It grieves me to read blogs that use a tragedy to grandstand. I've done it, and I hate it. But there's also the reality that public heartache gets people thinking about a topic—and we might as well endeavor to think well.
Regarding Robin Williams' suicide, I wrote the following Facebook post:
"Funny people are often sad. Popular people are often lonely. Successful people are often insecure. Wealthy people are often broken. This is always true, whether we notice it or not. We just had a profoundly tragic reminder. I ache over it. We need grace."
I do ache. I'm sad that the world is so broken. I'm sad that someone can reach such a desperate place that destruction actually seems like a solution. But people do descend to that kind of crushing despair, more often than you'd think. They need help. They need understanding. Ultimately, they need Christ.
If possible, I want to help others think well about the issue of suicide. To that end, here's a PDF of a piece I wrote on the topic in the recently published devotional Gospel...
As a pastor you struggle with important decisions in choosing the preaching portions for your weekly sermons, or in determining the books of the Bible from which those sermons will be preached for some days to come. It is not a matter to be handled lightly because in those choices the welfare of God’s congregation is very much at stake. How can you reach the best decisions?
There are a number of factors that might be considered, but the one that I shall address in this article is the welfare of the congregation itself. In making such decisions any pastor who truly cares about the flock will seek to divest himself of his own interests and hobbies, will refuse to allow his fears and apprehensions about consequences to dictate the choices, and will think only of his obligations toward God and the welfare of His people.
But how does he know what is best for his flock? Often, the pastor is stymied right here. It is not always easy to arrive at an answer to that question. That is why I should like to look at some of the determining factors that may help you to arrive at good decisions.
Gaps, Imbalances, etc., in the Past
One of the...
Always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).
That’s what Paul said was the problem with some women who were “burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions” (HCSB).
Two things about those women stand out:
The writer of Hebrews exhorts you to do so. Listen to his words:
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying gain the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God . . . (HCSB Hebrews 6:1)
In making his “Inspired Translation” of the Scriptures (never completed), Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, got to this verse and, misunderstanding it, inserted the word “not”: [“not leaving . . .” etc]. He, of course, was woefully wrong. The people to whom Hebrews was written were long-time Christians who had become dull, and could not appreciate strong teaching (see Ch. 5). Therefore, the import of this verse is that they needed to go beyond the first teachings of the faith to more meaty material, so that they could grow in the truth. They were still sucking on a bottle of milk (see 5:12-14)! He wanted them to mature.
Today, to the contrary, we are told that to mature in the faith, we must go back to the first principles (elements) of Christianity (“Preach the gospel to yourselves”) and concentrate on them. This strange idea—so contrary to...
You know, of course, how a boomerang works—you throw it out, it does its work, and then comes back to you. It was originally used as a weapon; now (in our society) has become a toy.
Listen to what else becomes a boomerang:
A merciful person benefits himself; but the cruel person hurts himself. Proverbs 11: 17 (CCNT/Proverbs)
What you throw at another returns! Of course, you shouldn’t show mercy in order to receive it. And, you certainly won’t be cruel in order to receive cruel treatment in return! But in God’s order of things, you can look for boomeranging events to happen!
“Why don’t people treat me better?”(you may wonder). How do you treat others? It’s an interesting concept—isn’t it? Think about it and start interpreting your life experiences in relationship to their boomeranging effects.
Here is what the Thessalonians had to say about Paul and his associates when they came to town:
These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Acts 17:6 (HCSB)
They were wrong, of course.
“Wrong? How so?”
They had it backwards; or, might I say, upside down?
“What are you talking about?”
Simply this: these preachers were not turning the world upside down; they were turning it right side up!
Ever since Adam, things have been upside down because of man’s sin. When the Gospel is preached, and people believe, for the first time they begin to live as they were intended by God to live. Of course, not perfectly so.
“No one is perfect; as Jesus was. Will believers ever become perfect?”
When He returns to earth and transforms us into the perfect creatures he intends us to become.
“When is that?”
It is the next thing on God’s given agenda.
No one knows the date. We are to be ready for it to come whenever it does.
“Do all of...
This is a point I make every semester to my students:
There is a great misunderstanding in churches of the purpose of music in Christian worship. Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” Even a flyer for a recent conference for worship leaders boasted:
“Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.”
The problem with the flyer and with many church ads is that these kinds of promises reveal a significant theological error. Music is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. In this schema, music becomes a means of mediation between God and man. But this idea is closer to ecstatic pagan practices than to Christian worship.
Our natures have been transformed in a second way by the merits of the Son upon us.
2) We are completed by God in Christ.
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9-10)
Consider the titles that are given to believers to describe the perfection of their position in Christ.
In his recent series on The Gospel Coalition, Pastor Matt Recker devoted an entire essay to the doctrine of Scripture. Pointing to a 1956 article in Christian Life magazine, he noted that one element in the development of New Evangelicalism was a “re-opening of the subject of biblical inspiration.” He argued that this re-opening led some evangelicals to question the doctrine of inerrancy by the mid-1970s. According to Pastor Recker, certain statements by Gospel Coalition leaders, as well as certain sections of its foundation statements, are analogous to the flawed approach of the New Evangelicalism.
Few questions could be more important for faith and practice than the question, “By what authority?” This question goes to the heart of the matter—is the Bible a trustworthy authority, and if so, how and for what? Even fundamentalists have experienced disputes over these questions. Consequently, a review of the Bible’s teaching concerning inspiration and inerrancy is a necessary background for responding either to the statements of The Gospel Coalition or to Pastor Recker’s criticisms.
The only text...
Kerry McGonigal makes a very good point that is true not only for preaching, but also for all forms of communicating biblical truth. A snippet:
As expository preachers we may be passionately committed to saying what God said. And well we should. But are we also committed to saying what God said in a way that is consistent with why and how He said it?
Read the whole thing: Rhetorical Goals and Strategies: The Why and How of Preaching | Preaching & Preachers.
No, I haven’t been looking into facelifts or a new Fountain of Youth. I’ve been researching my health issues for about a decade now, and I’ve found a new path in the journey that, I have faith, will not be another merry-go-round, but rather an escalator! This new direction is Creator-based, using nutrients He made to heal the body He made!
Up until now, for the joint pain and inflammation (which tested negative for arthritis, Lupus, and RA…but positive for fibromyalgia), the fatigue (which tested positive…again…for Epstein Barr virus) and migraines (for which I’ve been treated by a few chiropractors as well as having a CAT scan and going to physical rehab for the structural instability in my neck), I feel like my health has been on a dimmer switch, gradually brightening.
The MD’s concluded:
At first, here’s an interesting interview about work and productivity from Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the very interesting Freakonomics. Habits and patterns of work are increasingly important to me. They probably should be for all of us.
At second, here’s a much needed article on Preaching and Piety. Too often, it seems like the beauty of the gospel is being used as a cover for sinfulness. The pastoral qualifications still mean something other than being able to exegete, assemble a message, and deliver it. We should take them seriously.
At third, Andy Naselli links to an article about unmarried couples making out. Andy, in his usual helpful way, highlights a few key points....
Short answer: Biblically, no; practically, perhaps.
Long answer: The public ministry of the Word is sometimes divided into preaching and teaching, with various ways to distinguish between them. Adams (Adams 1982, 5‑6), Zuck (Zuck 1998, 39‑40), and Dodd (Dodd 1980, 7‑35) distinguish between preaching (κηρύσσω and eὐαγγελίζω) and teaching (διδάσκω) in terms of the audience. In this view, preaching is evangelistic activity among unbelievers while teaching is the work of moral or ethical instruction among believers. For Dodd, in particular, the distinction is related to the content, rather than the act of preaching itself (Dodd 1980, 7‑8). Singley (Singley, III 2008, 45‑46) and Prime and Begg (Prime and Begg 2004, 125; cf. Anderson 2006, 93‑94) distinguish between preaching and teaching in terms of intent or goal. In this conception, teaching has as its goal the communication of knowledge whereas preaching has as its goal the movement of the will and emotions to respond to the truth communicated.
While these distinctions may have practical value, it seems doubtful that they can be rigidly sustained from Scripture since the various words used do not...
At first, NASCAR recently instituted a new rule that prohibits drivers or crew members from going on the track or approaching another moving vehicle. I am going to go ahead and go out on a limb here and suggest that if your employees need to be instructed not to stand in the middle of a road where cars are traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour, you should consider something besides a rule, something like, oh I don’t know … sending them back to first grade. I don’t say that to make light of the death of a racer, but seriously, why do you need a rule to tell people to stay out of the way of speeding cars? Isn’t that the first thing parents teach kids when they let them out of the back yard as a toddler? Yes, parents have to supervise that for a few years, but usually that becomes unnecessary. Apparently not if you are a NASCAR driver.
At second, here’s a nice article...
Among the many promises of John 14–17 are several that anticipate heightened activity by the Holy Spirit in the apostolic era. These have long been a source of both comfort and confusion to NT believers. Assurances that the Spirit would assume new functions of “bringing to remembrance” Christ’s words (14:25–26) and empowering the testimony of the disciples (15:26–27) gave confidence to the early church that Christ had not abandoned his people when he ascended to be with the Father. But they also raise questions about the nature of the Spirit’s work. Are these promises offered generally to all NT believers? And if so, were OT saints summarily denied these benefits as they struggled to bear witness to the superiority of Yahweh? IOW, can we expect the Spirit to do more spectacular things for Christian believers as they witness for him today than he did for earlier generations of God-worshipers?
The answer to this question is complex, and I cannot hope to give a comprehensive answer in a single blog post. But the conundrum is reduced at least in part when we correctly see at least some of the promises of John 14–17 as having a narrower scope than is often assumed. While...
It’s mid-September here in Michigan. The much-anticipated, season-changing cold front has gone through, the mornings have become crisp and clear, and the first smells of Autumn have started to fill the air. And this week my son and I are observing a little-celebrated but highly anticipated local holiday: the start of small game season.
By coincidence I am also teaching this week on the topics of natural revelation (in Systematic Theology I) and natural law theory (in Ethics), so it seems that everything in my life this week is converging on God’s “general” or “common” activities in his universe. Hence my blog topic.
Scripture makes much of these general, divine activities and common graces, and though we are constantly reminded that these are not final or comprehensive vehicles of divine disclosure, they are still true and valid means to the knowledge of God and a necessary backdrop to the special revelation of God that has climaxed in the revelation of his Son (Heb 1:1–4 cf. Psa 19; Rom 1:18–2:16). We recognize the voice God who speaks because we have seen from infancy the hand...
A few weeks ago there was an event here at Dodger Stadium with Joel Osteen, thirty-five thousand people at Dodger Stadium, something like that. He is now the largest, quote/unquote church…. I’m using the word loosely…in America down in Houston. You need to understand that he is a pagan religionist in every sense. He’s a quasi-pantheist. Jesus is a footnote that satisfies his critics and deceives his followers. The idea of this whole thing is that men have the power in themselves to change their lives. In his definitive book, Your Best Life Now, he says…and that ought to be a dead giveaway since the only way this could be your best life is if you’re going to hell. He says that anyone can create by faith and words the dreams he desires…health, wealth, happiness, success…the list is always the same.
Here’s some quotes from his book Your Best Life Now. “If you develop an image of success, health, abundance, joy, peace, happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you,” end quote. See, that’s…that’s the law of attraction that’s a part of this kind of system.
Here’s another quote, “All of us are...
In August 1998, I ordered some of my first seminary textbooks as a student. That particular semester, one item stood out above the rest. Philip Schaff’s 8-volume History of the Christian Church stood out primarily due to its price. At the time Schaff retailed for about $249. Most of us discovered that you could purchase the set for a little under $100 through CBD (and if you could find a free shipping code so much the better), but it still wasn’t a particularly cheap item. For a single guy living on a grocery budget of $10/week (yes, I did), it was a major purchase.
Fast forward some sixteen years. I still refer to Schaff from time to time. In fact, someone gave me a second set a few years ago and so now I keep one in my office and one at home for ease of reference. But I recently noticed that something significant has changed about the set. In printed form, it still costs eighty-something dollars at...
For my whole life I’ve been broadly a part of an ecclesiastical culture/movement that has been disinclined to commit either to Calvinism or Arminianism. A steady stream of articles, essays, and blog posts have kept this delicate balancing act alive for decades (for a recent and more-than-usually scholarly example, see the ongoing series here—I was going to wait for the conclusion, but I ran out of patience). I don’t believe, however, that this position is ultimately sustainable. And so my thesis in this post is simply this: the principal question in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate is a fundamentally binary one: you have to choose one or the other.
Of course, I am not so naïve as to imagine that variations and nuances of the two basic positions do not exist. I am, after all, editor of a soon-to-be-released book detailing THREE perspectives on the extent of the atonement (and in my...
Vern S. Poythress. Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.
Here’s what Poythress calls “The Real Problem with Gambling” (pp. 279–81):
The preceding appendix has analyzed a number of gambling systems by which gamblers hope to “beat the odds” and make a killing. We could consider still more systems. In each case, careful calculations of the probabilities show that the gambler will not win in the long run. In fact, in casino games the probabilities are always stacked against the customer, so that in the long run the casino consistently takes in money from every form of gambling that it offers on its premises.
The calculation of probabilities is a form...
James M. Hamilton Jr. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. New Studies in Biblical Theology 32. Downers Grove: IVP, 2014.
The book of Daniel contributes to the Bible’s unfolding redemptive-historical storyline.
Like a plug in an outlet, the book joins itself to the Bible’s broader narrative, and, as the currents course through, the light of revelation shines on the way things will go until God brings about the promised consummation (see chapter 2).
The literary structure of the book of Daniel (chapter 3) demonstrates that the biblical authors used wide-angle strategies to communicate (cf. chapter 9). The books of the Bible are like cathedrals, with...
Jeramie Rinne answers that question with six statements in Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus (9Marks; Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 19–29.
You know you’re qualified to serve as an elder if . . .
Rinne unpacks each statement in his short, well-reasoned book.
Gerald Hiestand convincingly argues that the answer is yes:
Gerald Hiestand, “A Biblical-Theological Approach to Premarital Sexual Ethics: or, What Saint Paul Would Say about ‘Making Out,’” Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 1 (2014): 13–32.
This article expands on the first two chapters in Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas, Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
Here’s the article’s thesis:
[F]idelity to the trajectory and ethic of Scripture necessitates reserving any and all sexual activity for the marriage relationship. Or to state it again, the New Testament conveys—both theologically and exegetically—that all premarital...
The latest episode of the edifying and motivating Dispatches from the Front DVD Series released last month: Day of Battle . It is set in North Africa.