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July 14, 2010

Today’s guest post comes to us from Stephen McGarvey. Stephen is editorial director of Salem Web Network (i.e. christianity.com, crosswalk.com, and so on). He tackles a subject that is near and dear to me—using discernment in real life.


Is there ever a time man can judge another man? I can’t find it in the Bible but my friend says it’s ok to judge false teachers. 

The question above arrived in my inbox a few days ago from one the readers of Christianity.com. This is an issue that arises regularly in our little editorial corner of the world.  Typically, however, the question isn’t phrased as mildly as this member of our audience put it. The more usual way this issue comes to our attention is from an incensed Facebook comment or reader feedback post that sounds more like:

How dare you condemn this fine Christian person whom I love and their film/book/movie/actions/etc? How can you call yourself a Christian and write something so negative?

There are certainly examples of the “negativity” to be found on the Christian websites I am responsible for as well as the sites of others who look to comment on life’s issues from the Christian perspective.

July 09, 2010

Today’s guest blogger is a dear friend to Aileen and me and, as it happens, the granddaughter of Arnold Dallimore, whose biography of Spurgeon we only just began to read together. I asked Becky if she would be willing to share a few memories of her grandfather.


My grandpa was a man who could sleep anywhere. He was a small man with a big voice. He walked briskly, swinging his arms at his sides while he moved. He rarely left the house without his favourite red cap. He loved wonton soup. My grandpa always carried around two essential accessories: a shoe horn and a black, plastic comb. Each night, between seven and eight, he watched “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” (which, I am confident, based on his at home performances, he could have won). My grandpa was a world renowned author, church planter, pastor, preacher, poet, great man of God… and, according to my kindergarten journal, my best friend.

My grandpa loved to tell stories. I spent many hours, snuggled tightly between him and my grandma in the front seat of their car, listening to stories about his childhood in London, Ontario, his tomato soup (made from ketchup and water) years at Seminary in Toronto and the years he spent building and growing Cottam Baptist Church. My favourite stories were those he told about his mother, Mabel. Legend has it, that upon hearing the news of her death, a streak of his hair turned from brown to white.

My grandpa loved a good bargain. He was what many would have considered poor his entire life. He often told me that he’d never had two nickels to rub together. He would not have known what life would have been like with a little bit of extra money. Despite that, my grandpa always dressed well and he would often share the story of how much a garment had cost him and where he had purchased it from. He had a brown “Neiman Marcus” sweater that he had purchased at a thrift store. Every time he wore that sweater, he would remind me that it had been an outstanding deal.

April 30, 2009

Today’s post comes courtesy of my good friend Ryan who offers some reflections on glorifying God through life’s trials. He wrote this article yesterday.


I am writing this from the waiting area at the Trillium Hospital in Toronto, while my beautiful wife is undergoing a procedure to help bring closure to the miscarriage we first learned about last week. While this isn’t our first miscarriage, it is the first since the healthy births of our two children, and was an unwelcome and unexpected shock.

In contrast to the joys of learning that you’re being blessed with a new baby, when you can’t wait to tell everyone you meet (strangers or friends!), learning that your child has died in the womb leaves you with the unfortunate and awkward task of notifying your family and friends of your loss. As with the joyful announcement, the news is first passed to your close family and friends - in our case, a few church elders and family - and then repeated to ever-widening circles.

The range of reactions is quite broad, and probably worth a whole post of its own. Some people cry with you, some engage in heartfelt conversation based on their own experience, some display anger, while others look uncomfortable and try to avoid further discussion. I’ve found the reaction offered by a person when confronted with bad news to be very telling about their own beliefs.

Outside of our immediate family, church family and friends, we also had to inform our friends on an online forum operated by my company. It’s a cozy group of about 4,000 people from a niche industry and has been in existence for nearly 7 years. Over that time many of us have grown close, even when we rarely meet in person. A few weeks earlier I had joyfully announced that we were expecting, after dutifully waiting through the customary first 10 weeks of pregnancy in silence “in case anything goes wrong” during that early time.

When news of our miscarriage broke on the forum, we were quickly offered dozens of messages of encouragement promising prayers, good thoughts and positive energy sent into the cosmic consciousness (whatever that means !?). Surprisingly, one friend posted a strongly worded message accusing the “supposed protector” of being a fraudulent god, not keeping up his responsibilities and unjustly abusing “good people.” The author concluded his post by asserting that if there is a “dark side” then he was on it, casting aside his faith.

By God’s grace, I was able to answer out of our sorrow encouraging our friend to trust in Almighty God.

Please don’t despair - we are not! In fact we’re taking great comfort in God’s care for our family. When our situation was in question, we prayed hard that God may save our child. When it became evident that this was not His will, we made the choice to trust in His sovereignty. As Job says, “Will we accept blessings from His hand, but not troubles?”

Remember, God never promised anyone a life of peace or rest on this earth. While we are in the fallen creation, life will be difficult -all the more so for those who follow Christ against the current of this world. But we also have the “peace that passes understanding” given by the Spirit. 

Every moment we live is a blessing, every child - even for the shortest time - reminds us of the God who gives life, and will lead us to life incorruptible.

My dear wife also replied:

I know that things such as these are hard for us to understand, but God is always good. I know it, trust it and cling to it in times like these. My God loves me and will never forsake me. 

God was gracious enough to take this little one home to himself. I can’t think of a better place for my child to be, but with the Saviour and creator.

My hope is in Him who created me. 

I pray that you would not harden you heart to the clear truth of the gospel. 

Much love to all,

Since that time, we have received more thank yous that I ever could have imagined, from believers who felt encouraged, emboldened or even rebuked by our public defense of God’s sovereignty and our declaration of faith in His goodness. By request, our message was also posted to my blog, used as an example in a recent sermon, and now you’re reading this on the world’s most popular Christian blog. I don’t say this to boast or claim for even the briefest second that I am anything worth commenting on - other than that the work of God in our family may be glorified and that His name might receive praise.

I know my heart - I know my pride, my self-justification, my propensity for anger. I know how I would have reacted to our miscarriage without the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Both Janis and I have commented repeatedly about the profound sense of peace we have experienced even through our tears and sadness. We have been blessed by the amazing love of Jesus’ people, as our church united around us in love and so many entered into our sorrow and shared our tears. This is remarkable love that gives testimony to the power of Jesus and that we are His.

It’s been said that we don’t pray to change things, we pray to change us. Prayer draws us closer to God, and we pray most effectively when we pray His will, especially as it is revealed in the scriptures. We have truly felt that “peace that passes understanding” even as we recalled God’s recorded faithfulness to the barren, helpless, sorrowful and humble throughout the Bible. Looking back on the past year I can see how God has been preparing us for this moment: sermon series on joy from Galatians and active faith from James last summer; series from Mark Driscoll on doctrine, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes that elevate my view from the temporary in this life to the God eternal; our pastor’s illuminating study of Jesus’ ministry and love in John; and a seemingly randomly selected sermon on glorifying God through trials from John 17 heard just 2 days before the loss of our child.

We serve an awesome God, and I’m amazingly blessed to know Him. When unbelievers claim it’s “unfair” for God to take our child, I can say it’s truly unfair for me even to be drawing breath as a sinful rebel against the holy God. Yet that God didn’t spare His own perfect Son, sending Jesus to die in my place. If the loss of our baby can be used to bring glory to that God in our lives then so be it, and may God be ever praised.

October 31, 2008

Today is Reformation Day—the 491st anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Schlosskirke. That small act triggered a series of events that forever changed the world. It stands as one of the most important events in all of history—though an event that has been largely forgotten. Today we remember that day and express our gratitude to God for raising up men such as Martin Luther.

I have invited other bloggers to post their own reflections on this day and I am collecting them here in this symposium. If you would like to add your own, simply send me an email or add a comment and I’ll add your contribution to the list.


3:00 PM (and Final) Update

This is the last batch I’ll be posting. Feel free to keep adding new ones in the comments section.

Dave Bish reflects on the book of Genesis.

Church Ethos wishes Happy Halloween to Martin Luther.

Per Caliginem writes about sola scriptura and the Reformed confessions.

Renewing Minds covers Luther’s theology of the cross.

Monergism Books announces the release of a new five solas sweatshirt.

Nick Bogardus says, “If one wanted an image of what obedience in Christianity looked like, we might simply say, ‘A hammer and nails.’”

Ray Van Neste writes about two chapel messages delivered this week at Union University.

Word Pictures discusses “Reformation and Election … but not the kind you’re thinking.”

Stephen Lay uses that great Reformation phrase “After darkness light.”

Barry Wallace writes about reformation with a little r.

The Spyglass offers “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei “


12:00 PM Update

Th’eternal Promise offers a three-part article on Christianity vs Calvinism.

Ron Man in his worship notes (PDF) says that Reformation Sunday is not just for Lutherans.

Gairney Bridge writes about the audacity of the pope.

Justin Pearson says that the Reformation continues, even in 2008.

James Grant looks at “The Beginnings of the Reformed Tradition: Calvin, Bucer, Vermigli, & Bullinger.”

Dispatches from the Valley of the Shadow of Death shares his Reformation Day address.

Ray Rhodes writes about Luther and prayer.

Stay, Stay at Home My Heart shares her idea for a Reformation Day party.


10:18 AM Update

Martin Downes offers a Reformation Day challenge.

Then Face to Face images a world without Luther.

Jared Wilson offers five solas for evangelicalism today.

Strengthened by Grace celebrates with a look at solus christus.

Boaly asks for ideas for celebrating Reformation Day.

Listening to the Wind reflects on what God has done for us.

Relentless Grace writes about a love for reformational theology.

The Merrie Theologian takes a light-hearted look at a few of Luther’s lesser-known resolutions.


Daniel Hames writes about “the dangerous thing about faith.”

Stephen Macasil gives “Analysis of John Knox’s Argument That the RC Mass is Idolatry Before the Bishop of Durham (1550).”

Rebecca Stark says that the Reformation was all about the gospel.

A Second Reformation writes, “Here in Québec city we are celebrating the 20th bay of the Église réformée du Québec (The Reformed Church of Québec)this year and tomorrow my little local church is hosting a big party for the entire province.”

SynerJACK writes about Roger Williams, the American Reformer and looks at one of the many social extensions of the Reformation.

Gospel Centered Musings compares Rob Bell to the Wild Boar.

D.J. Williams warns against the temptation to take our Bibles for granted.

Darryl Dash follows Luther in saying “the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

Doug Smith looks at the implications of sola scriptura in planning worship services.

Detours and Devotions thanks God for continued reformation.

Nephos takes a brief look at the story of James Guthrie, a Reformation martyr.

Boston Bible Geeks looks at the Reformation’s impact on the Bible.

Ligonier Ministries looks to some of the Reformation heroes.

Crossway Life has written a whole series on the Reformation solas.

168 Hours offers a profile of the Huguenot Marie Durand.

Writings of a Woman offers a few of her thoughts on Reformation Day.


I thought today would be a good day to make you aware of a new book designed to help you celebrate the Reformation Season. From Ray Rhodes and Solid Ground Christian Books comes Family Worship for the Reformation Season. It offers daily Scriptures, reflections and activities that can be done in the days leading up to Reformation Day (or any other time).

Ligon Duncan says, “Imagine, leading your family in daily worship in the home, reading the Scriptures, singing and praying, but simultaneously introducing them to the history, leading figures and theology of the great sixteenth-century Reformation - all this in a fresh and interesting way, in just about a quarter of an hour each day. ‘That would be great,’ you say, ‘but it would take me hours and days to put that together. I could never do it.’ Well, Ray Rhodes has done it for you in Family Worship for the Reformation Season. Use this book with joy. It will inspire, inform and instruct you and your family. The studies are simple but meaty. The Scriptures passages are helpfully chosen. And most of the lessons can be completed in fifteen minutes. Employ and be edified!”

March 20, 2008

Today I am posting something rare—a guest post. This article was written by John Ensor, whom you may know as the author of The Great Work of the Gospel and Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart. In this article he takes on what he considers a popular Palm Sunday myth. Read it and let me know what you think. Is he right? Were the crowds really as fickle as we often think? Or have we got this all wrong?

It is a theological myth that gets restated every Palm Sunday. I heard it again this past week and it grieves my spirit deeply; that the cheering crowd that lauded Jesus with sweet “Hosannas,” later cried “Crucify him!” Such is the fickle nature of man it is said.

I say it is not true. The people were not fickle. Apart from the fact that the word “crowd” is used in both contexts, there is no evidence to assert that it is the same crowd and lots of evidence that it is not. The evidence suggests that the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” was a crowd of chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Sadducees and “conscripted” false witnesses (by threat or bribe most likely).

Using Matthew’s gospel, the crowd shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (21:9) are referred to collectively as the “daughter of Zion” (21:5) and later referred to simply as “the people” (26:5). They are the regular, average citizens, the “folks” as opposed to the power-protecting religious leaders. The people perceived that someone great and glorious, in deed, heaven-sent, was arriving. They burst forth with due praise. Included in this crowd were children who continued shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” when he arrived at the temple (21:15). The sick, blind and the lame were also part of this crowd and they too followed Jesus to the temple (21:14). They believed that Jesus could heal them. They were not disappointed (21:14). Before we say that this crowd turned on him, we ought to check. Most likely they neither understood his fullness nor his purpose. Not even his disciples grasped that. But they at least understood him as “a prophet sent from God” (21:11). There is no evidence that these people, just a week later, screamed and rioted in demand of his execution.

But even before I trace this out in the gospels, I submit that people, in general, are not fickle like this. They do not swing from rapid popular acclaim to hatred in a few days for no reason other than that they are fickle in nature. People generally change their opinion about leaders, from initial great enthusiasm to deep disappointment and bitterness slowly, over time (months and years), based on the disappointing actions of those leaders; not group “mood swings.” We do well to remember Psalm 146:3 when watching cheering crowds swoon before any political leader. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” All people, being sinners, make horrible Saviors, spiritual, political or otherwise.

That is why the Triumphal Entry of Christ is so great that the rocks were tempted to break the rules of nature (Lk 19:40). For this was the Son of Man arriving on a colt. Shout aloud! O Church! Or stand aside and let the trees clap their hands!

But even within this greater crowd of everyday people, the seeds of another crowd were present. “And some of the Pharisees were in the crowd” (Lk 19:39). They immediately attempted to suppress the glory, laud and honor to our redeemer King. But it could not be done. In fact, the children carried over the very praises they heard during this march to the temple when Jesus arrived there. The blind and the lame also showed up at the temple, hoping that this man sent from God might heal them. They were not disappointed. But the other crowd was also milling at the temple. “When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things [Jesus] did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant” (21:15). They challenged Jesus to stop the crowd from acclaiming him. Jesus said their praise was only natural (21:16).

Next we read that “the chief priests and the elders” arrived at the temple and attempted to question Jesus’ authority (21:23). Their goal was to take him down a notch in the eyes of the people (who still loved him). Jesus returned their question with a question about John the Baptist: was he sent from God or was he a human invention? They were stuck. “If we say ‘From man’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet” (21:26). Here is confirmation that the crowd remained enthralled of Jesus and saw him in the same way they saw John the Baptist, as a prophet sent from God. The chief priests and elders left unsatisfied and growing in their anger.

Next we read in 21:45 that “the chief priest and the Pharisees” witnessed Jesus teaching parables. They wanted to arrest him, but “they feared the crowds” (21:46). This is the second reference about fearing the crowd. The problem they faced in bringing down Jesus was the continuing popularity of Jesus by the “folks.” They were not fickle. They were consistent. The religious elites needed to figure a way to break the popularity of Jesus in order to destroy him. .

Taxes are always a good wedge issue. In 22:15-16, we read that the Pharisees “plotted” to entrap Jesus into taking an unpopular position regarding taxes. They expected him to try to slip out of it so they began by praising his honestly and integrity. This would force him to speak in a way that would make the crowd think again about Jesus. “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and that you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (21:16-17). It didn’t work, and his popularity with the crowd of regular folk only intensified, even as the other crowd’s anger deepened (21:22).

Next the Sadducees took a turn (22:23-8). They raised a disputatious matter of theology concerning resurrection, trying to show the irrationality of it and thus peel off a chunk of his popularity by forcing Jesus to choose sides in a matter that divided the people already. Jesus’ answer did take a side (for resurrection!) and made a persuasive case of it as well. The result? “And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching” (22:33).

Here we see the crowd of “folks” growing in their joy over Christ, not diminishing; and certainly not fickle. But the crowd of leaders opposing him was also growing. The Pharisees and the Sadducees joined together to thwart a common enemy (22:34). This crowd plotted and planned. Meanwhile, we read, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to the disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you- but not what they do” (23:1-3). Jesus is teaching and building up the faith of the “folks”. Here he is warning them to follow the teaching of the law, but not the lifestyle of the teachers (the scribes, Pharisees, elders, priests etc.). Are we to believe that those who lauded Jesus’ arrival, and witnessed his healing power, and who were taught parables about the Messiah’s reception and were explicitly warned not to follow the behavior of the religious elites were not impacted by it in any way and subject to fickleness of allegiance? (If we do, then it is worse than the myth says. For the fickleness must have erupted not over a week, but over a few days.) Or should we acknowledge that this crowd continued to hunger to be in Jesus’ presence in the days that followed his entry, and deepened their hope in him throughout the week, as they were taught by him? This crowd’s open embrace of Jesus was growing and it served as his protection from the growing crowd of plotters.

In 26:3-4 we read that the chief priests and elders gathered together and “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” Why the stealth? Because this crowd of plotters feared upsetting the other crowd of folks. Since their attempts to turn the crowd’s opinion against Jesus failed, their only option was to go around the crowd. We may be sure of this because 26:4-5 makes it explicit. “[They] plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Praise God, the people, the same people who cried “hosanna!” a week before, were still standing firm even at this last hour!

And so the plot unfolded at night and throughout the night, when the people were largely asleep and unaware of the unfolding events. By the time they awoke the next morning, the arrest and trial was done. Jesus was crucified at 9 AM (Mk 15:25) ―before the crowd would have come looking for Jesus to see and learn more as was their daily habit now, or react defensively on his behalf, or to provide their own testimony of his healings and teachings, the deed was done.

It began, according to Mt 26:47 when Judas arrived and “with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” This is the crowd that would push for crucifixion-a crowd consisting of chief priests and elders and their cronies, armed with clubs. They expected that those gathered around Jesus would fight to defend him (they suffered from sleepiness; but not fickleness). At least one rose up fighting and cut off the ear of one of the chief priests. Jesus heals him. “At that hour, Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out as against a robber…” (26:55). Again the evidence is building that two crowds are at work here: one that was growing more passionate in their intent to murder Jesus and one growing more determined to defend him. Fickleness is not in the picture.

Continuing on, the crowd of high priests and elders took Jesus to Caiaphas, another high priest, where still more of their kind had assembled; “where the scribes and the elders had gathered” (26:57). This group is now called “the whole Council,” or the Sanhedrin (26:59) and they sought out “false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death” (26:60). It is possible that they sought these out from among the healed or from the people in general. But this would be reading into the text. More likely they sought these ought from among the chief priests, elders, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees that had tracked him all week and grew blood thirsty with each passing day. What is clear is that there is still no sign of fickleness here.

In the early hours of the morning, this same crowd of “chief priests and elders of the people” (27:1), led Jesus to the governor, Pilate. Again in 27:12, it is this crowd of chief priests and elders who accused him before Pilot. It was before this same crowd that Pilate looks for a way out. “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted” (27:15). This makes sense, politically. Pilate benefited by appeasing this crowd of religious leaders from time to time. He did not need to curry support from the children, the lame, the blind, and the every day folks of Jerusalem. And it was this crowd that finally got what they had wanted since Jesus first arrived on a donkey; they found a way to kill him.

When we read in 27:20, “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” All the indications are that this refers to the crowd of fellow elders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees that the narrative indicates had been gathering and assembling and moving about all night. “They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (27:22). Still Pilate was reluctant. But this crowd knew they had their man cornered. Just a little protest now was all that was needed. They screamed, shouted, threatened, perhaps ripped their clothes or threw a few chairs. Hard to know. But whatever it was, it equaled the first stages of social unrest. Pilate saw “that a riot was beginning” (27:24). He was now left with little choice but to slake their thirst for the blood of Jesus and thus purchase his own peace with this crowd.

It was morning now and people were out and about. This same crowd conscripted a by-stander, Simon, a Cyrene, to carry his cross (27:32). By noon, other bystanders were around watching. Hearing Jesus’ cries, they said, “Truly this man is calling Elijah.” They were confused. But they were never fickle. They still believed that Jesus was sent from God and even at this final hour, expected God to come to his defense (27:49).

So let the joyous news be spread! The crowd was not fickle. And did not praise him one day and cry out for his murder another. Two crowds were coming and going all week. Both grew stronger in their conviction as the week went along. The sheep grew sheepier. And the goats grew goatier. The later group conspired to work around the former. Later on, Peter referred to this group as “lawless men” (Acts 2:23). This better fits the crowd of chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, who could act against the law and above the law, and get away with it. Regular folk lack such power in general.

So let us join in the singing; and stand with the blind, the lame, the disciples, the children, the Cyrene, the women who later stood at a distance and look bewildered at the cross, and the general populace, who at this moment saw the truth, at least in part. “All glory laud and honor to thee, Redeemer King. To whom the lips of children make sweet hosannas ring.” Sing with them and do not diminish their child-like faith with talk of fickleness.

John Ensor is the Executive Director of Urban Initiatives for Heartbeat International and author of “The Great Work of the Gospel” (Crossway, 2006).

December 04, 2007

Last week I posted an article written by my mother, Barbara: Tears at Thanksgiving. It seems that people enjoyed it and I received plenty of requests to post more by mom. I’m glad to comply! Here is something she posted a few days ago for the family’s benefit. And we’re glad to share it with you. I suppose it’s a poem of sorts. Whatever genre it fits in, I think it gives plenty of food for thought.

No one weeps like a prophet does. Why does he weep? He weeps because

He sees the eternal.

And others don’t.

Where others see gain he sees loss Where others see strength he sees infirmity Where others see security he sees frailty Where others see life he sees death

Then the man of God began to weep…”

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?”

It is enough, Lord. Take my life.”

No one rejoices like a prophet rejoices. Why does he rejoice? He rejoices because

He sees the eternal.

And others don’t.

Where others see loss he sees gain Where others see infirmity he sees strength Where others see frailty he sees security Where others see death he sees life

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Day and night they never stop saying: holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.”

He who testifies to these things says,Yes, I am coming soon.”

And Jesus asked the blind man,”What do you want me to do for you?”…And he replied, “LORD, I WANT TO SEE!”