In honor of the Comrades Marathon, the world’s premier ultra-marathon (that made church impossible yesterday!) I have posted this excerpt from Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions Long-Term Impact.comrades route closed

Spiritual Carbo-loading

The short-term missions (STM) trip is such a potent shot of spiritual adrenalin that the testimonies of those returning often sound like an over-zealous infomercial for how life-changing the trip will be. This may lead those you are waning in their zeal for the work of the Lord to think that going on this type of life-changing trip will make them more godly. Perhaps your spiritual walk with the Lord has slowed to a lethargic amble, or maybe your quiet time feels like a car that is puttering along haltingly in need of a tune-up. You see the STM trip as the spiritual recharging station.

In many cases the trip might be an event that escalates the seriousness about your faith like a quickened pulse, but that is not the reason we go on STM trips. I always told our STMers that the trip is not the time to get godly but to be godly. All STM trips are fraught with trip-wires to your godliness. You need to be on the alert, prepared for every temptation that might entangle you and trip up the ministry. If you find yourself cruising blithely on a plateau of apathy, the solution is to prepare your heart for the trip. You could memorize verses about dying to self and serving others. You should be in prayer for your own soul as well as for the other team members and those you will encounter in the field.

The church I serve in sits precisely on the route of the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon, the Comrades Marathon. Several members of our congregation have successfully completed the ninety-two-km race within the eleven-hour time limit [increased to twelve hours in 2003]. Besides the gruesome details they share with me about how the race affects the body (loss of toenails is the first one that comes to mind), they also share their secrets of preparation for going the distance. Any endurance athlete knows the importance of “carbo-loading.”

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When you think of seeing God’s hand at work in one’s life, we tend to always think of God working through miraculous/ostentatious activity, right?  I’m thinking of an example like a sick person being instantly healed against all odds, someone surviving a horrible traffic accident without a scratch, etc.  If we were being honest, we don’t tend to think of God’s hand in the common.  You know, the regular things of life that happen all the time: eating a sandwich, going to work, etc.  Yet, as Christians we understand (hypothetically) that God is sovereign; he rules over all creation including events both magnificent and microscopic.  Allow me to say that another way: God is in charge of all the common and miraculous occurrences in every life; he orchestrates both the miraculous and the common equally.  Although miraculous events are (by definition) hard to miss, I’d suggest that we often miss God’s providential orchestration of our lives to bring us to just the right place, at just the right time, with just the right thoughts in our head.

We see this in Jesus’ burial as recorded in Matthew 27:57-60.  The text reads:

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.

Joseph of Arimathea was a very wealthy disciple of Jesus who owned a tomb.  When Jesus was dead, Joseph got the body and laid it in the tomb.  Amazing, right?

Well, not at first glance. Continue Reading…

Having decreed that God did not invent marriage, our culture has moved on to a new cause célèbre: the claim that neither did God invent gender.

Last week Fairfax County Schools (where I live) considered a measure to no longer teach that there are two genders, but rather that gender exists on a spectrum, as well as to move the curriculum out of the science department and into the health department so that parents can no longer opt their students out. This all follows their vote a few weeks ago to allow cross-dressing teachers and essentially end gender segregated bathrooms.

By the way, Fairfax is one of the ten largest public school districts in the US.   Continue Reading…

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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Today’s post comes from a Grace Community Church “Pastoral Perspective” on illegal immigration:

According to recent estimates, there are over 21 million people living in the United States illegally. On a political level, much controversy centers around how illegal immigration might be better regulated, and how the government should respond to the immigrants who are already here. On an economic level, experts debate how the influx of immigrants has affected the American economy.

But our primary concern is neither political or economic. Rather it is theological and pastoral. From a biblical and practical perspective, how should pastors and church leaders respond to this issue? As those who minister in Los Angeles, this question is not hypothetical for us. Nor is it hypothetical for a growing number of churches across our nation.

Though not an exhaustive response, below are ten considerations (organized under four headings) which outline Grace Church’s pastoral perspective on this issue.

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I like to pack light, even for extended journeys. And I mean really light: one small carry-on backpack no matter how long the trip or how many climate zones I’ll traverse. My wife calls it oddball asceticism, but I call it biblical minimalism.backpack

My penchant for paring down luggage belies my other, contradictory, tendency: hoarding. My overstuffed closets and erupting junk drawers evoke feelings of buyer’s remorse from innumerable impulse purchases.

The one-bag exercise is a therapeutic routine to remind myself that what I need is exponentially less than what I own.

The average American house contains over 300,000 items. The community of modern minimalists I stumbled upon while researching efficient packing strategies strives to prune its inventory of possessions to three digits at most.

Minimalism is a revenant philosophy that was practiced by Spartans, Stoics, Buddhists, Piper, and our own grandparents who still wash their aluminum foil as a holdover from the imposed frugality of the Great Depression.

This quirky community is not into austerity or deprivation for its own sake. A minimalist may own an expensive possession, but only if adds value to his or her life. It’s more about deliberate and intentional purchases versus the unbridled consumerism of keeping up with the Kardashians and getting an iPhone 6 when the 5 still works.

khakisOne minimalist I read confessed that he owns a $100 pair of jeans (label torn off), but notes that it is his only pair of long pants. I, on the other hand, have a stock of jeans that collectively amounts to more than $100, and yet the only one I consistently wear is my favorite (which, ironically is a second hand pair I was given). I also maintain an array of 50 shades of khaki pants like a washed-out rainbow in my crammed closet.

The media thrives on a following. It likes to tell us what is normal, whether that is a movie trying to normalize deviant sexual behavior, or a commercial inciting a craving for conformity to the latest fashion. Minimalism is a way of opting out of what the mass media dictates, and rather making choices intentionally.

 

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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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skydive wedding“Hitting the wall” is a phenomenon that happens to marathon runners somewhere around mile 20.  They have trained hard, kept their pace, and are running well.  But now, with the finish line so close, they start to falter.  Some runners lose focus.  Some lose energy. Some even stop running.

A similar phenomenon can occur for young couples on the cusp of marriage.  After months (years?) of dating, engagement presents couples a new set of challenges. Here is my pastoral advice to engaged couples:

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473725556This past weekend pope Francis canonized four new saints in a ceremony which received extra attention as two of the four were of Palestinian origin. One of the new Palestinian saints, Sister Mariam Baouardy (1846-1878), was a mystic and stigmatic also known as “Mary Jesus Crucified.” She was a Palestinian and foundress of the Discalced Carmelites of Bethlehem in the late 1800’s. The other new Palestinian saint, Sister Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas (1843-1927), was a co-founder of the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, who spent much of her life in Bethlehem founding schools and orphanages.

Despite the interesting politics of the situation, we will stick to commenting on the theological issues. What is a saint? How does one become a saint? And what is Rome doing when they canonize someone?

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Wolf HallMy wife and I have enjoyed watching a new series on PBS Masterpiece called “Wolf Hall“. In this intriguing show history is retold through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, “the enigmatic advisor to King Henry VIII, as he maneuvers the corridors of power in the Tudor court. This six-part series follows the back-room dealings of this accomplished power broker, from humble beginnings, who must survive deadly political intrigue.”

One of the things that I like to do while watching a show like this is to utilize my smartphone to ‘fact check’ the details. For example, did Queen Anne Boleyn truly commit incest or was it a false charge trumped up against her because she failed to produce a male offspring? What were the actual circumstances surrounding her death?  As a Christian, I especially want to know what role genuine believers played during the English Reformation?

For those of you interested in learning more about the heroes of the faith in this era I recommend the following books: Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation Queen (one of the many wives of Henry) by Brandon Withrow. I also would commend chapter four in Christopher Catherwood’s, Five Leading Reformers: Lives at a Watershed in History.  Finally, I would encourage you to consider reading J. C. Ryle’s classic book, Five English Reformers.

Here is a snippet of some of the helpful details Catherwood provides in his short, but helpful book, on Five Leading Reformers. “The Reformation, when it finally came to England, came not with a Wycliffe or a Tyndale, but through the gentle scholar of quiet determination, Thomas Cranmer.”

What then is the key factor in determining the English Reformation? The answer is surely the top down nature of the English Reformation, a change made initially not on spiritual grounds but on political ones. This is how Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) could be promoted by one King (Henry), lauded by the King’s son (Edward) and martyred by the same King’s elder daughter (Mary).” “We need now to come on to the events which propelled Cranmer to fame- the issues at the heart of the English Reformation.” Continue Reading…