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My family recently was invited to go to a friend’s “cabin” in the mountains above Los Angeles. When I heard the word cabin I became hesitant; I associate cabins with sleeping bags, Deet, and dirt. I’m not much of a camping guy, and even less so when it involves kids.

I asked my friend if sleeping bags were needed and he replied, “No, we have all you need.”

I soon learned that this was because cabin was not a good word to describe his place. When my family arrived, we did not see a “cabin” but instead a “shocking mansion.” Sleeping bags were not appropriate here. Butlers yes, tents no.

We tremendously enjoyed our time. The owners were generous. We could use their ski-boats—note the plural—and the entire time there was an experience unlike any we have had.

I tried to tell the owners how thankful we were. They laughed, and shared with us something that initially surprised me.

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“Houston, we have a problem.” What Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell didn’t fully appreciate at 9:07pm on April 13th (of course), 1970, while shunting at full speed 205,000 miles from Earth, was that they didn’t have problem; they had several problems. Each item on the lengthy and unnerving list of problems they would have to overcome in the next few hours of their precarious lives was urgent, complicated, and indisputably life-threatening. But there was one that—the moment it was discovered—shot immediately to the top of the list of priorities.astronaut

Since the crew was now forced to remain in the Lunar Module instead of the Command Module, they were faced with a shortage of compatible lithium hydroxide canisters, which were needed to remove carbon dioxide from their air supply. In short, the crew was running out of breathable air at a rapid rate.

Obviously, no other mechanical challenge to a safe landing of the craft was as significant as the need to keep the astronauts breathing. Every other rescue manoeuvre would become moot if there was no one left alive to rescue. The NASA engineers on the ground accomplished an ingenious workaround that was virtually as impressive as if they had conjured SCUBA tanks ex nihilo. And only then did they get back to working on the remaining issues, since they now had breathing astronauts to carry out the plans.

In the frenetic pace of our lives we are all daily presented with urgent, important problems to navigate. Work demands, family responsibilities, health requirements, time constraints, and innumerable other forces are constantly foisted onto our cluttered priority list. And the grind is positively Sisyphean in its inevitable recurrence.

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Today’s post is taken from a letter to an individual who is struggling with assurance of salvation.

DoubtDear ____________:

I am so sorry to hear about your struggle with the assurance of your salvation. Seasons of doubt can be some of the most difficult valleys we walk through. Maybe you’re doubting God’s love (“Could he really love someone like me?”), the reality of your conversion (“I don’t think I’m regenerate because I___”), the possibility of certainty (“Can I even know for sure that I’m saved?”), or something else. Whatever the case, know that this is a common battle. You are not alone.

I understand a bit of what that is like as I battled with the darkness of doubt for a time in seminary. The source of my doubt was multi-faceted. On the one hand, it arose from a sudden realization of previously unseen sin. I claimed to believe in the gospel, but my “new” sin seemed to eclipse the cross. My excessive self-analyzing exacerbated the problem. The deeper and longer I beheld my thoughts, the more assurance fled (as it often will). Maybe you are experiencing doubt for those reasons. Or maybe it’s Satan, your natural temperament, or something else. I don’t know.

So, I want to share with you a few things that I have found helpful in battling the darkness of doubt.

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For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
– Philippians 3:20–21 –

In a word, the heavenly citizen’s prospect is glorification. Glorification is that final stage in the process of redemption when Christ (a) raises the bodies of all believers from the dead and reunites those bodies with their souls; and (b) instantly changes the bodies of believers alive at His coming into perfect, sin-free bodies, even like His own when He was resurrected.

Glorification

The Body of Our Humiliation

Earlier translations of this verse spoke of “our vile body” (KJV) or “the body of our humiliation” (ASV). But that could send the wrong message. Paul doesn’t intend to demean the body in any way, as if the physical body was evil in itself. That was the teaching of certain pagan religious philosophers of the day, but not of biblical Christianity. Remember, Adam and Eve were created perfectly by God, in His image, as a body-and-soul entity.

And so “the body of our humiliation” has nothing to do with some supposed inherent sinfulness of the body. Rather, it refers to our bodies, which are presently marked by the humiliation caused by sin—always characterized by weakness, by physical decay, by indignity, sickness and suffering, and of course the ultimate humiliation of death. And the body, though not inherently sinful in itself, is too often the instrument of our sinful acts—the vehicle through which we gratify our sinful desires. Knowing that that which should be set apart and consecrated as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) is nevertheless presented to sin as an instrument of unrighteousness (Rom 6:13) causes it all the more to be regarded as “the body of our humiliation.” Indeed, in this body we groan (2 Cor 5:2; cf. Rom 8:23), calling out with the Apostle Paul, “Who will save me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).

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SkiSchoolMeetingPlaceFrom work, to education, to recreation, much of our lives revolve around discovering our faults so as to develop ourselves. We pay professors to identify our errors in math, science, and writing. We pay individuals to identify flaws in our golf swing, fitness routine, and our skiing. If I want to know how to eat better, I can get a nutritionist consultation for $100/hr. In all, we approach individuals, even complete strangers, with a teachable demeanor, and pay them to identify and correct faults.

I wonder if we are as eager to take that approach with some of the more important things of our lives. Are we as welcoming to input into our marriage and ministry as we are our golf swing and crossfit routine? Do we demonstrate the same teachability with our fitness lessons as we do with our christlikeness? Are we as open to receiving reproof about our character as we are our investment strategies?

When we enter into God’s family by faith in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ, we enter into a life of change. God loves his children so much that he will not leave us as we are. Shaping us into the image of Christ is his unfailable goal. Among other things, this necessitates that we maintain a teachable spirit until God takes us to heaven.

The following is a brief refresher on why we need to maintain a humble, teachable demeanor:

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nowOpening up the news this week was like being on the receiving end of a quadruple gut-punch. Across the global and national landscape are wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, people proceeding from bad to worse, and the love of pleasure over the love of God.

And then, as many of you can relate, opening up my email was no more soothing. Locally, many of us are witnessing people shipwreck their faith, making their belly their god, glorying in their shame, and holding to a form of godliness, but denying its power, to name a few things. Pile on that the personal trials many of us are experiencing right now, and it’s almost too much.

“Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

Certainly these are times when sparks are soaring.

But how do we keep our minds from going off the deep-end? Here are a few reminders to tether our thoughts in times of profuse spark-ascending:

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there they are“I’m blessed!” “That was such a blessing!” “Wow, you are blessed!”

Whether some financial profit, a good meal, an ideal day, or finding our lost keys, we’ve all said it. And those things are blessings. But, too often we risk throwing around benedictory phrases with a shallow, man-centered carelessness.

What does it mean to be “blessed”? What does God consider “blessing”? God’s definitions of blessing might not always fit the pop-definitions. One in particular, perhaps, counter-intuitive blessing is described from what is considered the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount. Christ opened it with the declarative blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). What is the essence of this blessing?

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If a person were to ask you what the most widely misunderstood story was in the Bible, what would you say?

The night meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3?

The creation story of Genesis 1?

The entire book of Revelation?

There’s definitely shortage of competitors when it comes to “commonly misunderstood texts of scripture”, right?

That being what it is, I’d suggest that the most widely known is probably the story of David and Goliath, and that story is always misunderstood…hence the title.

Usually, the story is generally taken as some sort of underdog tale meant to encourage people to tackle impossible odds, or something along those lines.

Sumo

Sorry. That is not what it’s about.

Part of the confusion about the story is because people assume they know the meaning of the story based on cultural assumptions, but part of that is also from a lack of contextual understanding.  We tend to not pay attention to the inter-relationships of the various narratives in Old Testament historical books, and that regularly comes back to bite us.  Being familiar with most of the Old Testament stories from our childhood, we often think we know Old Testament stories far better than we actually do.

So what’s the contextual understanding that is commonly lacking? Continue Reading…

About three and a half years ago, I posted the following sample prayer plan to serve as a guide for those who were looking to add some structure to their times of personal worship. Over the past few weeks, a number of people have happened to mention that this was helpful to them. I’ve also had occasion recently to refer to it in some pastoral counseling contexts. With it on my mind, I figured I’d re-post it for those who missed it the first time. As always, I pray it’s a benefit to you.

In his classic, Desiring God, John Piper diagnoses that a main hindrance to prayer is our lack of planning. He tells us,

Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, “Hey, let’s go today!” You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure.

And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.

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storm trooper grievingIf you were to line up all 15 billion or so people who have ever lived in order of most godly to most vile, whereabouts would you place Jonathan Edwards? I’m not asking for exactitude, just a rough estimate, rounded off to the nearest billion.

Factors you might want to consider include: Edwards (1703-58) repented and embraced the grace of Christ as a young man, worked as a faithful and exemplary pastor for decades, preached arguably the most influential English sermon ever (one credited with starting the Great Awakening), raised a dozen godly children, was a devoted husband, wrote countless helpful theological works, volunteered to be a frontier missionary to a tribe of Native Americans, and all the while recognized his utter dependence on God and modeled humility and purity.

My guess as to where Edwards features in the godliness line-up would be somewhere in the top—I don’t know— two billion, to be safe? I’m certain we would all agree that he should be at least in the upper half of the virtue queue. (The list includes all the Amalakites, Nazis, serial killers, bohemian hippies, and all the lukewarm Christians in history).

The reason I ask is because I was quite taken aback when I read where Edwards ranked himself…

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