have a common symbol, the cross

Maybe we should start there and work backwards to a core statement.

January 16, 2015

Re-Reading: Classic Philip Yancey

Some time ago, I wrote something to the effect that Christian readers should alternate between currently published works, and what are considered Christian classics. Of course, by classics, I meant something a little older than Philip Yancey, but that raises another issue: So many great Christian books — ones still in print, author still living — predate the internet, which means reviews are fewer than for more recent titles publishes are promoting through social media.

Reaching for the Invisible GodPhilip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God is perhaps more significant now than when it was published in 2002. It belongs in the conversation among those wrestling with issues of faith and doubt, and addresses the question of skepticism directly that is so prevalent in 2015.

Reaching is subjective. Most of Philip Yancey’s book are more autobiographical than other authors you encouter. They are about his journey, but sufficiently researched and footnoted so as to represent our universal quest to know and experience God in a world where he is physically invisible.

If you’re new to the name, Yancey started out as a journalist writing for Campus Life magazine, which led to co-authoring The NIV Student Bible notes with Tim Stafford and co-authoring three books with Dr. Paul Brand. Though his earlier writing includes books such as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappointment With God, for this reader the journey began with The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace.

He is very philosophical in his writing. I copied this passage from Reaching… a few days ago to send to a friend which deals with the contrast between the God of the First Testament and the Jesus of the Second Testament. I love this analogy:

Love tends to decrease as power increases, and vice versa.  The same power that repeatedly overwhelmed the Israelites made it difficult for them to perceive God’s love.  A parent stands tall to instill respect in his child and stoops low for hugs and affection.  In the Old Testament, God stood tall. (p. 131)

The original subtitle of the book — which appears on my copy — is “What Can We Expect to Find?” It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his earliest disciples in John 1:38,

When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (HCSB and others use looking, others use seeking)

In a world where people are seeking and looking for God, people often search for a book, but booksellers and their staff are so oriented to frontlist (recently released items) that they forget that Christian publishing is so rich in backlist titles. Publishers revive older books with new covers and even new titles, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find a gem you may have missed. 

If you already own a copy; join me in a re-read. If not, get yourself a copy. I think you’ll find it is perhaps even more relevant more than a decade later.

Related: A few years back I wrote about rich text, which is of course now an HTML computer term, but I appropriated it to mean books that are rich in substance.  You can read that article by clicking here.

Philip Yancey Books


January 4, 2015

Blessed to be a Blessing

This morning at church the message wrap-up focused on asking for, and receiving God’s blessing so we can bless others.  I kept thinking of this song by Aaron Niequist, who currently serves at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL.


In Jesus’ name I’ve been changed, I’ve been filled,
I’ve been found, I’ve been freed, I’ve been saved!
In Jesus’ blood I’ve been loved, I’ve been cleansed,
And redeemed, and released, rearranged

But how can I show You that I’m grateful?
You’ve been so generous to me.
How can I worship more than singing?
And live out Redemption’s melody.

I have been blessed – now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved – now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited – I want to share the invitation
I have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

In Jesus’ name we are changed, we are called,
We are chosen, adopted, and named!
In Jesus’ blood we are loved, we are healed,
We’re forgiven and free of our shame!

We want to show You that we’re thankful
Flooding Your world with hope and peace
Help us to worship more than singing
Giving Redemption hands and feet

We have been blessed – now we’re going to be a blessing
We have been loved – now we’re going to bring love
We’ve been invited – we’re going to share the invitation
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

Thank You for this new life, thank You for the invitation!
God, we want to live it loud enough to shake the nations in Your name!

We have been saved – we’re going to shout about the Savior
We have been found – we’re going to turn over every stone
We’ve been empowered – to love the world to Heaven
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change


December 7, 2014

I Am Mess

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:43 pm

There is a Roman Catholic tradition that one does not partake of The Lord’s Supper without having been to confession. The confessional booth was created for this particular purpose, and is often looked down at by non-Catholics as ‘one more thing the Roman church has added to the Christian faith.’ But while it institutionalizes something the Early Church would have seen take place more organically, it is part of the our mandate as we approach the Eucharist or Communion table.

In the instructions for instituting The Lord’s Supper, the King James version translated I Cor. 11:28 with the familiar words, “But let a man examine himself.” Here’s how The Message deals with it through to verse 34:

27-28 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.

29-32 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.

The posture with which we come to Communion is a posture of confession.

Unfortunately, this is not always emphasized in all of our churches, and while a few do provide a time of silence for such, many places of worship do not, and many who have more recently become part of our congregations don’t know this teaching.

Having been raised with this, I have no problem remembering this. Sometimes my prayer begins, “Lord, I’m a mess.” I know my heart, and I know God knows my heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) and yes, we’re very good at rationalizing our own righteousness (Prov. 16:2) as in, ‘Hey, I’m not as bad as my friend.’ But the moments preceding the communion elements are no time for pretense, at that moment, transparency and honesty is the order of the day. My thoughts might be drawn to:

  • the anger I may feel toward someone who has wronged me, even things that happened years ago;
  • obsessing over regrets concerning past choices;
  • lustful thoughts and more lustful thoughts;
  • terrible stewardship over the use of time;
  • a climate of fear and anxiety which slows lack of trust in God;
  • neglecting Bible reading and study to the degree that would be expected of me;
  • wishes that certain proud or arrogant people would fail, or just people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye.

Those are just a few that I thought of immediately. I’m sure there are more. You might be reading this and identifying, or maybe you’re further along in spiritual formation and now think I’m a terrible person! Either way, I come to God with some very small inkling of what my life must appear like before a capital ‘H’ Holy God.

But today, instead of just saying, ‘I’m a mess,’ I found myself saying, ‘I am mess.’ (Take a minute to reflect on the difference.) I don’t just sin, but I am sin personified. Without God’s help, I am a picture of the human condition. I know some will read this and say, ‘Well that’s just the accuser of the brethren talking to you, don’t listen to it.’ But David said, ‘My sin is always present before me (Ps. 51:3).

Both scripture and church liturgy are full of prayers of confession.

But — and here the writers of scripture would add, ‘Thanks be to God’ — we don’t have to stay defined by and defining what it means to sinful and separated from God. We also have the assurance of pardon.

I John 1:9 reminds us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)

From the link above, here is the assurance of pardon as found in the Book of Common Prayer:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no pleasure in the death of sinners,
but would rather they should turn from their wickedness and live.
He has given authority to his ministers to declare to his people when they repent
the forgiveness of their sins.
God pardons and absolves all who truly repent and believe his holy gospel.
So we ask him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,
that what we do now may please him
and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy,
so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If your life is a mess, or if you just feel like you are mess, the Father wants us to come to him. But this is not something we do once upon a time and then write the date in the front cover of our Bible and that’s it, we’re done. No God wants us to come to Him regularly and confess that we do wander from His best, and that we are a people in need of a Savior. True repentance is a sincere acknowledgement of sin, but yes, we will mess up again. Maybe in another area. But his assurance of pardon is always there, even as we come to him over and over and over and over again.

Posted jointly with Christianity 201

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