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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 Peale’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 […]

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 […]

Ten Truths For Thomas

I’ve just about finished writing an article on ‘Preparing to Preach Isaiah’, and having deposited 4k of weariness onto the treadmill, I’m in a position to type a few brief thoughts on the folly of unbelief and the overwhelming reasons Isaiah provides for faith in Israel’s God.

My targets in this article are Doubting David’s and Skeptical Sarah’s – which in the end basically means all of us at one time or another. in life’s varied faith-shaking circumstances.

Isaiah shows us what unbelief leads to – idolatry, rebellion, moral decay, judgment and exile as he explains in chapter 1 (and at various other points in the book).
Isaiah shows us what is in store for believing people from all nations who stream to Zion in chapter 2.1-6.
Isaiah shows why God really hates unbelief and idolatry because He is Holy, Holy, Holy and has given us a holy calling, so if you are tempted to doubt fall down on your face before God in chapter 6.1-8.
Isaiah makes the most stupendous predictions (in spite of what some continue to insist) of the most remarkable events such as the Virgin Birth of the Saviour in chapter 7.14, the everlasting Government of the Messianic Son of David in chapter 9.6-8, […]

“Beautiful Beyond Description”

I’m just back from a Jonathan Edwards conference in Durham. The last talk was superb and I thought I would share its outline with you [plus a few random thoughts of my own].
It called to mind an article I read on a BBC website some years ago on what makes a person beautiful. “True beauty”, said the author, “is about symmetry, balance and harmony”. He went on to illustrate this with precision line drawings and pencil sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci. “Every model” he asserted “when you look at their face, jaw, eyes and cheekbones, will have angles that are symmetrical and identical on both sides” [Just by the way, this is a dim, distant, paraphrase]. What depressed me the next morning, as I looked in the mirror, was a nose bent in the middle and one eye higher than the other – I decided I would settle for a little inner beauty!
Our conference speaker at Durham made exactly the same point. He illustrated balance, with all parts working harmoniously, in the abseiling activity of an arachnid descending from its thread, and spinning its silky web. ‘Thus’, he provisionally concluded, ‘we see the glory of divine beauty in nature through the […]

Can Women Teach Sunday School–A Fruitless or Fruitful Question?

Occasionally I have a mild interest in the intramural disagreements floating around the blogosphere. Okay, let me be a little more accurate. I usually keep one eye on the latest cyber-wranglings but hesitate to say much publicly lest I add to the ridiculous amount of ignorance being promoted. Too often they produce more heat than light, and become an exercise in futility, wounded egos, and endless tit-for-tat counterpoints. Ah, the sweet taste of fruitlessness! But once in a great while I’m surprised!

My latest surprise has been watching the unfolding of an interesting and charitable back-and-forth that began as a discussion point on whether or not women can teach men in Sunday school–can, of course, being used here in the permissive sense. Before any eye rolling begins, the difference is among those who heartily affirm the Bible’s restriction of the office of elder to men. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appear there is a consensus on this point. Here’s a quick roundup–:

On an episode of Mortification of Spin hosted by Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, and Todd Pruitt, the hosts were clarifying their complementarian views and a difference arose as to who may teach an adult Sunday school class. Todd strongly opposed women teaching […]

The Backside Blessings of Blogging

Like the businessman whose only measure of success is the bottom line or the pastor who only looks at how many people are in his church’s pews, bloggers can also be one-dimensional in gauging the importance of their work. They can see how many hits or Facebook likes a post receives, and then weigh their success or failure. Also, in the speed of light nature of the internet, bloggers can feel that yesterday’s blog post is already long forgotten and grow discouraged. That is why it is helpful to see some of the hidden blessings of blogging that often are overlooked.

In pointing out a few of these, perhaps this post is written just to encourage other bloggers including my fellow GenRef Gents. Or maybe those thinking about starting a blog, but hesitant to do so, will find some needed stimulation here. Or though I had actually begun working on this post before I read Tim Challies’ article “A Call for Plodding Bloggers” last week, one could consider this article as a further Amen to his call to keep on keeping on. Regardless, after blogging over a number of years, I have enjoyed at least these five blessings in so doing.

Thoughts are clarified. As the old saying goes, “Over the […]

The Mild-Mannered Messiah

The Meekness of the Master

They say that confession is good for the soul – so I thought I better blog and get this off my chest….

…..I was preaching last Lord’s Day on my 1st ‘I wills’ of Christ. I took for my text Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When I reached my 3rd point, on the meekness of Christ in v29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart”, I really didn’t ‘nail it’. I had intended to say that this relief is obtained when we take up Christ’s yoke of discipleship, and learn to serve and imitate a meek, mild-mannered master. So let me try to explain a little of what it means to be meek like the Master.

Defining the Meekness of Jesus

The lexicon defines this attractive characteristic trait in the following way: meek means to possess a “mild and friendly disposition” or be “gentle, kind, considerate.” It is relational word which involves the manner in which we care for, treat, handle and manage others. If Messiah is meek who would not want Him as Master and to be like Jesus […]

The Extraordinary Pastor

The Extraordinary Pastor – An Endangered Species

It was a real eye-opener recently to discover that a significant proportion of preachers are in it for themselves. This fact wasn’t gleaned from statistical analysis: at first I thought I was dreaming when I read Philippians 1.15. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” This was what Paul concluded from observing how various Christian preachers behaved while the apostle was imprisoned: some laboured harder to break new ground for the Gospel, taking advantage of the publicity which Paul’s trial and imprisonment brought; others, regrettably, saw an opportunity, out of envy and rivalry, to stir up public antipathy and government hostility, and make Paul’s jail term torturous. It forced me to conclude, reluctantly, that the principle being taught is something along these lines: quite a number, if not the majority, of pastors, ministers, evangelists and preachers, for part of the time at least, are tempted to, or actually do, preach from unworthy motives, to make life harder for others, or increase their own success.

Can it really be true that a disinterested Christian leader is a kind of ‘lesser-spotted dodo’ and thus a very rare endangered species? As I […]

Avoiding Hyper-Calvinism as We Preach

Could it be that, in heart and practice, many of us in Reformed churches are not preaching evangelistically because we allow our Calvinism to bind us rather than propel us as it should? Perhaps we can learn from a controversy in Spurgeon’s time.

When it comes to controversies and Charles Spurgeon, the conflict he is most known for was the “Down-Grade Controversy” toward the end of his ministry. The Down-Grade was a battle against late Puritan ministers who began sliding toward liberal doctrines, philosophical and moralistic preaching, and less than holy practices. This controversy received its name from Spurgeon who warned: “We are going down hill at breakneck speed.”

Yet, as Iain Murray makes known in his book Spurgeon v. the Hyper Calvinists, Spurgeon faced a lesser known but equally dangerous controversy. In his early ministry he was attacked by reformed ministers because they believed he was offering the gospel too freely.

These ministers taught that in preaching the gospel care should be taken that sermons spoke only to the elect. Thus, they preached (and taught others to do the same) that when people are called to respond to the gospel, they are not to be called to believe in Christ directly but rather they are to ask for faith […]

Spiritual Abuse: It’s Not Just Celebrity Pastors

When I was in seminary there were two sins—all too common among pastors—that frightened me so much I nearly gave up my pursuit of the ministry. One of those was the sin of spiritual abuse. After all: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed by lambs.’” Twice more he brought Peter’s love to the test, and each time bid him to have a careful regard for his sheep. Our love to Jesus is, to a certain extent, shown by the way in which we treat the sheep. If he is a liar who says he loves God but hates his brother, I suspect it cannot be good for that one who says he loves the Great Shepherd but hates the Shepherd’s sheep.

Yesterday Christianity Today reported that celebrity pastor Darrin Patrick, had been fired from the mega-church he pastored in St. Louis. They reported: “[The church] cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and a history of building his identity through ministry and […]