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humble-pieIn elementary school I was really bad at playing soccer. But my school tried to be inclusive and didn’t want any kid to feel left out, so they had as many teams as there were players.

The coveted “A team” was kitted out in glamorous, white, satin shirts and shorts with golden trim, while the rest of us had itchy yellow and brown shirts. But at least we got to play. I was too maladroit to qualify for the talented B or promising C team, or even the undaunted D team. No, I was cast down to the freakish menagerie of hopeless misfits known as the E team.

We seldom actually played games since few other schools even had an E team, but when we did, we played our uncoordinated hearts out!

The upside of being on a team—any team—was that you got to go on the annual soccer trip by train to play a rival school in the faraway shire of Greytown. When our E team arrived for our match there were no opponents to play; Greytown didn’t have an E team.  They quickly assembled a team to play us. I think they drafted the chess team who was there to spectate. After a grueling, dramatic game, we managed to beat the hodge-podge team by two goals.

I remember on the trip home the A team was pretty despondent because they had lost all their games. But our E team was in high spirits. We came, we saw, we conquered. And we let everyone know about it.

In hindsight, I cringe at the thought of how annoying our hollow boasting must have sounded to those with real athletic ability and undeniable talent. I sometimes still think of that spectacle of my utter lack of self-awareness whenever I am tempted to be puffed up in the presence of my Savior.

Here are three ingredients in the recipe for humble pie so you can cultivate humility in the presence of true greatness…

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My first job after college was as a high school Computer Science teacher. To further my usefulness to the school they paid for me to attend an advanced computer hardware course. About half way through the twelve-week course I was summoned to the headmaster’s office. He informed me that the lecturer of the hardware course happened to be a parent of a kid at our school. This dad had told the headmaster that the grade I had gotten on the first module of the course was the highest grade in the (four year) history of the computer school, namely 99%. I began basking in the proverbial pat on the back I presumed I was about to receive, when the whole experience took an unexpected turn.

the-theoryThe headmaster then held up two sheets of paper for me to inspect, and said, “I was wondering if you could explain this: here is one bill for your computer course tuition which we paid in full on your behalf. And here is another bill, payment pending, which has been authorized by you, for hiring an outside computer technician to install and repair the computer network in the school’s Computer Science lab.”

So that’s where this pat on the back was going! Blushing from embarrassment, I then had to explain that the first module, which I had aced, was the theory part of the course. It consisted only of facts and diagrams that had to be memorized.

I had regurgitated the text book and aced the exams, but I still had never actually seen the inside of a computer. I had never laid eyes on a network card, never installed a program, never as much as plugged in a monitor!

But I assured him that the following week we were starting the practical module where I would be taught how to install and repair the items I’d read about. (I barely passed that module, which was evident in my incompetency as a network administrator, and I was presently transferred to teach in the English department).

Often Christians score highly in the theory module of faith. We can memorize verses, recite creeds, debate deep theology, and explain complex doctrines. But unfortunately we frequently fail to actually apply what we learn to our own lives.

Doctrine must always produce practice.

3 parts of the practical module of the Christian life…

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need to discern between true and false repentance. Second Corinthians 7 teaches that not all tears of remorse flow from a truly repentant heart. Some cry because they were caught, and others cry because they offended God. Those two groups do not necessarily overlap.

In God’s providence there are a few examples given to us in Scripture that juxtapose these two types of repentance. The most obvious is Saul vs. David. Saul and David both sinned, were confronted by a prophet, and then acknowledged their sin. In fact, they both use almost the same words: “I have sinned against Yahweh” (1 Samuel 15:24; 2 Samuel 12:13).

But the narratives make clear that Saul’s “repentance” was superficial, while David’s was supernatural. The prophet did not extend forgiveness to Saul, while he did to David. Saul was concerned about what others thought, while David was concerned only with what Yahweh thought. And there are probably six or seven other contrasts as well.

A similar (but less known) juxtaposition is found in 2 Samuel 19. In that narrative, David had just been driven out of his kingdom by Absalom, who was latter dispatched by Joab. Now David was returning to Israel to retake his kingdom and to render justice. Certainly there were hundreds of people whom David dealt with in this process, but the narrator only focuses on two: Shimei and Mephibosheth.

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destinationSome time ago my wife and I flew to Europe from our home in South Africa. We first had to take a domestic flight from Durban to the international airport in Johannesburg. Everyone on that domestic flight was appropriately dressed for the blazing heat and oppressive humidity of midsummer—shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. We were wearing jeans, boots, long-sleeved tops, and were carrying sweaters and snow jackets.

We disembarked at the uncomfortably warm domestic terminal and we made our sticky, sweaty way to the international terminal. That’s when we started seeing more folk with the northern hemisphere in mind. It was easy to tell who was leaving and who was staying by their clothing. The travelers were not concerned about appearances at the airport because they would only be there for a few hours, and in a short while would be grateful for their warm clothes.

Why? Because they had set their minds on a European winter, not an African summer.

Can onlookers tell what your final destination is by the way you behave? Or do you live like this life is your final destination?

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Life and DeathThose of you who read the Cripplegate week to week know that over the past few Fridays we’ve been taking a look at 2 Corinthians 4. Three weeks ago, we discovered that the orienting principle for Christian ministry is that there is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the weakness and shame of the New Covenant minister. We have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels.

After stating that orienting principle for ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul turns to illustrate that principle by means of two paradoxes. The first is that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness (2 Cor 4:8–9). We see the second paradox In verses 10 and 11. True, faithful Christian ministry is also characterized by life in the midst of death. Paul says, we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

These two sentences are parallel to one another; verse 11 simply restates verse 10 in a slightly different way. And together they form a theological interpretation and summary of the four contrasts in verses 8 and 9. Paul summarizes being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down and calls them “the dying of Jesus” and “being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” And he summarizes not being crushed, in despair, forsaken, and destroyed as “the life of Jesus.”

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Maybe it’s because I am days away from having my first daughter (after 3 sons), but I’ve been shocked by how many godly girls are dating guys who just don’t seem to love the Lord. Guys who seem like their teeth are being pulled when they come to church or you talk about spititual things with them.

For some reason some single women in the church feel like they are better off being married to apathetic believers (or unbelievers?) than being single. While marriage is a huge blessing from God, marriage to an ungodly man is extremely difficult, and could be dangerous not only to potential children and grandchildren but to the church as a whole.

groomMy heart goes out to these girls, who have bought the lie that godly men simply don’t exist, and who believe that they must settle for the first guy who comes along who shows them attention.

The calling to be a wife is great. Women are called to submit to a man in the same way as the church submits to Christ in everything (Eph. 5:22-24). This is why women have to be so careful whom they choose to marry. I’m scared to have a daughter because some overconfident dummy is going to come along some day and try to steal her heart away.  My prayer is that she finds a man worth submitting to.

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In the afterglow of the Rio 2016 Summer Games, I thought I’d reprise this quirky piece of recent Olympic history. The 2012 London Olympics saw a scandalous badminton debacle, which provides an apt metaphor for many Christian lives. Our Lord was fond of these types of real-life snapshots of poor stewardship and its consequence. The New Testament parables are peppered with stewards who weren’t faithful to their assignments (e.g. Luke12:45; Matt 25:26-27).shuttlecock

Here’s a quick recap of the farcical fiasco. At the London games eight of the ladies’ doubles badminton players from China, South Korea, and Indonesia were disqualified for, in the words of the International Olympic Committee’s VP, Craig Reedie, “not using one’s best efforts to win a match.” I love it.

The players had all made it through the elimination round and were apparently attempting to lose their games in the hopes of attaining a more lenient placing in the next round. Can you imagine the spectacle of expert athletes trying to lose to each other? These national superstars (evidently badminton is big in Asia) weren’t simply lagging a little in their enthusiasm, they were all willfully playing terribly.

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Power in the Midst of WeaknessTwo weeks ago, we took a look at the orienting principle for Christian ministry: we have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. In other words, there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister. In the next verses, Paul turns to illustrate this principle by means of two paradoxical truths that characterize the Christian ministry.

And the first of those paradoxes comes in verses 8 and 9. There we learn that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness. He says, we are “in everything afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In what commentators have called “one of the more powerful rhetorical moments in the Pauline corpus” (Barnett, 233), Paul makes his point by means of four antitheses. In each first word, we see the weakness of the earthen vessel. And in each second word, we see the surpassing greatness of the power of God. Let’s look more closely at each pair.

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Have you ever waited so long for a promise that you when it arrives you don’t believe it? Perhaps your boyfriend promised to propose when he felt “ready.” But half a decade later, you’d lost hope, and when he finally did get down on one knee you thought he was tying his cynical

I had such an experience some years ago. I had ordered a landline from our country’s only (monopolized) national telephone service provider. With no competition to rival it, this service provider was not known for its promptness or customer satisfaction. So, I ordered the line about three months before I was ready to move into my new house, thinking I was beating the system.

After moving in, early in March, and without any trace of a telephone connection, I began a weekly routine of calling to ask about the progress of my line. I was repeatedly assured that the line would be installed by August.

August came and went—twice.

Then, one fine day, out of the blue, I received a call on my cellphone from a lady who claimed to be an employee. She casually asked if I would be home the next day, because my landline was to be installed. There was an awkward pause as I considered which of my friends was playing a cruel joke on me. I decided to play along and assured her in a sardonic tone that I would be eagerly awaiting the workman the next day.

To my bemusement, the very next day—two and a half years after the order—a pleasant gentleman arrived wearing coveralls and an air of nonchalance. He effortlessly completed the job, which took all of twelve minutes. By this point I had cycled through all the normal stages—denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance—and so I expressed my genuine gratitude for a job well-done. He smiled knowingly and chided me for my doubt with a hackneyed line he’d proffered countless times, “We said we’d get to it, we just didn’t say when.”

That is why I have sympathy for Zechariah. Continue Reading…

lucky charms and honey combs.001

One of the most overwhelming figures in Scripture is the giant angel that John encounters in Revelation 10. Between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgements, after witnessing the death of 1/3 of the earth but while waiting for the ministry of the two witnesses, John’s vision is interrupted by a figure with no parallel in the Bible.

This angel descends from heaven, and lands with one foot in the water and one foot on the land. He towers over the earth, and raises a hand up into the heavens. His feet are on fire, and he wears a rainbow like a crown of glory.

He has divine characteristics. For example, he is clothed in the clouds—an idiom which in the Old Testament is reserved for God himself (Psalm 97:2; Job 38:9).  He is holding the scroll in his hand, which back in Revelation 5, only Jesus was worthy to open.

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