“Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. 1But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? 3This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:24–2:3 –

For Your Joy

Paul is elaborating on what he said in 2 Corinthians 1:23—that it was to spare the Corinthians that he postponed his second visit to them, because he didn’t want a repeat of a his painful visit. He didn’t want to come before they had time to repent, and then have to come with the rod and punish unrepentant sin. That, he says, would not have tended to their joy (cf. 2 Cor 1:24).

But in the first three verses of chapter 2, we learn that, though Paul’s change in travel plans was out of consideration for the Corinthians first of all, they weren’t the only ones he was trying to spare from sorrow. Notice the repeated emphasis in these three verses again: “But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice.”

Is Paul being selfish? He’s just repeating over and over again that his concern is that he would not be made sorrowful, and that he would not lose his means of gladness. Unless Paul has gone absolutely crazy, and has entirely forgotten what he’s trying to accomplish as he’s writing—namely, to convince the Corinthians of his love for them—and is now finally letting down his guard and showing his true colors that he’s just a self-seeking manipulator—unless that’s what’s happening here (and it’s not), what we learn from this passage is that there is a way to pursue your own joy and, at the same time, love people. And that is when you pursue your joy in their joy—when you seek the happiness of others as your happiness. True, biblical love consists in the sharing of mutual joy—of seeking one another’s joy as one’s own.

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Last week I was notified by local law-enforcement that you (Westboro Baptist) were planning on visiting the church I pastor. They told me you had a track-record of not showing up for your protests, that we shouldn’t worry about it or do anything differently, and that if you did show up, they would ensure your right to be heard while maintaining order at our church.

I quickly found your website that lists your protest schedule, which conveniently also listed why you were protesting. You said you would be at our church because we are not active in street evangelism, as evidenced by the fact that we were meeting together in a building. I sent you an email asking if you were familiar with all of the evangelism and outreach our church does do, but never heard back.

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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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Seven years ago, a group of fifteen Southern Baptist evangelists met together to bemoan the growth of Calvinism within SBC circles.

When asked about his concerns, Jerry Drace (the evangelist who initiated the meeting) explained that some Baptist pastors are so Calvinistic “that they almost laugh at evangelism. It’s almost to the extent that they believe they don’t have to do it. So [Calvinism] gives them an excuse not to do evangelism.”

Drace’s comments raise an important question. Does an affirmation of God’s sovereign election in salvation (commonly called “Calvinism”) discourage people from faithfulness in evangelism?Calvin and Company

An answer to that question could be approached from several different angles.

One could, for example, consider evangelistic efforts among Baptists — comparing those who embrace the doctrine of election with those who do not. An SBC study “found that Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.”

A better place to go, of course, would be the Word of God. There are many passages to which we could turn (from John 6 to Acts 13 to Ephesians 1); but I would start in Romans 9–10. Pardon the anachronism, but it is no accident that one of the most “Calvinistic” chapters in the Bible (Romans 9) is partnered with the one of the most “evangelistic” (Romans 10). Clearly, the apostle Paul saw no disconnect between the reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation and his own evangelistic zeal. Continue Reading…

VGTH coverThis is a snippet from my book A Visitor’s Guide to Hell. The book is meant to help unbelievers understand (or believers explain) why Christians believe in Hell, and what the Bible teaches about it. Here’a snippet, followed by a link to a video clip promo of the book (comments about my mongrelised accent will be deleted!!)

 

A History of Hell

As far back as recorded history takes us, in any and every culture that bothered to write down their beliefs, Hell has haunted mankind. It is not my intention to give a history of how the doctrine developed in literature, art, and religious belief systems. Others have done a fine job of that.

But frankly, learning about what different religions believed as well as how and when those doctrines evolved is not as fascinating to me as the fact that they all hold certain aspects in common. Here is a brief sample of some recognizable religions conceive as Hell. See if you can spot similarities.

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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…

It seems like everyone and their dog is hearing “the voice of God” these days.

“Hearing the voice of God” used to be the mark of a prophet of God, but over the last century or so, it’s slowly become the mark of a “mature believer.”   These days, “conservative” folk (like Beth Moore or Francis Chan) regularly suggest that God speaks to them…not in audible voices, but definitely in some sort of propositional statements (ultimately the audible/inaudible distinction is meaningless).   The issue of “hearing the voice of God” is probably the most significant infiltration of bad Charismatic theology into non-Charismatic circles.  It’s a train hauling insanity and heresy that is steaming through Evangelicalism and it seems like there’s no stopping it.

Part of the danger of “God told me” train is that it’s seemingly immune to both Scripture and logic.  As illustration of that, I recently was doing some historical research into the foundation of Assemblies of God.  In 1906-1915, the “God told me” train was chugging like mad all over North America.  It was quite revealing to see how quickly the “God told me” train derailed when everyone and their dog was getting divine revelations.

Dog

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letterIt was pretty early on in my ministry when this guy, John, arrived at our fledgling church. With the addition of one person, our church grew by about 5%. Needless to say, I was excited. But what John did when I first met him fascinated me. We met for coffee the following week. After some small talk and getting to know him a bit, he handed me a manila folder with a letter in it. “This is from my previous pastor,” he said. “He thought that the leadership here would want this.”

That week, I opened up the letter and read it. John’s immediate elder had written to our leadership team, describing him to us. He unpacked things like John’s ministry involvement, training and equipping classes he went through, and his overall character. As a leadership team, we still needed to get to know John, but it made transitioning him into our fellowship much smoother than if he had come without the letter.

I had heard of church transfer and recommendation letters before, but had not seen it in meaningful action. This was different. Though the letter itself does not guarantee all will be fine and dandy with the individual, if done meaningfully, it’s a huge blessing to both the individual and receiving church.

In light of that, here are a few reasons for local church leadership teams to keep the practice of meaningful recommendation letters alive and well:

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true_successWhat does it mean to successful?

That is a vital question for anyone to ask – one that determines a person’s priorities and direction in life.

Whether you are a pastor, an accountant, a school teacher, a stay-at-home mom, an office manager, a construction worker, an engineer, or any other occupation – if you are a believer in Jesus Christ – this question pertains to you. What does it mean to be successful?

What does true success look like, not in terms of getting a new promotion or a raise, but in the highest and loftiest sense of that word?

Consider the “heroes of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. From a worldly perspective, these individuals would hardly be regarded as successful. Continue Reading…

burried statue of libertyI’m not trying to be relevant. From my disadvantaged vantage point from the nether side of the globe (South Africa), the snookered view I have of the brouhaha over Indiana’s religious liberty legislation seems a bit like a storm in a tea cup.

I thought that freedom was already well established as a cherished virtue in the USA since the days of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, We the people, send us your huddled masses, and all that.

Nevertheless, it behooves all Christians to be reminded occasionally that religious freedom is, biblically speaking, a privilege to be prayed for, not a right to whine over.

Here are two biblical principles with which I try to brace my prayers for religious liberty…

1. It’s not the government’s job to be godly.

It is not the government’s job to be godly and spread Christianity; that’s our responsibility as God’s salt and light.

It is the government’s job to pack heat and stop bad guys.

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