Les Miserables Movie

This December, Les Miserables — commonly referred to as Les Mis, is coming back to the big screen.  There are been twelve movie versions in the past (Jim has used some clips of the great 1998 version in at least one sermon) but this is the first time it will be a musical.  While the voices of the upcoming movie simply cannot match some of the amazing people who have sung on Broadway or in London, I am really excited about it.  You can watch the trailer below:

Les Mis is my favorite musical.  I saw it for the first time with my French class when I was a senior in high school.  It was my first time to see a musical, and for some reason our seats were behind posts so we actually ended up sitting in the aisle for the entire performance.  I was completely and totally captivated.

After seeing the musical, I read the entire (think long) book by Victor Hugo, which is an amazing story of law and grace.  There are several intertwining stories set during the French Revolution in the nineteenth century.

One story line involves Fantine, a tragic character who sings these lines about her life in the famous song “I Dreamed a Dream” that is featured in the above trailer for the movie:

I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living,

So different now from what it seemed…

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…

As the musical progresses, grace intervenes, and the havoc that sin wrecks gives way to life.  As they talk about their future, the cast sings lyrics full of biblical overtones, including:

They will live again in freedom

In the garden of the Lord.

They will walk behind the plough-share,

They will put away the sword.

The chain will be broken

And all men will have their reward.

Themes of redemption, self-sacrifice, scandalous grace, justice, corruption, forgiveness and most of love, abound.

Although the possibility of snow seems almost impossible in this wonderfully warm weather, it’s great to know there is already something to look forward to.


P.S.  The movie is not yet rated but since sin is rarely G-rated, it will not be appropriate for children.

Blog Question

Blog Question

The following question was asked online:

Is it possible that the person who committed the murders in Colorado acted without demonic influence? When human beings exhibit total disdain for life isn’t that an obvious sign of demonic influence?  Is there a book that could be written by someone like this shooter called, “Satan Told Me”?

On Sunday we talked about five categories of sin that demonstrate the presence of Satan and open us up to his control. One of those categories was sins of the will, by which I meant defiant disobedience, rebellion and anger.  We talked about suicide in this category. We could have included “total disdain for life” as you have indicated.

In Genesis 4:6-7, as Cain is contemplating the first murder, God says to him: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

God was warning Cain that his anger was creating a doorway for Satan to come in and master him. I have no doubt that for many mass killings like the one in Colorado, anger is the doorway that Satan uses to control a person and this Satanic control is seen in the resulting total disdain for life.

Another place where this can be seen is with regard to abortion. Because abortion is the asserting of a woman’s “right” to choose over and against God’s right to give life, it is a sin of the will.  Abortion opens a person up to the influence of the Evil One and shows signs of his presence. It is no accident that Pharaoh and Herod both try to kill all children two years old and younger. These are men who are under the power and control of the Evil One.



700 Club Interactive Interview

Following is Jim’s interview on the 700 Club Interactive from Tuesday related to his new book, God Told Me.

Hope you enjoy hearing Jim talk about why he wrote the book, and what he hopes people come to understand about how God speaks today.

All is well,


How Do I Know?

Blog Question

One question I have been asked several times since we started the series on spiritual warfare is:

How can I tell if I am experiencing demonic influence or oppression?  If I am feeling discouraged and depressed, how can I tell if this is the result of attacks from the enemy or simply a recurring personality issue?

Since we are holistic beings, it is wise to pursue all possibilities at once.  It is wise to investigate any physical, emotional and/or spiritual causes.

With that in mind, here are some signs of satanic oppression:

  • Voices in your head that make accusations or tell you to hurt yourself or others
  • Recurring nightmares or panic attacks that disrupt sleep
  • Aversion to the physical touch or refusal to make eye contact with a person in spiritual authority
  • Visible reaction, whether positive or negative, to Scripture reading and prayer
  • Physical sickness/nausea, immobilizing fear, or an irresistible urge to avoid worship services, Christian community or baptism
  • Stubborn refusal to acknowledge one’s own sin and sinfulness
  • Feelings that something or someone is opposing you and your actions
  • Inability to make the right decision
  • Sense of darkness or an irrational hopelessness
  • Symptoms or difficulties that persist after addressing physical and emotional issues

In addition to these symptoms of spiritual warfare, there may also be predictive activities that can lead to demonic influence.  We will talk about these this Sunday.



700 Club Interactive

Jim recorded an interview with 700 Club Interactive about his new book, God Told Me, that will air tomorrow at 9.30am on ABC Family.  It was a great opportunity for Jim to talk about the importance of listening to God for guidance.

As soon as a clip of the interview is available, we’ll post it on the blog.

All is well,



Armor of God

We must not confide in the armor of God, but in the God of this armor, because all our weapons are only mighty through God.

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor

Gurnall, 1617-1679, was a Puritan preacher in England and author of the classic work The Christian in Complete Armor on Ephesians 6:10-20 that continues to serve as a dense resource (more than 1,200 pages) on this passage of scripture.


Our trip to England was great and Jim got a lot done.  If you have any doubts, see his post from Sunday.

Empty glass milk bottles outside Tyndale House waiting to be picked up by the milkman.

But, it was much harder than I anticipated.  The Tyndale House is an amazing biblical research center and I cannot say enough about the kindness of the people to us.  However, since it is a research and office facility combined in the same building as an apartment complex, I had to keep four children quiet in a two-bedroom apartment — not an easy task.  And, without a car, when we went out — and we did every day despite England having the rainiest June in recorded history — then we walked.  A conservative estimate for our six weeks in England is that the kids and I walked at least 120 miles!

As I reflect on what I learned living in a different culture, the idea of simplicity keeps coming to mind because I was forced to live a simpler lifestyle.  What is simplicity of lifestyle?  Dictionary.com describes it as “absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.”

Who doesn’t want to live a simple life?  We have websites, books and magazines devoted to it.  But, the rub comes in that stuff is really helpful.  And, after six weeks of not having a lot of stuff, I am really thankful for my stuff.

Bicycles are the best form of transportation in Cambridge

I am so thankful for my car.  Drive-thrus are a genius idea for parents of small children. I have a new apprecation for my spacious house.  So grateful to have both a washer and dryer at my disposal.  A dishwasher is a beautiful thing.  Air conditioning and ceiling fans are amazing inventions.  A good mattress makes it much easier to have a restful night of sleep.  Toys are really helpful in entertaining children.

For me, the problem arises when helpful conveniences or things become necessities for happiness.  Because when possessions equal contentment, there is never enough and stuff just clutters our lives.

In his classic work, Celebration of Disciplines, Richard Foster rightly catergorizes simplicity as a spiritual discipline.  He writes,

Simplicity is freedom.

He continues,

Simplicity is the only thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.

How do I reorient my life so that I can geniunely enjoy the blessings that God has given me?  But, even more how do I model the proper prespective to my children?

I definately don’t have it all figured out but there are a few things I know.  Although I am pretty diligent about giving away things we no longer need, I need to be more critical about what we keep.  I also know that we need to rethink presents for birthdays and holidays (for someone very high on the scale when it comes to the love language of giving gifts this one is actually quite hard) so that we are not simply replacing everything that goes out the door, or teaching our children that happiness is equivalent to the number of gifts under the tree.

I am so grateful for six weeks in a different culture and the opportunity to be forced to live more simply.  Even though it was challenging, it was good for my soul.

I know there is more that God will show me in the weeks and months ahead.  But, I would love to know if there anything you have found to be helpful in this battle against materialism and discontent.  After all, if everything can be viewed through the lens of spiritual warfare — I guess this fits too!

All is well,


Free Study Bible App!

Screenshot of the FaithLife App

Jim contributed an article on the topic of “church” to the new FaithLife Study Bible. For his contribution, Logos has extended free access to the app to the Calvary Church congregation.If you have an iPhone or iPad and would like the FaithLife App, search for it in the App store.  You have to register for the app as if you were going to buy it and then at the end you put in the coupon code — FaithLifeVIP.   If you need additional assistance, you can check out the FaithLife website.

The FaithLife Study Bible describes itself as “an always-growing digital study Bible that works with many modern translations, allowing readers to delve through study notes and share them with groups. The FSB app puts a wide array of Bible study tools on your mobile device, including the following: ·

  • NIV, ESV, NKJV, NASB, and several other popular Bible translations (license required)
  • 3 layers of study notes
  • Lexham Bible Dictionary (2,500+ articles)
  • Lexham English Bible
  • Shared notes and reading plans
  • About 400 photos, videos, and infographics”

I spent some time playing around with the app.  While it will take a little bit of time to figure it out, it does provide a lot of great free study resources at your fingertips that would have required a wall of bookshelves in the past — one of the great benefits of technology.

If you don’t have access to this technology, or already use a program that works well for you, Jim’s article is reprinted at the end of this post.

All is well,



The Greek word for “church” is the word “ekklesia,” which means “assembly.”  The first two appearances of this word in the New Testament occur in Matthew’s gospel on the lips of Jesus.  In the first instance (Matt. 16:18), Jesus says “I will build my church (i.e. assembly).”  This is a reference to the Old Testament notion of the “assembly of Israel.”  On the most important day in the history of the nation, Israel experienced God’s presence while assembled around Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19-20).  From that day on, God continued to meet with his people as they assembled around the Tabernacle and later the Temple, linking Israel’s experience of God’s presence with their being in assembly.  In Matthew 16: 18 Jesus proclaims for New Testament believers that He will create a similar assembly – what we know of as the church.  This is why Jesus’ next reference to the church (Matthew 18:15-20) contains the promise “where two or three are gathered in my name there I am present with them in their midst” (Matt 18:20).  The fundamental idea of church is that it is the assembly of people gathered in Jesus’ name in which Jesus is uniquely present.  For this reason Paul can speak of Jesus being uniquely present when the church assembles for church discipline (1 Cor. 5:4), communion (1 Cor. 11:27-32), and worship (1 Cor. 14:23-25).  God’s unique presence in and through the church is the reason why the church is where God’s power and glory can be found in a special way (Eph. 3:21), where we experience the heavenly assembly (Heb 12:22-24) and how we draw near to God (Heb. 10:19-25).

This basic idea that church is how we experience Jesus’ unique presence with us and the means through which we are uniquely connected to God is reinforced through other images used of the church in the New Testament.  The church is identified as the Body of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 12, Col. 1:24, Eph. 1:22-23); the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:20-21); the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33); and the People of God (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

Because church is the means through which we experience God’s unique presence, it is also the means by which we experience fellowship with one another (Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 2:10-14; 1 John 1:7), the means by which we grow and mature in the faith (Eph. 4:7-16), the means through which God accomplishes great things in this world (Eph. 3:20-21), and the means by which God makes visible the invisible Christ for the world to see (Eph. 1:22-23).

There are two different, but interrelated referents for the word “church”: the Universal Church comprised of all believers everywhere and specific local churches like the church in Corinth, which assemble together regularly in a specific location.  These two referents are connected to one another so that just as Paul in the same passage Paul can say “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor 12:13) speaking of the Universal Church, he can also say, “Now you are the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27) speaking of the local church at Corinth.  Likewise in Ephesians when Paul speaks of Universal Church in Eph. 2:20 saying, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord,” he then immediately turns around and speaks of the local church in 2:21 saying, “in him, you too are being build together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”   The best way to understand the relationship between the Universal Church and the local church is to realize that each local church is considered a full manifestation of the Universal Church so that if you want to find the Universal Church participate in a local church.

Because the church is created by God for the purpose of allowing us to experience His unique presence in an on-going way, participating in a local church is absolutely essential.  This is illustrated beautifully in an old story of a man who had once been an integral part of a church body but had slowly decreased his involvement at church to the point where he was no longer attending.  The pastor of the church decided to pay him a visit.  It was a cold winter’s evening.  When the pastor arrived at the man’s home, he was cordially greeted, and the two men sat down for a conversation in front of a warm fire. The man waited for the pastor to begin speaking, while they both stared at the fire.  After a minute or two of awkward silence, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it all alone, away from the flames on the hearth.  Then he sat back in his seat.  The two men watched together as slowly the once red-hot ember began to fade until it was cold and dead.  The pastor then stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back into the middle of the fire.  Immediately the ember was ablaze again with the light and heat of the burning wood around it.  A smile of understanding crept across the man’s face.  He led the pastor to the door and said with a tear in his eye, ‘Thank you for coming.  I will be back next Sunday.” (taken from J. Samra, The Gift of Church, 2010).

Additionally, because the church is created by God for the purpose of allowing us to experience His unique presence in an on-going way, the church often finds itself under attack by the spiritual forces of darkness.  Although Jesus proclaimed that the church would ultimately be victorious (Matt. 16:18), there are inevitable set backs along the way.  As a result God’s presence in the church is often veiled by the sinfulness of humans who make up the church and church’s true beauty is often obscured.  This was one of the points of the Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century Christian writing in which the church is represented by a woman.  The narrator meets this woman at various points throughout the story.  When he first meets her, he sees her as an aged, unattractive old woman.  But as the book continues, the narrator becomes more aware of his own sinfulness and grows in his understanding of the grace God gives to the church.  As he does so the church becomes younger and more beautiful each time he sees her.   For this reason we sometimes have to look hard to find the beauty of God’s presence in the midst of the church.

Yet despite its flaws, the church was designed by God to allow us to continue to experience his presence in a very real and powerful way.  Therefore, we conclude with the author of Hebrews, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as we see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:22a, 25).


Tea with the Catherwoods at Tyndale House

One of the absolute best things about traveling is making new acquaintances.

In Cambridge, we had the most delightful tea with Sir Fred and Lady Elizabeth Catherwood.  Fred, a self-described “Belfast boy,” served as a vice president of the European Parliament and Elizabeth is the daughter of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a Welsh protestant preacher who served as the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London from 1943-1968.  He is regarded as one of the most influential expository preachers of the 20th century, and his sermons can still be heard on the weekly Living Grace program.

I want to be just like Elizabeth when I grow up!  She was so encouraging and engaging with all of her stories about life in a ministry family.

She told us that, “People often said, ‘Wasn’t it difficult being the daughter of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  My sister and I always replied, ‘That wasn’t a problem at all.  We found it more difficult to be the daughter of Mrs. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  She was a ravishing beauty and just look at us!'”

When we asked about her faith journey, she told us that her mother was actually becoming concerned because Elizabeth had not yet made a personal faith decision.  Her mother talked to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, who said, “Elizabeth sits under the Gospel just like all the other children in the church.”  Elizabeth said that within the year she had placed her faith in Christ.

I love that story because her father allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work in Elizabeth’s life.

All is well,


Study Break 2012

As I mentioned this morning, our family recently returned from my study break.  In this post, I want to share a few more things about our experience than I was able to mention in the service this morning.

There are multiple purposes for the study break:

  • To disconnect from daily and weekly pressures of church ministry so that I can connect to God in a more focused way
  • To spend time praying and studying through the sermon series beginning in the fall
  • To listen to God regarding issues related to my personal life, the church, ministry vision and direction, and anything else God wants to talk about
  • To study and write on subjects that might be helpful for Calvary
  • To work on research projects
  • To read broadly so as to be able to engage with what is happening in the culture and deeply so as to continue to learn new biblical and theological insights to be able to share with the staff, elders and congregation
  • To network with other Christian leaders and visit other churches

In order to accomplish these purposes, I try to find a place outside of Grand Rapids, where there will be other Christians studying and working, as well as significant biblical library resources.  This year the Lord led us to England.  We spent time in Oxford, where as an alum I have access to the whole university library system, and Cambridge where we stayed at the Tyndale House (www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk), a fantastic research facility for biblical scholars from around the world.

Almost every day, I studied in the library from 8-5:30 and then often worked for several hours after the kids went to bed.  Lunches were usually reserved for fasting and prayer time with the Lord, networking with other Christians, or having lunch with my family.  While these are long hours, the change of pace from sermon preparation is refreshing for me.  Because my study break is not vacation, I usually combine it with a week’s vacation.  This year we had the chance to take the kids to London, as well as explore Oxford and Cambridge with my five days off.

Each study break takes on its own personality.  This year was the study break of major projects and there were four that I spent a considerable amount of time on:

1)    Sermon Series – I laid out the rest of our summer sermon series on spiritual warfare.  I also laid out the sermon series for the next school calendar year, which will focus on 1 and 2 Samuel.

2)    Research – I researched and wrote information for the elders to discuss relating to the area of spiritual warfare.

3)    Commentary – I studied and wrote sections for a commentary on the book of James.

4)    Reliability of the Gospels – I studied technical issues related to the reliability of the Gospels.

One of my favorite things to do on my study breaks is to read widely.  Including a reading week a couple months prior to the study break, I read nearly 20 books, including:

  • Sit-Stand-Walk by Watchman Nee
  • Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson
  • Spiritual Warfare by Clint Arnold
  • Powers of Evil by Sydney Page
  • Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall
  • In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians by Graham Twelftree
  • Men Behaving Badly by John Goldingay
  • Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg
  • Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham
  • Leap Over a Wall by Eugene Peterson
  • Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • Thantos Syndrome by Walker Percy
  • Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
  • Imagine by Jonah Lehrer
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Treasure Island by Robert Stevenson

In addition to reading books, I also try to look through the latest issues of dozens of magazines and major journals for important and interesting articles.  This year, I looked for articles that our pastoral staff could read together this year.  Some of the articles I brought home include:

  • Jared Compton, “The Origin of soma in Heb 10:5: Another Look at a Recent Proposal”
  • Abraham Kuruvila, “Pericopal Theology: An intermediary between text and application”
  • John Barclay, “Believers and the Last Judgment in Paul: Rethinking Grace and Recompense.”
  • Mark Rogers, “A Dangerous Idea? Martin Luther, E. Y. Mullins, and the Priesthood of All Believers.”

One of the greatest benefits of the study break is the opportunity to interact with amazing and inspiring Christians from around the world who are striving to further Christ and his kingdom.  This year:

  • I spent time with members of both the NIV and ESV translation committees.
  • I attended the Oxford New Testament seminar, and was able to interact with my former supervisor.
  • Lisa and I spent the evening with the pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, IN and his wife.  This was greatly encouraging to us, not the least because students from Calvary attend the church.
  • Two students working on PhDs in the Psalms helped me think through some important issues for our sermon series this year.
  • Our family formed a relationship with a family from Hungary that was wonderful for our entire family.
  • We became friends with a PhD student and his family who are planning to do a church plant in Toronto next year.
  • We interacted with evangelical Christians from Australia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Mongolia, Japan, Great Britain, Uganda, Tajikistan, and even one from West Michigan!

All in all, my study break is a real blessing. There is nothing that can compare to having time away from the daily pressure of concern for the people of Calvary to pray, study, meditate, read, write and listen to God.

However, we are so thankful to be home and part of the Calvary family again.