Here’s a one-minute video introduction to my volume on John in the Knowing the Bible Series. My voice was almost totally gone when shooting this video, but I made it through.
I really believe in this series. I don’t think there’s anything else on the market quite like it. Go here to check out the other volumes and videos in the series.
It’s been a crazy and unusual year for me with books. For some strange reason I’ve published four books in the span of one year: Date Your Wife (June, 2012), Why Cities Matter (March 2013), John: A 12-Week Study (April, 2013), and now, The Big Story (June, 2013). Apparently I like three-word book titles.
I don’t imagine I’ll keep this pace going. I’m enjoying taking a writing break right now (though I’m currently doing a tremendous amount of writing of key documents within our church and I’m playing with several future writing projects in my head).
I’m proud of this newest book, The Big Story. I think it will help a lot of people make better sense of their lives. I wrote it for both Christians and non-Christians. I’m going to give it to people who are already following Jesus and to people who aren’t very interested in Jesus.
You can pre-order The Big Story right now for 29% off. The book will be released in two weeks. I wrote this book to help people. I hope it helps you or someone you care about.
Here are the endorsements people wrote for The Big Story:
I think we need to be reminded every single day that we are part of a Bigger Story, part of something greater than ourselves, and that each of our stories matter-a great deal. To be reminded of that truth is to live in Hope. The Big Story gives the reader that gift of Hope.
Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible and Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing
A good story needs a good teller. And Justin Buzzard fits that bill. He not only explains the Bible’s dynamic plot, but draws us persuasively into the greatest story ever told-with arresting images and vivid analogies that connect our stories to The Big Story. In the process, you’ll find yourself being swept into a world you didn’t make and therefore can’t unmake. It’s good news in a bad news world.
Michael Horton, Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California, co-host of the White Horse Inn, and author of Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christ’s Disciples
I cannot overemphasize the desperate need to retell the amazing storyline of the Bible and our place in that story to new generations. Without this, it is far too easy to drift into unfortunate pathways and dead ends which are sadly missing the beauty of the story God has for us. I am very thankful for Justin’s book which gives direction to a world in need of understanding the true way, and the true story.
Dan Kimball, pastor Vintage Faith Church, author of They Like Jesus but Not The Church
The overarching theme of scripture, of course, is the life of Jesus. What makes this new book by Justin Buzzard so good is that it not only highlights the incredible story of scripture, but it shows us how our story fits neatly in Jesus’ story. As we understand Jesus’ story, and our place in it, we are motivated to join God on mission, sharing Jesus’ story with the world. This book is a great asset to God’s kingdom work.
Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research
You don’t need to read this entire book. Just try the first few pages. I predict you’ll have a hard time putting it down. Justin Buzzard knows the Greatest Story well, and he knows how to retell it in a way that can be compelling to those who have never heard it and refreshing to those of us who need to hear it again and again. Try it and see.
Justin Taylor, co-author, The Final Days of Jesus, blogger, “Between Two Worlds”
There are great stories and great storytellers. But there is nothing like “The Big Story”. Justin Buzzard captures the compelling drama of the Bible in a way that demands your attention, and ultimately, your allegiance. If you have been skeptical about the message of the Bible, or if you have found its story confusing, sit down with this book immediately. You will quickly see how your story needs to intersect with “The Big Story”.
J. Paul Nyquist, Ph.D., President of Moody Bible Institute
Fundamental to human existence is the question of identity and purpose. Who am I? Why am I here? Justin Buzzard, in his book, The Big Story, helps us to find our place in the unfolding drama of life. As the narrative unfolds, get ready to be compellingly called on stage to be a character in the adventure that Buzzard calls the “Big Story”.
Bryan Loritts, Lead Pastor, Fellowship Memphis and author of A Cross-Shaped Gospel
“Epic” is too small a word for the story of God’s work in this world. Justin shares the one big story so you can see the scarlet thread of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice through the tapestry of the Bible. Where does this scarlet thread intersect your life? Rejoice as you read in The Big Story that you’re not the center of the universe, and worship Jesus as you learn more about our Savior who set the stars in place and numbered the hairs on your head.
Gloria Furman, author of Glimpses of Grace
Is this Bible a book of rules? Is it an instruction manual for Christians? I was taught both growing up in a nominally “Christian” family. What I would later discover is that the Bible was neither of those things. Rather, the Bible is God’s grand narrative of humanity’s continued desire to carve their own path, and God’s overwhelming love and continued intervention when our way finally fails us.
The Bible is the story of God’s great love for His creation, what He once called “very good.” And this incredible story culminates in the coming of Jesus, and our being invited, through Him, to find our true place in His story. My friend Justin captures this with earnestness, care and clarity as he paints for us the beautiful picture of what God is doing in the world, and where we find our place in His story.
Leonce Crump II, Lead Elder, Renovation Church
The story of the gospel is the most compelling aspect of our faith, and this book winsomely captures the heart of what makes it so attractive. It addresses life’s greatest struggles and longings with rock-solid truth conveyed through God’s redemption narrative in the Bible.
Matt Carter, Pastor of Preaching and Vision at the Austin Stone Community Church and co-author of The Real Win: A Man’s Quest for Authentic Success
This two-minute video expresses the heart behind our book, Why Cities Matter. Watch the video. Click here to buy the book for 38% off today.
Here’s a slick pic of the Buzzard 5, taken at a wedding I officiated two weeks ago. I’m very thankful for the amazing wife God has given me and our three wild sons.
The Buzzard boys.
This week Emily Badger of The Atlantic Cities published an article that arose out of a conversation that she had with Stephen Um and me about our book, Why Cities Matter. While some nuance in our thinking is inevitably lost in the interview and article, the main point still rings through: cities matter to God, the culture, and the church. Here’s an excerpt:
Perhaps cities have become associated with secularism because there’s so much else to worship there: either the promise of cities themselves, or the prospects for good jobs or other forms of success.
“I’ve got a lot of people in my church who move to Silicon Valley thinking once they had their big job at Apple or Google or Facebook or Twitter, or once they came up with their big startup idea, then they’d be ultimately, completely happy and satisfied,” Buzzard says. “A lot of what I deal with there is peoples’ disillusion with the city.”
This is the point where we offer up our alternative: an introduction to God’s grace. Click here to read the whole article.
Health requires work.
If you want to be healthy physically, it’s going to take work: the disciplines of exercise and wisdom/self-control in eating. Emotional health also requires work, the discipline of processing your feelings and your heart in light of truth, community, and God.
Same with the health of your family, your friendships, your church, or your business. It requires work.
I’m amazed at how many people want healthy without work. There is no such thing.
If you want healthy, you must put in the work.
If you’re the primary leader of your home, ministry, business unit, church, etc., perhaps the most difficult and important work you do is the often very ordinary work of keeping things healthy.
The Gospel Coalition recently asked Stephen Um (my co-author for Why Cities Matter), Jon Dennis (author of Christ + City), and me to discuss the strategic importance of cities for advancing the gospel. Watch this five-minute video, using this brief discussion to think and dream more about what God could do in your city. Note: I didn’t get the memo to wear a collar and glasses.
A number of years ago I heard some people talk about why leaders (in this case, specifically pastors and church planters) need a leadership coach. I thought the idea was silly. Now, years later and 1.5 years into planting a church and a growing number of other arenas in which I lead, I no longer think leadership coaching is silly. I think it’s incredibly helpful.
Leaders, I’m writing this short post to persuade you to do one thing: Add some leadership coaching to your life.
Note: If you don’t like the title “coaching” or “coach” I don’t blame you. For some reason I didn’t like that language either, it sounded strange to me because I was used to having coaches in sports and mentors in life. So just substitute the word “coach” for “mentor” or “adviser” or “person with outside perspective who can help me do a better job at my job.”
Why would it be helpful to add some leadership coaching to your life? Because your vantage point is limited. You lead whatever it is you lead from a limited perspective. You have blind spots. You can only see what you can see. A coach who is further along than you in the leadership journey has covered more territory than you and stands at a higher peak from which he (or she) can help you see things that you don’t yet see.
In short: You need wisdom to lead well and a coach can accelerate your growth in wisdom as a leader.
The One Barrier
What is the one great barrier that will keep you from adding some form of leadership coaching to your life? Pride.
How do you add leadership coaching to your life? There is not one way to do this, there are hundreds of ways to do this. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just tell you the two ways I’ve added leadership coaching to my life.
1. Informal Coaching. I have a handful of men who are older than me and more advanced than me in a variety of leadership arenas that concern me: manhood, marriage, parenting, church planting, writing/publishing, and outside speaking opportunities. Over the years I have built relationships with these men and from time to time (whenever I feel like I need it) I initiate with one or several of these guys and ask for their help with whatever it is I’m dealing with.
Not all of these men excel in all of these arenas. For example, there are a few guys I contact for church planting help and there is one guy I contact for writing/publishing help.
2. Formal Coaching. There is one older man who means a lot to me who decades ago planted and led a thriving church and who now leads a church planter training organization. He means a lot to me and when I approached him with some of my needs a while back he graciously offered to hold a monthly thirty-minute coaching phone call with me. This monthly phone call is scheduled out on my calendar to the end of the year and means a great deal to me.
Each time we talk I’m blown away by how helped I am by an older man who cares for me, is wiser than me, and wants to help me flourish as a leader. Our coaching conversations are largely question driven. Almost every month this coach asks me four questions which, as we unpack them together, lead to great discoveries. Here are the four questions:
1. How is your heart?
2. How is your marriage and family?
3. How is your church?
4. How are you navigating writing and speaking opportunities?
It’s amazing what questions can do.
Whether you’re a pastor, entrepreneur, teacher, CEO, writer, or whatever, I suggest you take action today to add some leadership coaching to your life. Start small. One idea is to find someone you respect and ask them to coach you once a month for a thirty minute session for the next six months. See what happens from there.
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)
While we’re all thinking about the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial I think it’s wise to take a look at history and remember two things:
1. The Greco-Roman world in which the first Christians lived was a culture that widely practiced infanticide and abortion.
2. The earliest Christians significantly impacted and changed this culture by being a counter-cultural community that sacrificially cared for unwanted babies and presenting a winsome four-fold message of opposition to abortion and infanticide: 1) the fetus is a beloved creation of God, 2) to abort is to murder, 3) complicity in abortion makes one guilty before God, and 4) God extends grace to the guilty.
Below is a very brief overview of these two points. At the bottom of this post is a link to a paper that unpacks these two points in much greater detail.
Abortion in the Ancient World: Motives & Methods
Several centuries before the first Christians appeared on the scene, Plato (427-347 B.C.) in his Republic discusses the role of women in the ideal republic and encourages, even commands, women to abort once they reach a certain age:
A woman, I said, at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty…and we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.
Ancient motives for abortion were as manifold as the persons who pursued them: rich and poor, married and unmarried, promiscuous and monogamous. Abortions were sought in order to conceal illegitimate sexual activity, to limit family size, conserve wealth, correct ineffective contraception, to save an endangered mother, and to preserve beauty and avoid the physical effects of pregnancy on ones’ figure. Commenting on this last motivation, the great Roman satirist Juvenal, writing in the early 1st century, suggests that such women preferred not to, “get big and trouble the womb with bouncing babes.”
Methods of abortion also varied. Both chemical and mechanical procurements were available to the pregnant of antiquity. It was not difficult for a woman to purchase either oral drugs or compounds induced directly into the birth canal aimed at destroying the fetus. More precise (and gruesome) are antiquity’s mechanical methods. Writing in the second century, Tertullian of Carthage, the great Christian apologist, describes one of these rather involved mechanical procedures:
among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire foetus is extracted by a violent delivery.
In a lengthy 1st century medical treatsie Celsus the physician vividly describes a much more dangerous procedure of aborting the fetus in the third trimester:
An operation must be done, which may be counted among the most difficult; for it requires both extreme caution and neatness, and entails very great risk…The surgeon…should first insert the index finger of his greased hand, and keep it there until the mouth is opened again, and then he should insert a second finger, and the other fingers on the like opportunity, until the whole hand can be put in…But when the hand has reached the dead foetus its position is immediately felt…If the head is nearest, a hook must be inserted which is completely smooth, with a short point, and this it is right to fix into an eye or ear or the mouth, even at times into the forehead, then this is pulled on and extracts the foetus. …Now the right hand should pull the hook whilst the left is inserted within and pulls the foetus, and at the same time guides it…But if the foetus is lying crosswise and cannot be turned straight, the hook is to be inserted into an armpit and traction slowly made; during this the neck is usually bent back and the head turned backwards towards the rest of the foetus. The remedy then is to cut through the neck, in order that the two parts may be extracted separately. This is done with a hook which resembles the one mentioned above, but has all its inner edge sharp. Then we must proceed to extract the head first, then the rest, for if the larger portion be extracted first, the head slips back into the cavity of the womb, and cannot be extracted without the greatest risk…There are also other difficulties, which make it necessary to cut up and extract a foetus which does not come out whole.
A shocking letter from a pagan husband to his wife exposes the horribly casual nature of this practice in the ancient world:
Know that I am still in Alexandria…. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it. (Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule, page 54).
The Early Church and Abortion
The first Christians engaged extensively with the abortion culture of their day.
One of the earliest Christian references to abortion is found in the Didache. It represents the first Christian statement opposing abortion. A late 1st century or early 2nd century document, the Didache is essentially a code of Christian community life complete with instructions on morality, worship, ritual, and politics. In a section expounding the commandment,“Love your neighbor as yourself,” the Didache lists a series of “thou shalt not” statements, including prohibitions against murder, adultery, illicit sex, theft, and practicing magic.
From the middle of this list comes the prohibition, “you will not murder offspring by means of abortion.” Further along comes a list of those who are a part of the “way of death.” Alongside “those persecutors of the good” and “those not showing mercy to the poor,” stands the condemnation of “those murders of children, those corrupters of God’s workmanship.” Here, the Didache links abortion with murder and presumes the humanity of the fetus. With this first of many Christian statements against abortion, “thou shalt not abort” becomes aligned with the ancient Hebrew commandment against murder, presenting the abortion-frequent Greco-Roman world with a vital countercultural path.
Tertullian (160-240 A.D.) offers, perhaps, the early church’s strongest polemic against abortion. In his most acclaimed work, Apology, addressed to both the Roman emperor and a series of Roman governors, bold Tertullian proclaims:
In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.
As other early Christians had proclaimed, Tertullian reiterates the most basic Christian reason for opposing abortion: that it is murder, the destruction of God’s creation. Tertullian recognized life in the womb. In a later work, De Anima (On the Soul), the great apologist urges mothers to attest to this general Christian conclusion:
Now, in such a question as this, no one can be so useful a teacher, judge, or witness, as the sex itself which is so intimately concerned. Give us your testimony, then, ye mothers, whether yet pregnant, or after delivery (let barren women and men keep silence),–the truth of your own nature is in question, the reality of your own suffering is the point to be decided. (Tell us, then,) whether you feel in the embryo within you any vital force other than your own, with which your bowels tremble, your sides shake, your entire womb throbs, and the burden which oppresses you constantly changes its position? Are these movements a joy to you, and a positive removal of anxiety, as making you confident that your infant both possesses vitality and enjoys it? Or, should his restlessness cease, your first fear would be for him; and he would be aware of it within you…[these]are conditions of the soul or life, he who experiences them must be alive.
Again, arguing that the soul, and thus life, comes into being at conception, Tertullian appeals directly to Scripture:
Brother (in Christ), on your own foundation build up your faith. Consider the wombs of the most sainted women instinct with the life within them, and their babes which not only breathed therein, but were even endowed with prophetic intuition…Elizabeth exults with joy, (for) John had leaped in her womb; Mary magnifies the Lord, (for) Christ had instigated her within. The mothers recognise each their own offspring, being moreover each recognised by their infants, which were therefore of course alive, and were not souls merely, but spirits also. Accordingly you read the word of God which was spoken to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee.” Since God forms us in the womb, He also breathes upon us, as He also did at the first creation, when “the Lord God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life.” Nor could God have known man in the womb, except in his entire nature: “And before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.” Well, was it then a dead body at that early stage? Certainly not. For “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
No other Christian writers had yet made this exacting connection between Scripture, the Incarnation, and the practice of abortion. Like a trump card, Tertullian made known to his audience (he is no longer addressing Roman officials) that the very word of God, the very incarnation of the Son of God, testifies to the humanity of the fetus and the horror of abortion. Unto a Greco-Roman world that did not recognize the life of the fetus, nor grant the unborn any legal protection, Tertullian’s writings present a life-preserving alternative.
The early Christians did more than speak out against abortion. They also modeled a life of caring for life in the womb. In 140 A.D. a letter was written to a Roman government official telling him that Christians were not a threat to the city, but that Xians are the heart and soul of a city. It gives a snapshot of the earliest Christians. This “Letter to Diognetus” reads (emphasis added):
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
Instead of “exposing” (aborting or committing infanticide) their children, the early church raised and loved the life that grew in their wombs. And many (see especially the research of sociologist Rodney Stark) attribute the rapid growth of Christianity in the first centuries to, in part, how Christians took in, cared for, and raised the unwanted children of their neighbors.
The early Christians were not perfect in their witness. At times the church disciplined much too severely those who were guilty of committing an abortion. But as the church was reminded of her central message–grace, the undeserved love of God–the surrounding culture took notice of a life-changing and life-giving community.
I want the church today to be like the early church. They wanted what we want: the abortion of abortion. But until that day comes, until babies quit being aborted, let’s be relentless in doing what they did: speaking the truth in love, caring for the unborn, seeking justice, extending grace.
If you’d like more information, most of what I’ve posted here is drawn from a research paper I wrote about ten years ago in seminary titled Abortion and The Early Church (click to view).
The Kermit Gosnell story (a story of infanticide, murder, abortion, racism, and evil) is among the most horrible stories I’ve ever read. I began to cry and feel intense anger while reading about this story for the first time today.
The media is not covering this. You need to be aware of this story and help spread the word. Here are two links for you to read:
1. The Atlantic: Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trail Should Be a Front-Page Story
2. The Gospel Coalition: 9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial