Bible verse colouring pages

For a long time I had wanted to make meaningful colouring pages that don’t only entertain or beautify, but specifically help elucidate and synthesise the truths of scripture. I’d played with the idea for years between kids and homeschool but never could justify doing it properly (although I did learn a lot about inking, lettering and layout in the process). At our church we’ve started providing colouring pages for our kids, and there are many available online for free. However we also don’t skip the awkward parts of scripture, and some of the passages we’ve been covering are really not very popular as kids colouring pages! So I’ve jumped at the chance to draw some myself and thought I’d put them up to download as well.

These are licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA (use anywhere non-commercially but attribute, remix but share under the same license). Also if you use these please leave a comment! It’s helpful and encouraging to know if anyone uses them and how they’re being used.

Easter Sunrise Service 2023

In God’s kindness, this year I had the joy of helping with organising the annual East Auckland Combined Churches Easter Sunrise service. As mentioned before by Rev Richard Waugh (who helped to start these sunrise services over 30 years ago), it’s a small but significant opportunity to partner with other local churches to share our Christian faith publicly in a beautiful setting.



I was very thankful for brothers and sisters who shared prayers, readings and reflections, including two of our local MPs Simeon Brown and Naisi Chen and Mike Turinsky from the Howick Local Board. After our initial preacher had to pull out, I stepped in to bring a short message from the first Easter morning.

My outdoor sermons are still a work in progress (share the gospel, less is more, it’s hard to pay attention with a brisk north wind in your face), but for what it’s worth, here is what I shared from Luke 24:27 yesterday morning.


Reading: Luke 24:13–27

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognising him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As we’ve just heard from Luke’s gospel, on the first Easter Sunday two friends were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Chatting and conversing for 11km. If they had owned smartwatches back then, they would have clocked around 14,000 steps.

But before they reach their destination, we see that the risen Lord Jesus starts walking with them. And he asks them: “What are you discussing?” (Lk 24:17)

While Cleopas and his friend didn’t recognise Jesus at first, they weren’t ignorant about him. They knew all about what he had done, and what happened to Him on Good Friday. They had hoped he would rescue their country. They were aware of reports about the resurrection. Yet how does Jesus respond to them? He says they were “slow to believe”, even “foolish” (v25). And if Jesus is just head knowledge to us too, just a bunch of facts, then we too would also be foolish. Needing a change of heart.

Jesus then says:

“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”. (v26-27)

Why did God want us to listen in on this conversation? What might the first Easter Sunday lesson say to us in Auckland, in 2023? Can I suggest three things this verse tells us. Firstly, it is that

1. The good news of Jesus is explained…

Once when I was reading Mark’s Gospel with a work colleague from India, his question was: “Who is Mark?” Our city is changing. More and more of our friends and family will have no prior knowledge of Christianity. Others will only know of stereotypes and caricatures. Still more will have experienced hurt and hypocrisy, handed over in Jesus’s name.

Notice how Jesus stayed with these two friends when they stopped walking, sadness on their faces (v17). And notice how much time Jesus gave them as he listened to them. But eventually our Lord explained the good news to them (v27). And just like the risen Lord Jesus “explained” the Scriptures, we who know God’s story of redemption have the privilege of sharing it. With gentleness and respect. With our friends and family. On Easter Sunday and every other day until Christ returns to judge our world. The good news of Jesus is explained.

Secondly, this verse reminds us:

2. The good news of Jesus is explained patiently and openly…

We all come from different backgrounds. But let’s agree that sitting in Auckland traffic is no fun (Living in Pakuranga, I get to see the scowls on a long line of faces!). Sitting in traffic teaches us to be patient. But at least you can enjoy your privacy. But picture again this Easter morning conversation. As they walk and talk, many others departing from the Passover festival are passing by, overhearing things. And it’s a long walk. To share good news like Jesus did on Easter Sunday, is to do it patiently and openly.

We need patience, because it takes time for friends to change their minds. For family members to understand why we’re broken. For us to sense the burning in our hearts when the good news of Jesus becomes clear to us.

And we need to be open, because in 2023 we cannot expect our non-Christian friends to walk into our church buildings. We cannot expect voices in wider society to speak from a Christian worldview. The good news of Jesus is to be explained patiently and openly: whether on top of a hill in Howick, around your dining table, by the coffee machine, at your family’s bedside.

Finally, this verse says:

3. The good news of Jesus is explained patiently and openly from all the Scriptures.

We live in a time when the Bible is extremely accessible, yet extremely misunderstood. So it will not do to know one verse from Genesis, one from Leviticus, 1 or 2 Psalms. Jesus taught “beginning with Moses and all the prophets” (v27). Because every book of the Bible has something to say about the God of the Universe, our true human condition, and humanity’s need for a Saviour. Every problem the Bible raises: our guilt, shame, our selfishness – God solves by sending his Son Jesus to the world. His death and resurrection saves us from sin, frees us from slavery, gathers a new people who follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the author C.S. Lewis puts it, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

So can I encourage you, if you’re not yet a Christian, to consider visiting one of the 60+ churches in our local area. Find a Bible-teaching church who gather weekly to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” (2 Tim 2:8). As the sunrise behind us signals a new beginning, I pray today might signal a new beginning for you. For Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!   

Thoughts on preaching the book of Haggai

What does a “minor” prophet from 520 B.C. have to say to our post-Christian culture? Quite a lot actually. In the last fortnight, our church went through the book of Haggai and were challenged to “give careful thought to our ways” and to refocus our wandering attention back to kingdom priorities of Christ our great Servant King.

To help prepare for the series, I translated Haggai from the Hebrew text (with occasional peeks at the LXX translation, especially around Haggai 2:6-7). On the text, I found Andrew Hill’s contribution to the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries at a good level of depth and detail for a busy pastor. Michael Prodigalidad’s excellent 9 Marks article gave good pastoral reasons to tackle this book as a church. Some timely help also came from conversations with two Hebrew-reading friends (one who is about to begin her PhD in Old Testament post-exilic narrative – great!)

For preachers, bible study leaders and keen readers, here’s a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • The average church-goer is unlikely to have read Haggai. So it’s important to set the scene and explain where this minor prophet fits within the biblical storyline. I found Vaughan Roberts God’s Big Picture schemas a quick and helpful way to paint the post-exilic picture for God’s broken people, living in God’s place, longing for God’s rule.
  • Preaching Haggai has to be a balance of challenge and encouragement. Chapter 1 has the Lord’s well-known rebuke of people seeking material comfort over kingdom priorities (“panelled houses” over completing God’s temple, 1:4). But context matters: it’s written to people who were already faithful – they’d obeyed the call to leave Babylon almost two decades earlier, they’d begun the rebuild, and were worn out by the constant opposition (c.f. Ezra 3-4). Our listeners today are likewise not faithless people to rebuke, but faithful people who have lost heart, been discouraged, and saturated with the messages of our world.
  • I think that’s also why the LORD repeats the phrase “Consider your ways” (or literally, “set your heart upon your ways”; 1:5, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18). It’s the language of wisdom (e.g. Job 1:8, 2:3, Daniel 1:8), rather than a fiery rebuke. So our tone and posture matters, especially since we’re exposing deeply-held beliefs and values shaped by our society and culture’s materialism (who of us hasn’t been sucked in by the “I want” songs of our age?). But as we repent of our self-centred pursuits and return to kingdom priorities, there will surely be great blessing for God’s faithful remnant.
  • If Haggai 1 challenges the returnee Jews’s FOMO (fear of missing out), Haggai 2’s prophecies tackle their FOBO (fear of better options). After all, a few months into a 4-year rebuild it could be tempting to lose heart when “it seems to you as nothing” (2:3). And after restoring offerings and sacrifices it could be tempting to think holiness can be transferred to a people who are still defiled (2:14). Whether to the people, the priests, or Zerubabbel himself, the underlying fear is one of committing to the Lord’s will for our lives. Haggai gives us a startling vision worth committing our lives to: God shaking the nations with His peace (v6-9), God blessing a defiled people with his holiness (v19), and God promising a great servant He has chosen (v20-23).
  • I think Isaac Watts was well-meaning but incorrect in treating Haggai 2:7 as a direct Messianic prediction in the carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (verse 4 starts with the famous line, “Come Desire of Nations come”). The Hebrew text reads, “they will come (plural), what is desirable/precious of all the nations” (וּבָ֖אוּ חֶמְדַּ֣ת כָּל־הַגּוֹיִ֑ם). Although the LXX renders the subject as singular (“he/it will come”), the object is translated as “the chosen things” (τὰ ἐκλεκτὰ), so it’s more likely a description to the “treasures” among the nations coming to worship the LORD, rather than a single individual.
  • Accordingly, I think it’s better to preach this verse (and prophecy) not being fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah individually, but rather by us corporately as we join in God’s mission to fill His temple with the glory of treasures from the nations (c.f. Rev 7:9-11). As a well-known Maori saying puts it: What is the greatest treasure? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (It is people, it is people, it is people.) As we cross the pew, cross the street, or cross the oceans with the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor 2:15), this proverb and Haggai’s prophecy becomes truly fulfilled.
  • Rather, I think the Christ connection more readily comes from two places. Firstly, in God’s promise to be present with His people as they resume His kingdom-building work (“I am with you”, 1:13, 2:4), we see a foretaste of the risen Lord Jesus, whose Spirit is truly with us — always — as we fulfil His Great Commission (Matt 28:20).
  • And secondly, in Haggai’s personalised prophecy to Zerubabbel (2:20-23), we get another glimpse of Christ from the Old Testament. The Hebrew in v23 literally reads: “For in you I have chosen” (the בְךָ֣ construction is the same as Genesis 12:3 where the LORD says to Abraham: “In you, all peoples of the earth will be blessed.”). But if Zerubabbel is the signet ring, who is the chosen one in Him? Who else? Jesus. Son of David (Mk 10:47). Once a future seed in Zerubbabel’s line, now our chief Cornerstone and foundation of God’s ultimate dwelling place – His church (Eph 2:19-21). There’s no better option than Him.

At our church, we considered Haggai over two talks (though perhaps three would have been easier!) You can hear our English service sermons on SoundcloudSpotify and elsewhere (just search “PCBC English”).

Thoughts on preaching the book of Acts

(Image credit: Isaac Mui)

Our church has journeyed through the book of Acts over the past 6 months as part of our 30th anniversary theme, “How Firm A Foundation”. It’s been timely for my own heart to dig deeper into this important book with a team of preachers as we saw time and time again how (as the Quizworx team once put it): “The message of the risen Lord Jesus cannot be stopped!”

To help prepare for the series, I translated most of Acts from the Greek text and read a few commentaries. On the Greek text, Scott Kellum’s EGGNT volume was a reliable guide. On planning the series, David Cook’s Teaching Acts (Proclamation Trust) was especially helpful in highlighting how to navigate the larger sections (e.g. Acts 24-26) and suggesting listener-friendly outlines. Alan Thompson’s The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (NSBT) offered some really helpful explanations of Old Testament fulfilment. For issues relating to the social and cultural background of the many speeches and writings, consulting Ben Witherington’s Acts: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary was heavy(!) but helpful. Other conversation partners included Sam George’s Journeys of Asian Diaspora and a range of missions biographies and prayer partners.

For preachers, bible study leaders and keen readers, here’s a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • Acts is a historical narrative first addressed to Theophilus and his fellow readers (Acts 1:1-3), and much of what follows this introduction is described, not prescribed. For example, we’re not instructed to get a snake bite like Paul, or hang ourselves like Judas; it’s described! So we need to discern from context why something occurs, and whether we are given a direct command (e.g. “repent and be baptised”, Acts 2:28), a pattern to follow (e.g. “preach the whole counsel of God”, Acts 20:27), or broader principles to trust (e.g. God is in control of all of circumstances, good and bad, Acts 27). Asking “Is this described or prescribed?” and “why did Theophilus need to hear this?” helps us to consider questions like “does Acts teach us to pursue a second Spirit-baptism?” or “is speaking in tongues a mark of a true believer?” in a clearer way.
  • Also, Acts completes what Luke’s gospel started and earlier prophets hoped for. This means much of why something happens has an Old Testament background. The speaking in tongues at Pentecost reverses the confounding of languages at Babel and fulfils the hopes of Joel 2:28-32 that sons and daughters will prophesy and that everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved. The conversion of the Ethiopian fulfils the Servant Song promises in Isaiah 56:3 that foreigners and eunuchs will one day be part of a spiritually fruitful family. Before we look forward and pursue a specific “Acts” experience or strategy, it’s helpful first to look back and see what hopes from Israel’s world are being fulfilled in the lives of the first Christians — and understand our own questions in that light.
  • Acts is a drama in three “acts” – Acts 1:8 is the interpretive key to the whole book, where the risen Lord Jesus declares to his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” From this, you have the three main movements of the symphony that is Acts: Jerusalem (ch. 1-7); Judea and Samaria (8-12); and to the ends of the earth (13-28). I took David Cook’s suggestion on structuring Acts as three mini-series or “seasons” along these divisions.
  • The story of Acts is to be continued! It was a treat to welcome several guests who shared their missions and church-planting experience alongside the expounding of God’s Word, including Johan and Debbie Linder (church-planters in Thailand), Matt and Cristelle Nicholas (heading to the Philippines), Rowan Hilsden (Auckland EV) and more. During our third series in Acts 13-28, we also took time to pray specifically for a number of different countries and people groups (and enjoying their delicious food!).
  • Acts is a multi-cultural story – Preaching Acts in an immigrant church highlighted some of the cultural and language-related aspects of the storyline I’d failed to notice before. Whether it’s the grumbling between Hebrew and Greek-speaking Jews in Acts 6, or Paul switching languages when talking with different people in Acts 21:37-22:2, the early church was a diverse mix of immigrant and diaspora groups who spoke several languages and had to cross cultures frequently. We are not the first generation to wrestle with the gospel and “biculturalism”, meetings in multiple languages, and how to welcome “outsiders” into our midst!
  • Reading Acts cross-culturally also helps us make sense of the diverse ways that the Word increases and multiplies greatly. Some entered God’s Kingdom through patient reasoning until they understood Jesus as the promised Messiah. Others had no knowledge about Jesus but yearned to worship unknown gods that Paul makes known to them (Acts 17:16-34). Still others needed a power encounter with the unsurpassed authority of King Jesus (e.g. among the superstitious people in Ephesus and Asia Minor). Because God is calling different cultures to Himself, different metaphors of Jesus will connect with different people. Notice too how each sermon in Acts is tailored to a particular audience: whether in a Jewish synagogue, outside a pagan temple, or before rulers and authorities. While the content of the gospel doesn’t change, what is effective evangelism and ways to communicate this will vary depending on our particular audience.

At our church, we looked at the book across 25 talks. You can hear our English service sermons on SoundcloudSpotify and elsewhere (just search “PCBC English”).

Acts 1-7: Empowered by the Gospel
Acts 8-12: Breaking Boundaries
Acts 13-28: To the Ends of the Earth

How to manually clean up weird punctuation, and scrambled non-English characters on WordPress

Oh, WordPress. This was not how I had intended to work on paratext over the summer! It seems like our 10+ years hosting platform stored years and years worth of blog posts on this website using some kind of non-UTF-8 character set. However, after our hosting provider moved this website’s backend to a new server running MySQL 8 in October last year, suddenly a whole bunch of quotation marks, em dash, en dash, ellipses and non-English characters on this site were instantly transformed into ugly-looking codes. Unfortunately, as the source data itself was corrupted in this way, the only fix was to manually find and replace all the offending characters.

After putting it off for a long time, here are two steps that helped to clean things up.

  1. Follow these instructions from Digwp.com to use SQL to find/replace the most commonly-occurring weird characters – this is the most offensive bit to most readers, and a database find/replace means not trawling through every post to manually fix your punctuation. To do this you need access to your WP database files – though I’m sure there are WordPress plugins out there to do the same if you’re not confident in editing the database directly. The basic SQL query is here (using “ / “ as an example):
UPDATE wp_posts SET post_content = REPLACE(post_content, '“', '“');

Step 2: “Universal online Cyrillic decoder”, a web app that helps you to decode what on earth you previously typed in non-English text (it works for all non-English languages, not just Cyrillic). You paste in the garbled text, and use the website to work out what it was encoded in, and what’s the correct way to decode it. Once you find your original words, you can then either type it back into your post, or run find and replace in the database (see step 1). You paste in the text to be decoded, then the website lets you scroll down a dropdown menu to discover what the source encoding was, and how to convert it into readable text.

Once lost in translation: what is εν Χριστω ?
Turns out I had typed εν Χριστω (in Christ, unaccented)

It’s not absolutely perfect but when you have multilingual posts like this one, it really feels like a miracle to be able to decode what you said!

For posterity, here’s a snapshot of some of the find/replaces that were involved (a mix of punctuation and non-English characters – a window into the kinds of things we talk about on here!)

BeforeAfter
“
”
’
‘
—
–
•
…
Â, ,
εν Χριστωεν Χριστω
συνσυν
ἐκτρέφετεἐκτρέφετε
ἐκτρέφειἐκτρέφει
ßß
ää
üü
öö
燒鴨燒鴨
叉燒叉燒

Lesson learned: don’t let your hosting provider update SQL on their servers without a back-up! But if it’s too late, there’s always the find and replace and pretending you discovered the Rosetta Stone for the internet.