Envy and Despair

In Psalm 73, Asaph describes an overwhelming temptation to despair that comes on you when you look around and see the way that prosperity and godliness don’t always come together. The wicked are often given power, wealth, the means to live at ease, and with their luxury the means to mock God. They are untroubled and seem to carry no guilt for their sin. Asaph, seeing this, says, “surely I have cleansed my heart in vain.” What was the point of walking faithfully?

Have you ever wondered this? What is the point of faithfulness, when it doesn’t seem like it changes your situation in this life? What is the point of making choices with your family, with your money, with your friends, with your career, with all of your life, when you sacrifice to live a certain way, and it seems like the reward goes to the wicked?

Asaph names this sin. He says it is the sin of being envious of the boastful, and coveting the prosperity of the wicked. This is what happens when your eyes start wandering away from the provision that God has given you and you begin lusting for the things that God has not given you. You start wishing you had the life of someone else. You see the easy pleasure of others and it makes you sick in your own heart. Continue reading

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Masculinity Is As Masculinity Does

A recent NSA Disputatio got me thinking again about the need to instill biblical masculinity in Christian men. You run into a bit of conundrum when you try to do this because there are two misguided tendencies that always immediately surface and play off of one another.

The first tendency notices a general limp-wristed effeminacy within the evangelical church and attempts to rectify it by embracing a raw physical toughness. Athletic accomplishment begins to carry immense significance, with lots of references to Paul’s allusions to physical training. Fist fights and past service in the military become badges of honor. And you have to eat a lot of bacon.

The second tendency is just the obvious reaction to this first. All you have to do is look at this and say – “give me a break.” This kind of supposedly masculine ministry is practically it’s own refutation. It’s shallow and tacky. But the reaction against this first misguided masculinity can be so powerful that it pushes men into extremes in the other direction. Guys start embracing a deliberate effeminacy, dressing and acting foppishly, purely out of rebellion against lame cultural expectations of what it takes to earn your man-badge. And of course, the foppishly dressed hipster then becomes the proof to the bacon-eaters that we need more masculinity in the church. Repeat ad nauseam.

But when I interact with either position very long, I generally start to get the impression that I’m dealing less with a principled position, drawn from serious reflection on the biblical text, and more that I am hearing about someone’s personal proclivities. Former jocks love being told that their high school football careers, be they ever so brief and far-gone in the rear view mirror, actually prove that they are superior churchmen. And the bookish men, who bruise easily, like to discover that their delicate but beautiful little souls are the ones that most embodied what Jesus was like. Continue reading

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Gospel Irony

This was an address I delivered at the NSA Convocation, 15 August, 2014

You’ve no doubt heard the Bonhoeffer quote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That quote summarizes so succinctly a central theme throughout the epistles of Paul about the nature of the Christian life. Think of all the times that the Apostle points towards this truth.

He brags in Galatians “I have been crucified with Christ,” (Gal. 2:20a). And he tells the Colossians and the Romans that they were buried with Jesus in their baptisms (Col. 2:12). They have died (Col. 3:3). And not only that, but because they have died, they need to start putting to death their earthly members (Col. 3:5).

So Christ bids you come and die. Come and put to death what is earthly in you. In one sense, our hope for you as students at this college is that this is a year of earthly death for you. We would like to see you students put your flesh to death. So here are three areas in which you have an opportunity to die this year. Continue reading

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Testing God

“Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents,” (1 Cor. 10:9). The Israelites tempted God when they found themselves in the desert without food or drink and they turned to God and said, “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They make this complaint several times during their journey through the desert. And this complaint caused God to give the command, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:16). Now it is interesting that it is this commandment that Jesus quotes back at Satan when Satan tempts him to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple and trust that the angels will save him. Jesus said, “It is written again, ‘you shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

So put those two stories alongside one another for a moment – the Israelites in wilderness without food or water, and the temptation of Jesus to throw himself from the top of the temple to see if God sends angels to catch him. What is it that we are being warned of in these stories? How did these two stories illustrate a testing of God that we must beware of? Continue reading

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The Trouble with Teachers . . .

At the sabbath dinner table a week or so ago, Grandpa Jim said something terribly insightful. We were talking about some ridiculous piece exegesis that we had heard recently, and Jim said, “the problem with teachers is that they always feel like they have to tell you something that you didn’t already know.”

Yep. Very true. Sometimes the text just says what we have already heard a thousand times before, what we need to hear another ten thousand times again.

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Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with this promise – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 5:3). We all know what it means to be financially poor. But what does it mean to be poor in spirit? David gives us a good example of what this means in a number of his Psalms.

“But I am poor and needy; make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer, O Lord, do not delay” (Ps. 70:5).

“Bow down your ear, O Lord, hear me; for I am poor and needy” (Ps. 86:5).

“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:6).

“I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God” (Ps. 40:17).

To be spiritually poor, is to recognize your own helplessness. The poor man sees his own neediness and knows that salvation is beyond his grasp. He is the one who cries out to God, knowing that his own situation is hopeless.

To be poor in spirit requires a brutal honesty with yourself about your own sinful conditions. To be poor in spirit requires the humility to look away from yourself and to call out to God for deliverance. And to be poor in spirit carries with it this great promise – that God hears you, that God is your helper and deliverer, that God is hastening to save you. To be poor in spirit is to be an heir to the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, to be poor in spirit is to be wealthy beyond all imagination.

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Which the Preacher Did Not Prove

“Death and eternity make men wise: we easily confess and repent of many things when we come to die, which no counsels or sermons could make us penitently confess before. Death will answer a thousand objections and temptations, and prove many vanities to be sins, which you thought the preacher did not prove . . .” Richard Baxter

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Principled Under Pressure

When you live in a principled world, which is a good thing, you are going to find that you regularly are put in a situation where big things depend on your principles. For instance, you can find yourself in a position where a job depends on you being able to sign a statement of faith or where a future marriage depends on your theological convictions. Continue reading

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Hebraica Veritas

Here is a slightly random post. I’d like to explain why I think that biblical Hebrew was not the one pre-Babel language. If you’ve never heard this idea before, it might seem like a strange thing to spend time arguing about. But it’s actually a fairly commonly held position. You get varying versions of the argument. Usually it starts with claiming that all the languages were confused at Babel, except for the language of the descendents of Shem, which was the Hebrew language. They alone continued to speak this one, true, pre-Babel tongue, passing it on to their children (kind of like the Knights Templar in a National Treasure movie). This language goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and usually extends even to before the fall. In some versions, Hebrew is actually the divine language that God spoke at creation, or the heavenly language that God uses with the angels. Continue reading

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