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Pastor, Are You Okay?

As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings… labors, sleepless nights, hunger…with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through…dishonor, through slander… We are treated as impostors…as unknown…as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful…as poor…as having nothing. (Selections from 2 Corinthians 6: 4-10)

The Apostle Paul understood what it meant to fill up the sufferings of Christ. As a servant or minister of the gospel, Paul carried the sufferings of the people of God and described them in terms such as hardship and sorrow.

All ministers of the gospel know something of this suffering. I will be the first to confess that I have had a very joyful and fruitful ministry, harvesting that which others before me planted and watered. Even in the midst of great joy and happiness, however, there is a burden I carry for the church of God that came with my ordination. I carry on my heart and mind the sufferings and trials and hardships and disappointments of the men and women to whom I minister. No amount of seminary preparation could adequately prepare a man for bearing the weight of a […]

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 […]

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 […]

The Trumpet Blasts that Were Never Heard

We live in times where the church is needing to think through her relationship with the state and the rulers over us. This is not the first time in the history of Christianity where we have had to meditate on our doctrine of the magistrate or our relationship to those in authority. This is not the first time that we have had to choose between losing our right hand and losing our left. Where would you turn to read about the relationship between the church and an oppressive government?

Looking for a book on the relationship between the church and a tyrannical government may be useful for the church in the next few decades. Consider the following statements:

* It is not by birth that one can rule over a people; those under him must approve of that rule.
* Those who practice idolatry or are living publicly scandalous lives are not to be placed in public office.
* If a ruler proves to be a tyrant or is willfully disobedient to God’s Word, then not even an oath can keep him in office.
* If people too quickly or without due consideration put someone in office and it is later found that he is […]

Reformed Pentecostals

 

The accusation is often made that people in the reformed and presbyterian tradition do not focus enough on the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve all heard the accusation. Pentecostals and charismatics focus on the Spirit’s work, and let’s face it, we’re not them. Reformed people, defending our high view of the Spirit, will comment on how the Spirit’s work is focused on Christ and the Spirit’s ministry is to bring to remembrance the things that Jesus Christ taught (John 14). This is true; but do we give the due reverence that the Spirit deserves in our lives and in our ministries?

The ancient creed of Nicea confesses, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…”  We worship the Spirit, along with the Father and the Son. This is confessed as reformed people. Although it is confessed, because of the errors in pentecostal and charismatic traditions, it seems that the work of the Spirit is not talked about much in the reformed church. Sure, we talk about the Holy Spirit’s central role in salvation. Salvation is […]

To Condemn Surfing? Define Your Christianity.

“Protestant missionaries… had forced surfing deep into the shadows… To Calvinists, surfing was a sinful exercise, leading only to unbridled licentiousness and godless impiety. Go surfing they pronounced from their pulpits, and eternal flames awaited.” Pacific, 131.

Simon Winchester (one of my favorite authors) makes this passing statement  about surfing and 1820’s Hawaiian Calvinism. Calvinism is condemned in less than forty words in the midst of a 492 page book which concerns the ecological, international, and economic importance of the Pacific Ocean. Why did Calvinism get discredited in the midst of a discussion on the ocean? With no footnote or historical anecdote, the assertion was made that Calvinists believe that surfing leads to hell’s flame.

I am not arguing that such condemnations have never been made. Somewhere someone at some time has most-likely condemned wave riding, yet Winchester’s statement demonstrates that outside of the church people have presuppositions about what defines the Christian. People assume they know what is Christianity. That assumption is based on how we reflect Christianity; how we define it. To an unbelieving world, we define Christianity, not in our words only — but also in our actions.

What defines you?

What defines your Christianity?

Is it defined by a condemnation of surfing or some other lawful activity? Is […]

The Glory of God Revealed in the Church

Last week I left the beauty and glory of Southern California. I left behind a peaceful ocean. I left behind the mountain ranges that speak of his glory. I left behind palm trees and cool breezy evenings. I left behind the city and the people that I love. Where did I go you might ask? I went to Central Indiana, of course! Marion to be precise.

Every four years Reformed Presbyterians from around the globe gather for an international conference.

As Reformed Presbyterians gathered from 10 nations we enjoyed the singing of psalms with 2000 like-minded believers. We enjoyed the preaching of Gentle Reformation’s faithful leader, Professor Barry York. We enjoyed sessions on missions, biblical counseling, and various other sessions to encourage, admonish, challenge, and convict.

Why leave Southern California for Central Indiana? Why leave mountains and ocean and glorious natural revelation for the sleepy flatness of  Central Indiana? The answer is quite simple. God’s glory is revealed most beautifully in his people. The church is the fullest expression of his glory on earth. I left my home so that I could be with my people; his people.
Abraham Kuyper said,

It is evident that while every flower and star enhance his glory, the lives of angels […]

A Complete Christ for Your Complete Needs

The Christian life is full of needs. We are a needy people. Our needs go beyond the duty of being justified in the presence of a holy God. For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). We also know that we have an obligation to be holy as the Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:16). We have a charge from the New Testament to be faithful and gentle and to reflect goodness, among other duties (Galatians 5:22-23).
All of these needs can be overwhelming at times. Our desires for newness of life and protection from the world and purity of life are strong desires for anyone who is united to Christ.

Of course, even with strong desires we fail.

Often our failures in the Christian life flow from the error that has us look at justification from a Protestant or Reformed perspective; understanding that we are justified by faith alone, relying on a sovereign God who elects and shows mercy on whom he will show mercy (Romans 9:15); and yet when it comes to our sanctification, we throw off our reformation principles and rely on the principles of worldly self-help, Arminian discipleship […]

Behold Your Mother

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:26-27

During his crucifixion Jesus spoke these words to his mother and to the Apostle John. Have you ever read this portion of the Scripture and thought “what in the world is going on here?” The redemptive nature of the things that are said from the cross are clearly seen, but “behold your mother?”

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
I thirst.
It is finished.
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Why does Jesus tell John that Mary is now his mother and then tell Mary that John is now her son? 

Of Burner Phones and Busy Lives: Making the Best Use of Time

A couple of weeks ago I walked into a cell phone store and said,  “I would like to trade in my iPhone 6 for a dumb phone.” Puzzled, the clerk asked why I would do such a thing. I told him I longed for the simplicity of the 2000s. The look of puzzlement continued as I described why I only wanted talk and text: I am tired of the media access on my phone. It’s a time vacuum.

He consulted with another employee and then informed me that they no longer sold dumb phones and said I would have to buy a “burner phone” to avoid media. I could try CVS or Target. All phone plans now carry a media charge; it cannot be avoided.

I went home disappointed, but as a small victory in the media-fatigue battle I deleted my Facebook app. I love you all, but you don’t need to join me on coffee dates with my wife and you don’t need to accompany me to the park with my children. I don’t need to see your vacation pics while I’m waiting for the light to change. There are better ways for me to use my time.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, gives a […]