Any time a pastor falls my heart sinks. It is gut wrenching. Especially when it is someone that is loved by many people I admire. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to people write onwrite on, or preach on the new-antinomianism debate. While I bet the temptation is strong for some people to say I told you so, (and I think it might be helpful for us to go back and listen to their warnings) whenever things like these happen, it is always a huge reminder about my own sinfulness and my need to re-examine my own qualifications for ministry. In Scripture, we are taught that when elders fall that they should be rebuked publicly for all to learn from and while I do not want to rebuke Tullian publicly (nor should I), I do take situations like this to examine my own heart and to remind myself that I am capable of incredible evil. This is a reminder that when I went to seminary, I decided to do something that is dangerous. To be preachers of God’s word is the greatest calling on earth but it is also dangerous. So here are ten personal lessons/reminders from this incredibly sad situation.

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Augustus GloopOliver Twist could hardly be accused of gluttony when he voiced his politely audacious request, “Please sir, I want some more.” But an identical demand from the overstuffed mouth of young Augustus Gloop, the obese candy addict in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, would elicit a call for temperance from any dietician worth her salt.

Gluttony is not that peckish sensation of wanting seconds when you haven’t had enough food to satisfy your hunger; it’s the sin of unrestrained overconsumption. Gluttony is thus the kissing cousin of drunkenness.

Proverbs 23:20-21 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

A temperate enjoyment of food and fermented beverage is heartily commended in Scripture (see Deut 14:26; Eccl 9:7; 1 Tim 4:3-4). However, Scripture decries dissolute overindulgence of any sort as a sub-Christian, feckless deficiency in self-control (Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:8; Titus 1:12).

What makes gluttony such a difficult topic to fit into our theology, is that identifying the sin is not as obvious as one might expect. It seems axiomatic that the corpulence of a person’s waistline is inversely proportional to their self-control—the less you can curb your appetite the more holes on your belt you’ll need to bypass. And it likewise seems as plain as a pikestaff that a thin person must possess unwavering gastronomic discipline. But this rudimentary “eyeballing it” assessment can actually prove quite misleading.

A metabolically fortunate individual may imbibe calories like a vacuum cleaner, while a person endowed with the metabolism of a hibernating bear turns asparagus into cellulite without breaking a sweat. Thyroid malfunction is another common cause of unavoidable weight gain, while myriad diseases incite unwanted weight loss. There simply is no universal visible indicator of the sin of overindulgence. Or you might say, there is no test that’s one-size-fits-all.

A glutton could be thin, and a nil-per-mouth could be portly. The people of Jesus’ day understood this. The Pharisees accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matt 11:19), presumably despite his physical appearance, not because of it. It is highly doubtful that Jesus was a man of girth—it would have taken a long while to simply recover from his emaciating forty day fast, especially in light of his exceedingly ambulant itinerary.

That said, there is also a hefty probability that many Christians in our churches are succumbing to the temptation of intemperance in their eating habits. Pastor Rick Warren recently admitted that the idea for his enormously popular dieting program, The Daniel Diet, came to him while baptizing an exhaustingly long line of inordinately corpulent congregants. (We’ll overlook that Daniel’s diet made him fatter, not thinner. See Dan 1:15).

The sin of gluttony is invisible in our churches in that we intentionally ignore it.

Here are five possible reasons why:

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In case you’ve missed it, The Master’s Seminary has been doing an extended series of short videos outlining its key doctrinal distinctives and commitments. Topics have included commitments to the holiness and glory of God, 6-day creation, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the premillennial return of Christ. That series is continuing this week with key points of the doctrine of salvation, including man’s need, God’s plan of election, Christ’s atonement, and so on. You can find all of the videos (and more to come) at this link.

I had the privilege of giving voice to the Seminary’s commitment to the heart of the Gospel: redemption accomplished through the atonement of Christ. As an added bonus for the Cripplegate readers, I thought I’d publish the notes I prepared for the video. As can be expected, I had prepared more than made the final cut (my “gift” of long-windedness strikes again), so I thought this would be a good place to present the “excess fruit” of my preparation. I hope it’s a blessing to you.

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Ten years ago, my life was a mess.  My parents had separated.  I had just graduated high school and didn’t know what was next for me.  I didn’t have any purpose or plan for my life.

But something changed all that.

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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…