Prey to Being Positive?

As I round off my preparation for three sermons this Lord’s Day, I’ve been forced to think again of the ‘dangers of being positive’ or ‘criticism for being negative’.
If I’ve already raised your eyebrows, I wonder why that is? Perhaps you’ve fallen foul of some grumpy, gloomy pastors, or been lorded over by elders with hypercritical personalities.
Others may have been tainted by Peel’s ‘Power of Positive Thinking.’ Over-optimism is rife in parts of the West. Educationalists ban criticism as cultural taboo. Self-esteem gurus feed egos with applause.
At risk of being ‘jaundiced against joy’, I’ve often remarked how the ‘positivity police’ who cry ‘stop being negative’, are often among the most negative people I know. They say cheer up but rarely smile themselves.
To get onto something of substance, you might be wondering what has generated this blog on ‘prey to being positive.’ Well Scripture, I hope you notice, is supersaturated with negatives.
A fine example is the text that set me off. “Do not be conformed to this world”. To discover, discern, do & delight in God’s entire will, as living sacrifices, we must refuse to march to the drumbeat of our age.
Paul keeps step with Christ who was negative with no fault. “I am […]


Breakfast Leftovers

Luke Harrington’s recent article at Christianity Today, How Methodists Invented Your Kid’s Grape Juice Sugar High, has made people thirsty for church history. So, I thought I’d heat up some breakfast leftovers to go along with it. A few years ago, I wrote the following article while trying to whet my junior high students’ appetite for church history.

My students seemed to find history more palatable when they see that they are already familiar with it. So, let’s check out your breakfast menu:

If you reach for Quaker Oats in your pantry, you’ll find a Quaker man staring back at you from the package label. The corporate creators of the logo who trademarked it in 1877 did not specify the character in Quaker garb as a particular individual. But, he was designed to project the values of honesty, integrity, purity, and strength associated with the Quaker faith. I can’t help but think his image is familiar to that of George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of the Quaker movement. The Quakers, or The Religious Society of Friends developed out of the Church of England in the 1650s. They quickly grew and spread to the new world. William Penn, for whom Pennsylvania is named, remains the most […]


Dealing With Someone Else’s Sin

Being a pastor means a significant portion of my work revolves around the odious task of dealing with someone’s sin. Whether I’m preaching about it, counseling through it, praying over it, it seems much of my energies are directed toward this tireless enemy. Through the years, I’ve found the following truths from God’s Word to be repeatedly proven in times of difficult ministry. Consider this my cheat sheet – gathered through study of God’s Word and more-or-less successful conversations with others. 


3GT: Which Path?

The gents begin by discussing the contours of a credible profession of faith (with an eye on Trump).  Next comes a brief exploration of the ESV Permanent Text.  And lastly, we segue right into a discussion on the ethics of voting (and yes, with an eye on Trump again).


Clarification on Mortification

Last week I treated a short section of John Owen’s work The Mortification of Sin. Without seeking to go through the entire work, I wanted to follow it up with another post or two on other portions that I have especially found helpful.

I, as others, have found Owen’s treatment deeply insightful and purifying with respect to my own heart motivations. Here are two recommendations from influential authors.

John Owen’s treatises on Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin are, in my opinion, the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.” —Jerry Bridges, author of The Pursuit of Holiness

I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern; and I owe more to [The Mortification of Sin] than to anything else he wrote.” —J.I. Packer

In speaking of this subject, it is important to review the meaning of mortification.  Mortify means to put to death.  Our calling as believers is to put to death our sin.  In Romans 6:13, Paul  commands, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.”  So we must be crucifying the flesh or be engaged in the work of mortification as Christians. Yet, as Owen points out, […]


Don’t waste your suffering #5

A Promise to Cling to

A series of four articles on suffering is all very well, but when you’re in the thick of it sometimes all you can do is cling to a single verse or a phrase.

This is the story of my verse.

I want to start off with an odd question: What is the least consequential, unnecessary thing, that God has done for you that has brought a smile to your face and a thank-you to your lips?

I think of a long journey home from somewhere and I had a notion for chips (‘fries’ for American readers, expect better 🙂 ). You know how it is when you get a notion, not only do you have to get them, but they need to be good—there are few things as disappointing (at this level) than ropey chips. And so we pulled in at the next chippie. The signs weren’t good—an empty car-park on a Saturday evening, no queue. But we persisted, and a few moments later Judith emerged with the goods. And boy, were they good. On the big scale of life—utterly inconsequential; but on the small scale—”Thank you God for great chips”.

Get your own ‘chip moment’ and hold it in […]


Why kiss your bride through a veil?!

I’m in the middle of teaching an intensive introduction to New Testament Greek for the ministry students at our seminary this month. It’s a pretty heavy month (though moreso for the students!): 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 4 weeks, followed by 2 hours every week for the rest of the academic year, to give them the basics of a language that no-one speaks any more. Why? Is it just tradition? Or a sadistic desire to inflict the same pain that previous generations of ministers had to go through?

Our passion for teaching ministers the original languages of Scripture is rooted in the Reformed Church’s unswerving commitment to the Word of God as it came from pens of the inspired authors. And it came from their pens in Hebrew and Greek. The Westminster Confession of Faith (I.8) puts it like this: ‘The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all […]


Tutored by a Nasty Flu

Forgive the lateness and silliness of this post. I’m still trying to recover.

In the midst of a week of starting a new school year, attending meetings, and speaking at a conference, I got hit by a head flu. Trying to teach with your nose, head, and ears stuffed with twenty pounds of cotton is a surreal experience. Speaking of cotton, trying to collect my thoughts was like grabbing for wisps of it floating in the wind. Often I wondered if what I was saying was making any sense to my students at all. I felt like I just was staring at them like a goldfish would through his bowl – mouth hanging open, eyes bulging, bubbles occasionally popping. That’s about all I remember from last week. That and just wanting to sleep.

By the weekend the bug decided to have children and send them south to my stomach. For the first time in our married life, we think, both my wife, who also fell ill, and I stayed home together from church. The girls came home afterwards and cared for their invalid parents, bringing us a lunch that we were not hungry for. Misery loves company, they say, but not too close, as we […]


The Long View: Developing Faithfulness

Kessler Boulevard carves a scenic route through Indianapolis and through the neighborhood where I serve as a pastor. Almost five years ago, I rounded a corner on Kessler and beheld a ghastly scene: workers had cut down at least five dozen gorgeous trees that lined the street. I almost cried. The sturdy maple, ginkgo, and other species were victims of a project to finally install sewer service to our part of the city.

The trees were at least twenty years old. Many were over fifty years old, and some probably much older. I felt a profound sense of loss as I passed stump after stump, knowing that it would take twenty years and more to restore Kessler’s canopy. In that moment, my grandfather’s words came to mind: “It takes about twenty years to see faithfulness built into a person’s life.” He was quoting someone, but in his years of pastoral experience, he had seen the truth of the statement. Mature, steady, faithful people are a precious commodity. “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” asks Proverbs 20:6. I wrote this article reflecting on how, like the trees, it takes time, even twenty years, […]


Awakening Sin to Kill It

In his work The Mortification of Sin, John Owen gives page after page of help in how to “kill sin before it kills you.” In one section, he speaks of “awakening sin to kill it.” At first glance, this could sound as if he is saying that in order to get sin out of your system you should rouse it with lust or practice it or something along those lines. Yet clearly that is not what is meant.

Rather, by awakening sin Owen means we are to become aware of it by exposing it for what it really is. As Paul states in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” When we come to a point where we see sin for the awful thing it is, it makes us die or, in other words, repulses us to the point we want to be rid of the sin.  So how do we bring sin to life so we can put it to death in Christ?  What tool do we use?  As Paul tells us here, we use the law.  The fullness of the law in its precepts, testimonies, and judgments helps us to awaken sin to kill […]