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The Perfect Game
July 15, 2016

Baseball returns this evening from its annual mid-season classic. As the teams prepare to take the field I find myself thinking about the game I love, the game that has gripped and fascinated me for as long as I can remember. It is, to my mind, the best sport, the perfect game.

As a child I dreamed of mastering baseball and spent hundreds of sunny summer afternoons chasing the perfect fastball, the perfect swing, the perfect one-hopper from left field to the plate. When night came I fell asleep listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth as they called the highs and lows of the Toronto Blue Jays and when sleep took me I dreamed of taking my rightful place on my team—George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Dave Stieb, and me. Eventually childish fantasy gave way to adult reality but even broken dreams did nothing to temper my passion for the game. A son was born and soon I began to introduce him to my game and to my team. The cycle began anew.

What is it about this game? Why is it that every April I feel a new optimism, a new hope, a new excitement for a new season? Why is it that every October I find myself longing for just a few more games, a few more series? Why do I have such love for this game?

I Love the Challenge

Baseball is a game whose official rules extend to 172 pages and in these pages you will find provision for every eventuality from the routine and everyday to the obscure and nearly unthinkable. But for all the complexity, the heart of the game is so very simple—a man with a ball stands 60 feet, 6 inches from a man with a stick. The man with the ball pauses, he stares, he comes set, and for a moment remains perfectly still. Then he moves again in a careful choreography. His hands rise to his chest or his head, his knee comes up to his waist, his foot kicks outward, and as he plunges toward home plate his hand darts forward. Freeze the frame and you will see him clutching the ball, sometimes with his fingers split across two seams, sometimes with his fingers split across four, sometimes with the ball deep in his palm, sometimes with it nearly floating beneath his fingertips. Unfreeze. With a flick of the wrist it is gone and a mere four tenths of a second later it has slammed into the catcher’s mitt with the familiar smack.

Unless, of course, the man with the stick has had his way. Facing the pitcher is a batter and as the pitcher has been preparing to throw the ball, this man has been moving and shifting his own body, preparing to protect the plate. Before the ball is thrown he stands ready, his fingers loose on his bat, his wrists slowly rotating, his eyes fixed intently on the place where the pitcher’s hand will soon be. He shifts his weight back, lifts his front foot, and rotates his hips to the front as his arms begin to swing. If he times and judges it just right, he will hear the sound of summer, the sharp crack of ball on bat.

This, I’m convinced, pitcher against batter, is the greatest one-on-one challenge in professional sports. This little game within the game, played out hundreds of times every night, never gets old, never loses its thrill.

I Love .200, .300, .400

Baseball is a game of numbers, the sport of a thousand statistics. The most basic of them all is the batting average, the age-old measure of a batter’s raw ability to put bat to ball. It is best understood as the number of times the player will deliver a base hit if given 1,000 opportunities. The difference between a .200 batting average and a .300 batting average is merely 1 hit in every 10 at bats—just 100 hits in 1000 attempts. Yet that slim margin represents the difference between a bona fide superstar and a man looking for a new line of work. In almost every case a .200 hitter will be sent back to the minors or, at best, relegated to a part-time role. In almost every case a .300 hitter will be a star and receive a fat contract. As for that .400 hitter, there has not been one of them in over seventy years. How difficult is it for the man with the stick to beat the man with the ball? If he succeeds 2 times in 10 attempts he is a has-been, 3 times he is a star, 4 times he is a legend.

I Love the Fastball

The fastball is the one pitch every pitcher needs to master and to have as part of his repertoire. For all the talk of sliders and curves and sinkers, there is nothing more elemental than a pitcher overpowering a batter with that high heat. He might throw the venerable four-seamer which flies straight and true or opt for the two-seamer which tails off as it reaches the plate. Better yet, he will throw a mix of the two to keep the batter guessing. He will paint the corners, he will lure him and get him to chase, he will move up and down in the zone, he will assert his dominance. Baseball is at its purest when a fireballing pitcher stares down a red-hot slugger.

I Love the Change-Up

The purity and simplicity of the fastball is off-set by the dirtiness and deception of the change-up. The change-up is a pretender, a mimic, a cheat. It wears the guise of a fastball—the same look, the same action, the same motion—but it travels at a very different pace. This makes it a risk. The slow-moving change may as well be batting practice if the batter knows it’s coming. So the wise pitcher first displays his fastball. He throws it once, twice, three times. Now the batter has the measure of it, he is ready for the next one. But right here the pitcher judges the change-up worth the risk and springs his little surprise. Where the fastball zipped, this ball saunters, where the fastball stayed straight and true, this one falters and sinks. The batter is fooled, swinging long before the ball reaches the plate or perhaps finding himself stock still, tied in knots, helplessly watching as it chugs on by. Nothing makes an experienced pro look more like a rank amateur than a change-up perfectly set-up and perfectly executed.

I Love 60 Feet, 6 Inches

The integrity of baseball depends upon 2 crucial measurements, each of which brings parity to an aspect of the game. The first measurement is 60 feet, 6 inches, the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. That perfect distance brings perfect parity between the man with the ball and the man with the stick. Any closer and a fastball would be unhittable—the batter would have too little time to read the pitch, to judge it, to take his swing. Any farther and the pitcher would have too far to throw—the advantage would swing to the batter. But 60 feet, 6 inches is just right, ensuring that only the best pitchers and hitters are able to survive, and only the best of the best are able to thrive.

I Love 90 Feet

If the first great measurement is 60 feet, 6 inches, the second is 90 feet, the distance between the bases. It, too, is perfect because it, too, sets the perfect parity—parity between offence and defence, between runners and fielders. Even the greatest base-stealer must choose his moments carefully lest he be unceremoniously cut down. But even the greatest defense must be vigilant lest they be caught flat-footed and give up an easy base. At 85 feet defences would suffer and at 95 runners would have too far to go. Watch a runner steal second base and see how close he comes to being tagged. Watch a batter leg out an infield single and see that with another 5 feet, or 2 feet for that, he would be an easy out. It is the perfect distance to maintain the challenge just as it ought to be.

I Love 325 Feet

Baseball depends upon precise measurements—60 feet, 6 inches from the pitcher to the plate, 90 feet from base to base—but it finds its character in imprecise ones. Beyond those few, precise measurements there are any number of ways the game is quirky and customized. A field for professional soccer or football is identical to every other, but when it comes to baseball, every field is different, every one has its unique personality. There is the 325-foot short porch in AT&T field’s right corner, the imposing Green Monster rising up in Boston’s left field, the infamous double and home run catwalks jutting over the field in Tampa Bay, the ivy-covered walls in Wrigley Field. Some parks have fast-playing grass and others have slow-playing turf. Every field is different, every field an individual.

I Love the Shift

Actually, I don’t love the shift, but I do love what it represents. It represents strategy, the measures teams take to gain even a small advantage over their rivals. Yet with any benefit there is risk. A team may put on the shift to gain double coverage in one part of the field but to do this they must abandon another section altogether. They pull in the infield to try to make an out at the plate but this increases the risk of a hot hit scorching through. They guard the runner to keep him from the easy steal but this widens the gap between first and second. Or maybe they choose not to guard him at all but this offers him a tempting head-start if he decides to steal. Through the ebb and flow of a game each player will position himself a hundred different ways to account for a hundred different scenarios. Behind every moment of action is a deliberate strategy.

I Love the Game

Perhaps the greatest beauty in baseball is the vast chasm between its apparent simplicity and its actual difficulty. It is and remains the greatest one-on-one showdown in sports. There is nothing quite like it. Free throws, penalty kicks, penalty shots, 55-yard field goals each have their own challenge, their own thrill. But there is nothing as pure and nothing as thrilling as a man with a ball trying to blow it past that man with a stick.

Image credit: Shutterstock

How To Be Rich
July 14, 2016

My family lives in the poorest section of one of Canada’s wealthiest towns. Work brought us here sixteen years ago, and we bought the only house we could afford—a forty-year-old thousand-square-foot townhouse surrounded by much newer homes that are five, six, and seven times more expensive than ours. With a brief, five-minute drive we cruise past gated neighborhoods where every home costs in the tens of millions. In a town like this we have many opportunities to see great wealth and all the ostentation that can come with it. In a town like this we often hear people brag of their riches, of all that they have, all that they spend.

In our town we are poor. As my daughter said after visiting a friend: “We rode bikes in their basement. Their basement is bigger than our whole house!” But measured wider, we are rich. By somebody’s measure we are all rich. In comparison to someone else, even you and I have extravagant wealth. After all, poverty and wealth are relative terms and by the very fact that you are reading these words on an electronic device you have more wealth than someone else. And for that reason you and I need to learn to live the lifestyle of the rich and godly.

Listen to what Philip Ryken says as he examines some verses in the book of 1 Timothy:

In the providence of God, some Christians live in comfortable circumstances. They own their own homes. They wear nice clothes. They have more than enough food to eat. And Christians who are blessed with such material prosperity do not need to feel guilty about it; nor do they need to divest themselves of their wealth. They are even allowed to enjoy themselves. For everything we own comes from God himself, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). God is no miser. He provides for the rich and the poor alike, and whatever he provides is for our enjoyment. … The Bible celebrates the good things of life.

Yes, the Bible celebrates the good things of life, but it also warns us they can be deceptive, that they can keep us from celebrating life’s better things. We are far too easily pleased. As wealthy Christians, you and I need to learn to live well with our wealth. 1 Timothy 6 outlines a number of ways to do that and I was recently struck by a few of them.

First, the rich and godly acknowledge the temptation that we will set our hope on our wealth. Riches engage our sinful hearts with the promise of provision, the promise that our daily bread comes not from God’s hand, but from a pension, a bank account, a retirement plan. We need to constantly remind ourselves that these riches are uncertain, that a lifetime’s wealth can disappear in the blink of an eye, the screech of car tires on wet pavement, the collapse of a market. Wealth is good but unreliable. We need a better place in which to set our hope.

Second, the rich and godly are known not for their abundance of finances but their abundance of good works. Paul says “[We] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” The consistent testimony of the Bible is that we are all to do good to one another, constantly seeking opportunities to glorify God by caring for others. This is equally true for the rich and the poor. No matter who we are or what we have, we are to commit ourselves day by day to good works—works done for the good of others and the glory of God. Rich people may consider themselves too good, too blessed to get their hands dirty in caring for others. But no, rich and poor alike are to seek out opportunities to be hands-on ministers of mercy to others.

Third, the rich and godly put their wealth to work in this great task of doing good to others. Those who have been blessed with financial means have the added privilege and responsibility of doing good to others through their wealth. Ryken says “Some deeds of mercy also require money. Thus another way that wealthy Christians can glorify God is through the wise use of their money. God calls all his children ‘to be generous and ready to share’ (1 Tim. 6:18), to embrace a lifestyle of giving. Instead of considering godliness as a means to gain, he wants them to use their gain as a means of godliness. The stewardship of personal wealth is an important aspect of a rich Christian’s calling.” We are not to be known for our extravagant wealth but our extravagant deeds—deeds done for the good of others and the glory of God.

The simple fact is that by some measure you and I are rich. We need to admit it, embrace it, and seek God’s guidance in living like it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

12 Marks of Excellent Pastoral Ministry
July 13, 2016

John MacArthur has had a long, faithful, fruitful ministry unblemished by great scandal. For decades he has maintained a tight focus on teaching the Bible verse by verse and book by book. In 2006 he taught through 1 Timothy 4 and there he saw Paul providing his young protégé with “a rich summary of all of the apostle’s inspired instruction for those who serve the church as ministers, as pastors. And it all begins with the statement, a noble minister, an excellent minister, a good servant of Christ Jesus.” What are the marks of such a man? MacArthur reveals twelve of them.

An excellent minister warns people of error. Paul urges Timothy to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines… rather than furthering the administration and stewardship of God” (verse 3). The same instructions are given two chapters later and in 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and 1 Thessalonians 5. An excellent minister “understands the devastating potential of lies” and instructs his people against teaching and believing them. “When you point out error, you are a noble servant of Christ.”

An excellent minister is a faithful student of Scripture. This is a continual process he gives his life to. “You will spend your whole life mastering one book - one book, the only book that God has inspired which he has placed all of his truth. The Bible becomes the sole content of your ministry, the sole theme of your preaching and it must saturate your mind and your soul. You make a radical commitment to the Bible and to Bible study and to Jesus. That is being lost rapidly in ministry.” That loss is evident in a culture in which the Bible is no longer authoritative. Publishers, pressured to bring Bible sales back up, feel they must “appeal to felt need rather than the revelation of God.” The Bible is not fiction, it is not a book of suggestions, it is the inspired Word of God. “We are to saturate ourselves with the teaching of Scripture, the content, the words of the faith, and the dedoscalia, that which Scripture affirms propositionally.”

An excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching. “Have nothing to do with worldly fables” (verse 10). The word used here is Peritaomi which means to radically separate from what is holy. There are some things so evil that a pastor must not even listen to them. “Many young men who started out in ministry have been ruined, not by learning error as error, but by sitting under someone teaching error as truth. Being seduced with error from someone who believed that the error was true.” An excellent minister separates himself from the “corrupting influence of unholy teachers.”

An excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness. “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (verse 4b). This implies “strenuous training, self-abnegating, self-dying discipline in the direction of godliness - pulling up the loose ends, girding up the loins of your mind, as Peter would say it, beating your body into submission, lest in preaching to others, you become a documas, disqualified.” All the while the excellent minister needs to keep his conscience clear. Paul was speaking to a culture that like ours, was obsessed with vanity and physical exercise, but “an excellent minister, while responsible for his physical health, is far more consumed with his godliness and the disciplines that produce godliness.”

An excellent minister is committed to hard work. “If a man is willing to pay the price for fatigue and weariness, his ministry will not be mediocre.” Excellent ministry should be exhausting. Paul calls Timothy “to labor and strive “ (verse 10). The word for this is agonidzimi, to agonize in struggle. The gospel is worthy of a minister’s agony for his labor has eternal significance. “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are not seen” (2 Corinthians 4:17). MacArthur continues, “There is no more important, no more glorious, no more wondrous work than as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4… adding souls to the heavenly hallelujah chorus so that their voices can redound to the glory of God.”

An excellent minister teaches with authority. Verse 11 says “command and teach these things.” The Bible does not give prescriptions or suggestions, it gives commands. “Authority comes from God through the Scriptures to you when you handle the Scripture accurately, clearly and boldly.”

An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue. “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.” Paul commands Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather… show yourself an example of those who believe” (verse 12). MacArthur, reflecting on his first week at his church remembers being introduced in this way: “We don’t know what this young kid is gonna be able to tell us.” How did he overturn this? By living a godly life: “The single greatest support of truth in your preaching is the power of an exemplary life. This is your most reliable weapon. This is what makes everything believable.”

An excellent minister maintains a thoroughly Biblical ministry. Verse 13 is a summation of what a minister is called to do: “Until I come, give attention to the reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Read, explain, apply, and be consumed with Scripture. “The greats of the past understood their whole life was given comprehensively to the word of God.” MacArthur, when asked by his students the secret to great preaching answers, “keep your rear end in the chair until you finish your work. Come out when you have something to say.”

An excellent minister uses his spiritual gift and employs it. “That is to say he is faithful to the usefulness of that gift, that calling, that ordaining, that setting apart over the long, long haul.” Verse 14 says, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you.” The excellent minister knows that the gift he has, given by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in his life, is a gift he has for life: “You’re headed for a long life. And I hope it’s long - very long.”

An excellent minister is passionate regarding his work. The phrase used in verse 15 literally translated means, “in these things be you.” This applies to all life - there is no work/life separation here. “In this you live, move and have your being.” In these things be you.

An excellent minister is manifestly growing spiritually. Already, MacArthur established that the excellent minister’s life must be one of spiritual advancement, but a key word here is “manifestly.” This ought to show! “Let your progress be seen by everybody. People can live with that. They can love someone like that. They need to see your weakness. They’ll embrace you for it. They’ll love you for it. And they’ll know you understand their weakness.”

Finally, an excellent minister perseveres in ministry. All eleven elements thrive on this. Here, MacArthur reflects on 37 years of ministry: “I’ve seen 37 years of the work of the word in his church and what a joy, what an unspeakable benediction to my life. And when you do all these things, you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

This is what an excellent pastor does. and the solemn commitments he must make. In closing, MacArthur asks, “You want results? Those are the best results you’re gonna get. Heaven—that is the greatest result.”

MacArthur

You can listen to, read, or download MacArthur’s sermon free of charge from GTY.org.

No Bible No Breakfast
July 11, 2016

No Bible, no breakfast. Have you ever heard this little phrase? Has anyone ever told you to obey it? It’s a mantra that I have bumped into a number of times in the past few weeks. In one recent case a popular Christian leader held it up as a necessary motto for the believer, a basic mark of Christian obedience. He seemed to imply that godly people don’t eat their breakfast until they’ve read the Bible. He told how he holds to this rule and insisted that his followers ought to do the same. I cringed when he said it. I cringe just about every time I hear “No Bible, no breakfast.”

ShirtAs I understand it, the phrase originated with the Chinese evangelist Leland Wang. He once wrote “I have lived by ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ for forty-four years.” He explained that he instituted this personal rule after being convicted that he was too often willing to skip his daily Bible reading in order to catch a few more minutes of sleep. “I found an … effective means of ensuring my early reading. If I did not read at least one chapter to start the day, I did not eat my breakfast. ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ became my motto.” It became his personal motto and was meant to ensure he would prioritize time in God’s Word. In this way the mantra is no different from any of the rules or principles you and I might implement to address our weaknesses and promote our sanctification. “No Bible, no breakfast” may be just the one you or I need to ensure God’s Word takes appropriate priority in our lives.

But like any other rule or any other principle, we need to be very careful how we apply it. We need to be cautious about how much weight we assign to it. The reason I so often cringe when I hear this motto is that some well-meaning Christians have made it a rule that begins to bind the conscience of other believers as if it is a sure mark of godliness. There is nowhere in the Bible where God insists that we must spend time reading his Word before we eat our first meal of the day. In fact, while we are told we must make the Bible a priority in our lives, there is not even a clear command to tell us that we must have a time of daily personal devotions. For this reason we have to speak cautiously and pastorally when using a phrase like “no Bible, no breakfast” lest we fall into the critique Jesus made of the religious authorities of his day: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). What the Bible does not demand of us may prove to be a heavy burden to others. We may also forget that the rule does not exist because we are godly but ungodly—Wang created the rule because he was otherwise neglectful toward an important responsibility. It’s as much a marker of ungodliness as it is of godliness.

Wang himself seems to have understood the potential danger of his rule. He insisted that he instituted it “not as a law to bind me, but as a motto to remind me. For ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’.” This was his rule to address his conscience and his weakness. He recommended it to others but seems to have understood that he would have been overstepping his authority to demand it of them. That is wise! We can all benefit from hearing how others apply God’s truth to their lives and the measures they take to promote personal godliness. But the benefit fades when we insist that others must take those same measures.

The biblical priority is not “reading before feeding,” but the primacy of God’s Word in the life of the Christian. For some people this priority is best expressed in reading the Bible before eating breakfast. For others, though, this is a difficulty or impossibility and for them the very same rule may bring unnecessary doubt or unfair shame. What represents freedom for some will represent captivity to others. So heed the rule if you can do so in freedom. Even recommend it to others if you think they would benefit from it. But, like Wang, ensure that it is not a law to bind you but a motto to remind you.

No Bible No Breakfast

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
July 10, 2016

This week I told Why I Am Not Continuationist (or charismatic) and, not surprisingly, that generated quite a number of letters to the editor. So, too, did an article on the marks of a godly husband’s love. Here are a few highlights.

Comments on Why I Am Not Continuationist

First, thank you for your blog and more specifically for the series of “Why I Am Not …”. I enjoyed and learned from every one of them. I anticipated your most recent article the most, because this is an area where I am the most conflicted.

I started attending church again in a word-of-faith church. I left for many reasons, but I left extremely confused. Flash-forward several years and I was saved in a reformed cessationist church. I was a content cessationist until I learned of Sovereign Grace Ministries. There I saw sound believers who seem to be able to balance the charismatic gifts while not forfeiting sound doctrine - maintaining high view of God. I spent some time studying the gifts and I am still a resolved cessationist - hopefully a humbler one.

I feel there is an inconsistency in my hermeneutic in one area though and I was curious if you felt the same way. Specifically with miracles and healing. In my meager studying of the scripture, I could not find good support for the cessation of those gifts. At the end of the day, the reason I would say they have ceased is because they do not happen in any way like they did. The healings of the gospels and acts were generally public, dramatic and verifiable. The modern day equivalent “healings” are nothing like that. Where I feel this conflicts is with my creationism. I too am a young-earth creationist. From my limited study in this area, I am a young-earth creationist because I believe it is what is most clearly laid out in scripture. I wouldn’t say that I ignore modern science, but I do believe that modern science points more closely to an old earth. So in one area, I choose not to believe modern evidence and in another, I choose to let it guide my doctrine. I do not intend this to be a stumper, but I was curious if you felt the same conflict at all.
—Geoff L, Lubbock, TX

Tim: Perhaps, to some degree. But when it comes to creationism my belief in a young earth is not founded on what I see in the world as much as what I see in the Word. I cannot read Genesis 1-2 and see anything other than a young earth. I then attempt to see the natural world through this lens.

***

I wanted to first thank you for all of your insight and willingness to be vulnerable as you share some of your beliefs and how you came to those convictions. In your article you discussed why you are a cessasionist instead of a continuationist. The majority of the article (and the debate for that matter) centers around the miraculous gifts and the believer. However, where do miraculous acts done by God (not by a gift of the believer) fit into this? For example, if I believed that God sometimes does miraculous acts or healings as a validation of the gospel among unreached people groups, would this make me a continuationist? Or can a cessassionist in regards to the spiritual gifts still believe that God performs the miraculous at times?

I struggle believing that believers today have the spiritual gift of healing or prophecy, but I also want to reconcile it with many of the stories I have heard from the field where it seems that God worked miraculously in a very specific and short time to validate the gospel. This is an area that I am trying to pray about and understand more so I appreciate any clarifications or wisdom that you can provide. Thanks!
—Aaron M, Abilene, TX

Tim: Cessationism does not state that miracles have ceased. It states that the miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased. I believe God continues to perform miracles though, by definition, those miracles are rare. And, as I said in the article, those miracles tend to be somewhat less dramatic than the miracles of Jesus and his apostles. I have heard accounts of God working in miraculous ways in this modern world, but never of a limb regenerating or a person blind from birth instantaneously being given sight.

***

As someone who believes in the present usage of the gifts, and has experienced the frustration when it does not seem they have “happened” like I want; I simply feel as if these frustrations are not enough to get me to say “God doesn’t do these sorts of things anymore.” Especially, since there’s no clear word in the New Testament saying that they have ceased, or will cease. I have seen people who’ve been healed miraculously as a result of my prayers, I have given prophetic impressions to those I don’t know, and it’s been encouraging in the vein of 1 Cor 12. Regarding that last example, the person I encouraged was a guest pastor at a reformed (CRC) church I was attending at the time. During his sermon, I got the foggiest picture of a child being bounced on my lap, and decided I would share this with him afterwards. He and his wife were attempting to conceive, and he actually had me repeat my impression to her as well. This impression reminds me of the beginning of Jeremiah 1, where he is just beginning to prophesy (‘do you see this almond branch’ sort of stuff.) It was not a “thus saith the Lord” type of thing, but I don’t think it needed to be. I just honestly shared an impression I received, and the Lord used it to edify another believer with something I am pretty sure He wanted them to have (the blessing of children).

Now, like I said, I’m still frustrated by not seeing things I would like to see happen, happen. I have come down to this way of thinking about it: If we define the gifts to be a certain way, and then do not see them being expressed in that certain way, it doesn’t neccesarily mean that God does not want to work in us, nor does it mean that the gifts have ceased. All it means, is that things aren’t as we expect.

If I accept this, this truth that God doesn’t always do things the way I want Him to, then I can accept the foggy, blurry, black and white “vision” (which was little more than a strange daydream) and bless someone else through sharing it. I don’t need to chase after prophesy, or call myself a certain something, or even label it as a prophetic message. The fact remains, I had faith in God, and He used that faith, to bless His body. I feel like saying “the gifts have ceased”—prevents these sorts of encouraging situations, unnecessarily.
—Bryan R, Ottawa, ON

Tim: There is much that could be said here, but perhaps I’ll simply say again that whatever we make of such impressions we have to distinguish them from New Testament prophecy. New Testament prophecy as it has been recorded for us was clear, bold, and authoritative. So, again, it is difficult for me to strongly associate your impressions with New Testament prophecy, and I don’t think that’s unfair.

***

Thank you for your “Why I Am Not…” series. It has, in many respects, been very helpful. … Keener has published a monumental two volume series, which I am sure you are aware of, titled, “Miracles.” In the second volume, he lays out substantial amount of evidence that miracles occur in our own time by referencing case after case of medically documented situations where people have been healed. Furthermore, the testimony of countless people who would exhibit what is called “the gift of tongues,” an expression that is often described to be unintelligible, though edifying, grows one cautious of merely dismissing the testimonies out of hand. Thirdly, and once again, given the volume of prophetic utterances that are prevalent today, and the many testimonies of accurate prophetic insight, are we to consider these just pot luck or is there actually more?

My concern is this: as a cessationist myself, I have often argued against my charismatic friends that one cannot argue for the legitimacy of a movement from experience alone. However, my fear is that our arguments are arguments of experience. Was this not Hume’s problem: since Hume did not experience, for example, dead men rising from the grave, he concluded that such things cannot occur (very simplistically put, I know, but read Keener for a more detailed position). My second go to argument is church history, these things just seem to be absent from, especially, the apostolic fathers. However, once again, are their writings the only evidence we have, or is there at least scant evidence from supernatural occurrences in the early post-apostolic period?

My question now: (1) have we (ironically us cessationists) not constructed an argument from experience, rather than an argument from evidence; (2) is our exegetical analysis compatible with what we find in Scripture (eg. prophecy: what was Anna doing in the Temple at a time when God was silent, it does seem she had a known record of prophetic ability? What were Philip’s daughters doing? Does this not show that not ALL prophecy must necessarily be recorded, as some cessationists would tell those who hold to prophetic utterances?); (3) do we as cessationists not argue for a closed universe since the close of the canon (and I understand that the Spirit is operative through the Word, but as Dan Wallaces article asks, “Is there more?”

These are my wrestlings. I resonate with Wallace’s article, and I heed the caution of Piper’s article wanting to receive extra biblical revelations when we don’t even immerse ourselves in the revelation given to us through God’s Word. In other words, is there not more merit to the “cautious but open” camp (Carson, Piper, et al) rather than the strict old school cessationist camp? I’m certainly not jumping onto the Bill Johnson camp, not even Mahaney, but can cessationists hold to “there’s more” while still saying “but it’s very very rare?”
—Morne M, Cape Town, South Africa

Tim: Thank you for this excellent letter. I see it as an encouragement to continue to refine and deepen my convictions.

Comments on 4 Marks of a Godly Husband’s Love

I agree with your comments about husbands loving their wives in this sacrificial way. The entire matter is a picture of Christ and HIS church and where we as husbands get it wrong is that we make Christianity about everything else, even prioritizing our affections to the members of the church at the expense of loving our wives correctly. One can admire a diligence toward God by ignoring or shelving our wives for the sake of getting on with the job, but it really is putting the proverbial cart before the horse! If we don’t get this issue of loving our wives first and foremost, as Christ loves His church with absolute dedication and attention, we will not accomplish anything in the Lord. Thank you for your exhortation. Grace and peace be unto you by our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.
—Elandre’ D Kwazulu Natal, South Africa)

***

Tim, This post is exceptional in every way. As an expression of being my wife’s warrior, and without hesitation, I would swim through shark infested waters—both ways—to get my wife a lemonade. Yet despite understanding what you say, I manage to fail miserably far too often, so I thank you for the clear reminder of my greater role as a Christian husband. Well said, sir.
—Paul M, Virginia Dale, CO

Tim: Thank you. I’ll take the opportunity to remind everyone that the substance of the article was drawn from Richard Phillips’ excellent commentary!

The Bestsellers
July 08, 2016

Today I am continuing my series on bestselling Christian books. In this series I am taking a brief look at non-fiction Christian books that have sold at least a million copies—a rare and noteworthy feat in a relatively small market. Today we take a look at a surprise bestseller that was meant for children but which had every bit as big an impact on their parents.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Storybook BibleSally Lloyd-Jones (who, it must be said, is no relation to the great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones) was born and raised in Africa, educated in England and France, and currently resides in Manhattan. Her earliest jobs were in the publishing industry and she often cast an envious eye at the children’s department, wondering if she could someday have the opportunity to write for children. That opportunity finally came after she moved to the United States and settled into a full-time writing career. Though she has never married and has no children, she quickly proved herself especially talented at writing for a young audience. She tells of meeting an editor who said, “there are two types of children’s books authors: the ones who are around children, and the ones who are children inside.” She counts herself the latter type and that childlike delight worked its way into her books.

Her first hit was How To Be A Baby By Me The Big Sister which was written for the general market and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. It was only later that she began working on what would become The Jesus Storybook Bible. For this work she determined that she would tell the grand drama of the Bible through a series of 44 stories drawn from its narratives. In each case she wanted to show how Jesus is the hero of the Bible and the center of the Christian faith—hence the subtitle “Every Story Whispers His Name.” The publisher says, “The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of all is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. From Noah, to Moses, to the great King David—every story points to him. He is the missing piece to the puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle.” She wrote these stories in the voice of a mother teaching her children and did this by continually keeping her nieces and nephews in mind. The children’s book illustrator Jago provided the colorful, imaginative artwork.

Sales & Lasting Impact

The Jesus Storybook Bible released in 2007 and sold briskly. By 2011 it had surpassed the half million mark and three years later sold its millionth copy, receiving the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association’s Platinum Book Award In 2014.

The book received wide praise for its deliberate and winsome focus on the person and work of Jesus and his centrality to the entire storyline of the Bible. Many parents reported that they enjoyed reading it every bit as much as their children enjoyed hearing it. At a time when many adults were early in their pursuit of Christ and just exploring the Bible on their own, they learned along with their children that the Bible is cohesive, that it has a consistent message and structure all held together by the theme of Jesus. The Jesus Storybook Bible taught the parents even as it taught their children. Together they learned that every story whispers his name.

The book received very little serious critique, something that is rather the exception for a bestselling book. Even then, those who critiqued it typically focused on minor matters and only after first expressing their general admiration for the book and its author.

Since the Award

The Jesus Storybook Bible quickly and inevitably spawned a number of related products. It is now available in 31 languages, 8 editions, an animated format, and a curriculum. Lloyd-Jones has continued to write children’s books for both the Christian and the general market. One particularly noteworthy product is The Story of God’s Love For You, a trade book adaptation of The Jesus Storybook Bible which maintained identical wording but was packaged up as a book for adults.

A Personal Perspective

Like most Christian families I know, we have one or two copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible. However, by the time we became aware of it, we had largely moved away from reading storybook Bibles and were instead reading the actual Bible as a family. In that way The Jesus Storybook Bible was just a little too late to impact my family the way it did so many others. Still, we gladly commend it to families with young children and have purchased the curriculum for use in some of our children’s programs at Grace Fellowship Church. It remains one of my top picks in its genre.

Jesus Storybook Bible

Sources: RNS, Christianity Today.

Why I Am Not Continuationist
July 07, 2016

Today I come to the end of the series I’ve titled “Why I Am Not…” The purpose of this series has been to take a look at the things I do not believe and all along it has been my desire to explain rather than persuade. So far I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, paedobaptist, dispensational, or egalitarian. Today I want to explain why I am not continuationist or, if you prefer, charismatic.

Once again we need to begin with definitions. “Continuationism is the belief that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit taught in the Bible—such as prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and miracles—have not ceased and are available for the believer today. Continuationism is the opposite of cessationism which teaches that supernatural gifts have ceased either when the canon of Scripture was completed or at the death of the last apostle.”* In other words, this is a matter of whether certain miraculous gifts that were active at one time are still active today. I believe those miraculous gifts have ceased.

Once again, my beliefs on this matter are not easily separated from my background. Growing up in conservative, Reformed churches I knew no continuationists. I knew that such people existed only when I heard my parents speak sheepishly about their early introduction to Pentecostalism. They told us of their attempts to receive the gift and their growing acknowledgement that their tongues-speaking friends were simply uttering repetitive, nonsensical phrases. It was not until I was in my mid-twenties and a baptist that I first encountered tongues. The band at a worship conference entered into a time of “spontaneous worship” and immediately many of the people around me began to make strange sounds. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening.

A more formal introduction to continuationism came when I encountered Sovereign Grace Ministries. I had first become aware of this ministry through online connections and then through C.J. Mahaney’s books. I attended one of their worship conferences and here I saw what they called prophecy—prophetic songs meant to communicate divine truth to people in the audience. (“The Holy Spirit is giving me a song. I believe this song is for all the people here named Katie. If your name is Katie, please come to the front as the Holy Spirit has something to say to you.”) What I found at that conference and in these churches were people who were godly and kind and committed to Reformed theology, yet also firmly charismatic. Though I was certainly underwhelmed by this example of prophecy, I was so taken by the people, by their love for the Lord, and by their excitement in worship that I returned home wondering whether my family should find a way of joining them. For the first time I saw that continuationism was not necessarily opposed to sound doctrine.

It was at this time and in this context that I began to read, that I began to ponder, and that I began to search the Bible to see what it says about the continuation or cessation of the miraculous gifts. I read defenses of continuationism written by the theologians of the charismatic movement: Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms come to mind. I saw leaders I admire profess their view that the gifts continue to be operative today. I also read MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos, interviewed Sam Waldron, and read a number of critiques of continuationism. Through it all I became increasingly convinced that the miraculous gifts have ceased. I could not be continuationist.

I am not continuationist because of my understanding of the Bible. I see that those miraculous gifts were given for a specific time and purpose—they were given to accredit the message of the gospel when it was first going forth and before the Bible had been completed. As that time and purpose drew to a close, so too did the gifts. This is easily seen when we read the New Testament with an eye to when the different books were written. While an early book like 1 Corinthians has a lot to say about miraculous gifts, later books have far less to say. In fact, by the time Paul is writing to Timothy he is not expecting that Timothy will experience a miracle and not instructing him to pursue one, but rather prescribing a very ordinary cure for an ailment—“have a little wine for the sake of your stomach.” Paul himself suffered with physical pain but was unable to receive a miraculous cure. As we read through the New Testament we see these gifts slow and cease over the course of decades.

First, then, I am not continuationist for biblical reasons. But second, I am not continuationist for reasons related to observation and experience. The miraculous gifts I see and hear in the charismatic movement have only the barest resemblance to the New Testament gifts. The miracles are internal and unverifiable, the tongues angelic rather than actual, the prophecy fallible. I know of no credible accounts of the kind of dramatic miracles we see described in the New Testament—a limb regenerating, a dead and decaying man being raised. Whatever “miracles” I hear of today are nowhere near as dramatic, visible, and instantaneous as the ones we see described in the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles. I know of no Christian who has been able to preach the gospel in a language he does not know. A number of times I have had well-meaning people prophecy to or about me but these have always been vague impressions more than authoritative words from God. Even as we discuss continuationism, we need to acknowledge that what has continued is, at best, a mere shadow of what the Bible describes.

I am not continuationist and do not believe that my experience of the Christian faith and life suffer on that basis. Instead of focusing on the drama of the miraculous I find joy in the beauty of God’s ordinary providence. The great drama unfolding in, through, and around us is foremost a story of God working through his careful, constant providence, his moment-by-moment means of bringing about his will.

I would like to direct you to two recent resources that have been helpful to me. The first is an exchange between Sam Storms and Thomas Schreiner. Schreiner explains Why I Am a Cessationist and Storms explains Why I Am a Continuationist. Both men explain their position and I suppose you can easily guess which I found more compelling. The second resource is this excellent lecture from Phil Johnson in which in his inimitable way he explains Why I Am Cessationist.

4 Marks of a Husbands Love
July 06, 2016

“Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25a). On the one hand it is such a simple statement, a simple command. Simply love. On the other hand there is not a husband in the world who would say that he has mastered it. Behind the simple command is a lifetime of effort, a lifetime of growth. How is a husband to love his wife? What is the kind of love that he owes her? I am tracking here with Richard Phillips as he explains in his new commentary on Ephesians.

A self-sacrificing love. A husband’s love is self-sacrificing. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Every husband knows that he is called to love his wife to such a degree that he would willing to die for her. But God calls for far more than this. “It is easy for men to think of dying dramatically—and bloodily—for our wives in some grand gesture. But what Paul specifically has in mind is for husbands to live sacrificially for their wives. This means a dying to self-interest to place her needs before your own. It means a willingness to crucify your sins and selfish habits and unworthy character traits. I remember a husband who told me he had always thought that if a man came into the house with a knife to attack his wife, sure, he would be willing to die defending her. ‘Then I realized,’ he said, ‘that emotionally and spiritually, I am that man who assaults my wife and threatens her well-being. What God calls me to do is put my own sinful self to death’.” Exactly so. You would die for your wife, but will you live for her?

A redeeming love. A husband’s love is, like Christ’s love, redeeming. Christ “gave himself up for [the church], that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” “If we follow this progression we see the Christian gospel in terms of Christ’s preparation of a bride for himself.” Christ is actively sanctifying his people through the word to cleanse us from sin and make us holy. Paul now says that a husband is to see this as his model for the way he relates to his bride. “As Christ’s love redeems us for glory, a husband’s love ought to be directed toward the spiritual growth of his wife. Notice, too, that this ministry is associated with a husband’s words. The Greek word used here is thema, which signifies actual words, rather than the more common logos which speaks of a message in general. This makes the point of how important a husband’s words are to his wife. Far from badgering or tearing down his wife with his speech, loving husbands are to remind their wives of God’s love and minister for their blessing and increased spiritual maturity.”

A caring love. A husband’s love is also a caring love. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” A man’s care for his wife should be as careful and intimate as his care for his own body. Paul offers two key words to describe this: nourish and cherish. A husband cares for his wife by nourishing her heart much like a gardener nourishes his plants. “This requires him to pay attention to her, to talk with her in order to know what her hopes and fears are, what dreams she has for the future, where she feels vulnerable or ugly, and what makes her anxious or gives her joy.” A husband cherishes his wife “in the way he spends time with her and speaks about her, so that she feels safe and loved in his presence.” Phillips offers this warning: “In my experience, a husband’s caring love is one of the greatest needs in most marriages. [A] wife’s heart is dried up by a husband who pays her little attention, takes no interest in her emotional life, and does not connect with her heart.”

A committed love. Finally, a husband’s love is a committed love. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In the same way that Christ is utterly faithful to his church, a husband is to be completely faithful to his wife. This is signified in the one flesh union which is “the sharing of a whole life in the safe bounds of committed love.” One great barrier to this kind of love is when a husband does not transfer his allegiance from his parents to his wife, thus not fully leaving his father and mother. “A husband who shares marital secrets with his parents or who cannot break free from his family’s control is not able to offer his wife the devotion she needs.” Another great barrier is sexual sin. “Marriage involves forsaking all others in favor of an exclusive, intimate, and indivisible bond. … In Paul’s pagan world, as in our own, marriage was undermined by insecurity, as men and women exchanged partners the way they changed clothes. But a Christian husband offers his wife the security of a committed love, in which she can blossom emotionally and spiritually.” A husband commits to his wife to the exclusion of all others.

In all of these ways a Christian marriage is a portrait of Christ’s union with his church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When we see this intimate connection between marriage and the gospel, we understand that “There is nothing more profound in all this world than the sacred bond of marriage, and no more solemn duty than those owed by a wife to her husband and a husband to his wife.” So husband, do you love your wife? In what ways do you need to love her better, to love her just like Christ loves his church?

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