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The Difference Between the Beginning and the End of the Bible

The Difference Between the Beginning and the End of the Bible

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

The Bible opens with a burst. In 10 short words, the Scriptures introduce us to a cornucopia of truths that are instrumental to understanding ourselves, our world and our God.

The inaugural words of God’s Word swirl with life, sound and truth.

First, we see the sovereign instigator of all things is God. He is the first. Before all things were, He was.

Second, we see God is active. He does not sit idly. God creates. He purposes, designs, forms and decrees.

Third, we observe that God created everything. God created the earth and all it contains. God created the heavens and all they contain. As John says of Jesus in the opening words of his Gospel, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

The writer of Genesis wants readers to know God is King. There is none beside Him. God alone.

What follows are 66 books full of color. These pages flow like an intricately orchestrated symphony. One finds loud, brash crashes as well as the soft whispers of ethereal strings. Throughout the sonnet, a single melody weaves its way—dancing as though entirely central, yet found as clearly at the periphery as the middle. This melody, we learn, is the Word that would be made flesh—God the Son, Jesus the Messiah.

Some 31,000 verses after the opening words of Genesis, the Bible reaches a final lyric. The Bible’s benediction is as concise, yet powerful as its invocation:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21).

What began as an explosion of sound, birth, joy and light ends on a suspended decrescendo. Yet, just as the dust settled from the opening rupture, we find foundational truths in the fade.

The difference between the beginning and the end of the Bible is not in God—He remains the same. We know God in His power, uniqueness and glory from Genesis 1, but consider what the closing verse tells us about this God.

Somewhere between the beginning and the end of the Bible, this God has disclosed Himself in a personal way. He is Jesus. He is gracious, and that grace does not stand at arm’s length from us—waiting for our merit. The grace of God is with us.

God with us. That is the theme whispering itself through every melodic turn and struck chord of the Bible’s symphonic exploration. From the angels’ climactic burst of song as Jesus arrives, through the screeching of the cross, and the crescendo of the resurrection, the Bible tells us not what has changed, but what has transpired. In the beginning, God. But by the end of the Bible we learn—God with us.

Advent is a season of hope. It’s a season of waiting. Just as boys and girls go to bed on Christmas Eve anticipating the fulfillment of their expressed hopes and dreams, so too Advent anticipates an arrival of a far-eclipsing magnitude.

Advent holds the truth of Genesis 1:1 that God is and holds it up in the hope of God with us.

The end of the Bible tells us plainly that all of our wildest hopes are true in Christ.

The grace of the Lord Jesus is with us all. Amen.

Album Review: ‘Jesus Is King’ by Kanye West

Album Review: ‘Jesus Is King’ by Kanye West

It has been almost two weeks since rap artist Kanye West dropped his much-anticipated album, “Jesus Is King.” The angst surrounding this release was virtually unprecedented. Kanye is one of rap’s premier figures. As evidenced by his eight previous number-one albums, the appetite for his music is rabid. West is also a global figure in fashion, architecture, business and a variety of other exploits. When Kanye speaks, for better or worse, people listen.

“Jesus Is King,” however, was not reported to be simply another Kanye West album. The newly professing Christian told fans that this was his first gospel album. A Christian Kanye album sounded something like a new Little Debbie tuna-flavored snack cake. Those things don’t go together.

However, despite the anxiety in both Christian and rap communities, West remained undeterred. Not only did his lifestyle take a 180-degree turn, his Sunday Services were drawing thousands not only to hear music, but theologically-rich gospel music. Not only were people hearing a sermon, but a doctrinally-sound call to repentance from sin in light of a holy God. 

Kanye was not just sharing gospel music; he was sharing the Gospel.

But could Kanye West actually understand and represent Jesus Christ? Would Christianity water-down West’s edge and creativity?

“Jesus Is King” is not your normal record. Foregoing traditional intros, outros and song structures, the album jumps from track to track like interrupted thoughts. In a way, the album gives us a look into West’s mind and personality. Amazingly, it also gives us quite a glimpse into the restless soul of a new believer.

The album opens with the gospel-choir anthem, “Every Hour.” It’s what one might associate with a large choir on a gospel album. Yet as the organ begins to swirl on the second track, “Selah,” the listener gets the first words from Kanye himself. What the listener finds is not only a bold declaration of faith in Jesus Christ set to brooding orchestration and pounding drums, but lyrics that stream like the first cries of a new-born. Viscerally-pronounced Scripture references adorn the track as Kanye exclaims:

John 8:36
To whom the Son set free
Is free indeed
He saved a wretch like me!

The album’s third track, “Follow God,” openly displays Kanye’s struggles in walking the path of righteousness with feet that are used to a much different soil. He admittedly struggles with temper, entitlement and being called out when he is not acting Christ-like. The frustration and desire are evident.

The next track, “Closed on Sunday” has been featured on multiple media outlets and is likely the best (if not the only) song you’ve ever heard on Sabbath rest. For a man with such a rapid lifestyle, hearing him talk about laying worldly trappings down and taking up hands to protect his family with prayer and careful doctrine is not only refreshing, it’s challenging. He writes,

Stand up for my home
Even if I take this walk alone
I bow down to the King upon the throne
My life is His, I’m no longer my own

The album is full of calloused Christian truisms inbreathed with new life by one now understanding their significance. Not only are there solid Biblical truths and moments of amazing discernment on the album, but there are also moments of immaturity. However, these moments add to the genuineness of “Jesus Is King” and remind the listener that Kanye is a work in process—as we all are.

Kanye covers an array of topics at the forefront of any believer’s mind. He addresses purity (“Water”), stewardship (“On God”), contentment (“Everything We Need”) and his broken past (“Use This Gospel”).

As he has always done, on “Jesus Is King” Kanye asks his questions out loud and makes his statements with brash exclamation points. He is aware that his conversion is an unlikely story, but as he continually points out, God writes unlikely stories. Kanye’s past, his success, his future and his concerns are all as he says, “On God.”

Is “Jesus Is King” a good album? It depends on your definition of good. Rap critics have both applauded and panned it. Christian critics have both praised and disparaged it. Personally, I really enjoy the album. It’s eclectic, full of catchy hooks, and puts the skills of one of modern music’s most celebrated artists on display.

Yet none of those things are what make “Jesus Is King” a good album. What makes this album great is that it exalts and glorifies Jesus Christ. When I listen to it, I am led to worship God for His unmerited grace and mercy toward sinners like me. I’m reminded that the Christian life is hard. I’m reminded that following Jesus requires conviction, rest, and brilliant shouts of wonder and praise.

Writer Jared Wilson had the most pointed review of “Jesus Is King” and one we as Christians should take to heart. He tweeted,

“Kanye’s album sounds like a new Christian who hasn’t learned yet from the more ‘mature’ that you’re supposed to be more embarrassed about your faith. It’s not cool. It’s only occasionally clever. But there’s a purity to it, rough edges and all.”

Whatever one may say about Kanye after listening to this album, one cannot deny the bold emphasis of West’s message: Jesus Is King.

It’s easy to be skeptical of Kanye West. Our shifting society and popcorn culture have left us jaded and cynical. Kanye is an easy target for our calloused projection. It’s also easy to get overly excited about the possibilities of having Kanye on the “Christian Team.” His influence and profile are attractive. But both of these truths put Kanye in the line of fire. So how should the Christian respond to “Jesus Is King”?

As Kanye exclaims in the song “Hands On,”

Yes, I understand your reluctancy
But I have one request you see
Don’t throw me up
Lay your hands on me
Please, pray for me

We should pray for him. Amen and Amen.

How To Handle Criticism

How To Handle Criticism

No one likes to be criticized.

We spend a great deal of time and effort covering our faults. We hope the world around us sees and experiences the best version of ourselves at every turn. We don’t want to make mistakes.

At the same time, we know we are broken creatures. For every fault we conceal, another rises to the surface. We find ourselves exposing the worst versions of ourselves – often to those we love the most. Our words can hit targets at which we never aimed. Maybe a tone is perceived wrong. Perhaps we brought up an issue in innocence that is tender to another. Maybe we forgot.

Despite our best efforts, we do make mistakes.

We live in a social economy in which criticism is a currency. Social media allows us to fire shots across bows we likely would never approach in person. Anonymous jesters fire criticism and critique without provocation. Beating someone else to the punch is considered of higher virtue than taking the time to ensure the punch is well-placed or even necessary.

Not all criticism is beneficial. Not all critics are right. At the same time, as sinful social people, we do need correction from others. Warranted or unwarranted, each of us will face critics and criticism. So how should we handle them?

1. Listen to your critic

If you immediately shut down a critic, you are assuming you have no blind spots or areas of improvement. Criticism is not always bad. In fact, many proverbs speak favorably of criticism from those who care for us. Listening reflectively to criticism allows an offended party to be heard and offers us the opportunity to open a door of self-examination, perhaps previously unconsidered. Don’t shut the door on every critic. There are some you need to invite in.

2. Appreciate your critic

Usually, someone seeking to bring an issue to our attention does so with a good motive. They may not handle it well or express it in a way that prevents a sting. Looking beyond the words of a critic, however, allows us to see the heart behind the criticism. We want to be and do what is best. A critic likely wants that for us as well. Seek to appreciate the heart behind someone’s criticism, even if you don’t appreciate the content.

3. Evaluate the criticism

Even if a critic does have an uncharitable disposition toward you, they may not be wrong in their criticism. Recognize that we all have blind spots, and however poorly a person may have handled a critique, ask yourself and someone else you trust whether or not there is something valuable in a criticism for you to address. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You may dismiss a critic, but don’t completely discount their perspective. 

4. Apply the criticism

Criticisms can have many applications. They may serve to show us a sin of which we need to repent. They may help open our eyes to another’s perspective. They may simply reveal a fault of the critic themselves. Either way, receiving criticism never ends in merely hearing it. One must ask what there is to gain from receiving criticism.

Some critics just want to hurt others. They are jerks.

Some critics want our good, but don’t handle it well. They are trying.

Some critics we welcome, knowing they have our best at heart and have been given access to our lives as those with a valuable perspective. They are friends.

Criticism can sting. Our gut reaction is often to label any critic as a jerk when they may genuinely be trying to be a friend. Don’t be quick to dismiss criticism. Prayerfully listen, appreciate, evaluate and apply what others afford us from their perspective. It just may do us some good.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” – Proverbs 27:6

Book Review: ‘Confronting Christianity’

Book Review: ‘Confronting Christianity’

Books on Christian apologetics aren’t casually considered must-reads.

We associate apologetics with academia, doctrinal debates and something pastors do in comment sections of blogs.

But still, we have questions. Our world has questions. Our neighbors, co-workers, family members, all have questions about Christianity that often go unasked or assumed. Somewhere between the church doors on Sunday morning and the quiet solitude of our inner thoughts before sleep, we often think, “Yeah… but what about…?”

Is it okay to confront Christianity?

Questioning the Christian faith is okay – even for Christians. Throughout the Scriptures, we find even the most devout followers having questions, confronting issues and having to wrestle with tough circumstances and differing worldviews. Even more today, in a growing climate of Christian hostility and moralistic relativism, one may wonder if one can indeed face the head-wind of questions buffeting Christianity’s doors and still stand firm.

Whether we think so or not, we live in a day when Christianity is challenged in both public discourse and private vitriol. While the questions may echo in the minds of those struggling with faith both inside and outside the church, all too often these same questions don’t sound from our lips or resonate from our platforms.

This is why the book Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin is so timely.

McLaughlin is not your common stereotype of someone who might offer a book on Christian apologetics. She’s relatively young. She’s not American. Though married with children, she openly discusses her lifelong battle with same-sex attraction. She is friends with and respected by a wide assortment of people—from Ivy League academia to soup-kitchen homelessness—whom she engages in civil and contemplative discussion.

McLaughlin isn’t afraid of tough questions, and she has little interest in providing platitudes. Confronting Christianity addresses real issues offered from both inside and outside the church. The book proves helpful for the committed churchgoer as well as the atheistic antagonist to Christianity.

In fact, through McLaughlin’s conversational, humble and vulnerable approach to writing, one could see the Christian and the atheist both enjoying healthy dialogue together over marked-up copies of this book and steaming cups of tea (not coffee—she’s British).

Consider the twelve questions McLaughlin addresses in Confronting Christianity:

  • Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?
  • Doesn’t Christianity Crush Diversity?
  • How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?
  • Doesn’t Religion Hinder Morality?
  • Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?
  • How Can You Take the Bible Literally?
  • Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?
  • Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?
  • Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?
  • Doesn’t the Bible Condone Slavery?
  • How Could a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?
  • How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?

My guess is either you or someone you know is asking these questions. Even if you are not, you may know the right answers but find yourself without compelling arguments as to why you hold your positions.

McLaughlin is disarming yet firm in her convictions. She is not afraid to chase steep rabbit trails or shed light on dark corners of Christianity’s history. In all of her attempts to answer today’s biggest critiques of Christianity, however, her tone is respectful, understanding and one that is to be emulated.

Confronting Christianity is the book you didn’t know you were looking for. Even if you’ve never read a book on Christianity in your life—much less one on Christian apologetics—you will find this book captivating. You may find answers to your questions. You may find even more questions you weren’t even asking. Either way, you will find sound Biblical truth presented with understanding and compassion.

Don’t be afraid to confront Christianity. I know you will be helped if you do so with this book.

Why Now May Be The Best Time to Quit TV

Why Now May Be The Best Time to Quit TV

It’s happening.

If you’ve been following the landscape of television over the past few years, you’ve noticed the cresting wave of services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime leaving traditional cable television powerhouses clamoring in the shadows.

Of course, as the digital revolution has taken place, it has seen the deconstruction of many media types (I’ll forever miss you Compact Discs) and has created new formidable foes for media outlets previously considered to be untouchable mainstays. It’s showbiz Marxism.

Like any teenager will tell you, however, the adjustment from sprouting youth to king of the mountain is an awkward transition and has its unfortunate bumps along the road. When our consumption habits change, there is often a fair amount of entertainment indigestion.

Many believed the most significant adjustment for our society was in cutting the cord and letting cable fall into the abyss through the echoes of standard definition TV and headphone jacks. Consumers (as I’m sure they told you…multiple times) gave up on traditional cable packages and opted for single services like Sling, YouTubeTV, Hulu, Roku and others to satisfy their immediate viewing desires.

Of course, where the money flows the company goes. Sensing this lemming stampede, major networks have begun launching their own places for digital premium content. No longer can one simply tune in to the game on ESPN. You now need to buy ESPN+. Want to see the newest NBC show? You’ll have to fork over the cash for Peacock, the NBC Universal streaming service.

All of this is in response to companies like Apple and Disney seeking to consolidate content and place it behind protective barriers from the everyday consumer. It’s an all-out cash grab, and fortresses are being hastily constructed. Each one is accessible, of course, for an additional $4.99 per month.

If this sounds confusing to you, then you are in the right boat. Not only is this a frustrating time for the average Joe, but it’s a time when more is being asked from the consumer and less is available for the price.

So what is one to do in this shifting climate? Quit.

Now may be the best time for you to quit TV. If that sounds impossible, at least consider this a time to drastically reduce the hold entertainment has in your life. According to a recent Neilson report, the average American watches more than 34 hours of television each week (including movies and other video-related screen time). That is almost a day and a half per week. What could you do with an additional day and a half at your disposal?

In a recent article for, writer Craig Dewe observes several concerns directly related to time spent in front of TV shows.

Dewe observes not only the rampant negativity displayed in everything from reality TV to network news but notes, “In comedies, we laugh at the stupid/overweight/socially awkward/racial stereotype/different people. The news is filled with stories of pain/suffering/disaster/death and arguing. Drama has to be about problems in order to create the drama. All of this is affecting your outlook on life and the way you see the world.”

Alongside the fact that TV creates unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy, Dewe notes the basic effects of sitting immobile for hours and losing grip on the battle for self-discipline can harm our bodies physically, our minds emotionally and our spirits spiritually.

If you have ever considered pulling back on entertainment programming, there has never been a better time than now. As the networks are shifting from their global Pangea and every commercial is a carrot for another $4.99 per month to hand out, consider sitting this one out.

If you are someone who benefits from certain TV shows, consider time away as a sabbath or a summer hiatus. Pull the plug and wait until the hierarchy is re-established and content can flow to the consumer in ways that benefit not just your mind, but your wallet as well.

Quit TV and see what happens. Go outside. See a human. Read a book. Make an informed decision of your choosing. You may find that real life can offer all the entertainment you need.

Leave the drama to the networks.