Monday, January 4, 2021


The ESV renders Matthew 11:12 as such: From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. However, it also suggest another rendering which would be: From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently, and the violent take it by force. I have always found this verse intriguing and have often wondered what it meant. In Jesus and the Kingdom, George Ladd addresses this verse and attempts to explain it. After discussing 5 of the most popular explanations and their implicit faults, he goes on to suggest the meaning he thinks best suits the verse in light of the context of the verse and with others verses about the kingdom of heaven in mind. For various reasons, Ladd believes the 'coming violently' rendering is the most reasonable and thus he describes what the verse would mean:"Jesus taught that because God had acted, because the dynamic power of his kingdom has invaded the world, men are to respond with a radical reaction."(159) These reactions were suggested in other demands of Jesus: if your hand causes you to sin then cut it off, if your eye causes you to sin then pluck it out, if one does not hate his family he cannot be my disciple, He came not to bring peace but a sword, a man should be willing to surrendered everything he has to enter the kingdom. Ladd does not suggest that these verse are to be taken literally but he believes they indicate the manner in which we appropriate God's kingdom. "The presence of the kingdom demands radical, violent conduct. Men cannot passively await the coming of the eschatalogical Kingdom as the apocalyptists taught. On the contrary, the Kingdom has come to them, and they are actively, aggressively, forcefully to seize it." (160) Keep in mind the definition of violent: involving extreme(the greatest degree) force(anything that is able to make a change). This is important because though I believe God's kingdom has inflicted harm on the kingdom of darkness I do not think this is a call to physical violence. In the context of this verse Jesus has explained to John's disciples that the the kingdom of heaven has not come in the social-political-physical sense that John thought it would. Jesus was not going to conquer Rome. But he made it clear that the kingdom had come with violence and it required a similar response from those wishing to be a part of it. This seems like a reasonable approach to this verse and I'm going with it until I am persuaded otherwise. What do you think?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review - The Pastor and Counseling

As a new pastor, there were some things in my job description which were intimidating. But for me, nothing was more intimidating than the thought of counselling. I had often given advice to people, and helped them to think biblically about things, but I had never been–in my estimation–a counselor to anyone. For that reason, I was glad to hear of a book on counseling from 9Marks and Crossway. I find my resources from 9Marks, most published by Crossway, to be the most helpful on church-related issues. The Pastor and Counseling is no different.

This book by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju is very helpful to me for two reasons. First, it lays down a “theology of counseling” that is both informative and inspiring. Second, it provides a simple yet thorough explanation of what counseling looks like.

The book is divided into three sections and also includes some very helpful appendices. The third section will become more helpful as my pastoring/counseling ministry develops. The third section deals with developing a culture of counseling in a church and ideas around the employment of outside resources. For now, sections One and Two will be a great aid to me in developing as a counselor.

Section One, and the Introduction, deal with concepts of counseling and section Two considers the process of counseling.

The first chapter in section One paints a biblical picture of what pastoring, and specifically pastoral counseling, looks like: a ministry of laboring and suffering, of discipling God’s people, of praying, and of teaching God’s people. Chapter two, still part of section One, delineates the goals of counseling and speaks to the initial contact with someone who might be coming to you. Chapter three, the final in this section, relays the methodology of counseling; the pastor listens, considers, and speaks to people’s heart response to God, self, others, and their circumstance. This section was informative through simple explanation and clear illustrations. The increase in my understanding resulted in a new-found motivation to disciple through counseling. This topic was becoming less intimidating.

The three chapters of section Two provide a very practical description of what actual counseling sessions should look like. Chapter four, the first chapter of section Two, detailed the initial meeting, highlighting its four goals: 1) establishing a relational connection, 2) exploring through listening, 3) displaying hope, and 4) setting expectations. The next chapter concerns itself with the ongoing process of counseling. Concrete ideas such as getting an update, checking up on assigned prep work, and further exploration of the issues might seem obvious to many, but I found the thorough explanation of what the process looks like beneficial. The last chapter in this section, chapter six, describes the final meeting and how the pastor concludes the counseling and releases the member into the regular care of the church. Counseling, once a very intimidating topic, was becoming increasingly understandable and I, once a very intimidated pastor, was becoming emboldened to pursue this aspect of my calling.

For those adept at counseling, this volume might be overly simple. I really cannot speak to that. For me, new to pastoring and new to counseling, this book is a valuable resource. I am certain that The Pastor and Counseling would also be significantly helpful for lay people as well. I recommend this book to pastors who want to grow in their understanding and practice of counseling and to those lay people who would like to do the same.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A year of reading - 2015

At the beginning, or sometimes the end, of the past few years I have made a habit of blogging about the reading I did in the previous year (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009) . I have done this for several reasons.

First, it is a means of holding myself accountable. I value reading and intend to make it an integral part of my life. By making my reading life public, I can allow people a glimpse into one of the disciplines of my life.

Second, I hope for my reading history to be an encouragement to others. Though I know many others who read much more than I do, nevertheless, my year-long record of reading often surprises people in terms of what is possible if reading is a priority. I have a full-time job and five kids heavily involved in extra-curricular activities. A very small portion of my reading occurs at work; though, I think I should read more at work and I hope to do so in 2016. I think that if I can share some of my successes with reading, that other busy people will be encouraged to read more. And that, in my estimation, would be a good thing.

Third, to give glory to God. It is by grace that we read, desire to read, learn from our reading. The fact that my life allows me time to read, and that I have the faculties to do so, are nothing more than gifts from God to a person who has done nothing to deserve such favour.

So, here is a list of all the books I read, or re-read, this year:
  • The ESV Bible by God via Various Authors
  • The Pastor and Counselling by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju
  • Pleased to Dwell by Peter Mead
  • The Incarnation of God by John C. Clark and Marcus Peter Johnson
  • Malachi: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by Andrew E. Hill
  • Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser Jr.
  • The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Kostenberger
  • Future Grace by John Piper
  • Soul-Depths and Soul-Heights by Octavius Winslow
  • The Gospel by Ray Ortlund
  • The Joy Project by Tony Reinke
  • The Church by Mark Dever
  • Ordinary by Michael Horton
  • Understanding Prophecy by A. Bandy and B. Merkle
  • Malachi: A Study Guide Commentary by Charles D. Isbell
  • Prayer by Timothy Keller
  • The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop
  • 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord's Supper by John S. Hammett
  • The Son of God and the New Creation by Graeme Goldsworthy
  • Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves
  • Text-Driven Preaching by eds. Akin, Alan, Mathews
  • Preaching? By Alec Moyter
  • Is God Anti-Gay? By Sam Allberry
  • God and the Gay Christian? Ed. Albert Mohler
  • Compassion Without Compromise by Adam T. Barr and Ron Citlau
  • What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
  • The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson
  • Interpreting the Prophetic Books by Gary V. Smith
  • Footprints by Lindsay Reynolds
  • Blood Work by Anthony Carter
  • Preaching with Accuracy by Randal E. Pelton
  • Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller
  • Jesus in the Present Tense by Warren W. Wiersbe
  • From Heaven He Came and Sought Her eds David and Jonathan Gibson
  • The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
  • Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine
  • Jesus' Blood and Righteousness by Brian Vicker
  • Changing Places by David Lodge
  • Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb
  • All for Jesus by Robert L. Niklaus et. al.
Most of the books I read were non-fiction. You’ll see that these books are mainly on theology, Christian living, preaching, and Bible interpretation. But I also read some fiction including a couple of plays by Shakespeare. I’d like to read more fiction than I do, but for now I guess I’m content to read it when I can.
A list of books that I’ve read doesn’t tell you much about the books themselves. Be watching in the near future for a post on my favourite books of 2015 for some more detailed info on a few I considered the best.
Increasing your reading will not happen by accident. You will need to be purposeful about it. But there are some simple tips and techniques which can help you. Here are a few that have been helpful to me:
  1. Always have a book with you. This is easy in the digital age.
  2. Have a specific goal in mind. If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
  3. Redeem wasted minutes throughout the day. There are many 10-15 minute blocks of usable time throughout the day in which reading would be a great activity.
  4. Keep a record of everything that you read. This will encourage you!
  5. Limit your entertainment intake. More screens usually equates to less books read.
  6. Get recommendations by people you trust. Reading great books is easier than reading lousy ones.
  7. Read to glorify God. Because God.
  8. Read several books at once or only one at a time. I’ve found that either of these may be helpful.
  9. Read a book on why reading is so important. Two birds with one stone.
  10. Read books around a theme that interests you. I am in a “books about preaching” phase and my excitement about preaching encourages me to read more.
I have already made some plans for my reading in 2016. There are some new books I’m looking forward to and some books by “dead guys” that I should have read by now and intend to this year. I hope you are looking forward to a year of reading as well!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review - Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament

Make no mistake about it, there are some tough questions that skeptics, seekers, adversaries, and even well-intentioned Christians have about God. But we must also not make the mistake of inadvertently or intentionally thinking there are no competent answers to the tough questions. There are. Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament is one such book that attempts to answer these queries in an thorough but accessible manner. And I believe, for the most part, it does this successfully. Therefore, people ought to avail themselves of such books.

Author Walter C. Kaiser Jr. takes up “the most challenging issues that seem to cast the longest shadow on God’s character and his actions” and thereby “openly and honestly face these charges … and answer them with valid responses from the same biblical texts that are the basis for these challenges.”

The first three chapters deal mainly with God’s character. Is God merciful or wrathful, peaceful or warlike, truthful or deceptive? These chapters were the strength of the book for me. These issues cause problems for many people and I thought the author answered thoroughly and helpfully.

Chapters five, seven, eight, and ten seem to target questions more likely to arise from inside the church. These chapters deal with the questions that surround the contrast between grace and law, open theism and meticulous sovereignty, the omniscience of God, and the food restriction laws of the Old Testament. These chapters were not as appealing to me as others but that likely reflects the lessened interest I had for these topics.

Chapters four, six, and nine were in my estimation geared towards questions non-Christians would be very opinionated about and for which Christians have not armed themselves with very good answers. Of the three, Kaisers chapter on monogamy versus polygamy is significantly superior. I found this chapter very informative and helpful in addressing my own lack of knowledge on this issue. In fact, this chapter alone makes the book worth acquiring.

One critique of the book is that, at times, the author seemed to give a thorough survey of the question while only delivering a brief answer. Dealing with ten difficult topics could lead to an overly long book, but I felt some of the questions did not get as full an answer as I would have liked.

This small complaint aside, I think this book is worth getting one’s hands on particularly if the reader, or someone the reader knows, is struggling with these questions. There are solid answers available, but they need to be sought out in places such as Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review – The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation

Generally speaking prequels, at least when it comes to movies, receive mixed reviews at best. They often lack the appeal that the original movies from which they spawned command. However, The First Days of Jesus, sort of a prequel to The Final Days of Jesus, matches the accomplishments of its predecessor.

The authors, Andreas Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart, describe The First Days of Jesus as “a guidebook for reading and encountering the Gospel infancy narratives” which “will examine a section of the biblical text with an eye toward proper understanding and application.” As to these proposed aims of the book, I consider it a success.

This work did indeed help me encounter and engage with Scripture’s account of Jesus’ birth. The author’s efforts to help this reader properly understand the text were also successful. I learned new information around the narratives as well as, with the author’s help, dispel cultural myths and mistakes about the historical event. I feel I have a much better command of the passages under consideration.

Additionally, the authors endeavour to approach the biblical text in a manner that is “biblical, exegetical, historical, and devotional. The biblical-ness of their approach is evident as they connect the birth stories to both Old Testament prophecies as well as future events not yet fulfilled. They examine and exegete the texts with care and precision appropriate for the broad audience that this book would appeal to. By explaining how these texts fit into their historical context, I was helped immensely. It is easy to read these stories through 21st century lenses which obscures and confuses what really happened.

The devotional aspect of this book similarly appealed to me. By devotional, the authors mean that their intention is to “discuss the scriptures in such a way that you, the reader, will be drawn closer to God. I can avouch that the book did have this desired effect on me. A clearer, more accurate understanding of the bible will have this effect; the authors enhance the devotional character of this book through their intentional writing to this end.

Of the first book about Jesus’ last days I wrote, “This book will be valuable for all Christians as well as non-believers interested in the last days of Christ on earth. Its simplicity enhances the beauty and wonder of the story.” I can reiterate these sentiments and apply them infancy narratives covered in The First Days of Jesus. I recommend this book!

Monday, October 5, 2015

False Dichotomies

A false dichotomy involves a situation where only two options–often extremes–seem available when,
in fact, at least one other option exists. Sometimes false dichotomies are used as a tactic to win an argument. And sometimes we adopt false dichotomies accidentally, not realizing we have painted ourself into a corner that isn’t really a corner. An example of a false dichotomy might be: “People either love Aerosmith, or they hate Aerosmith. Actually, there are more than the two options of love and hate: some people may find the band mildly enjoyable while others might find them slightly annoying.

One issue that we Christians often apply a false dichotomy to is our own happiness. We tell ourselves something like this: “I have two options in life. I can either choose to glorify God or I can choose to be happy.” There we have a big ol’ false dichotomy. We erroneously believe that there are only two options there. What’s it gonna be? God’s glory? Or my happiness?

Fortunately, the church has been blessed with brilliant-minded men and women who can see through our foggy thinking and shine some light on our dullness. One such man seems to be Puritan David Clarkson.

I have never read anything by David Clarkson. I’m only able to reference him because of a quotation in a book I read this week. On a side note, the book is called The Joy Project and it is written by Desiring God staff-writer Tony Reinke. It is a wonderful book, available for free at, and is highly recommended by many people including me. Check it out. But back to David Clarkson.

The quotation by Clarkson reveals the glaringly credulous mistake made by those of us who think our happiness and God’s glory are at odds. Clarkson declares,

The Lord aims at his own glory and our happiness, and we aim at his glory and our happiness. And though he may seem more to seek his glory than our happiness, and we may fear we seek our happiness more than his glory, yet indeed these two are inseparable and almost coincident. That which advances his glory promotes our happiness, and that which makes us most happy makes him most glorious. Wisdom and mercy have made a sweet connection between his honor and our happiness, so that they cannot be disjoined. We need no more fear to come short of happiness than we need to fear that the Lord will come short of his glory, for these two are embarked together.

That is some puritan-esque de-false-dichotomizing of the fallacy we sometimes arrive at when contemplating our happiness and God’s glory.

God’s glory, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us, is of primary importance when we consider man’s chief end: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And rightly so. My upcoming sermon, on Malachi 1:6-2:9, is one of a myriad of Scripture passages one could point to in order to prove that God’s glory is the point of everything created. But it is wonderful to think that God, who loves us and delights in us, has not protected and promoted his glory at the expense of our happiness. Rather, in his loving and faithful way he has ensured our happiness as we pursue his glory. Take that false dichotomy!

This whole God’s-glory-our-happiness issue will come to a consummating crescendo when Christ returns and in seeing him, we behold his glory, are glorified, and are enraptured in total and utter happiness. Then, free from sin (and feeble thinking that results in false dichotomies), we will rejoice in the glory of God. Until then, let’s glorify God and be happy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An Interim Strategy

While perusing the stream of tweets that accrued on my Twitter account ( @judestjohn ) a few weeks ago, a particular tweet, in fact a particular word in that tweet, caught my attention.
The word I saw: interim.

And of course it caught my eye because I have recently become one. An interim, that is, not a tweet to be sure. More precisely, I have become the interim lead pastor at West London Alliance Church.
The tweet in question provided a link to a blog post by Seth Godin. I had heard of Seth Godin, knew him to be an author, and found the following description of him on his website:

SETH GODIN is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.

The title of the blog post by Godin further intrigued me: The Interim Strategy. Now I was hooked and so I proceeded to read the article. The article itself was neither a how-to manual for interims nor an Interiming-for-Dummies piece. Rather, it discussed the tendency of businesses to employ an interim strategy in spite of the conflicts that interim strategy might have with the company’s long-term goals and mission.

Despite the seemingly disparate topic of the article to my situation of being an interim pastor, it nevertheless had some ideas that are very transferable and surprisingly biblical.

Godin begins,

We say we want to treat people fairly, build an institution that will contribute to the culture and embrace diversity. We say we want to do things right the first time, treat people as we would like to be treated and build something that matters.

But first... first we say we have to make our company work.

We say we intend to hire and train great people, but in the interim, we'll have to settle for cheap and available. We say we'd like to give back, but of course, in the interim, first we have to get...

This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn't work.

This is helpful for me, for West London Alliance Church, and for churches around the globe. Churches in general, and pastors like myself, often feel an immense pressure to “be successful.” And that desire to be successful may tempt a church or a pastor or a parishioner to set aside a biblical mandate, even if only temporarily, for something more pragmatic that will bring success. That is a very dangerous thing.

 Godin writes, “It doesn't work because it's always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.” And we might apply it to our church and to our lives by saying, “A non-biblical strategy doesn’t work because it is always the interim; it is always already-not yet when it come to the church. And it will never seem like the right time to stop doing what seems to bring success and start doing what is biblical.”
Godin concludes his discussion of business strategies by exhorting: “perhaps it makes sense to act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.” And that is what I plan to do; that is my interim strategy.

I’m not going to import some idea that could make myself or the church “successful,” whatever that means. I’m much more concerned about being faithful. Faithful to the Bible. Faithful to my calling. Faithful to the principles that have been the foundation of West London Alliance Church, a faithful body of believers. I plan to continue to deliver “as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV).” I’ll endeavour to continue “Making known the greatness of God” just as this congregation has done over the years.

Nothing new here. No cutting-edge interim strategy. Just faithfulness to the Word, fealty to the gospel, and fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.