Navigating Transitions

Regardless of whether you love or dread change, it remains inevitable. Save the unchanging character of God, everything and everyone we know undergoes constant change. And beyond the never-ending constant stream of change, there are also times of life marked by even greater change, times we often call transitions. This past weekend I was able to spend time with a group of college students exploring together a faithful way of navigating the big transitions in life. More than anything, I was hoping they would see that being proactive as we head into transitions is more challenging but much more effective and joyful. Toward the end of helping you be proactive in times of change, here are some of the highlights. 


Some Recent Resources on Roman Catholicism

A few things that have recently come across my radar:

John 6 For Roman Catholics, James White.  Dr. White walks through John 6 slowly, demonstrating Rome’s over reading of the text.
Why I’m not Catholic, Steve Hays: A concise summation of some of the problems one ought to have with Roman Catholicism.
Debates with Roman Catholics, James White: Speaking of James White, he has spent a great deal of time debating and interacting with Roman Catholic apologists.  For a taste, check out his debate page.  Keep your eye out for White’s next debate on “Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?” with RC apologist Trent Horn.  That is scheduled for tomorrow.


Preaching Versus Teaching

As I instruct students in homiletics, one of the distinctions I try to help them see is that of preaching versus teaching. Clearly, pastors must do both, and there is a great deal of overlap. After the apostles were beaten by the Jewish authorities, they were released and we are told that they “did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). So they both taught and preached, yet the use of both of these words does denote a difference.

In his book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, David Gordon points out this distinction in his critique of modern, Western preaching. He notes that many ministers in this generation talk about subjects, but do not bring out from the text what amounts to a “convincing, compelling weight on the soul of the hearer.” Men lecture behind pulpits instead of proclaim, sounding more like they are reading a commentary than urging their listeners with heart-felt truth.

So how do you distinguish between the two? First, let’s be clear on what are not true differences. The difference between teaching and preaching is not that one appeals to the head versus the other is for the heart. Nor is it simply a matter of talking versus shouting. […]



Presbyterian Partiality?

I’m hoping to preach on the sin of partiality tomorrow evening from James 2.1-7.

In preparing, yesterday morning, I was really surprised to discover that one of the chief reasons or motivations for the prohibition of prejudice is the doctrine of election!

“Listen my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith & heirs of the Kingdom, which God has promised to those who love him?”

It actually makes me wonder why we, in particular, as died-in-the-wool Calvinists, fall into the trap of ‘Presbyterian Partiality’ (apologies in advance to other readers)? There are strong reasons why ‘The Reformed’ (for want of a better term), of all people, should be less vulnerable or prone to this sin.

We ought to have a strong doctrine of scripture. Yet exegesis of the text forbids partiality in church, James 2.1, which in comparison to Saviour is an inglorious sin:

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory.”

The definition of Thayer helps us get a better handle on the problem of partiality which is:

“…the fault of one who when called on to requite or to give judgment has respect to the outward […]


What’s Your Moniker?

How we describe ourselves helps others to understand what we value–what and who we are. This is true in multiple spheres of life. In American culture, our “last name” is our family name. In Asian culture, the “first name” is the family name. That says something about what we value. The same can be said for our spiritual life. What is your name? How are you known?

Surprisingly, the New Testament answer may not be the same as the 21st century church’s answer. Sinclair Ferguson, in The Whole Christ, writes:

What is my default way of describing a believer? Perhaps it is exactly that: “believer.” Or perhaps “disciple,” “born-again person,” or “saint” (more biblical but less common in Protestantism!). Most likely it is the term “Christian.”

Yet these descriptors, while true enough, occur relatively rarely in the pages of the New Testament, and the contexts in which it occurs might suggest that it was a pejorative term used of (rather than by) the early church.

New Testament Christians did not think of themselves as “Christians”! But if not, how did they think of themselves?

Contrast these descriptors with the overwhelmingly dominant way the New Testament describes believers. It is that we are “in Christ.” The […]


In Awe of the Aged

Have you ever met a mature Christian?  That question’s not meant to be snarky, no matter how many smirks it may inspire.  It’s meant to call attention to the truly special experience of interacting with people who sincerely (and sometimes unknowingly) exude from the core of their being what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5).  Their demeanor is calm and calming.  Ordinary conversations with them feel holy, and when you leave, you feel understood, taken seriously, and loved.  These people scare the stuff out of me.     


Assurance for Seekers – A Gentle Refresher

Until recently, I had missed the contextual power of Isaiah 55:10-11. Commentator Alec Motyer helped me see the wonder of these verses in a new way. They promise:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (ESV).

I had thought of them as primarily a comfort for those who are speaking the gospel; and they are. Often, Christians use this text to encourage a brother who with great trepidation spoke to a non-Christian or in some difficult circumstance. His words may not have been eloquent, but God’s word was spoken, and we take comfort in knowing that they have power. That is not a wrong application, but the context presses us to an higher purpose and even better use for these great promises.

These words of comfort were given to those who were straying and should have been […]


The Dovetail Nature of Scripture

Recently, I worked with a talented friend in his well-equipped workshop in making some storm windows for my study. His gifts and abilities were fun to watch as he went from coming up with the ideas and drawings to their execution. He transformed pieces of pinewood and glass into snugly fitting windows that will keep my study warm while letting me see clearly the woods outside.

Not being very skilled myself, I mostly just held the wood in place or helped sand a bit when needed. I did learn the new word “kerf” in the process, which is the wood lost in the cutting of the wood. As we carefully measured each piece, we had to account for the amount of wood the saw blade takes away in a cut. We had fun joking that I was the “kerf catcher.”

This experience brought to mind the craftsmanship of the Bible. The Spirit has worked beautifully in bringing the Scriptures to us in written form, dovetailing together the Old and New Testaments like a master craftsman does with furniture. Like a window, God has given to us in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation the way to see his Son, the Lord Jesus […]


Gospel Beauty Beyond Syllogisms

The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner. Read it again. The Christian life is the life of a forgiven sinner.

There is something refreshing about the simplicity of a statement such as this. Christianity is a religion for sinners. Should we not give him praise for this reality? The Lord Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

I wonder how often we lose focus on this glorious truth? In our discussions with unbelievers and those who would describe themselves as “seekers” (yes, I know Romans 3:11), we ought to help direct their thinking along these lines as they ask us questions about what it means to be a Christian.

Several weeks ago, I was invited to UCLA to speak at class filled with medievalists and early modern English historians. These post-graduate students were studying the religious writings of England during the Reformation and early Puritan era. I was invited to give a pastoral perspective on the theology of the era and […]