If Jesus is the Son of God, Why Did He Call Himself the “Son of Man”?

Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself was as the “Son of Man”. This term is used of Jesus 88 times in the New Testament, and Jesus refers to himself  as the “Son of Man” more often than as the “Son of God”.

I am often asked why this is, and why Jesus preferred this term over the term Son of God. Here are some thoughts on what that term means and why Jesus may have preferred it:

Son of Man is a Messianic title from the Old Testament

The title: “Son of Man” was a reference to a prophecy found in Daniel 7:13-14:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

This description of the “Son of Man” matches that descriptions of the Messiah found elsewhere in the Old Testament. What is particularly interesting is that the Son of Man is exalted, divine, and is sent from Heaven – and yet, is distinct from “the Ancient of Days”. This is in line with Trinitarian theology, which states that the Son and the Father are distinct persons within the Godhead.

The Son of Man according to this prophecy is both human and exalted. He does the work which only God can do, indicating that he is God, and yet he is distinct from the “Ancient of Days” who sends him. This tells us that the Messiah would be human, but he would also be God at the same time, while a distinct person from the “Ancient of Days”, AKA the Father.

As I discussed in a previous post – Why Did Jesus Tell Some People to Keep Quiet About His Miracles and Identity? – although Jesus was sometimes very explicit about his identity, other times Jesus was more subtle and implicit in how he revealed his identity. In that post I delve into some reasons why that was, but here it suffices to say that by using the term “Son of Man”, Jesus was using a term by which those who had ears to hear would pick up what he was putting down.

Son of Man speaks to Jesus’ humanity

The term Son of Man emphasizes the fact that Jesus was truly and fully human. Although he was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, he is nevertheless fully human.

Why are you telling me this?

Remember that the Gospels were written by humans under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What that means is that there is a particular telos or objective inherent to what they have written and how they have written it. This is true of any historical account: any time anyone tells a story, they include certain details and leave out other details depending on what they want to emphasize for their audience. This is true of the Gospels as well. So what is the telos or objective of the Gospel writers in making sure we know that Jesus often used the title “Son of Man” in referring to himself (other than the fact that he actually did)? Probably it is to emphasize that Jesus was truly and fully human.

Trinitarian theology

We know from early church history, that there was a tendency amongst some Christians to emphasize the deity of Christ to the negation of His humanity. The converse was also true, and these discussions and debates culminated with the codifying of the doctrine of the Trinity at Nicaea and in the Athanasian Creed. Even to this day, there are some Christians, e.g. Coptic Christians, who are “monophysites”, which means that they believe that Jesus only had one nature: a divine one, and that he was not fully human. The use of the term “Son of Man” emphasized Jesus’ true humanity.

Son of Man actually had more significance in that context than Son of God

To the Jewish mind, the term Son of God might be used to refer to any person without too much controversy, because they would agree that we are all created by God, and therefore could be called “sons” of God. For example, Psalm 82:6 says, “You are all sons of the Most High.”

The same could be said of “Son of Man” for that matter, in the sense that all humans are sons or daughters of men. The difference is that in the Jewish context, the term “Son of Man” actually carried more significance because of Daniel’s prophecy.

Remember that Jesus actually did call himself the Son of God on several occasions, as John’s gospel in particular records. Again, this gets to the point of the telos of John’s gospel, which is to emphasize Jesus’ deity – whereas other gospels aim to emphasize his humanity.

But it is not only in John’s gospel that we see Jesus being called “Son of God”, which reminds us of the importance of his two-fold nature as both fully God and fully man, a nature that was necessary in order for him to be the perfect Savior that we need.

A case study

I will leave you with these words from Mark’s gospel:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:61-64)

Notice in this text:

  • Jesus said he is the Son of God
  • Jesus called himself the Son of Man – and connected that term with the imagery directly from Daniel 7:13-14
  • This was understood by the Jewish people to be a claim of deity, which is why they accused him of blasphemy and condemned him to death.

The Prodigal Mom: What Eunice and Lois Teach Us About Motherhood

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In his second letter to his protégé, Timothy, Paul mentions Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who played a formative role in his life and his faith:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)

Timothy’s mother and grandmother are also alluded to in the third chapter of that same letter:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Here’s what we know about Timothy’s mother and grandmother:

Eunice Wasn’t Always a Woman of Faith

Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but Timothy’s father was a Greek pagan, and as a result, Timothy was not circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). This tells us two things: that at the time of their marriage, and during Timothy’s early years, his Jewish mother was not practicing her faith. Married to a Greek, she would have been “unequally yoked”, and going against Jewish custom and God’s instructions in the Old Testament that Jewish people should not marry people of other faiths.

Perhaps more interesting, is that “Jewishness” is passed down through the mother, and yet the fact that Eunice never had Timothy circumcised indicates that she was not actively practicing her faith during his childhood.

However, what we know is that Eunice at some point became a Christian and joined the church in Lystra. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey when he visited the church there. Timothy was likely in his teens at the time, and Timothy then left home to join Paul in his missionary work.

Eunice: A Single Mom?

The fact that we don’t know much about Timothy’s father, and the fact that his grandmother played an active role in his upbringing could indicate that Timothy’s father died or left at some point, leaving Eunice a single-mom raising her son. At very least, it seems that Timothy’s father was not involved in his spiritual upbringing since only his mother and grandmother are mentioned as contributing to his faith by acquainting him with the Holy Scriptures.

Lois as the Mom of a Wayward Daughter

We can only imagine what must have gone on in Lois’s (Timothy’s grandmother’s) life in regard to her daughter Eunice marrying an unbelieving Greek pagan. Perhaps she grieved to see her daughter not living out the faith that she had raised her to have in the God of Israel, or perhaps Lois herself had been a nominal or non-practicing Jew and had raised her daughter in that same way.

Either way, we know that Lois also came to put her faith in Jesus, and then together Lois and Eunice poured into young Timothy, introducing him to the Scriptures, taking him to church, and sharing their faith with him.

The Best Gift Mothers and Grandmothers Can Give Their Kids

We don’t know what kinds of birthday presents Lois and Eunice gave young Timothy, or if they ever took any family vacations, or if they ever bought Tim a pony or an iPhone. The one thing we know is that they gave him the most important gift a mother and grandmother can give to their children and grandchildren: a knowledge of the Word of God, and a heritage of modeling what it looks like to love him, obey him and seek him. This is what changed the trajectory of Timothy’s life.

On this Mother’s Day, may I encourage you mothers and grandmothers that whatever good gifts you give your children and grandchildren, the very best gift you can give them is to point them to Jesus.

Teach them the Word of God. Present Jesus to them in all of his goodness and beauty. Explain to them how you came to surrender your life to him, and why you love him. Help them to see Jesus and his gospel as the most desirable, wonderful, source of joy and hope – as he indeed is!

Toxic Loneliness and How to Break Out

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There is an interesting phenomenon in Western society; in the words of one comedian: “Everything is amazing, and nobody’s happy.”

We live in the most wealthy, technologically advanced society that has ever existed in the history of the world, and at the same time there are incredibly high rates of depression and mental illness which lead to suicide and acts of violence.

One key question many people are asking is: Why?  What is the cause of the increase in depression and mental illness in developed countries? 

The late Dutch psychiatrist J. H. van den Berg wrote and researched on the topic of psychopathology and he wrote a highly regarded book on the subject titled, A Different Existence: Principles of Phenomenological Psychopathology.

In this book, van den Berg uses a case study to analyze several common conceptions about psychiatric illness, and in the end he draws his conclusion from his research: that psychopathy is related to the experience of loneliness. Among his thesis statements, he declares:

“Loneliness is the nucleus of psychiatry.”

“If loneliness did not exist, we could reasonably assume that psychiatric illnesses would not occur either.” [105]

This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that it is generally recognized that Western society is experiencing loneliness at higher levels than ever before.

See: “A Culture of Loneliness and What to Do About It”

Our Society is Lonelier Than Ever Before

A survey taken by Harris Poll in 2016 showed that almost three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans experience loneliness.1

Our time has been called “the age of loneliness.” Although we are more connected than ever before via the internet, the internet itself is exacerbating the problem.

In January of this year, the United Kingdom appointed its first “Minister for Loneliness”, who is tasked with helping to combat what Prime Minister Theresa May called “the sad reality of modern life.”

Loneliness is Literally Killing Us

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a 75-year study of men, concluded that loneliness is toxic. Loneliness is contagious, and the more isolated people are, the less happy they are, and brain function declines as well as physical health. 2

Medical studies have linked loneliness and social isolation to heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes and suicide. Vivek Murthy, the former United States surgeon general, has written that loneliness and social isolation are “associated with a reduction in life span similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” 3

How Do We Break Out of this Toxic Cycle?

One really important factor is that we must recognize that Western society has been sold a bill of goods related to individualism and the “autonomous self”. American culture, in many ways, is permeated by a culture of fear and an obsession with privacy. We have been told since the Enlightenment that this is the ultimate path to happiness, but the above data shows just how much it has left us in tatters.

The gospel shows us another way:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

When a person embraces the gospel, they become part of the people of God. Sinclair Ferguson put it this way:

 “We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.”

The Apostle Paul makes this point as well:    

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God  (Ephesians 2:19)

In other words: part of God’s work of salvation through Jesus includes saving people out of individualism, calling them into redeemed community which has a mission and a purpose bigger than any individual member. Clearly this presents a powerful antidote to the modern pathological phenomenon of loneliness and isolation. The gospel is a holistic remedy which addresses the greatest needs of the entire person: soul, mind and body. It is truly good news.

Why Did Jesus Tell Some People to Keep Quiet about His Miracles and Identity?

I received this question from a reader:
There are a number of times in the gospels that Jesus performs a miracle and then tells the person healed and those who witnessed to not tell anyone…. I wonder: why?
The obvious answer from a human perspective is because he feared the Jews and those who wanted to shut him down. But since He is God, why would he not just be glad for the good news to spread far and wide? Being fearful of sinful men strikes me as not really his nature…
Thanks for this question, this is one that many people wonder about. Here are a few things to consider which help us understand why he did this on occasion:

Sometimes Jesus told people not to tell others about his miracles and identity, but other times he told them to tell everyone.

There are three main instances in which Jesus instructed people not to tell others who he was or what he had done:
  1. After confirming to his disciples that he was indeed the Messiah, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone. (Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:29-30; Luke 9:20-21)
  2. Jesus healed a leper and told him not to tell anyone that it was he who had done this. The man, however, did not comply with this request. (Mark 1:40-44; Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15)
  3. Jesus told demons not to speak about him and tell others who he was. (Mark 1:34, 3:11-12)

Conversely, there are occasions where Jesus tells people to go out and tell everyone what he did for them:

  1. Mark 5:18-20 (also found in Luke: 8:38-39): As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
  2. Matthew 28:18-20 (also Mark 16:15-16): And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

What was the reasoning behind these different approaches, and why would Jesus ever tell people not to tell others what he did or who he was?

Here are two reasons:

A Matter of Publicity

One problem with people spreading the word about Jesus healing them was that it resulted in large crowds following him around. This was the case with the leper who did not comply with Jesus’ request that he keep quiet about it. That man went out and “began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news,” and the result was: “so Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” (Mark 1:45)

If everyone was crowding around him trying to touch him and clamoring to be healed, it would be harder for him to preach – and preaching, not healing, was his primary objective (see Luke 4:42-43).

When it came to demons, Jesus understandably didn’t want demons to be proclaiming who he was, lest people associate him with demons, or they misrepresent him.

Furthermore, the Jews had many misconceptions of who the Messiah was going to be. Some didn’t believe there would be a Messiah; others thought there would be two Messiahs (a king descended from David and a Levite priest); still others were waiting for a warrior-king to overthrow the Romans. In many cases, Jesus wanted to introduce himself to people first, before telling them that he was the Messiah, so he could teach them things without the baggage of their expectations influencing the way they heard the things he said to them.

A Matter of Timing

Jesus had a very keen sense of timing.  According to prophecy, he had to die in Jerusalem at the Passover. (For more on that, check out: Easter Math: How Does It Add Up?)

There are several passages which show Jesus’ sense of timing and his caution to not come out too early.

  • John 2:4: Jesus tells his mother that the time to begin his ministry had not yet come.
  • John 7:6: when his brothers challenged him to go to the festival, Jesus tells them that “the right time for me has not yet come.”
  • Luke 9:51: it says that the time was approaching for him to be taken to heaven, and at that time, he turned his face resolutely toward Jerusalem.

In John 6:15 we read that some people, hearing that Jesus was the Messiah, wanted to come and make him their king, by force!

However, once the timing was right, Jesus revealed himself as king on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21), and encouraged his followers to tell everyone. For Jesus, this was a matter of publicity and timing.

David Silverman, American Atheists and the Attempt to be Good Without God

Last week American Atheists issued a statement that they had fired their firebrand president of many years, David Silverman, as a result of moral failure.

In an interview, a spokesperson for American Atheists stated that Silverman was dismissed because of an issue regarding promotion of a recent book, as well as for a conflict of interest issue where he promoted a girlfriend to a high level position. It then came out that there were accusations of sexual misconduct with two other women who had come out to the media. Right before that story broke, American Atheists’ board quickly met to dismiss David Silverman.

The thing which is most intriguing about the statement from American Atheists is the closing sentence:

We have zero tolerance for the type of behavior alleged in these accounts. We will continue to demand the highest standards and accountability from our leaders, staff, and volunteers.

This brings up several very important issues:

If morality has no basis, then it is only opinion.

In the above statement, they mention demanding “the highest standards”. What are those standards, and how do they determine them?

The idea that people can be good without God is a major tenant of modern popular humanism and atheism. Many atheists would suggest that their ability to be good without God shows that they have more inner fortitude than “religious” folks, because they don’t need to have a threat of punishment over them in order to coerce them into good behavior.

Christians who understand the gospel are actually willing to agree with this in one sense. Belief in God does not automatically mean that a person will be morally superior to those who do not believe in God. It should not surprise Christians to find atheists or people who follow other religions who are honest, hard-working, kind people. After all, people do not become Christians by their moral effort but by their trust in God’s gracious work on their behalf.

The question is: is morality an innate thing, which people intuitively know, or is it a social construct?

Most prominent atheist thinkers argue that it is a social construct. As I have written about before – see “Why Ethics Depends on Origin” – prominent atheist writers say that ethics are not based in reality, they are social constructs which help our society to function better.

But what about when they don’t?

For example, eugenics (the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics) might actually help our society function better. If we were to abort all babies who were seen to have disabilities, if we were to forcibly end the lives of those who are a drain on society, then wouldn’t that be a benefit to society? That’s what the Nazis and others in the 19th and 20th Centuries suggested… And yet people push back against that and say it is wrong. Why? If morals are not actually based in reality but only exist to help society, then why not take that thought to its logical conclusion?

The reason is because:

Nobody believes that morality is only a matter of opinion.

The idea that morality is a social construct brings up other big questions, such as: what if my morality is different than your morality?

For example, David Silverman has denied any wrongdoing in regard to the above mentioned allegations. Essentially, he is saying that he thinks the things he did were just fine. In other words, the idea that he did something wrong is just the company’s opinion.

It could be argued that male-initiated, non-consensual sex is practiced regularly in some cultures of the world. So, they can’t really say that what he did was wrong, only that they didn’t like it.

The problem is: nobody actually believes that. We all believe that rape, murder and the like are wrong. Even with people, like David Silverman, who claim that nothing is wrong with what he did, others look at it and say: That’s wrong – and it’s not just our opinion, it’s just flat out wrong.

Mark Clark puts it this way:

We do believe in right and wrong. We believe hurting a child is wrong. We believe raping and pillaging the environment is wrong. We believe all races should be equal. That there is such a thing called justice that tells us mercy is better than hate. That loyalty is a virtue, and that there is evil in the world. All of these convictions give meaning to our lives, but if there is no absolute right and wrong, all of them go away; they are but a mirage. Meaningless. Weightless. Worth abandoning with every other construct of modernity.

Case Study: The Sexual Revolution vs. the Vietnam War

Take the 1960’s and 1970’s for example: On the one hand, there was a “sexual revolution” in which people were saying “No one can tell me what to do with my body, don’t try to impose your moral standards on me.” And yet, those same people protested the Vietnam War by saying that it was unjust and immoral because of the use of bombs and napalm.

They didn’t want anyone to impose a moral standard (regarding sex) on them, but they didn’t think twice about trying to assert their moral standard (regarding war and napalm) on others. They said on the one hand that morality is subjective, and in the next breath they said that there is a morality which everyone should accept as normative.

Case Study: Arguments

CS Lewis begins Mere Christianity by talking about the topic of: arguments.

“That’s my seat, I was there first”—“Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”—“Why should you shove in first?”—“Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine”—“Come on, you promised.” People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups. Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior, which he expects the other man to know about. . . . It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed.

So, then – if morality is not merely a social construct, but is actually something we intuitively or innately know, then:

Morality points us to the existence of God.

The idea that there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong points us to the fact that there is a design. If there is a design, there must be a designer.

If there is a moral rule or standard, then there must be something or someone which determines this standard.

The Bible explains this point in this way:

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires . . . they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Romans 2:14–15).

The fact that we are repelled by things such as sexual misconduct, lying and cheating, and that we advocate for equal treatment of all people regardless of their race, economic level, gender or physical ability – all those things things point to something beyond what is simply natural. They are proof of the fact that the heart of God is stitched into our very being.

Is Good Friday Actually “Good”?

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This is the day on which we celebrate the death of an innocent man – and not just any man: the greatest man who ever lived. It is the day when we remember that the Light of the World was overcome by darkness; that the Savior of the World was murdered by those He came to save.

Why in the world would we call this day “Good Friday”?

John Stott put it this way:

“The essence of sin is that we substitute ourselves for God; we put ourselves where only God deserves to be … that’s the essence of sin. But the essence of salvation is that God substitutes himself for us; God puts himself where we deserve to be … that’s the essence of salvation.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In this verse we see what it is that makes Good Friday so incredibly “good”. It is something we call “imputation”, and it has two sides: On the cross, God imputed your flawed record to Jesus, so that He could impute Jesus’ perfect record to you. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if he had lived your life, so he could treat you as if you had lived his life.

Jesus’ act of substitution, God’s act of imputation – lead to our reconciliation with God.

And the way to receive this gift of God’s grace, the Bible tells us, is to “receive him, who believe in his name.” (John 1:12) This kind of belief isn’t merely to believe that it happened, but to believe it personally, in the sense of trusting in it, relying on it, and clinging to it.

If you do that, then today will indeed by a Good Friday for you!

Overcoming Blind Spots

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Have you ever heard a recording of your voice and been appalled by how it sounds? “Surely there must be something wrong with that recording,” we think, “because there’s no way that that’s how I really sound!”

But guess what: That’s how you actually sound to other people. The problem isn’t with the recording, it’s that your perception of how you sound doesn’t match the reality of how you actually sound.

From Time’s article: “Why Do I Hate the Sound of My Own Voice?“: “When you hear people talking, sound waves travel through the air and into your ears, vibrating your ear drums. Your brain then transforms those vibrations into sound. However, when you’re the one talking, your vocal cords and airways vibrate. That means you receive two sources of sound: the sound waves that travel into your ears, as well as vocal cord vibrations.”

What is true of our voices is also true of us in general: we aren’t very good judges of how we really are. There is some amount of discrepancy between our perception of ourselves and how other people see us.

We call these things “blind spots.” They are the things about ourselves that we do not see clearly, or are completely unaware of. They can be habits, attitudes, fears, insecurities or other idiosyncrasies.

For example: I can see things in my wife that she doesn’t realize about herself. She is blind to them, but I can see them. The same is true the other way around.

We all have blind spots, but if you were to ask me, “Hey Nick, what are your blind spots?”, my response would be: “How the heck should I know?! By definition they are things that I am blind to! – that I don’t see about myself!”

And oftentimes our blind spots are our greatest weaknesses; they’re the things which can do the most damage to us or hold us back from reaching our goals – they’re the things which will lead us into ruin and trouble!

If that’s the case, then we’ve got a big problem! Because if there are things about us which have the potential to hold us back and even hurt us or wreck us, but we are unable to see them, then we are in big trouble! What can we do to overcome our blind spots?

The only way to overcome our blind spots is by having other people in our lives whom we allow to get to know us well enough that they can see those things about us, and by giving those people permission to speak into your life.

Not any old person will do for this. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what someone’s weaknesses or blind spots are, but it does take a loving person to be willing to come alongside someone and help them see their blind spots in a way that helps rather than hurts. This is why the Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Critiques which come from those who are not committed, loyal friends may often be accurate, but they can often be crushing.

Recently at a conference I spoke about the importance of bringing other people into a creative process. In this case I was speaking particularly about writing sermons, but I believe it is true of other creative processes as well. In order for you to overcome your blind spots, you need people who can help you overcome your idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, but who will do it from a place of commitment and a desire to help. I have experienced this, not only on a creative level, but on a personal level as well.

In order to become the people God is calling us to be, we need brothers and sisters.

Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)

For more on the subject of Christian community, check out this recent message from White Fields Church:

Poll: Common Hurdles to Believing Christianity

Starting the Sunday after Easter, we will be doing a series at White Fields called “The Trouble Is…”, in which we will be talking about and addressing common questions and objections that people have about Christianity.

You can help me by taking a second to fill out this quick anonymous poll to let me know what are some of the biggest hurdles to faith that you have experienced yourself or encountered in other people. Thanks!

(email subscribers can click here to access the poll)

How to Read the Bible When You’re Struggling or Depressed

In his book, Walking with God Through Pain and SufferingTimothy Keller quotes from John White’s book, The Masks of Melancholy, in which the author recalls a time in his life when he was seriously depressed, and he says that during that time,

“what saved my soul was a dry-as-dust grappling with Hosea’s prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text, and slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the passage.

If sufferers have any ability to concentrate, they should do solid inductive Bible study rather than devotional reading, because in most depressed people devotional reading is stopped altogether or degenerated into something unhealthy and unhelpful.”

White knew that when you are despondent, an effort to read the Bible devotionally (looking for inspiration and uplift) is not the answer. Instead, he counsels that you should read the Bible for content. Get the truth out of the text. Remind yourself of who God is and who you are in Christ, and what He has done for you. 

Keller then suggests that the Psalms are particularly helpful, because, not only are they filled with teachings about God, but they are prayers which cover the entire range of human experience. They show us people processing their condition before God. They are praying about their situation instead of merely thinking about it. We see Psalmists praying their tears, their doubts, their fears, their griefs, as well as their hopelessness – as well as their joys and blessings.

One of the things we learn from the Psalms is the practice of “defying ourselves” instead of simply listening to and submitting to our own thoughts. Keller asks, “Have you realized that so much of the unhappiness in your life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

In Psalms 42 and 43, the Psalmist shows us how he uses this important strategy when he is discouraged: he defies himself and reminds himself who God is, what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do. You may say to yourself, “It’s hopeless.” Defy yourself and answer back, “Well, that depends on what you were hoping in. Was that the right thing to put so much hope in?”

The Psalmist is defying himself, defying the devil and defying the whole world, by sending himself to God and determining to “praise Him still because He is my God.”

Read the Bible for content rather than inspiration. Fill your mind with the truth about God, and defy yourself when necessary.

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Making New Years Resolutions

There is a German saying: “Alles hat ein ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.” (Everything has an end, only sausage has two [ends]).

As we approach the New Year, this changing of calendars gives us something to measure by. With the end of one year and the beginning of another, we have the opportunity to look back and assess the previous year, as well as to look forward and pray and plan for the year to come.

In his book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, author Jon Acuff (who I first came to know about through his great blog: Stuff Christians Like) refers to a study at the University of Scranton(!) which determined that 92% of all resolutions go unfinished. Thus, in a world of bottomless possibilities and endless distractions, to be a person who finishes what you start is as rare, valuable and powerful thing.

92% of all resolutions go unfinished

I’ll admit to you right now, I’ve become a slight bit addicted to finishing things. If I start reading a book, I have to finish it, even if it’s bad (and I did read a few books like that this year). If I set a goal, I almost always finish it, even if it’s not always in a timely matter (like the 1.5 year landscaping project in my front yard).

I agree with what Ecclesiastes 7:8 says: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” However, this in itself is one of the things which prevents people from completing their goals… Many people won’t even try to start doing something unless they are sure that they will be able to finish it. So they won’t even start exercising, because they are afraid they will give up.

Through Jon Acuff’s research, what he found is that the most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

The most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

In the past I was not a fan of New Years resolutions for the very reason that most of them don’t succeed, but perhaps I’ve become a bit less cynical (maybe I should have made that a resolution!), because I’ve really warmed up to the idea. So here are some things to consider when making resolutions and some tips on accomplishing them:

1. Don’t Neglect the Spiritual

The most common New Years resolutions are about 1) Health and Fitness and 2) Time Management. For Christians, we remember what Jesus said: that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:23) and that it is possible to “gain the whole world and yet lose your own soul.” (Mark 8:36).

2. Do Everything to the Glory of God

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
I’ve spoken and written a lot on this topic recently in light of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The idea of doing everything to the glory of God was a key teaching of the reformers, as they rebelled against the division of life into sacred and secular realms and showed that the Bible teaches that we should do everything we do for God’s glory, and if it is something which cannot be done for God’s glory, we should not do it.
For more on this topic see:

3. Set Goals That Are Not Easy, But Are Attainable

Jon Acuff mentions how many people will set a goal like running a marathon, but yet they underestimate the time and effort that goes into reaching a goal like that. He suggests instead setting a goal that is attainable, and exceed-able, such as running a 5k or 10k for someone who is not already a runner. Having reached that goal, you can set another. Whatever goal you set, it should stretch you, but it should still be attainable, if you want to increase the likelihood of success.

4. Write Them Down

God told the prophet Habakkuk to write down the revelation that God gave him and make it plain. (Habakkuk 2:2) As a result of Habakkuk and the other “writing prophets” writing down the visions that God gave them, we are now able to look back at them and have a record both of how God spoke to those people at that time, and how God fulfilled what He spoke to them.
Having a written record of a goal helps keep you accountable to yourself and motivated throughout the year. I like to keep a list in my desk and check it regularly.

5. Make it Fun

Jon Acuff points out that gaming your goals is one of the best ways to ensure that you make progress on them and don’t give up. So a Bible reading plan (I use the YouVersion Bible app and bible.com) that shows progress each time you complete a section can help you keep going.
I like to compete against myself, so things like this are very helpful for me. I recently installed a productivity app on my MacBook and smartphone called RescueTime. It monitors all the time you spend on your devices and gives you reports and graphs to see what you actually do and how much time you spend on certain websites or particular tests. I also gives you a productivity score of 1-100. I like to see that number grow, which encourages me to spend more time working on things that are truly important and in line with my goals – and less time on things which are a waste of time, which there is no lack of on the internet.

Maybe you’ve got some tips of your own. Leave a comment below and tell me what those are. And may this year be one for you in which you live for God’s glory fueled by gratitude for what He has done for you in Jesus!