The Death of a Neighbor

I’m told that he ended his life by sitting in a running car in a closed garage.

My mind can’t help but picture the scene. I see him sitting there with a blank stare, a cigarette in hand, smoking one more time. The radio isn’t on. The space is dark.

A man who had been my neighbor for nearly six years recently committed suicide. A co-worker informed me of his death. At first, I didn’t know who he was talking about. He just described cop cars speeding to a particular house. But as he continued to describe various details surrounding the man’s life, I suddenly asked, “Was his name Joel?” “Yes. It was Joel,” came the reply. I sighed deeply and then said, “He used to be my neighbor.”


The Badness of Our Good

A year after the posting of his Ninety-five Theses, Martin Luther was called before the German congregation of his Augustinian order to give an accounting of his teachings.  In what became known as his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther laid out with precision a series of twenty-eight statements he referred to as “theological paradoxes” to contrast the growing Protestant understanding of the gospel with the reigning Catholic theology of the day.  The importance of this presentation is seen in that a number of the early reformers, men such as Martin Bucer, were in attendance and were greatly influenced by Luther’s teaching.

Without seeing Luther’s deeply Biblical underpinnings set against the theological context of the times, these paradoxes can read more like unsatisfying contradictions at points.  Nowhere is this more evident than when he treats the subject of good works.  For instance, Thesis 6 states this:

The works of God (we speak of those that he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.

On the surface, this statement can appear to be saying that the perfect, holy God can take actions which have no merit in them and even have sin in them somehow. Yet this is to miss Luther’s point and the brilliancy that is actually shining through […]


Presence & Absence

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a vital ministry skill, knowing how to take a punch, being able to minister to someone despite the hurt they may inflict on you in the process.

What’s on my mind this week is another ministry skill that’s sometimes hard to come by: a commitment to presence and an understanding of absence. Or, more broadly, knowing and practicing the power of presence with the hurting as well as knowing and practicing the helpfulness of absence.


An Idea for Family Worship

Lately, I’ve been taking different podcast episodes and chopping them up into bite-sized portions for family worship. We listen for 10-15 minutes and discuss the subject matter, scrutinizing the worldview through a Christian lens. While it isn’t a bible study, per se, I think there is value in introducing teenagers to the various streams of secular thought influencing culture.

Here are a few that might be of interest to you:

• Point of Inquiry: Peter Singer: Maximizing Morality with Reason

• Unbelievable? Does Scripture Forbid Same-Sex Relationships? Robert Gagnon vs Jayne Ozanne

• Evan May, pastor at Lakeview Christian Center in New Orleans, has given us an excellent presentation on the problem of evil. It will provide a good framework for further discussion. This is more advanced, and so it should only be used with older children.


If I Were to Sin

John said the Bible was written so that “you may not sin.”

But what if I were to sin?

If I were to sin, I would not want to have a god other than the Trinity or worship idols.
For I would become like the false god or the idol I worshipped.
I don’t want to be angry like Allah or blind like a Buddha.
(Psalm 115:1-8)

If I were to sin, I would not want to use the Lord’s name wrongly.
He takes it personally and how could I hurt the One whose very name gives me salvation?
(Exodus 20:7; Acts 4:12)

If I were to sin, I would not want to forget the Sabbath Day.
I would miss too many blessings and ultimately forget the Lord Himself.
(Isaiah 58:13-14)

If I were to sin, I would not dishonor my parents or even roll my eyes at them.
For that is to invite the birds of the valley to peck out those eyes.
(Proverbs 30:17)

If I were to sin, I would not want to mess around with another man’s wife.
For that would be like lighting a fire on my […]


You Must Read

Do you ever find yourself squinting at a photograph of someone standing in front of a bookcase, trying to work out the titles of the books they own? Or, when you visit someone’s house, looking through the books on the shelves and trying to gain some profound insight into their personality based on what they read? Or is it just me?

Wouldn’t you love the chance to go into the studies of men and women who have been greatly used by God and see the kinds of books they enjoy and have been influenced by? To be able to ask Sinclair Ferguson or R.C. Sproul or John McArthur or Jerry Bridges what books have especially shaped them as Christians?

If you’re with me in answering those questions with a resounding ‘Absolutely!’ then let me recommend a new book that allows you to sit down with 32 proven servants of Christ and find out about the books that have shaped their lives and ministries.

‘You Must Read’ is a fascinating book that you must read if you have any interest in finding out what are some of the greatest treasures of Christian literature and why they are treasures. It was published by the Banner […]


So I’m Apathetic…Who Cares?!

It is incredibly easy in our day to observe an incredibly saddening reality:  Apathy is everywhere.  To which you might reply: “Who cares?”  To which I might reply:  “Fair point, and my point exactly.”  To which you might reply: “Whatever.”  This could go on for a while, and I would win, but you wouldn’t care!

It is easy to be apathetic when we feel unthreatened, or unimpressed.  Imagine being at one of those zoo aquariums where you can walk through a transparent tunnel and be surrounded by all the sea life.  You feel quite safe, even though a group of gnarly- toothed, flesh eating sharks swarms above and beside you.  The Plexiglas is protecting you, so you’re rather indifferent to their presence.  You might even get irritated that the sharks aren’t doing anything interesting, like attacking some other sea creature or each another.  Maybe you can find a video like that with your phone.

After several minutes of searching, you look up and see the sharks looking back at you.  They’re now together, side by side, and it seems they’ve been staring at you the whole time you were staring at your cellphone.  You’re a little embarrassed at being startled, so you […]


The Chickens of Postmodernism

The chickens of postmodernism and the social construct theory of truth are coming home to roost. They have been for a while, but it is helpful to consider the implications from time to time.

The social construct theory essentially asserts that truth is what the society agrees upon as being the truth; the one absolute is that there are no absolutes. Thus, murder is wrong because everyone agrees that it is wrong, not because it is objectively wrong. When I talk to people in our republic about the nature of truth and probe for their understanding of it, the social construct theory is by far the most frequent explanation people give – especially young people.

What are the implications when we abandon the objective truth of divine revelation? There are many, for sure. Here are five implications that have struck me recently from various events in our culture. Of course, not everyone who believes in the absence of revealed or objective truth would express these five perspectives in belief or action; many are blessedly inconsistent. However, these are consistent with the position and are increasingly evident:

Might makes right. The truth is established by the 51%. Thus, political and judicial processes must establish […]


Life Outside the Circle

It is no mere coincidence that when God is rejected virtue and pleasure depart. God is the ultimate source of such things, the fountainhead from which we all partake, reflecting and mirroring as image bearers.

Sin tragically results in separation. When Adam and Eve fell, they were cast from the garden. When Israel sinned, the land vomited them out. When we are saved, we are said to be “in Christ,” a description denoting profound proximity. But before we were made new, the language was different. Distance takes over. “You were once far away…” says Paul, “alienated” and “excluded.” No reconciliation. No closeness. Strangers. Enmity.

Now picture a circle. Write in that circle things like joy, holiness, peace, righteousness, goodness, life, love, justice, truth, beauty. The circle is God. Now stand back and consider the two realms of possibility. There is the circle and there is that which resides outside the circle.

If all joy and righteousness is found inside the circle, what is there to be found outside the circle? Not joy. Not righteousness. Since every last drop of joy exists in the circle, its utter absence resides outside.

But it is more than that. It is not as if the absence of joy […]


Keep Your Line in the Water

Recently in several contexts I have had discussions with others about evangelism. In particular, the question that has been raised is, “Why do Presbyterian churches seem to have fewer records of adult conversions than Baptist churches?” The actual numbers would substantiate this claim, I believe, but certainly the general perception is that this is indeed the case. Why is this so?

In this debate, you commonly hear Baptists point out such things as the practice of infant baptism or the coldness produced by predestination dulls Presbyterian resolve in evangelism; likewise, Presbyterians would counter that the use of church growth techniques or the looseness in Arminian theology found in a great number of Baptist churches inflate the true numbers.  Though each of these matters have some truth to them more or less, yet this is not the full story.  For, on the one hand, not all Presbyterians fall into hyper-Calvinism and, on the other hand, many Baptists are Reformed and still seem to see more fruit in evangelism.  So may there be another reason?

I would suggest that on a more practical level it has to do with the culture of certain branches of the church.  In the kingdom of God, can we not acknowledge that different […]