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A Humble Confession Leads to Reflection on Humility

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The Confession

I fully realize I have not found the same rhythm and pace to be blogging on a weekly basis since my sabbatical. For this I request and value your prayers. Communication and the reinforcement of biblical truth are essential. It was the need for this humble confession that took me deeper into reflecting upon our recent teaching on humility as related to Ephesians 5. With deepest gratitude – Tony

The Humility of Mutual Submission

I myself, as much as any in our congregation, have been deeply challenged by the apostle Paul’s description of the fruit of a “Spirit-filled” church in Ephesians 5:18-21. Particularly, the 3rd and final mark in verse 21 – “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

As a brief reminder, we described what has been called “mutual submission” as embracing more than “those in subordinate positions respecting those in leadership roles.” While that is certainly true, verse 21 applies to the entire congregation and hence involves some aspect of subjection in both directions.

We defined it as: a joyful willingness to subject oneself to others in the fellowship of God’s people without undermining God-ordained authority structures. [The emphasis here being “without undermining.”]

The supreme example of this is our Lord Jesus Himself as seen in the 13th chapter of John. After taking the role of the lowliest servant in that culture by washing the feet of the disciples with water and a towel, Jesus stated:

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (ESV)

Our Lord never abdicated His position or role of Lord and teacher while subjecting Himself, not to some presumed authority in the disciples, but to their needs. This kind of “kneeling love” (Tim Keller’s language) requires a profound sense of Spirit-filled humility.

In Philippians 2:3 Paul states that what stands in the way of humility and a willingness to “count others more significant than yourselves” is “selfish ambition or conceit.” How true, finding my greatest joy in the success and growth of others is resisted by deep-seeded desires to promote myself. This can happen in the most subtle ways.

As I’ve been reflecting on humility as the virtue that gives rise to this selflessness I have been helped by the words of others. In an effort to promote your own meditation I share some of them with you below. But be forewarned, as someone has said, “studying humility can be a very humbling experience.”

“It is not humility to underrate yourself. Humility is to think of yourself as God thinks of you. It is to feel that if we have talents God has given them to us. And let it be seen that, like freight in a vessel, they tend to sink us low. The more we have, the lower we ought to lie.”Charles Spurgeon

“That man is truly humble who never claims any personal merit in the sight of God, nor proudly despises brethren, or aims at being thought superior to them, but reckons it enough that he is one of the members of Christ and desires nothing more than that the Head alone should be exalted.”John Calvin

“Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.” – C. J. Mahaney

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”Augustine

“Humility may well be called the queen of the Christian graces. To know our own sinfulness and weakness, and to feel our need of Christ, is the very beginning of saving religion. It is a grace which has always been the distinguishing feature in the character of the holiest saints in every age… Above all, it is a grace within the reach of every true Christian. All have not money to give away. All have not time and opportunities for working directly for Christ. All have not gifts of speech, tact and knowledge, in order to do good in the world. But all converted people should labor to adorn the doctrine they profess by humility. If they can do nothing else, they can strive to be humble.”J. C. Ryle

“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. … Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner… that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust. … Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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The Fruit of Small Seeds and Deeds

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A Few Reflections on Sunday’s “God at Work” Testimony

Periodically we have the opportunity to be blessed by a personal testimony demonstrating how God is living and active in the life of people through the ministry of our local church. This Sunday we learned how the Lord brought a young man and his fiancé to faith. It began with someone giving her a small book to read and culminated in attending our bible narrative study “The Story of God” and a personal discipleship through the book “What is the Gospel?” In the end, our gracious Lord brought them to see Jesus is Lord of all.

In their heartfelt account we learned that they first came into contact with our church through the unpretentious ministry of our Christmas Carolers during the Christmas holiday in 2010. It was there that they were invited to a Christmas worship service and given a cup of hot chocolate. Four years later he was standing before us sharing the story of their journey to faith. Think about this, it started with Christmas hymns on a rainy night, a cup of hot chocolate and a small in-house designed invitation card. Take a moment to reflect on the many “small” contributions made in each of those components.

Their testimony reminds us that we often see very little of the fruit of our ministry. Paul states, “I planted, Apollos watered but God caused the growth.” By the time gospel seeds come to fruit the original seed caster is often no longer around. But all along the way there were people contributing to the cumulative process in which the Holy Spirit was drawing and illuminating people to the grace of God in Jesus. They also don’t often see the fruit of their watering and many don’t ever even see their contribution at all. I am so thankful the Lord drew the curtain back on their story and highlighted some of the details for all of us.

In light of this, I want to encourage all the “behind the scenes” people and all who wonder if the little gestures and contributions really make a difference to remember the words of Paul.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Please consider how you can make similar small but significant contributions to watering the seeds of the gospel in the lives of others. I offer a few suggestions below which I read recently in another blog entitled “20 Ways to be Refreshing in the Local Church” over at The Gospel Coalition. You can find the entire list and post here.

  • Greet people on Sunday mornings with a smile. It is o.k. to let your face say that you are “happy” to be at church. Go out of your way to say, “Hi,” ask questions about the lives of others, and listen attentively.
  • Visit the widows and shut-ins of your church. Take an afternoon and visit three or four. Sit, talk, listen, and be willing to look at their photo albums—all of them (1 Timothy 5:3)!
  • Have a mouth that is overflowing with grace (Ephesians 4:29) and is slow to wander down any other road.
  • Show up each Sunday morning with a mental list of three or four people that you are going to find and minister to (Philippians 2:4). Many of us walk into church with an attitude of, “I wonder who will minister to me today.” Nothing can be as drastically encouraging to a local church’s membership than a people united in the understanding that they are there to serve and love one another.
  • Don’t rush out of church on Sunday mornings. Be one of the last to leave because you are taking the time to talk with everyone you can (this will be hard for the introvert—but some of the most engaging and refreshing people I have served with are introverts. They wear themselves out on Sunday morning). The football games and lunch will be there fifteen or thirty minutes later.
  • Often remind others of the benefits of salvation and the graces that flow from union with Christ. Let it season your conversations.
  • Routinely have a crock-pot meal or roast cooking on Sundays and spontaneously invite a visiting family or family-in-need for supper following the service.
  • Seek out those visiting the church, get to know them, and introduce them to others. Find connections and be a networker to the glory of God.
  • Aim to remember peoples’ names and greet them by name each Sunday (I wish I was better at this, because it means so much to people). The Cheers’ theme song had a point, we all feel loved when our name is known (Isaiah 49:16).
  • Get to know the children of the congregation and seek to talk to five different children each Sunday morning (Matthew 19:14).
  • Know the Word and season your conversations with it. This isn’t to impress others, but rather to encourage them in the faith. The Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
  • Write and mail anonymous encouragement notes to members of the congregation. Why are we so hesitant to pass out encouragement? We can never encourage others too much (1 Thessalonians 5:11).



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Two are Better than One

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“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

In Christian circles marriage is often humorously described as one of God’s most effective tools for our sanctification.  All humor aside, two human beings living so intimately together will definitely expose our strengths and weaknesses in 1080 HD. There’s simply no hiding it.

One of the greatest gifts of marriage may be gleaned from this insightful proverb. Life can be lonely and Christian ministry especially. Having a believing life partner to pick you up is one of God’s most precious gifts. My wife has certainly been a source of tremendous comfort, encouragement and objective input throughout the last 20 years of ministry at GBC. But, we’ve always had schedules that constricted how much focused quality time we could spend together. Well, the sabbatical was designed in part to address that.

How Close is Too Close?

The sabbatical afforded my wife and I the opportunity to spend the longest period of uninterrupted time alone together we have ever enjoyed in our 33 years of marriage. That could be a really good thing or a really challenging thing. What would she think and how would she feel when after several weeks I’m still not leaving for work?

The truth be known, in total, we spent 5 weeks of the summer break together in the confined space of a medium sized RV… and (wait for it) she never kicked me out – not once! It turns out it was a really good thing. We enjoyed each other’s undivided attention whenever we wanted. We hiked together, fly-fished together, read together, rode bikes together, took in scenery together, rode ATV’s together, saw wild life together, swam together, laughed together, prayed together, cried together and rode a zip-line together (and much more). It helps when you have developed some mutual interests over the years.

What did you learn?

I learned we can pray together much more than we have.

I learned I can listen more carefully than I have.

I learned we can reflect more deeply upon truth together than we have.

I learned mentally and emotionally “being there” is much better than simply physically being there.

I learned we can talk about future plans and desires more frequently than we have.

I learned I need to find a way not to loose this level of intimacy.

I learned I have a tremendous friend and partner in my wife.

I learned watching Sheri scream on a zip-line is LOADS of fun.


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One of my wife’s favorite songs from our youth was “You’ve Got a Friend” as recorded by Carole King. Some of the words include:

When you’re down in troubles
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you got to do is call
And I’ll be there
Yes I will
You’ve got a friend

Christ is the only unwavering and unchanging friend we will ever have. He is the one who truly knows EVERYTHING about us there is to know and yet still loves us. But He comes to us via other believers. His word of grace He has chosen to dispense through human beings. We are the lips, hands and feet of Christ, as it were. Christian marriage is the most intimate of relationships in which Christ our friend comes to us in our spouse. Truly, when this is the case, “two are better than one.”

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Don’t Become a Fellowship Agoraphobe

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Agoraphobia “is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable.” (Wikipedia)

I actually knew a man who suffered from agoraphobia when I was much younger. He never ventured more than two blocks from his home to his place of employment until one evening a series of events forced him to travel several miles beyond his perceived limits. It was this unplanned experience that helped him move beyond perception to reality – the rest of the world is not necessarily immediately dangerous or uncomfortable.

Fellowship Agoraphobia

I have observed many in the body of Christ who appear to suffer from what we might call a “fellowship agoraphobia.” Fellowship (koinonia) in the New Testament refers to deep partnerships that are akin to marriage or joint business relationships. In the Christian context, fellowship is a spiritual partnership that involves a sharing of the spiritual life believers jointly possess in Christ. Some hesitate to enter into such a shared community life because they believe the relationship to be dangerous to their privacy or at the very least, uncomfortable. This fellowship agoraphobia keeps other believers at an unhealthy distance.

The Necessity of Body Life

The body of Christ is made up of members that are inextricably united to one another as a result of our spiritual communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. God’s grace flows through each of us to one another. This occurs when one or more of us “speaks the truth in love” to one another. This might take place in a public context or in a very private and personal setting. God’s transforming grace also flows to others when we serve one another with our various spiritual gifts or endowments. But each and every case will involve purposeful interaction with one another – i.e., relationships and some degree of transparency.

But relationships can become very messy. Not everyone is as easy to get along with as others. Not everyone is as welcoming of the loving concern of others. Not everyone likes to “air their dirty laundry” and disclose their need of someone or something. We are surrounded by a culture built upon a spirit of independence and self-sufficiency. There is a lot of good to be found in this American ideal. But it is not entirely biblical through and through. God has designed us for community. He has designed the individual members of the body to NEED one another so as to reflect the inner-relationships of the Holy Trinity.

Take a Step – Give a Nudge

Many in the body of Christ are not sufficiently convinced of the necessity of deep fellowship and will require a nudge to encourage them. The author of Hebrews tells believers to “not neglect our meeting together” but to be sure to “consider how to stir one another to love and good works” and “encourage one another.”

Where are you in respect to true Christian fellowship? Let me urge those on the fringe to take a step towards this level of community and those already experiencing community to nudge the others along. God’s family can feel uncomfortable at times, as with any family, but its through this very vehicle of interdependent relationships that God’s grace transforms people into the image of His beloved Son.


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“In Christ” Jesus

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Obviously I have been remiss in posting to this blog. The pace of ministry accelerated like a high speed train following the T4G conference right on up and through Easter (Resurrection) Sunday. Thanks especially to all who visit from our congregation who have come looking for reflections pertinent to our life together and thanks also to friends who have stopped by. 

“In Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In Ephesians 1 the apostle Paul states that all Christians have been blessed by God with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” – IN CHRIST. This little formula “in Christ” is something that Paul utilizes in one form or another 164 times in his letters. From Paul’s perspective Jesus is the source of every blessing given to believers in what we commonly call our “salvation” and all that is His becomes ours when were are united to Him or, as Paul states, placed “in Christ.” This is referred to by theologians as the doctrine of “union with Christ.”

Chosen from Eternity

Bonhoeffer’s quote reminds us that God’s saving grace reaches back into eternity past. And this blessing, God’s election of the people He would give to His Son, also takes place “in Christ.” Paul writes “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). In other words, before we were experientially united to Christ through the new birth in time and space, the Father contemplated believers redemptively as being in or belonging to His Son. Much like some cultures where those who are betrothed to one another in an arranged marriage are seen as already belonging to their spouse.

Accepted in Time

These blessings become the believer’s experientially when he/she is united to Jesus by God’s act of saving grace. As Paul puts it a little later in Ephesians 2, even while we were spiritually dead in our transgressions and sin it is God who “made us alive together with him.” This is a reference to regeneration or the new birth. Paul appears to have coined this compound verb as there is no evidence of this in any extant extra biblical documents. The apostle knits together  the components: made alive – together with – him in order to depict the transformation of the new birth that involves nothing less than resurrection life – the dead become alive when joined to He who alone gives life (cf. Col. 2:13).

It is then that our union with Christ confers all the benefits of His perfect and glorious salvation. We are guilty sinners who need righteousness – in Christ we are justified because He is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). We are lost in a sea of fallen human beings – in Christ we are sanctified (set apart) because He is our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). We are outside the heavenly family devoid of an inheritance – in Christ we are adopted sons for He is the Son par excellence (Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:15).

United for Eternity

So many of our human unions end in separation. While it is difficult, if not next to impossible, to calculate the true mortality rate of marriages in America (its not as simple as counting marriages and divorces in any given year), it is clear that most of us have been touched by divorce at one point or another. But our union with Christ is an unbreakable and indissoluble marriage. It was designed in eternity past, realized in time and held together forever by God’s grace. The reason for this permanence lies in the fact that all that is needed for our salvation, including its permanence, lies “in Christ.” He is the unchanging and unfailing groom. He has loved us with an unending and unfailing love. Even when we are faithless, He “remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28

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Together for the Gospel 2014: Day Two thoughts

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Unashamed of the Gospel

Day two was a day full of preaching, panels, breakout sessions and worship. It spanned from 9 am to 10 pm. In the words of Matt Chandler (speaker for the last of three plenary sessions), today was “kid day.” He was humorously referring to the fact that the first plenary message was delivered by Kevin DeYoung (no pun intended here), the second by David Platt, both of whom join Matt as some of the younger voices of what is being called the “New Calvinism.” Waiting in the batter’s box were John Piper, Ligon Duncan and John MacArthur, three of the more, shall we say, “seasoned” heralds of our time. I suppose that means tomorrow will be “grown-up day.”

It is worth noting that while this younger generation of preachers may have a less formal tenor in the pulpit than the previous generation, when the word is handled with integrity it can have power and divine effectiveness due to the faithful ministry of the Holy Spirit. Kevin preaches in a manner deliberate, textual and closer to what we will hear on “grown-up day” but sprinkled with a few nods to pop-culture (that’s iota not “Yoda”). While Matt and David preach with more youthful angst, informality and a gritty “emo” like emotion that appears to me to be common among many of the newer Calvinists. What matters is that each is a vessel of the Lord – merely clay pots through whom God must choose to do His work.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6)

Whether one enters the pulpit as a gritty Amos (the only prophet who was formerly a “fig-picker) or an erudite Paul, in the end, its not the T-shirt and grit nor the suit and composure that will determine the extent of divine effects in those sitting under the preached word. There must be respect and confidence in the infallible and sufficient word of God as evidenced in a faithful Christ-exalting exposition of the text. That’s all we can do (along with pleading prayer – hear David Platt’s message). God must choose to magnify His glory by infusing the preaching event with His divine blessing. Oh, may He do so in all our pulpits. Well, enough of my own thoughts. Suffice to say, it encourages me and glorifies God when he uses a faithful Amos and a faithful Paul in such close proximity. 

Day-Two Takeaways

(These aren’t always exact quotes as I’m typing on my iPhone of all things as fast as I can. They do, however, capture the essence)

If you think that you can magnify grace by shrinking truth you make them (listeners) blind to both.” Kevin DeYoung. What a temptation – make God seem more “gracious” (in a truly unbiblical sense) by softening the rough edges of divine truth. In the end, you end up with neither grace nor truth. Be bold with ALL the truth – I reminded myself.

“Am I pleading for God’s mercy upon sinners?” – David Platt.  I was disturbed by my capacity to not palpably feel the horror that awaits unbelievers. My pleading may not alter the Lamb’s book of life but it is part of the fabric of God’s sovereign method of grace in redeeming the elect.

Panel Discussion: The morning’s panel discussion focused on the doctrine of progressive sanctification and the necessity of holiness. This is a topic I teach at the Cornerstone Seminary and one dear to my heart. In this panel John Piper stated that “glorification is conditional” (that is an exact quote). The panel was addressing the apparent lack of interest (to put it mildly) that some of the newer Calvinists have in the necessity of personal effort in the pursuit of holiness. If one speaks of this, it was noted, you may be labeled “legalist.”

Now, we Reformed types major on the essential truth that salvation is all of grace and all of the Lord. It’s easy to hear a statement like Piper’s and take it out of context. He did not say “justification is conditional.” Though, that itself would be true – ONLY in this sense – Christ has MET all the conditions on my behalf. But, glorification is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of salvation and this blessing of God is given to all believers who have persevered and borne the fruit of justification (i.e., progressive sanctification or practical holiness). In other words – true believers. The nuance here is that these “works” are NOT meritorious but evidential. The panel did not state it exactly in these terms but I believe this was their target conceptually. It is a conversation worth listening to and one which will continue to disturb the church. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to maintain the balance between law and grace and positional and progressive sanctification in your own conscience and a local church – let alone everyone else’s books.

On the Lighter Side

Am I getting started to soon?

Am I getting started to soon?

We walked to the Louisville Slugger factory during break and I bought three mini-bats for each of my three grandsons. I had all of them engraved. As Grandpa it’s now my right and privilege to do stuff like this. I dare you to stop me. P.S. I’m keeping the BIG one!Large Slugger

TR's Bat

TR’s Bat

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Together For the Gospel 2014: Day One Thoughts

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Today was the first day of T4G 2014 (Together for the Gospel). I want to introduce the conference, its founders and its focus to those of you who have not heard about it (especially members of our congregation). You will find more complete helpful information at their website. I also want to share a few thoughts and reactions to the first day. This is my third T4G but my first since I began this blog.


T4G is a biennial (every 2 years) conference for pastors that began in 2006. While most of the attendees continue to be pastors there are also other ministry leaders and wives in attendance. The conference meets in Louisville, Kentucky and has steadily grown to 7 thousand in attendance this year. The basis of unity is found in a document that states their affirmations and denials in regards to the gospel. Efforts at promoting partnerships in the gospel despite differences in secondary areas are exemplary of the nature of the gospel itself and profoundly needed in our time. This is what I appreciate the most about this partnership.


“Together for the Gospel began as a friendship between four pastors (Mark Dever, C. J. Maheny, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler). These friends differed on issues such as baptism, polity and the charismatic gifts” but sought to unite around the gospel. Ligon is a Presbyterian, Al Mohler a Southern Baptist, Mark Dever a Baptist and C. J. Maheny (who has since withdrawn from the conference) is an independent “Reformed Charismatic.”


The stated purpose of the conference is:

“…to encourage other pastors to stand together for the same gospel. In the years since, faces have changed, the culture has shifted, and churches have encountered new challenges. Yet the conference has grown, and more and more church leaders have discovered they share this same gospel-centered ambition.

T4G is convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented and marginalized in many churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ. Therefore, the goal of these friendships and conferences is to reaffirm the central doctrine of the Christian faith and to encourage local churches to do the same.”

Reflections on Day One 2014

It’s been a long couple of days with travel, little sleep and work that goes on via remote tools so my thoughts will be brief at this hour (11:45 pm Eastern).

At t4g with Pastor & friend Dave Mikulsky

At t4g with Pastor & friend Dave Mikulsky

Worship – One forgets how wonderful the human voice sounds in unison praises of our Lord. Hearing 7 thousand exalt Christ with only a minimal amount of piano accompaniment is a “heavenly” experience in itself. If I remember correctly, the founders have chosen to keep musical accompaniment to a minimum since this is one of the areas of disagreement. But upon this we all agree – the sound of thousands exalting Christ in a large basketball arena is deeply encouraging.

Books – Books, books and more books. Today we were graciously given 12 free books to take home. I already owned 6 of them (same heartbeat?) so I plan on giving those to my seminary student son upon return. The selection of books for purchase is astounding.

Preaching & Topics – Today we heard from Mark Dever (who has spoken at our own church for a 9Marks conference), Thabiti Anyabwile and Al Mohler. Mark’s message on “The Certain Victory of Christ’s Church an Encouragement to Evangelism” was based out of Isaiah chapters 36 & 37. He traced the historical situation faced by Israel and God’s awesome deliverance as demonstration of both His sovereignty and faithfulness. Both attributes which find their fullest expression in the cross of Christ and which continue to be true in His relationship to the church. This truly lifted up the spirit of a weary pastor (me). My memorable takeaway from Thabiti’s message on repentance was: “Sin is living that ends in death. Repentance is dying that ends in life” (slightly paraphrased). It stirred my spirit to be thankful for God’s gift of repentance to me and to pray for those who need gospel repentance.

More thoughts to follow as the week unfolds. 

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April 8, 2014 · 8:12 PM

The High Price of Spiritual Speculation

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It Sure Looks Like Solid Ground

According to the Oxford dictionary one of the meanings of speculation is “the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.” 

Theories can often serve the process of interpreting Scripture as one sifts through the data and weighs the possible meanings of a text. A theory presents a possibility that can be examined from many angles until it is demonstrated to be either the best possible interpretation with the least problems or an unacceptable interpretation in light of the evidence and rules of interpretation. In other words, a theory is like a model one can fabricate, hold in your hands and test before investing in building the real thing.

All theories in biblical interpretation and theology must be thoroughly evaluated and the goal is always to seek more and better evidence to support it. But speculation is forming a theory without firm evidence. The question is whether one should then take the next step and make decisions upon the ground of speculation. This, to me, seems to go against the better part of wisdom and is akin to building on top of sand without an engineering report with the hope  that the ground won’t shift.

House falling over

Speculating on “Fallible Prophecy” 

The now widespread belief in “fallible prophecy” involves just such conjecture. What part of the prophecy is from God and what part isn’t? How much did the fallible prophet get wrong? One might form an opinion but that will always amount to conjecture because there is no real way of knowing and hence testing prophecies that are not dealing with direct scriptural or doctrinal claims. Nor is there any way to determine the degree of mixture as to the source.

Prophecies about relationships, jobs, financial decisions, etc., may be weighed against biblical principles in regards to their wisdom but the percentage of purity cannot be traced. How do you know God told you this? Proving the unverifiable is impossible. One cannot have real and absolute assurance because that’s the definition of fallibility – you can be wrong!

Speculating about tomorrow’s weather is one thing but speculating about what percentage of a “prophecy” is from God and what part the prophet got wrong is something altogether different.  And yet people make choices every day on the basis of fallible prophecy. 

Wandering from Green Pastures

This is a dangerous, lamentable and often destructive way to live the Christian life. Sometimes very directly, as in decisions to leave careers or sell homes because of a “prophecy.” But there is also the quiet almost imperceivable drift away from the solid ground of God’s all-sufficient word. Like many forms of mysticism, confidence in fallible prophecy casts doubt on the adequacy of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16). I’ve seen too many well-meaning Christians, to quote J. I. Packer, “Wandering out of the green pastures of God’s word into the barren flats of human speculation.” The pastures of God’s word are green with nourishment because they bring us into contact with the all-sufficient Christ. In Him are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

The slow prayerful process of sanctified reasoning with the truth of Scripture may not be as direct and exhilarating as a prophecy that suddenly invades your life with an immediate word from the living God just for you, but it is based on a more solid foundation. Consider this beloved, you will still have to apply prayerful sanctified reason to the prophecy– after all it’s fallible. Now what would you rather prayerfully examine, meditate upon and consider– unverifiable fallible prophecy or the infallible word of the Lord that will stand forever?

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Know Your Enemy

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This entry also appears as an article in the Grace Life Newsletter

serpentThe fundamental principles and motivations that underlie war between nations and peoples have remained the same while strategies and the delivery systems of weaponry have changed. The desire for power, control, wealth and hatred born of race, religion and ideologies have consistently propelled nation against nation. But when it comes to weaponry we have gone from throwing rocks to swords; from gunpowder to automatic weapons; from canons to computer-guided missiles and drones. Defensive strategies against such diverse delivery systems have grown exponentially. You can’t bring a knife to gunfight and expect to succeed.

There are similarities in our Christian struggle against sin and temptation. Certain things remain the same. Sin has always had the same root of rebellion and desire for autonomy since our rejection of God’s word in the Garden of Eden. We are still, as James writes, “carried away by our own lusts that give birth to sin.” Our enemies are still the world, the flesh and the devil. But the delivery systems of temptation have gone from the whispers of a satanic serpent to small communication devices wirelessly connected to a massive database of information. Technology has changed the way human beings interact and exchange information. Along the way it has made it possible for visual and text based temptations to bombard our minds and hearts almost anywhere, anytime.

The truth is that delivery systems of temptation have changed exponentially in the last few decades and there is no sign of it abating any time soon. We have to grapple with this deliberately and openly. When I was a young man a person had to travel to a place of public business and in the presence of others openly purchase pornography. There was some degree of public shame associated with it. Now you could be sitting on public transit plugging into an endless stream of filth with your headphones on and no one would know to blink an eye.

Pornography is not the only sin and temptation that streams invisibly to our communication devices. All idolatries have a visual and word-based medium of expression. Advertisements and celebrities are continually evangelizing the populace with the empty promises of happiness and fulfillment via images and verbal testimonials.

There is much that technology and the Internet have provided that I am grateful for. But it also has many dangers we must remain aware of. The ability to communicate nearly instantaneously with others has many benefits. It has provided a platform for ministries such as ours to have a worldwide reach.

But it also can encourage and feed several idolatries. The capacity to instantly connect often feeds the desire to be “in the know.” After all, who wants to be told “that’s so thirty seconds ago?” The idol of control can be empowered by knowing that your employees must have already received your text and they should all be responding shortly. I’ve counseled couples that were upset because their partner doesn’t instantaneously respond to queries and this fed their insecurities and idolatries of control or need for acceptance. Some Christians are substituting participation in a local church with Internet feeds of sermons and worship services.

In short, the delivery systems of temptation are changing rapidly and the church must help identify the dangers embedded in the use of various uses of technologies. Several Christian authors, theologians and social commentators have begun the discussion but it must eventually trickle down to a majority of believers. Let me encourage you to join the conversation. More on this to come in future posts.

To Whet Your Appetite:

Here’s a short but helpful article for parents to consider that provides a few more links.

And here is a book I am currently reading entitled, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle (I used an illustration recently based in part on the title and concepts from this book). She does not write from a Christian world-view per se but has many insights we should consider.




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Valentine’s Day “One Another’s”

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Sheri and I have had the joy of being married for 32 1/2 years. But she has been my valentine for 39 years. We met in Junior High before either of us had met Jesus. We met before Christ had ever deposited His transforming Spirit in our hearts. We met, dated and developed our relationship driven by the idols of our heart and shaped by the pervading culture. This meant that we had a lot of destructive patterns cemented into how we related with one another. Then Jesus called us out from the kingdom of self-absorbed darkness into the kingdom of God in 1980.

T&S Cartago


While our standing with God was immediately and permanently grounded upon the work of Christ on our behalf, transforming how we related to one another has been a slow, sometimes painful but always productive process. We were quickly put through the grinder – gem grinder that is.

Gem grinders use sand and water in a tumbler to slowly polish gem stones to a brilliant shine. There’s a whole lot of rubbing, scraping, crunching and churning that must go on to attain a nice shine! I brought my Italian/Latino boisterous and impulsive rough hewn gemstone and she contributed her private and somewhat withdrawn Asian gemstone. Churning such a combination was really slow and loud at first (the loud was mostly me).

Marriage has proven to be one of God’s most productive gem polishers for us. By His grace He has taught us and enabled us to slowly put-off old ways and put-on new ways  of treating and responding to one another (Eph. 4:22-24). There’s no doubt that a lot more shine is needed but I can slowly see a dim reflection of Jesus taking shape.

The desired polish is captured in the many “one another” passages of the New Testament. On this Valentine’s day I can’t help but set them before myself and you as a reminder of what God can do by His grace and Spirit when we stay in the grinder. It’s tough to get a shine alone. Consider picking just 2 or 3 to add to the red balloons, flowers and heart-shaped candy boxes tonight – especially the last one.

Love one another ~ be at peace with one another ~ outdo one another in showing honor ~ live in harmony with one another ~ don’t pass judgment on one another ~ welcome one another ~ care for one another ~ agree with one another ~ serve one another ~ forbear with one another ~ forgive one another ~ be kind to one another ~ be subject to one another ~ comfort one another ~ encourage one another ~ build one another up ~ do good to one another ~ stir up one another to love and good works ~ confess your sins to one another ~ practice hospitality to one another ~ clothe yourselves with humility towards one another ~ instruct one another ~ exhort one another ~ greet one another with a holy kiss


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