dog_licking_paws11I remember it well. A new, exciting ministry position was up for grabs. Quietly in my mind, I congratulated myself as being the most faithful candidate. Since I “put in my time,” it was a sure thing, so I thought. However, my inflated view of self and self-flattery only set me up for greater disappointment when another person (who I thought was less qualified) was chosen for the position. I couldn’t believe it. I was humiliated, not because it was humiliating so much as I had created my own humiliation by wallowing in my shattered ego. For a few weeks after, I continued licking my wounds as I felt sorry for myself. I created my own misery. And in a narcissistic way, I liked it; it was a nurturing form of self-therapy.

Self-pity: a self-absorbed, feeling sorry for oneself fueled by a high view of self, a low view of God, and an attitude of entitlement.

As I’ve struggled with the sin of self-pity, God has been kind to expose some of its dangers.

The following is a brief refresher on some of self-pity’s dangers:

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racetrackIn November 2012, 530 runners were poised on the starting line for the Heaton Harriers 10km race through Newcastle, England. As is customary a cyclist familiar with the route—or “rabbit” as it is quaintly known—was employed to ride just ahead of the frontrunners to lead them. The rabbit, wearing a conspicuously fluorescent yellow top, pedalled ahead moments before the starting pistol sounded.

At the bang the racers charged off enthusiastically. However, shortly after the rabbit and a small pack of frontrunners crested a blind rise and turned left, a local cyclist who perchance was donned in a fluorescent yellow cycling top pedalled briefly onto the route and then turned right.

The obliging runners dutifully followed him on a meandering, seemingly random route through Newcastle until the biker serendipitously crossed the actual route again, having taken what was in effect a substantial shortcut.

The man who thought he was winning the race, one Ian Hudspith, suddenly found himself being bested by a straggling group of bemused slowcoaches.

The organizers soon realized what had happened and promptly called everyone back to restart the race.

Les Venmore, one of the organizers, confessed it “wouldn’t have looked particularly good” if the race had been won by someone who had never won a race before because of an unintentional shortcut. It appears most of the runners took the incident in good cheer and there was much jocularity about the mistake.

And laughter is the appropriate response to something as inconsequential as a foot race. But imagine at the end of your life you appeared before the judgment seat of Christ and instead of hearing the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” you heard the words “Well tried my misguided and silly servant, you ran aimlessly for a good eighty years, pouring your time and energy into some pretty insubstantial pursuits.”

Paul warns against this disconcerting eventuality in a letter he addressed to the somewhat misguided church in Corinth.

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Pierced for Our TransgressionsIn Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach have blessed Christian scholarship with a thorough, scholarly, and accessible contribution on the subject of penal substitutionary atonement. The book is divided into two parts—the first making the positive case for penal substitution on biblical, theological, pastoral, and historical grounds, and the second outlining and answering objections that have arisen against the doctrine.

While the authors acknowledge that there have been critics of penal substitution throughout church history, many of those critics have self-confessed outside the boundaries of evangelicalism and have largely been relegated to the upper echelons of academia. However, recent critics of the doctrine not only regard themselves as evangelicals committed to the authority of Scripture, but are also finding their material published in more popular and mainstream Christian literature—not the least of which works has been Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s The Lost Message of Jesus, which styles penal substitution as “cosmic child abuse.” Given that penal substitutionary atonement “stands at the very heart of the gospel” (21), such attacks have resulted in the “confusion and alarm among Christians” (25), which makes such a treatment necessary.

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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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we'll seeOne of the more amazing things about God’s redemptive plan for the world is that he uses human beings to further it. Even more amazing is that he uses men. And still more amazing is that he often uses young men. Truly all the applause for redemptive history rises to God.

Young men are often raised up by God to take the baton in various ways to faithfully follow previous generations. One of those ways in the privileged and sacred task of feeding Christ’s flock through biblical preaching.

However, as you read Scripture and spend time ministering to God’s people, one thing becomes clear: it is not always easy for people to readily receive the ministry of a young man. A young preacher’s hearers sometimes need help.

Why? Like a young tree, it remains to be seen if we will endure the elements. We have yet to establish the bond of trust with the congregation which often takes years. We may not have the much-needed seasoning of sanctification. Our lives lack the testing and refining brought by the sovereignty of God over time. Younger preachers often have fewer years in the necessary school of suffering. Simply because we have not lived long, we have not been as sanctified, tested, and tamed through struggle. Our doctrinal beliefs, convictions, and philosophy of ministry have been tested by little more than red ink and like-minded friends. It’s easier when we’re green to march up to the pulpit and confidently proclaim our convictions. It’s quite another thing having done so through a measure of blood, sweat, and tears. We’ve yet to personally feel the pounding resistance of the world, the flesh, and the devil against long-held biblical convictions. For those reasons, and more, there can be an understandable hesitancy towards younger pastors. And we fledgling preachers need not resent that, but humbly do our part to assist in our audience’s receptivity and help our hearers.

By “help our hearers,” I mean doing what we can, as younger and less experienced preachers, to be as useful of an instrument as possible in Christ’s hands to bring his transforming power to the congregation.

Here are a few ways that younger preachers can help their hearers:

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AugustineSome time ago, I received the following question by email:

I was wondering what your thoughts are on Augustine’s “City of God”, book 22, chapter 8 where he records many miracles taking place in Carthage. Some sound doubtful — making the symbol of a cross over the malady. I’ve always found Augustine trustworthy but am sensing some overtones of superstition. Are there other sources that might shed some light on his testimony?

I’ve been asked similar questions before, regarding miracle and healing accounts throughout different eras of church history. Though each instance is different, Augustine’s testimony in The City of God provides an interesting case study.

From a cessationist perspective, here are a few thoughts in response to Augustine’s healing accounts:

1. In everything, the Word of God is our authority. Human experiences, whether contemporary or historical, must be evaluated against the teaching of Scripture. Augustine is one of the most well-known church fathers. Yet, he is neither inspired nor authoritative. Thus, his teachings must be measured against the truth of Scripture. (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21–22)

2. Unlike the record of miracles in the Bible – which are absolutely true – the report of supernatural phenomena throughout church history is impossible to verify and subject to human error. Augustine was undoubtedly sincere when he claimed that various miracles occurred in Carthage during his lifetime. But that does not mean his interpretation of what happened was correct. Being centuries removed from the situation makes it impossible for us to fully investigate all that he describes; but we can still evaluate his conclusions against the truth of God’s Word. Continue Reading…

“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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Redemption Acc&AppThe extent of the atonement continues to be one of those doctrinal discussions that tends to evoke more heat than light. I’ve always found it to be a shame that there is such widespread disagreement in the body of Christ concerning an aspect of theology that is so central to the Gospel itself: the atonement. While differences on the extent of the atonement may be less central than differences on the nature of the atonement, the question, “For whom did Christ atone?” is nevertheless a question that needs to be answered with biblical conviction.

Among the many texts that do get mentioned in these discussions, one text that I’ve very rarely seen discussed in personal conversation is Romans 8:28–39. And yet this text has very significant implications with respect to the particularity or universality of Christ’s redemption. Because, it seems, Romans 8 tends to get lost in the shuffle of exegetical and theological debate related to the L of TULIP, I thought I would reproduce a selection from John Murray’s classic, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, in which he demonstrates the role that Romans 8 plays in this discussion.

He asks the question, “Is there not also more direct evidence provided by the Scripture to show the definite or limited extent of the atonement?” and answers, “There are indeed many biblical arguments.” The first he addresses is Romans 8:31–39.

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Gnostics were a first-century cult that taught that matter didn’t matter. More precisely, they held that our physical bodies were vulgar and thus lacked value, while our inner spiritual state represented true reality. They taught that because Jesus was the perfect spiritual being, he wouldn’t have even had a physical body. If he would have walked on the beach, he wouldn’t have left foot-prints (which, if true, would radically change many Christian posters).

I think this was meant as a LGBT-rights poster, but it it can also be read as an argument against the T part of that acronym.

 

Gnostics are still around today, only the best place to find them is inside the transgender movement. The modern transgender movement seeks to differentiate between one’s biological sex and the concept of gender. Your sex is what you are born with, while gender is a social construct foisted upon you at birth by a society that (wrongly) assumes that your sex is related to your gender.   Continue Reading…

apostasyAnyone who has been in local church ministry for any amount of time is well-acquainted with disappointment. Things like criticism, gossip, and less-than-ideal fruit are normal. And, in some sense, you get used to that.

But there is one thing that seems to never get easier: when an individual who has professed Christ, immersed in the local church, and served in ministries, departs from the faith. AKA, “apostasy.” John Owen defined apostasy as “continued persistent rebellion and disobedience to God and his word,” or “total and final and public renunciation of all the chief principles and doctrines of Christianity.”

As our leadership team has had to grapple with this recently, we wanted to share a few things we’ve learned from the tragedy of apostasy:

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