Friday, September 30, 2011

Redemption for a Badnewsaphobe

If you look up an indexed list of phobias (which every sane person does daily, right?!?)…there you will notice what seems to me a strange phobia: euphobia.  Euphobia is the fear of hearing good news.  Strangely absent from the list is a fear of hearing bad news.  Apparently, fearing bad news is perfectly acceptable. 

That’s good for me that this particular phobia did not make the list, because I’m a badnewsaphobe.  Unfortunately for me though, it does make God’s list of junk that’s not fitting for those living in redemption instead of rebellion.  And that stings. 

My badnewsaphobia is crippling.  It’s probably why I seldom put myself out there as a writer—and it’s taken a good amount of encouragement from my wife to pursue anything of significance as a writer.  I could bore you with paragraphs explaining all of the areas of my life that have been crippled by my badnewsaphobia.  Being stupidly afraid of bad news is life altering. 

It is also idolatry.

    For the righteous will never be moved;
        he will be remembered forever.
    He is not afraid of bad news;
        his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
                                                   (Psalm 112:6-7 ESV)

A heart that is afraid of bad news is one that is not firm and is not trusting in the LORD.  That, sadly, describes me. 

What Does Redemption Look Like for a Badnewsaphobe?

I am convinced that Jesus is stronger than my imperfections.  I am also convinced that He graciously leads me to texts like this one not because He wants to point and laugh, show my insufficiencies, and leave me in my own hands to fix it.  The LORD is graciously exposing my badnewsaphobia for the purpose of redeeming me.  So, what does redemption in this area look like?

My response to potential bad news is passivity and escape.  Any time there is something that could potentially end with bad news I run the other way.  As Paul Tripp would say, that is my thorny response. 

If I want to live in redemption in this area it means that I have to see a clearer picture of the Father and His provision in Jesus.  According to Psalm 112 a firm heart comes from “trusting in the (covenant keeping) LORD”.  In the life of the believer God makes bad news good.  He makes the bitter to be sweet.  Though things are difficult, painful, heart-wrenching, and at times life-shattering to vessels of clay the Lord knows our frame, He remembers that we are but dust, and He graciously works together all things for our good.  No news is ultimately bad when, through Jesus, the LORD is your friend. 

Therefore, I will respond by believing this promise.  I will repent of trusting in my own futile and shameful ways of trying to protect myself of bad news.  I will repent of thinking that my feet are secure by my own doing and instead I will put my hope and trust in the “LORD GOD who is an everlasting rock”. 

And I’m going to start doing things that could fall flat on their face.  I’m going to do things that may end in “bad news” but all the while I will trust that God makes all bad news good. 


LORD, forgive me for trying to secure peace for myself.  It has never worked.  I have become crippled by my own self-righteous efforts of preserving myself from “bad news”.  I have made good news bad.  You make bad news good.  I am desperately in need of your grace.  Without grace I will go back to my shameful ways of self-preservation.  Conquer my badnewsaphobia with the good news of the gospel.  May I rest in Jesus.

NFL 2011 Week 4 Picks

Last week I was 10-6.  I did pretty decent with my Rob Gronkowski pick, was right that a WR for the Ravens would be a fantasy stud but picked the wrong one, totally blew it on the Josh Morgan sleeper pick and Philip Rivers didn’t show up for KC as he should have.  We’ll see how things go this week, hopefully I’m wrong on the Browns again…

Who Cares?

Chicago 31 over Carolina 16
Minnesota 38 over Kansas City 13
St. Louis 17 over Washington 16
New York Giants 24 over Arizona 21
Tampa Bay 34 over Indianapolis 16

Upset Special:

Cincinnati 38 over Buffalo 35
Denver 21 over Green Bay 18

No Brainers:

New Orleans 35 over Jacksonville 9
Philadelphia 31 over San Francisco 14
Atlanta 27 over Seattle 17
San Diego 27 over Miami 13

Tough Calls:

Detroit 31 over Dallas 27
Pukesburgh 24 over Houston 23
New England 41 over Oakland 34
New York Jets 17 over Baltimore 14


Tennessee 29 over Cleveland 13

Week 3 Fantasy Studs: (Top Scorers in each position)
QB: Tom Brady (NE)
RB: Adrian Peterson (Min)
WR: DeSean Jackson (Phil)
TE: Jermaine Gresham (Cin)
D/ST: New Orleans Saints
SLEEPER: Dezmon Briscoe (TB)

A Fairly Helpful Writing Tip

It is extremely wise if you want to be a rather good writer to avoid those really vague qualifiers that totally neuters your sentence by utterly replacing the entirely right word with a completely lame word that only somewhat conveys what you intended to say. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Never More a Devil Than When He Looks Most Like an Angel

Read this from Newton today and thought I should pass it along for your benefit:

[Satan] is never more so [dangerous] than when he pleads for Gospel doctrines in order to abuse them, and when he tries to pass his counterfeit humility, zeal, and sanctity upon us for pure gold.  No coiner can equal him in imitation.

Where Christ has a church, he will have a synagogue; Where the Spirit produces any graces, he, like the magicians of Egypt, will do something like it, and yet as unlike it, as possible. 

He has a something that comes so near the Gospel, that it is called by St. Paul another gospel, and yet in reality it is no gospel at all.  He deals much in half convictions, and almost Christians, but does not like thorough work.  He will let people talk about grace as much as they please, and commend them for it, provided talking will satisfy them…He will preach free grace when he finds people willing to receive the notion, as an excuse and cloak for idleness. 

But, let him look and talk as he list, he is Satan still; and those who are experienced and watchful may discern his cloven feet hanging below his fine garment of light; and he is never more a devil than when he looks most like an angel.

Let us beware of him; for many wise have been deceived, and many strong have been cast down by him.  Let us continually apply to him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us spotless in the end. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bush on Obama, Newton on Baptists, and SBC Name Changes

This morning I read through a really interesting piece by Walt Harrington on George Dubya Bush.  The whole thing is worthy of a read, but this particular sentence stuck out to me:

His only remark about Barack Obama was, as I recall it, “No matter who wins, when he hears what I hear every morning, it will change him.”

This reminded me of a comment that John Newton made to John Ryland, Jr., wen the latter found himself in the middle of a very difficult controversy.  Here Newton mentioned the benefit of being a minister in the church of England as opposed to a minister in of an Independent church:

That sovereign power, which the Independents assume over their ministers, appears to me too great to be trusted in such hands.  If a man ranks as member of a Church of Christ, however ignorant, illiterate and illiberal he may be, though he has seen and known nothing beyond the bounds of his parish, though his temper be sour, and his spirit obstinate as a mule, still he thinks himself both qualified and authorized to teach his pastor.  Half a dozen persons of this description are sufficient to make a minister and a whole congregation uneasy through life.  Whatever burden we are supposed to have in the Establishment, we are free from this.  And I would be thankful for it.  (Wise Counsel, 223)

As a Baptist I’m one of those “independents” that Newton mentions.  I do appreciate many of the benefits of democracy and congregational government.  But I also agree with Newton about one of the pitfalls of such a practice. 

George W. Bush has a ton of critics.  I lean to the right politically but there are policies, beliefs, things he said, etc. that I do not agree with.  And I can say the same thing about our current President.  However, what Bush said to Harrington is true—“hearing what he hears every morning” is enough to change a man.  And until I hear what he does every morning I should critique the President with humility, grace, and sobriety.  He knows things and sees things that I do not, nor ever will. 

The same thing goes for the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (and you can add any other organization, including your local church).  Those that are in leadership see things, hear things, study things, consider things, think through things, that those not in his/her position will probably never even consider.  Because of this we should criticize those that God has set over us with great caution. 

None of this is to say that leaders are outside the realm of critique.  Those not in a position of leadership also have the ability to see things that the leader does not.  Therefore, the leaders should also humbly listen to and consider the critiques of the populace.   But the main point stands: leaders hear things that we/you do not, so approach criticism with caution and humility. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quick Review of The Life of Newton

Amazing grace how sweet the sound…

You can hear the tune in your head can’t you?  Amazing Grace is perhaps the iconic hymn of America.  It was composed by John Newton to go along with a sermon that he preached to his congregation in Olney.  It was not uncommon for Newton to compose these hymns to give an extra flavor to his preaching ministry.  This was just one of those hymns, but it has endured for years after Newton’s death.  In fact when people think of John Newton they typically think of two things, Amazing Grace and slavery. 

In my own mind, before I really came to study Newton, I conflated those two things and assumed that Newton was converted, stopped the slave trade, and became a follower of Jesus as a hymn writer.  The reality is that Newton was converted years before he became convinced that the slave trade was an evil enterprise.  He, quite hypocritically, continued to engage in the abominable slave trade at the same time that he was beginning to rejoice in his new found freedom in Jesus. 

The Life of John Newton, a reproduction of an 1831 manuscript, details Newton’s early life, conversion, and transformation from a slave trader to a passionate advocate of abolition. 

If one wishes to reduce Newton to these two prominent themes and continue this as his most noted reputation then this book will help to perpetuate that very thing.  Perhaps that is what Newton, himself, would have wanted; as he requested his monument to read: John Newton, Clerk, Once an infidel and libertine, A servant of slaves in Africa, Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, And appointed to preach the faith he Had long laboured to destroy, Near 16 years at Olney in Bucks; And ___ years in this church [St. Mary’s in London].  Newton then ends his monument with a little snippet about his wife Mary. 

This little tract does a wonderful job of explaining Newton the infidel, slave in Africa, and saved by Jesus.  It also adds a good deal about Newton the abolitionist.  The part that it is week on is the ministry of Newton in Olney and at St. Mary’s.  His letters are perhaps where we can find the most value from Newton but they are scarcely given a hearing.  Granted, there were a good number of them yet to be published by 1831, but his reputation as a letter writer and ecumenical evangelical should have been well established by 1831. 

Nonetheless, this is a helpful resource and introduction to Newton.  I only hope that the reader is encouraged to continue his or her studies of Newton…trust me there is much we can learn from this great man of God. 

You can buy your copy today for a little over $10 from Amazon.   


I’ve mentioned in the past my love for Attic Books.  This is no exception.  I love the way the book feels “old” and has inside some of those sweet pictures that were found in books of days gone by. 

Bringing All Delights Into Our Hearts

This from Thomas Goodwin:

Oh, what sweetness will there be one day in heaven in the fullness of converse and manifestation of these three persons.  It will be, if not all, yet the great discourse that will be had and heard in heaven with your poor souls by the three persons, bringing all the delights They have had in you from eternity down into your hearts, and revealing Them to you to all eternity

Friday, September 23, 2011

NFL 2011 Week 3 Picks

Who Cares?

Carolina 27 over Jacksonville 19
Tennessee 23 over Denver 13
San Francisco 31 over Cincinnati 17  
Arizona 24 over Seattle 16

Upset Special:

Oakland 29 over New York Jets 24
Tampa Bay 23 over Atlanta 21


Baltimore 41 over St. Louis 13
Pukesburgh 31 over Indianapolis 3
San Diego 35 over Kansas City 10

Tough Calls: 

New Orleans 31 over Houston 28
New England 33 over Buffalo 27
Philadelphia 24 over New York Giants 17
Minnesota 28 over Detroit 27
Green Bay 41 over Chicago 31
Washington 21 over Dallas 18


Miami 19 over Cleveland 16

Week 3 Fantasy Studs:  (Top Scorers in each position)

QB: Philip Rivers, San Diego
RB: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia,
WR: AnQuan Boldin, Baltimore
TE: Rob Gronkowski, New England
D/ST: Pukesburgh Steelers
SLEEPER: Josh Morgan, SF

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Danger of Having the Last Word

I find a strange cocktail of encouragement and despair as I read through articles in the Christian blogosphere.  Sometimes as I read I smell the aroma of Christ flowing forth.  Other times I can hear what sounds like a serpent chuckling. 

I try to avoid lengthy comment threads.  I also avoid “discernment” ministries and those blogs which seem to make it their aim to expose sin in the camp.  There is a ton of really bad stuff out there.  Caricatures, misinformation, slander, malice, and all manner of worldly wisdom seems to, sadly, abound in the Christian blogosphere. 

As one that battles with whether or not to enter a discussion, I found advice from John Newton helpful.  After being slandered John Ryland, Jr. consulted his long time mentor about whether he should respond.  Here is Newton’s answer:

Let him alone, and he will expose himself more effectually than you can expose him.  And his performance will soon die and be forgotten, unless you keep the memory of it alive, by an answer.  I believe scarcely any thing has [contributed] so much to perpetuate disputes and dissensions in the professing church, as the ambition of having the last word.

If this is true in Newton’s day when “the last word” would often mean a lengthy and sometimes costly tract through the press, how much more true is it today when we can “perpetuate disputes” by simply hitting the reply button. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Has Been Rocking My Soul

It was just another Sunday and we were playing one of countless videos for the Lottie Moon offering (at least I think that’s what it was). Maybe it was a video about Loving Muslims, I can’t remember. But it caught my attention. Not the video. I have no idea what it was about. One of the missionaries is what caught my eye; or rather my heart.

I have no way of actually knowing what was going on in his heart at the time, but from all appearances it seemed as if he was a man that deeply loved the Lord and loved people. You could see it in the glimmer in his eyes. It wasn’t that he was “loving people” because that’s what he was supposed to do. No, I think he really loved these people, because he’s spent some serious time with Jesus.

The missionary was laughing and joyously interacting with people of whom he probably only shared a handful of words. Words didn’t matter. Love did. And it was their shared smiles that the Lord used to break my crusty heart and reopen it towards love.

In a whirlwind as my eyes fixated on the missionaries smiling face, the Lord spoke to my heart saying, “you don’t love people”, while simultaneously drawing my attention to the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Reading it in the Message really drove the point home:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love

That means all of the work I put into being a good writer…bankrupt without love.

All of my effort at honing my pastoral skills…bankrupt without love.

Books.  Knowledge.  Seminary education.  Study of church history…bankrupt without love.

Bankrupt without love.

Jesus, help me love.

What Should a Newtonian Calvinist Say In a Pastoral Interview?

I have been breaking one of my rules lately.  I have…gulp of shame…been reading far too many comment threads on blogs.  Even worse these blog posts have been about…choking down the shame of broken resolve…Calvinism. 

While indulging the part of my brain that lacks sound judgment, I have witnessed a common thread.  This thread presents itself as a forceful suggestion that Calvinist’s should be upfront and honest about their Calvinism and intentions of “reforming the church” in the interview process. 

I figure those that mention this have a couple of different scenarios in their mind.  One scenario would have the search committee, unfortunately, not mention the C word.  To this the young, restless, and reformed brother gets a wry smile, closes up his Bible, leaves the interview process, gets on and begins to plot his path to world dominance. 

The second scenario has the search committee actually asking the dreaded question of Calvinism.  Here the Calvinistic pastor starts to sweat, shifts in his seat, and comes up with an rather evasive answer about only following Jesus or the Bible or something like that.  Of course he still goes home and gets on and begins to figure out how to reform this dastardly church setting and make everyone bow a knee to JC (that’s for John Calvin).

I wish that those two scenarios were as ridiculous as I have written them.  But the truth is, caricatures are often present because of at least a seed of reality. 

So, it seems that in response to these silly scenarios--rather real or imagined--Calvinists ought to lay their cards out on the table in the interview process.  In this they should present to the search committee their five year plan for turning the church into something that would make that stale painting of Calvin actually sprout a smile. 

I disagree. 

Why I Wish Everyone Was a Calvinist

Not that I think Calvinists should be in any way disingenuous.  If a church asked a very pointed question, “boy, you plan on makin’ us one of them Calvinist churches”, then you ought to be honest and sincere.  But there is another side to this… 

I wish that every follower of Jesus was also a Calvinist. 

And I would hope that my non-Calvinist brothers and sisters would wish the same thing of their own theologies. 

I am a Calvinist because I believe that is what the Bible teaches.  And as such I believe that being a Calvinist leads to more joy, better evangelism, better practices, a deeper relationship with Jesus, more passion, better marriages, etc. 

I could care less if you call yourself a Calvinist, a biblicist, or Big Papa.  At the end of the day I hope that you follow Jesus.  But I, and feel free to throw darts on this one, believe that Jesus is a Calvinist—or put that another way Calvin (at least in his soteriology) was biblically faithful to Jesus and his gospel.  I hope you’d say the same thing about your beliefs.

It would be supremely unloving for me to be indifferent on this matter.  I believe embracing the doctrines of grace leads to greater joy in Jesus.  I want you to have that joy.  Not joy that comes from John Calvin but that comes from a better understanding of the gospel.  And I hope you’d say the same thing to me about your “system”. 


I’m also a Newtonian Calvinist

Being a “Newtonian Calvinist” in this regard means two things.  First, it means that like Newton I believe that people come to embrace the doctrines of grace not through someone “beating notions in their head” but through experience. 

After a young and seemingly arrogant Ryland wrote in his book of poetry that he “aimed to displease the Arminians”, Newton responded thus:

You say, I aimed to displease the Arminians, I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them.  There are many Arminians who are so only for [lack] of clearer light.  They fear the Lord, and walk humbly before him.  And as they go on, by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subside.  And in the Lord’s time (for he is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of. 

The worst type of Calvinist are those that have “notions too hastily picked up, when not sanctified by grace, nor balanced by a proportional depth of spiritual experience”.  Even if you did convince someone of the truth of Calvinism but they did not have a proportionate experience then you’ve probably just created that miserable and mostly unhelpful creature we call a caged-Calvinist. 

The second thing, my job as a believer is to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and not to “beat notions in their head”.  As Newton said in a letter to the Rev. Mr. Whitford:

I allow that every branch of gospel truth is precious, that errors are abounding, and that it is our duty to bear an honest testimony to what the Lord has enabled us to find comfort in, and to instruct with meekness such as are willing to be instructed; but I cannot set it my duty, nay, I believe it would be my sin, to attempt to beat notions into other people’s heads.

This means that while I heartily wish that you embrace the doctrines of grace I also know that it’s not my job or responsibility to bring that about.  I want to preach the truth (in as much as a finite sinner like myself is able), rest in grace, and love you like Jesus; that is my job. 


I will not shy away from preaching and teaching what I believe about Calvinism.  Or as Newton said, “to bear an honest testimony to what the Lord has enabled us to find comfort in, and to instruct with meekness such as are willing to be instructed”.  But at the end of the day I am not going to argue at length about Calvinism. 

I want every person that God has “put under my charge” to embrace the doctrines of grace.  But even if they do not I still hope to graciously and lovingly provide for them safe pasture.  And that “safe pasture” is found in embracing Jesus not the doctrines of grace. 

This is why if asked in an interview whether I want to “charge the church into Calvinist” I’d struggle with how to answer.  Not because I want to be deceptive, but because it’s partially true, but not because I want to serve Calvin.  I would want them to embrace the doctrines of grace because I believe it will provide them more joy and God more glory.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Arrogance of Choosing Your Own Mediator

“I have chosen Aaron to be the mediator”, says the Lord.  (Numbers 16-17)

“That’s ridiculous, we have a right to be the mediators”, says those involved in Korah’s rebellion.  “Who do Aaron and Moses think they are to tell us who can and cannot approach God”? 


“I have chosen Jesus to be THE mediator”, says the LORD.

“That’s ridiculous, I’m a good person and ought to be able to enter God’s presence anytime I want.  It’s part of what God owes me for having created me,” says those involved in the greater rebellion. 

“Who do these people think they are trying to tell us that Jesus is the only way to God?  That is so arrogant.  We disagree, anybody can get to God so long as they are sincere.”

So who is arrogant?  The one who says I believe God’s Word when he says “I have made Jesus THE mediator”, or the one who says, “I disagree LORD, we can have whoever we want for a mediator—heck, we don’t even need a mediator”? 

If you want to be consistent with God’s Word the humble thing to do is to believe that Jesus is the Aaronite priest (check out Hebrews) and not seek any other mediators—including yourself. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is it too small a thing?

I have a really good introduction for this article.  I tell you a really funny story about a toy, gadget, etc. that I really wanted because I knew that it would solve all of my problems.  It was one of those things that I absolutely had to have. 

In this really good introduction I explain how I worked hard to get this new toy/gadget; either through actually working or “working” the way that jobless kids do--by figuring out how to manufacture the right balance of enough, tears, whining, and solid behavior to merit such an awesome gift. 

I continue in this super amazing introduction for a couple paragraphs explaining my hard labor only to drop the bomb on you in paragraph six.  When I finally brought home the world-saving, Mike changing, product I soon discover that it is really a piece of junk.  Kind of like that disappointing moment when you realize your McDonalds cheeseburger isn’t nearly as scrumptious as its savory picture.  No matter how awesome it really is it can never live up to the dream that I had created for it. 

Unfortunately, for both you and I, I cannot give you this introduction.  And I don’t know why.  I know that this little story has replayed a million times but for the life of me I cannot remember these products that brought such disappointment into my life.  Maybe if I ransacked my closets or took a perusal of the local Goodwill one of these treasures would present itself to my memory, because that is where these life-changers now find themselves: in the land of misfit toys. 

Perhaps that in itself is telling.  The grass is always greener on the other side, McDonalds cheeseburgers are more photogenic than tasty, and nothing satisfies a discontented heart. 

Consider Korah’s rebellion. 

Korah and a few of his friends gather together to complain to Moses and Aaron about what they don’t have.  What they do not have Moses and Aaron have.  They quickly assess themselves—comparing their greatest features to the worst of Moses and Aaron—and come to the startling conclusion that they deserve this one thing that they lack.  Cue the spotlights, drums, and angelic sounds as we pan to their longed for possession—the priesthood. 

Moses gets to the heart when he says in verse 9, “…is it too small a thing for you…”  Here he lists off everything they do have (it takes two verses to finish this list).  Of course Korah and his homeboys are blind to this list because their eyes are fixed on the one thing they don’t have. 

So, yeah, apparently it is too small a thing to be separated from the rest of the congregation by the Lord, to be brought near to God himself, to do ministry, to serve the Lord before the great congregation, and to be able to do it with your closest of kin.  It’s too small because it’s not everything.  They want it ALL! 

Their grumbling, notes Moses, is not primarily against Aaron.  Their grumbling is against God. 

And so is mine. 

The Lord stands before me today and says, “…is it too small a thing…”  and continues for hours upon hours to list of the multitude of my blessings.  He’ll be doing this for all of eternity as his kindness towards me is infinite. 

The question for me today is this: Am I going to be like Korah and grumble about the thing(s) that I do not have, or am I going to celebrate the army of blessings he’s already given me in his quest to destroy the works of the devil? 

Celebrate grace.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Frozen Theology

Even though I wouldn’t have a clue how to pronounce his last name, I’ve often found Helmut Thielicke’s little book A little exercise for young theologians a quite helpful resource.  Consider this:

Theology can be a coat of mail which crushes us and in which we freeze to death.  It can also be—this is in fact its purpose!—the conscience of the congregation of Christ, its compass and with it all a praise-song of ideas.  Which of the two it is depends upon the degree in which listening and praying Christians stand behind this theological business.  As a Christian, as a listening and praying Christian, each must fight not to be crushed by theology and thus, instead of being a Christian solider, becoming a corpse in the battlefield. 

If you are a seminary student or an aspiring theologian of any sort you may want to pick up Thielicke’s book.  I’ve also found The Trials of Theology and Think! helpful primer’s. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two Heaps, Neither Named Todd

Some 300 years ago Cotton Mather gave this advise to new ministers, and it is worth heeding today:


Simply put: there are some things in life and ministry that you are simply not going to understand.  File those away under unintelligble.  Some things you will not be able to fix.  File those away under incurables. 

Mather’s advice to consider some some un-persuadable people as incurables is a little hard for me to swallow.  I do not like to think that any person is “incurable”.  Such a statement seems to be negating the power of God. 

However, I think if we are careful not to press Mather’s advice too far it is sound.  There are certain times when it becomes apparent that I have done everything that I know to do as far as counseling some person.  When I have done all that I can, then certainly I must continue to pray, and perhaps pray that the Lord will open up a door for some other person to come into their life. 

What do you think of Mather’s advice? 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Unrestrained Mercy From an Infinitely Merciful God

“For evils have encompassed me beyond number…”  (Psalm 40:12a)

This is life in a broken world.  Bitterness. Wrath. Anger. Slander. Malice. Lies. Murder. Deceit. Grief. Pain. Tears. Sorrow. Regret. Hate. Cold. Brokenness.

Yes, evil is all around.

I have no problem in a broken world crying out—“Lord, have mercy.  Lord, deliver.  Lord, rescue.  Lord, heal.  Lord, bring redemption”.  I know He is greater than the brokenness.  I know that He is able to heal.  I know that He will bring justice.  Sometimes, it is hard to wait on the Lord in the midst of brokenness—but I keep a steady hope knowing that He will make it well.

But what do I do when this is my prayer:

“…my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.”   (Psalm 40:12b)

Now, it’s not merely evil “out there”.  I can deal with that.  But when evil is found lurking in my very own breast, what do I do? 

Do I plead for mercy, knowing that I’ve prayed this same prayer countless times?  Surely, the LORD is sick of hearing my confession.  I have certainly breached the seventy times seven. 

Do I come boldly into His throne room?  Soiled. Dirty. Vile. Proud. Confused. Disbelieving.

Clean Hands? Pure Heart? Not me.  How then can I expect to “ascend His holy hill”?  What right do I have—one who has trampled upon grace—to enter into His courts?

I don’t. 


“As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!  (Psalm 40:11, emphasis mine)

There is no way that I read that correctly. 

I cannot fathom this.  What does unrestrained mercy from an infinitely merciful God look like? 

Soiled. Dirty. Vile. Proud. Confused. Doubting. Struggling. Depressed. Joyless.

Unrestrained Mercy. 

He refuses to restrain that which I do not deserve: namely, infinite mercy.  Yet, His holy hand withholds the infinite wrath that I do deserve. 

Why? What is the ground and the surety of this promise? 

Is it my ability to keep clean?  Is it my ability to live the Christian life?  Is it because of my steadfastness?  My faithfulness to the Lord?  Is this what causes me to be met with unrestrained mercy? 


It is His covenant faithfulness.  His steadfast love. 

If I, by grace through faith, belong to Jesus then this promise of unrestrained mercy is mine.  And it is preserved until God breaks His covenant or until God’s love that refuses not to love changes and He decides He’d rather not love.  That’s not happening.  The ground and surety of this promise is His faithfulness and not mine. 

In this I have hope and it causes me to pray with David:

“As for me I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.  You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!”

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Spurgeon on Grieving the Spirit

If you are experiencing what Spurgeon is describing it quite possibly could be because you have grieved the Spirit.  It’s also possible that it’s just emotions.  Regardless, may we consider our hearts, apply the gospel, and repent and believe. 

When the Spirit is grieved first, he bears with us. He is grieved again and again, and again and again, and still he bears with it all. But at last, his grief becomes so excessive, that he says, "I will suspend my operations; I will begone; I will leave life behind me, but my own actual presence I will take away. And when the Spirit of God goes away from the soul and suspends all his operations what a miserable state we are in. He suspends his instructions; we read the word, we cannot understand it; we go to our commentaries, they cannot tell us the meaning; we fall on our knees and ask to be taught, but we get no answer, we learn nothing. He suspends his comfort; we used to dance, like David before the ark, and now we sit like Job in the ash-pit, and scrape our ulcers with a potsherd. There was a time when his candle shone round about us, but now he is gone; he has left us in the blackness of darkness. Now, he takes from us all spiritual power. Once we could do all things; now we can do nothing. We could slay the Philistines, and lay them heaps upon heaps, but now Delilah can deceive us, and our eyes are put out and we are made to grind in the mill. We go preaching, and there is no pleasure in preaching, and no good follows it. We go to our tract distributing, and our Sunday-school, we might almost as well be at home. There is the machinery there, but there is no love. There is the intention to do good, or perhaps not even that, but alas! there is no power to accomplish the intention. The Lord has withdrawn himself, his light, his joy, his comfort, his spiritual power, all are gone.

Keep in mind that if you are experiencing this it is not because the Lord has abandoned you but because He desires that you feast on the “Richest of Fare” and not spoil you appetite on food which perishes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Here Lies…A Very Disappointed Man

Found this in one of John Wesley’s journal entries:


I cannot find much more information about the labors of Solomon Ashburn but I bet he was a pretty sad dude.  There is a reason why Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet”.  Occasionally, the Lord will hide from our eyes the fruit that comes from our ministries.  Mr. Ashburn never saw the harvest that God allowed Wesley to reap upon the soil which he planted.  And it will sometimes be the same with us. 

In light of this difficult that often attends the ministry I find these two quotes helpful.  First, from John Newton to what appears to be a discouraged John Ryland, Jr.:

A faithful, humble minister cannot be unsuccessful; he shall prosper in the thing for which he is sent.  (Gordon, Wise Counsel, 215)

Secondly, is a quote from Charles Bridges’ that I first read on a helpful article from John Piper:

Our recompense is measured not according to 'our success' but 'our labor' and, as with our blessed Master, vouchsafed even in the failure of our ministration.” God rewards our labor, even if we “fail.” Like Jesus.

Our task as ambassador’s of Christ is to be faithful to the King’s message.  Success is marked by fidelity to the task.  May we be found faithful.

Bad News Good

“I have some bad news”. 

I have come to loathe those words.  It’s not so much the actual bad news that I disdain as much as the infinitesimal pause before the bomb drops.  In that second, which seems to last a millennium, my mind races to predict what darkness—once hidden in the unknown—will now be birthed into light. 

This time the “bad news” was about our hopes of being able to feel a little more settled.  My wife and I had been given great hope that we would be able to look for a house and live in something we could call “ours” for less money than we are currently throwing away in our tiny apartment. 

As it now appears that hope is to be dashed.  Now we are living on the somber side of Proverbs 13:12.  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”.  Yes, it does.  It’s not merely the un-desirableness of continuing to feel unsettled that has our hearts sick.  It’s also that we are afraid of what more lives in the darkness of an unknown future.  What else will emerge from the shadows? 

In moments of great turmoil I am afraid that what will emerge are more hellish messengers, casting upon me words of shame.  “What kind of man are you?  You’re thirty years old, and you aren’t providing for your family the way you should!” 

These fiends turn my eyes towards only the happiness of those dancing with our dream.  I only see their smiles as they build another mansion on the outskirts of Eden.  And for a moment my eyes are blinded to the emptiness of living for life outside the Garden.  And in my foolishness I long to set up a tent in their midst. 

Then grace breaks through. 

I remember Psalm 84:11, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”.  I am reminded that the only way that this promise is mine is through the faithfulness and uprightness of Jesus.  But I know that I am assuredly “hidden in Christ”.  So, I know that through Jesus this is true of me.  My loving Father, will withhold no good thing. 

What does that mean for our “bad news”?  Simply, that this dream will be reality when it is actually a good thing.  Even though I believe now that a house would be a good thing, I also know that the sovereign Lord of the universe sees all and knows all.  If this is being “withheld” from us then it must not at this present moment be a good thing.  When it is good it will be ours to enjoy. 

It must be noted that by “good” I know (from Romans 8) that ultimately what is “good” is conformity to Christ.  Therefore, at this present moment having a house would not bring us into greater conformity to Christ.  I do not know what that reason is, but I do know that God is good and will not allow us to settle for lesser joys. 


Lord, forgive me for moments of infidelity when I rail against your sovereign goodness.  You are the King, I am not.  I know that you are good and that you withhold no good thing from your children.  I know that you are a loving and merciful Father that will not give his children a stone when we ask for bread.  I also know that you are radically committed to my joy.  And I know that you are the fountain of life and in your light do we see light.  You rescue me from drinking putrid waters outside Eden and will not be satisfied until I “drink from the river of your delights”.  Thank you for being more dedicated to our joy than I am.  I would settle for a temporary pleasure—whereas you, stir up my heart to long for the eternal.  You are good. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

7 Questions with Rob Plummer: Author of 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible

Yesterday I reviewed Dr. Plummer’s book.  In the review I noted that “Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) should be accessible to everyone.”  I also noted that Plummer’s book is both “satisfying and accessible” to student and layperson alike.  If you aren’t convinced yet that you ought to purchase this book, Dr. Plummer’s first answer should convince you. 

1. How is this book different from other books that deal with biblical interpretation?

Each book has a $100 bill hidden inside it.  Readers should be sure to order one right away.  But seriously, the book deals concisely with all the major questions related to interpreting the Bible - canon, text transmission, inerrancy, the goal of interpretation, Christo-centric interpretation, interpreting various genres of Scripture, current trends in hermeneutics, etc.  I discuss each issue in a brief "bite size" chunk of five to ten pages.  Also, reflection questions conclude each chapter.  And, many additional free resources (powerpoint files, quiz questions, etc.) are available at

2. What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

Making the text both scholarly and accessible.  I wanted it to be used as a seminary textbook but also understandable to any curious layperson.

3. What is the most frequent mistake that people make in biblical interpretation?

Failing to respect the inspired author's intent.  In his day, Calvin spoke of misinterpreters of Scripture as persons who put a "wax nose" on Scripture and turned it whatever way they wished.  In our day, people continue to do the same.

4. In your opinion what is the most dangerous trend in biblical interpretation?

Within the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) movement, some interpreters openly embrace meaning which is not flowing from the inspired author's intent. Of course, TIS is quite diverse, so others aligned with this movement are doing good work.

5. Imagine that I am a high school student on a bus with you. I find out that you teach a class on Biblical Interpretation. With only about 3 minutes before I have to get off the bus, I ask “how do I understand the Bible?” How do you respond?

With only three minutes, I think I would want to challenge that high school student to read the Scriptures because it is there that God speaks to us.  I would likely tell the story of how my mom taught me to read through the Bible once a year when I was 13 years old and the huge difference it has made in every area of my life.  I might turn to Psalm 119 and read some portions.  Then, for more practical questions of interpretation, I likely would refer them to my book.

6. I know that bad exegesis is never funny, but pretend for a second that it is. What is the funniest…or should I say…worst experience that you have had with bad exegesis?

Ah . . . there are so many stories.  I once asked a prominent minister what he was going to preach on the next day.  He told me that he had all the jokes and stories worked out, but that he just had to add the other content. I laughed because I thought he was kidding.  But, the next day when I heard him "preach" on the passage, it was mainly a string of random jokes and anecdotes.  A.T. Robertson once said, "I've heard sermons that if the text had had a cold, the sermon would certainly not have caught it."  I can relate.

7. Since I am in your New Testament 1 class I have to ask…who is your favorite student in New Testament 1? Okay, you don’t have to answer that. Serious question—If your opponents weren’t “with the Lord” who would win in a wheel-barrow race on the seminary lawn--A.T. Robertson and E.Y. Mullins or Rob Plummer and Albert Mohler?

I'm definitely betting on the Mohler-Plummer team.  (that is, if Southern Baptist are allowed to bet)

Thanks to Dr. Plummer for agreeing to do this interview. 

In response to question seven: I know that Dr. Plummer is a runner, but Dr. Mohler is not known for his athletic prowess.  Furthermore, E.Y. Mullins had a pretty solid beard and we all know that beards give superpowers.  So, I’m thinking this race may be a close one.  If Southern Baptist’s bet I might take Dr. Plummer up on this one. 

Again be sure to check out Dr. Plummer’s website: 

Also if you do not have it yet you can purchase the book here: 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible.


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