Category Archives: Teaching

Little-Faith: Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”

According to my blog is seems like we were reading through Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as a family four years ago. I can’t actually remember how many times we’ve read through this book together as a family, but we are again!

A section that really struck me this time through is the story of “Little-Faith”. I found his story such a wonderful encouragement. Here it is in full.


Then said CHRISTIAN to his fellow, “Now I call to remembrance that which was told me of a thing that happened to a good man hereabout. The name of the man was LITTLE-FAITH; but a good man, and he dwelt in the town of Sincere . The thing was this: at the entering in of this passage, there comes down from Broadway gate a lane called Deadman’s Lane; so called because of the murders that are commonly done there. And this LITTLE-FAITH going on pilgrimage, as we do now, chanced to sit down there, and slept. Now there happened, at that time, to come down the lane from Broadway gate three sturdy rogues, and their names were FAINT-HEART, MISTRUST, and GUILT (three brothers); and they, espying LITTLE-FAITH where he was, came galloping up with speed. Now the good man was just awaked from his sleep, and was getting up to go on his journey; so they came all up to him, and, with threatening language, bade him stand. At this, LITTLE-FAITH looked as white as a clout; and had neither power to fight nor fly. Then said FAINT-HEART, ‘Deliver thy purse;’ but he making no haste to do it (for he was loth to lose his money), MISTRUST ran up to him, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, pulled out thence a bag of silver. Then he cried out, ‘Thieves! thieves!’ With that, GUILT, with a great club that was in his hand, struck LITTLE-FAITH on the head, and with that blow felled him flat to the ground; where he lay bleeding, as one that would bleed to death. All this while the thieves stood by; but at last, they hearing that some were upon the road, and fearing lest it should be one GREAT-GRACE, that dwells in the city of Good-confidence, they betook themselves to their heels, and left this good man to shift for himself. Now, after awhile, LITTLE-FAITH came to himself; and getting up, made shift to scrabble on his way. This was the story.”

Hope. But did they take from him all that ever he had?

Chr. No; the place where his jewels were they never ransacked, so those he kept still; but, as I was told, the good man was much afflicted for his loss, for the thieves got most of his spending money. That which they got not (as I said) were jewels; also he had a little odd money left, but scarce enough to bring him to his journey’s end;

“And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 1 Peter 4:18

nay (if I was not misinformed), he was forced to beg as he went, to keep himself alive (for his jewels he might not sell). But beg, and do what he could, he went (as we say) “with many a hungry belly” the most part of the rest of the way.

Hope. But is it not a wonder they got not from him his certificate by which he was to receive his admittance at the Celestial Gate?

Chr. ‘T is a wonder but they got not that, though they missed it not through any good cunning of his; for he being dismayed with their coming upon him, had neither power nor skill to hide anything: so ‘t was more by good providence than by his endeavour that they missed of that good thing.

“That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.” 2 Timothy 1:14

“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” 2 Peter 2:9

Hope. But it must be a comfort to him that they got not his jewels from him.

Chr. It might have been great comfort to him, had he used it as he should; but they that told me the story, said, That he made but little use of it all the rest of the way; and that because of the dismay that he had in their taking away of his money: indeed, he forgot it a great part of the rest of the journey. And besides, when at any time it came into his mind, and he began to be comforted therewith, then would fresh thoughts of his loss come again upon him; and those thoughts would swallow up all.

Hope. Alas, poor man, this could not but be a great grief unto him.

Chr. Grief! Aye, a grief indeed; would it not have been so to any of us, had we been used as he, to be robbed and wounded too, and that in a strange place, as he was? ‘Tis a wonder he did not die with grief, poor heart! I was told, that he scattered almost all the rest of the way with nothing but doleful and bitter complaints. Telling also to all that overtook him, or that he overtook in the way as he went, where he was robbed, and how; who they were that did it, and what he lost; how he was wounded, and that he hardly escaped with life.

Hope. But ’tis a wonder that his necessities did not put him upon selling or pawning some of his jewels, that he might have wherewith to relieve himself in his journey.

Chr. Thou talkest like one upon whose head is the shell to this very day; for what should he pawn them? or to whom should he sell them? In all that country where he was robbed his jewels were not accounted of, nor did he want that relief which could from thence be administered to him; besides, had his jewels been missing at the gate of the Celestial City, he had (and that he knew well enough) been excluded from an inheritance there; and that would have been worse to him than the appearance and villainy of ten thousand thieves.

Hope. Why art thou so tart, my brother? Esau sold his birthright, and that for a mess of pottage; and that birthright was his greatest jewel:

“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Hebrew 12:16

and if he, why might not LITTLE-FAITH do so too?

Chr. Esau did sell his birthright indeed, and so do many besides; and by so doing, exclude themselves from the chief blessing, as also that knave did. But you must put a difference betwixt Esau and LITTLE-FAITH; and also betwixt their estates. Esau’s birthright was typical; but LITTLE-FAITH’S jewels were not so. Esau’s belly was his god; but LITTLE-FAITH’S belly was not so.

“And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” Genesis 25:32

Esau’s want lay in his fleshly appetite; LITTLE-FAITH’S did not so. Besides, Esau could see not further than to the fulfilling of his lusts: “For I am at the point to die,” said he; “and what good will this birthright do me?” But LITTLE-FAITH, though it was his lot to have but a little faith, was by his little faith kept from such extravagances, and made to see and prize his jewels more than to sell them, as Esau did his birthright. You read not anywhere that Esau had faith, no, not so much as a little: therefore no marvel, if where the flesh only bears sway (as it will in the man where no faith is to resist), if he sells his birthright, and his soul and all, and that to the devil of hell; for it is with such as it is with the ass, who in her occasion cannot be turned away.

“A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.” Jeremiah 2:24

When their minds are set upon their lusts, they will have them, whatever they cost. But LITTLE-FAITH was of another temper, his mind was on things divine; his livelihood was upon things that were spiritual, and from above: therefore, to what end should he that is of such a temper sell his jewels (had there been any that would have bought them), to fill his mind with empty things? Will a man give a penny to fill his belly with hay? or can you persuade the turtledove to live upon carrion, like the crow? Though faithless ones can, for carnal lusts, pawn, or mortgage, or sell what they have, and themselves outright to boot; yet they that have faith, saving faith, though but a little of it, cannot do so. Here, therefore, my brother, is thy mistake.

Hope. I acknowledge it; but yet your severe reflection had almost made me angry.

Chr. Why, I did but compare thee to some of the birds that are of the brisker sort, who will run to and fro in trodden paths with the shell upon their heads; but pass by that and consider the matter under debate, and all shall be well betwixt thee and me.

Hope. But, CHRISTIAN, these three fellows, I am persuaded in my heart, are but a company of cowards: would they have run else, think you, as they did at the noise of one that was coming on the road? Why did not LITTLE-FAITH pluck up a greater heart? He might, methinks, have stood one brush with them, and have yielded when there had been no remedy.

Chr. That they are cowards, many have said; but few have found it so in the time of trial. As for a great heart, LITTLE-FAITH had none; and I perceive by thee, my brother, hadst thou been the man concerned, thou art but for a brush, and then to yield. And, verily, since this is the height of thy stomach now they are at a distance from us, should they appear to thee, as they did to him, they might put thee to second thoughts.

But consider again – they are but journeymen-thieves, they serve under the king of the bottomless pit; who, if need be, will come in to their aid himself, and his voice is as the roaring of a lion.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” 1 Peter 5:8

I myself have been engaged as this LITTLE-FAITH was; and I found it a terrible thing. These three villains set upon me; and I beginning like a Christian to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master: I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny; but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armour of proof. Aye, and yet though I was so harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man; no man can tell what in that combat attends us, but he that hath been in the battle himself.

Hope. Well, but they ran, you see, when they did but suppose that one GREAT-GRACE was in the way.

Chr. True, they have often fled, both they and their master, when GREAT-GRACE hath but appeared; and no marvel, for he is the King’s champion: but I trow, you will put some difference between LITTLE-FAITH and the King’s champion; all the King’s subjects are not his champions; nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. Is it meet to think that a little child should handle Goliath as David did? or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little: this man was one of the weak; and therefore he went to the wall.

Hope. I would it had been GREAT-GRACE for their sakes.

Chr. If it had been he, he might have had his hands full: for I must tell you, that though GREAT-GRACE is excellent good at his weapons, and has done – and can do, so long as he keeps them at sword’s point – well enough with them; yet if they get within him, even FAINT-HEART, MISTRUST, or the other, it shall go hard but they will throw up his heels. And when a man is down, you know – what can he do?

Whoso looks well upon GREAT-GRACE’S face, shall see those scars and cuts there, that shall easily give demonstration of what I say. Yea, once I heard that he should say (and that when he was in the combat), “We despaired even of life.” How did these sturdy rogues and their fellows make David groan, moan, and roar? Yea, Heman and Hezekiah too, though champions in their day, were forced to bestir them when by these assaulted; and yet, that notwithstanding, they had their coats soundly brushed by them. Peter, upon a time, would go try what he could do; but, though some do say of him that he is the Prince of the Apostles, they handled him so that they made him at last afraid of a sorry girl.

Besides, their king is at their whistle, he is never out of hearing; and if at any time they be put to the worst, he, if possible, comes in to help them. And of him it is said, “The sword of him that lays at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteems iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble; he laughs at the shaking of a spear”.

“The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” Job 41:26-29

What can a man do in this case? ‘Tis true, if a man could at every turn have Job’s horse, and had skill and courage to ride him, he might do notable things. For “his neck is clothed with thunder; he will not be afraid as the grasshopper; the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paws in the valley, rejoices in his strength, and goes out to meet the armed men. He mocks at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turns back from the sword. The quiver rattles against him; the glittering spear, and the shield. He swallows the ground with fierceness and rage; neither believes he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smells the battle afar off, the thundering of the captains, and the shouting”.

“Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” Job 39:19-25

But for such footmen as thee and I are, let us never desire to meet with an enemy, nor vaunt as if we could do better, when we hear of others that they have been foiled; nor be tickled at the thoughts of our own manhood, for such commonly come by the worst when tried. Witness Peter, of whom I made mention before. He would swagger, aye, he would: he would, as his vain mind prompted him to say, do better, and stand more for his Master, than all men; but who was so foiled and run down by these villains as he?

When, therefore, we hear that such robberies are done on the king’s highway, two things become us to do; first, to go out harnessed, and to be sure to take a shield with us; for it was for want of that, that he that laid so lustily at Leviathan, could not make him yield. For, indeed, if that be wanting, he fears us not at all. Therefore he that had skill hath said, “Above all, take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked”.

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16

‘Tis good also that we desire of the King a convoy, yea, that he will go with us himself. This made David rejoice when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Moses was rather for dying where he stood, than to go one step without his God.

“And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.”Exodus 33:15

Oh, my brother, if he will but go along with us, what need we be afraid of ten thousands that shall set themselves against us? but without him, the proud helpers fall under the slain.

“I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.” Psalm 3:5-8

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” Psalm 27:1-3

“Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 10:4

I, for my part, have been in the fray before now; and though (through the goodness of him that is best) I am, as you see, alive, yet I cannot boast of my manhood. Glad shall I be if I meet with no more such brunts; though I fear we are not got beyond all danger. However, since the lion and the bear hath not as yet devoured me, I hope God will also deliver us from the next uncircumcised Philistine.

Then sang Christian:

“Poor LITTLE-FAITH! hast been among the thieves?
Wast robbed? Remember this: whoso believes,
And gets more faith, shall then a victor be
Over ten thousand, else scarce over three.”


Pondering Proverbs as a Parent – 10 Years Later

This Sunday, we begin a new series at Rolleston Baptist Church through Proverbs.

Proverbs Series

I love the book of Proverbs.

Nearly 10 years ago, I spent a month blogging through the book of Proverbs, one chapter per day. I called my simple blog series, “Pondering Proverbs as a Parent“.We were still living in the States at the time. My children were 1, 2, & 4!

Our lives have changed dramatically in the years since. Yet the timeless truths of God’s Word never change.

These blog posts are rough & unedited. I share them here as they may still prove helpful to some family.

You can download a PDF of the whole series – Chapters 1-30, Diagram for Chapter 31, Chapter 31.


When Drunk with Sin We Lash Out Against Those Who Seek to Help

Most mornings I go for a bit of a bike ride around Rolleston. It is generally uneventful. Other than sore muscles and an occasional truck passing too close at 100 km/hr there is generally nothing to report.

This morning was very different. About 15kms into my ride I came across a very distraught lady. She was in the middle of the road, it was raining, and she was calling for help. I immediately stopped thinking there must have been a car accident, though I didn’t see any cars. The first words I heard were, “help, he’s after me, I need help!” I looked down the empty rural road and about 500 metres away I could see a man standing looking in our direction. The lady said she needed me to ring her Dad. I asked for the number. This is when I realised she was very intoxicated. She couldn’t remember the number, she couldn’t find her phone, and she was increasingly making less sense.

I rang the police (111). As soon as I did this she began yelling and screaming at me, cursing me, telling me to hang up… “she didn’t want no cops here”!

Once she realised I wasn’t going to hang up she sat on the ground and said nothing more, though she was clearly still angry.

I stayed on the line answering a series of questions, standing in the rain waiting until the police arrived. They arrive in good time, spoke with me briefly and immediately dealt with the situation. I then rode the rest of the way home in more rain and wind!

In the providence of God, I don’t think the lady had actually be attacked or anything very serious. There had clearly been a threat and a serious argument. It is very likely things would have gotten worse if help had not arrived. This is what I thought about on my ride home…

How similar this lady’s reaction was when I rang the police to my reaction to those who try to help me when I am drunk with my own sin.

Proverbs speaks to this:

Proverbs 9:7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. 8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Proverbs 15:5 A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.

Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

Proverbs 17:12 Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly.

Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.

Proverbs 26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Proverbs 29:9 If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.

How often I have been the fool. So intoxicated with my own sin that when a person tries to help me I lash out against them as though they are the problem!

Oh for the grace of Christ which works a work of humble repentance. I pray the next time I am lovingly (or not) rebuked I will respond with humility and repentance showing a hatred toward sin rather than being intoxicated with it!

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Posted by on 06/03/2015 in Family, Teaching, Theology


My Last Sunday PM Service at Howick Baptist Church

I joined the pastoral staff at Howick Baptist Church in December, 2010. At that time they were not having Sunday evening services, so we decided to start them the beginning of 2011.

It’s been just over three years but this Sunday will be my last PM service at Howick. Partly due to my family moving to Rolleston, New Zealand for a new church plant in July, but also due to what has been our normal “winter break.” We have generally taken a break in the winter due to the cold weather and the building being too hard to heat.

Certainly this service has not achieved all I hoped it would. I had hoped more of the folks from Howick would eventually make it part of their normal Lord’s Day routine to begin and end the day with the gathered church, yet I realise changing family schedules and routines is hard work and doesn’t happen quickly. I had hoped the service might provide a place for others to serve in music or sound, etc. yet, I was committed to not loading up the same people who serve in the AM with more work. I had hoped there would be a place for younger guys to preach in this setting and yet for various reasons this didn’t happen past the first year, really. In the end, I acknowledge my contribution to many of these failings.

Yet, I am still thankful for these 3+ years of services.

Those who have attended regularly have enjoyed genuine fellowship at a deeper level with others than is often possible when only attending the morning service.

We have made the sharing of prayer requests and prayer a regular part of this service. This has allowed us to learn from others when hearing them pray (and there are some ladies that when they pray you really learn how a mature, lover of Christ prays), along with hearing how God is answering prayer.

We have enjoyed singing some great hymns together. Even as a small group often singing with no instruments we have experienced some great times in corporate song. (Even with me leading singing out of tune, although there have been some attempts which have been complete failures!)

Since the beginning we have included a Q&A time during the service, usually at the end. This has allowed people to ask questions related to the sermon/teaching or anything else they wanted to ask. This has ranged from basic followup questions from what was just taught to some big questions about life and the Scriptures. Of all that we’ve done during this service this is the aspect for which I have received the most consistent, positive feedback.

There have been a handful of young adults and a couple of guys in particular which have been very faithful to this service from the beginning. This has been hugely encouraging.

A couple of our elderly ladies, even widows, have attended very faithfully as well. I have found this to be both humbling and a wonderful example.

Also a few ladies who are married to non-Christians have been very faithful. Their cheerfulness and thankfulness has been a real blessing.

I don’t have an exact number, but I can think of six to eight people who started attending the PM service and then began attending the AM service as well. This was unexpected but something that I found very encouraging.

Finally, this service has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to preach/teach more regularly than I have in years and, as a result, to grow substantially for which I am very thaknful.

In these 3+ years I have preached through Colossians, Porverbs, The Gospel of Mark, and a series through the Minor Prophets. In addition, I taught through a lengthy series on Ethics, and Doctrine.

I have been blessed, equiped, and encouraged. I think I am more prepared for church planting as a result of the experience this service has provided me and my family.

We will miss these folks and this service very much. We are very thankful.

I am very committed to the idea of two services on a Sunday and look forward to seeing how we might provide for this in the coming years in Rolleston Baptist Church. In the early months we are looking to have an afternoon service after a shared lunch, but we will see what The Lord does.


To not inherit the Kingdom of God is serious business

Another month has arrived along with another issue of the Baptist Magazine.

Here is my monthly column for May’s “Minority Report”. This will likely be my last column on the same-sex marriage issue.

(ESV) 1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(All of the following is hypothetical, yet not unreal.)

As I sit in my office and look across the desk I see a young couple (male & female) in their 20’s, they are not married yet they have been having sex with each other and, come to find out, others in the young adults group regularly and unapologetically.

As I have coffee with a husband of a lady in my congregation I learn that he is being investigated for fraud. He admits to me he has systemically stolen 2 million dollars from his employer over the last five years. He shows no signs of remorse or repentance, only a sorrow for being caught.

As I meet with another husband of a lady in my congregation the truth comes out that he is a drunk and when he is drunk (which is most evenings and weekends) he physically assaults his children and wife. He shows no signs of remorse.

As I meet with these people I will obviously discuss a number of items some which will involve the law, others relational damages, etc. Yet at the bottom line what must I say to them (granted this is an over simplification)?

Firstly, I must tell them that they are in serious trouble. Their sin is against those people they know but also, and most significantly, against God Whom they do not know. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is a serious matter. Yes, there are other serious matters as well, but the enteral destiny of their soul hangs in the balance. They must come to understand the holiness of God, the sinfulness of their sin and the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

Secondly, I must tell them of the hope found in the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. I must pray for the Spirit to open their eyes so they can see that this same Jesus that made it possible for Paul to say of the people of Corinth, “And such were some of you”, is available to them as well. Forgiveness is possible. They can be set free from the power of sin (not necessarily from the consequences) and find rest in Christ and peace with God.

As I sit in my office there are two men in their 40’s sitting across the desk. They have not been thus far involved in homosexual sex, but they desire to get married so that they may be able to enjoy said activity as a married couple. Once they marry they will inevitably be men who “practice homosexuality.”

However, unlike the previous examples which are all listed with this activity in 1 Cor. 6:9-12, rather than pointing out their sin and pointing them to a holy God accessible only through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ, I will help them plan a wedding.

By sanctioning “same-sex marriage” one is by definition declaring holy the practice of homosexual sex. By declaring such as holy one is saying those who God says will not inherit the kingdom of God will.

This is serious business. The very gospel is at stake.


Marriage: A Countercultural Event

The latest (April) issue of the Baptist Magazine should be out soon. Here is my monthly “Minority Report” column for this month.

In January of this year, in the course of two Saturdays in a row, I had the wonderful privilege of officiating for two weddings.  Though it was somewhat challenging to keep the details for the two weddings straight in my mind, like any wedding I officiate they were both a profound joy. The marriage of a young man and a young woman who are standing before God, their families, and friends and declaring their desire, by grace, to enter into the covenant of marriage for a lifetime which has been designed by God to picture the love Christ has for His bride the church is truly glorious.

Yet, I was struck by just how countercultural this “normal” ceremony has become. For, at least, two generations marriage has become disposable in the eyes of many. If you give it a go and it doesn’t work well, just get a divorce and either try again or just stay single. In the very recent past marriage has even been redefined by many to include two people of the same gender. So for a man and a woman to stand up today and enter into a life-long covenant based on the covenant Christ has made with His bride the church is radically countercultural in ways previous generations would never have imagined.

While this is happening I am reading a number of items in print and online where Christians are calling for the church to be radical, to be countercultural, and to strive to redeem and transform culture. Without even getting into the theological legitimacy of “redeeming culture” which I have written about before, I am struck by the irony of all of this.

Simultaneously we have voices, sometimes the same voices, calling us to radically transform culture and to modify our practice of what is today one of the most radically countercultural activities a Christian can do – participate in (as well as teach on and uphold the practice of) a monogamous, lifelong, covenantal, heterosexual marriage!

If your one of the pastors or church leaders or “every day” Christians who is all excited about the potential of radically transforming culture, can I point out what has become amazingly obvious? Stand up and declare that marriage has been designed by God to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime to the praise and glory of Christ – that is profoundly radical and deeply countercultural.

Of course this isn’t terribly surprising really. The gospel is radical and to follow Christ has always been a call to be countercultural.

Marriage was designed by God to picture the covenant between Christ and his bride the church (Eph. 5:32). In this covenant we see the radical truth that all mankind are sinners, completely helpless and unable to do anything to earn forgiveness of sin, yet Christ died satisfying God’s wrath so that all those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ alone can receive pardon and the joy of becoming children of the living God.

No wonder something designed by God to picture something so radical and amazing is fundamentally countercultural.

Of course we could redefine marriage to be anything but a covenant between a man and woman so that our practice of marriage looks like the rest of our culture’s and not the Scriptures.

Oh, wait, if we do that not only are we disobedient to the clarity of Scripture on this, but we have just stopped being radically countercultural. Oops!


Does Man have “Free Will” or God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

(Something I wrote up about 10 years ago, I just dug up for this Sunday night’s topic on “What is Man?”)

God doesn’t even have “Libertarian Free Will” => A person is freely able to choose any of all available options.

Let me explain…

The Shorter Catechism asks the question, “Can God do all things?” the answer is “Yes, God can do all His holy will.”

See, to say God is omnipotent is to say He can do anything and everything which is consistent with His nature – HOLY.

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), He cannot tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), in short God cannot sin.

Theologically, since Augustine this has been known by the phrase, “Not able to sin.” God, by His very nature is “Not able to sin.”

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God unmarred by sin.

In the garden, Adam and Even were told not to eat.

Adam and Eve were created “Able not to sin.”

In God’s covenant with Adam, Adam had the ability not to sin and his relationship with God was dependant on his continued obedience.

However, Adam disobeyed. He sinned. God promised on the day he ate of the fruit he would die (literally the Hebrew reads, “dying you will die”).

Adam died that day spiritually and began dying physically.

As a result all mankind is born with an unregenerate nature. They are created in the image of God, but with a nature that is completely sinful, dead, depraved, unregenerate.

From the time of Adam’s sin, he and all mankind became, by their nature, “Not able not to sin.”

Just like God in His actions and even His omnipotence is “restricted” by His nature, man being created in the image of God, but being Spiritually dead is also “restricted” by his nature.

He can only act and exercise his will within the boundaries of his nature – which is dead.

Therefore, yes he does have a free will, but it is not a “Libertarian Free Will” – man cannot freely choose God, he can only freely choose to do things consistent with his nature (just like God, being in the image of God), but in his unregenerate nature his is “not able not to sin.” Everything he does is sin – even his good deeds are “filthy rags.”[1]

Therefore, no one “seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11). They can’t, it is not possible for them to choose anything outside of their nature.

Unregenerate people seek after all kinds of things, many of them religious or even “spiritual” in nature. They are looking for something to fill the hole in their soul which only God can fill. However, no man on his own is seeking God. He may be seeking a solution to his pain, but it isn’t God.

That all changes when God, by the ministry of His Word and Spirit, begins to draw a man to Himself. But, even then, it is not the man who is seeking God, it is God who is seeking Him!

Only God’s Spirit can change a man’s heart, regenerate his soul and give him a new nature! By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the Glory of God alone.

Once God has regenerated a man he has a new nature. However, he still has within him the flesh, the old man.

Now, consistent with his new being, and with the fact that he is a creature created in the image of God, he is “able not to sin” – we are now like Adam in the garden – but even our ability not to sin is not really our ability as it is “he that works in me both to will and do His good pleasure.”


Adam in the garden                                                                                                        Able not to sin

Adam and all mankind since the Fall                                                                        Not able not to sin

Adam and all mankind who are given a new nature by God/regenerate   Able not to sin

All of God’s children in eternity with Him                                                             Not able to sin

We all long for the day of total redemption when “we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” – we will finally have the unmarred image of God and like Him we will be “Not able to sin!”

So how does all of this – God’s sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility “make sense” this side of Glory?

Have you ever stood in the middle of a set of railroad tracks and looked way off in the distance?

Now, you know railroad tracks are parallel lines and parallel lines don’t cross do they? But your eyes tell you something different. If you look one direction, way off in the distance the two railroad tracks seem to cross. If you turn around and look the other direction, they seem to cross in that direction too.

Well, in actual fact they don’t.

Just like parallel lines and the optical illusion of those railroad tracks God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility are completely compatible.

They are both equally true, both clearly taught in Scripture.

Parallel truths that crossed in Eternity past and will cross again in Eternity Future.

The really cool thing is those concepts are only in our minds – we live in time and space – God does not – so Eternity Past and Eternity Future are non-differentiated time descriptors for Him – these things are just true in the same way as He just IS.

Isn’t our God awesome!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

[1] Luther wrote, The Bondage of the Will while Edwards wrote, The Freedom of the Will. These books seems to have conflicting titles, but in fact were arguing the same point, just looking at it from differing perspectives. Man’s will is free, but not in the libertarian sense. Man’s freedom to express his will is in bondage to his nature.


Should I Join a Church? or Is Church Membership Biblical? – My Thoughts

Why join a church? I saw a friend recently tweet something like, “Trying to convince someone to enter into membership at church is like trying to convince a man he should kiss his wife. Why wouldn’t you?”

I think he was trying to communicate that church membership for him is “just obvious” – of course you should become a member.

However, when I considered the idea I thought, “That’s part of the difficulty.” At least for me, I find it very difficult to explain something to someone that I find simple or that “I have just always understood.”

Church membership is like that for me. I have always attended churches that practiced formal church membership. I have gone through the membership process and joined several churches in my life. I have studied the subject and taught the subject. However, even still when someone says to me, “Why should I become a member?” I still fumble over my words. So, here is an attempt to think through this subject in an organised fashion. Clearly none of these points will carry the weight of the argument alone, some are stronger than others, and they are best when understood together.

  • The concept that God would have a particular people called out for Himself and a way to identify them from others is common to all of Scripture. This isn’t just a New Testament concept.

In the Old Testament God called particular people from particular families and then gave circumcision as a sign that certain people belong to His covenantal family and not others.

Even among the circumcised there were times in Israel’s history when God would separate the faithful from the unfaithful. Were you going to be on Moses’ side or Korah’s? Were you with Joshua & Caleb or against them? Were you with David or Saul? Just being circumcised wasn’t enough.

After the destruction of the Temple, during the time known as the Inter-testamental period the Jews established Synagogues. Any town where there were 10 adults, Jewish males would establish a Synagogue. To be a Jew and not part of the Synagogue was disobedience and see as public shame.

I say this, because today some will say, “I’m a Christian isn’t that enough?” Throughout the Old Testament claiming to be a Jew wasn’t enough. I would suggest we should expect to see something similar in the New Testament. Just claiming to be a Christian or a follower of Christ isn’t enough.

  • The term “Christian” was not a term that was used in the New Testament to describe or identify individual/independent followers of Christ. We first see this word being used to describe the disciples who were part of the “church” in Antioch (Acts 11:26).
  • One will be hard pressed to find a follower of Christ in Acts who is not part of a particular local church. I am not saying there are none (the Ethiopian Eunuch for example, though tradition holds that a church in Ethiopia was formed about this same time), I am saying the overwhelming evidence suggests that when a person became a follower of Christ they became part of a church or established a church.
  • Most of the New Testament is letters (including the seven letters in Revelation) to local churches.
  • In the selection of deacons (Acts 6) the Apostles instructed the people to “choose from among yourselves” certain men. There seems to have been a way for the people in the church to know who was “a part of them” and who was not.
  • When the first missionaries are sent out (Acts 13) this is an activity of the church, not just a group of independent Christians who think sending out Paul and Barnabas is a good idea.
  • In 1 Timothy 5:9-16, Paul gives instruction on “enrolling” certain widows and not “enrolling” others. There seems to be some kind of system where a list is kept of which widows from the church (this group would need to be identifiable) should be on the list of those who are to be cared for by the church and which are not.
  • In the instruction on Church Discipline both Jesus (Matthew 18) and Paul (1 Cor. 5) give the final responsibility for the enforcement of discipline to the church. In 1 Cor. 5 Paul speaks of a particular action the church is to take when they “gather together” and that this man is to be “put out from among them”. There seems to be some why of identifying who is “among them” and who is not. We learn from 2 Cor. 7 that this man repented and was later added back into the church!
  • In Paul’s teaching on the church and the Spirit’s gifts to the church he uses the analogy of a body and even states, “Now you are all the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27). This is contained in a letter to a particular local church. The analogy of the body would make no sense if there wasn’t a way of knowing which body I am connected to.
  • In the selection of Elders and Deacons in 1 Timothy 3, Paul says he is giving this instruction so that Timothy might know how things are to be conducted within the church (1 Tim. 3:15). These offices are church offices.
  • In Hebrews 13:7 we are instructed to remember our leaders and in verse 17 to obey them. Surely this doesn’t mean Christians are to obey and “remember” any Christian anywhere who is a leader of some kind.
  • Also in Hebrews 13:17 the leaders are said to give an account for the souls of these people. Surely the leaders are not held accountable for jus anyone who enters their church on occasion. How are the elders to know with clarity who they are accountable for?

Some might say here, that’s all good and well, Joe but still the New Testament doesn’t give any clear command or instruction to individual Christians to “officially” join a particular local church. I agree that’s true.

However, there are a lot of things churches do which are not specifically commanded in the New Testament. What time do we have our services? How long should they be? Should we have children’s Sunday School? Should there be a Youth Group? Do we have Communion every week, once a month, once a quarter? What musical instruments do we use? Do we use hymnals or PowerPoint? Can we use PowerPoint for preaching?

A question is do we find in the New Testament any instruction that clearly prohibits the practice of formal church membership? A second question is do we find in the New Testament principles or practices that point us in the direction of some kind of formal church membership?

I would suggest there are no commands or instructions in the New Testament which prohibit the practice of formal church membership. Furthermore, I am suggesting that the 12 points above (and more could be given) are principles and practices which do point in the direction of some kind of formal church membership.

At this point I would like to suggest another principle that, I think plays a part in this. That is the overriding Biblical principle of deferring to others and seeking others interests over my own (Phil. 2:1-4).

Clearly a church having a formal church membership process isn’t sinful; the New Testament in no way prohibits this. There do seem to be some New Testament principles and practices which open the possibility that a church having a formal membership process might be a good thing. Therefore, am I going to insist that a church which I am attending because I am benefitting from its ministries (teaching/preaching, mercy ministries, evangelism, discipleship, music ministries, etc.) and which has historically established a formal process of church membership change their practice (even though I cannot point to any New Testament teaching which prohibits this) or that they make an exception just for me? Or, will I joyfully set aside my preferences, defer to others in an area which is clearly not sinful, setting others interests above my own and therefore join the church?

Three final points which are related to the practical aspects of modern churches:

  1. As church leaders, I believe we must ensure all those serving in positions of leading and teaching especially understand the gospel have repented of their sins and are demonstrating clear faith in Jesus Christ. A formal membership process is a helpful tool to provide orderliness and clarity in this.
  2. As church leaders, I believe we are responsible to ensure, to the best of our ability the safety of the children under our care. Therefore it seems wise to use membership as the first bar of evaluation for anyone who would work with children. Before someone is allowed to work with children we have tested them to know of their testimony of repentance and faith in Christ. In addition we would insist on police background checks, not due to a lack of trust, but to wisely seek to eliminate potential dangers for our children.
  3. In the 21st century a church will often own assets as well as other legal responsibilities before the government.  We are told (Romans 13) to submit to our earthly authorities. Due to these legal requirements it is often necessary to have a way of formally identifying who is a member of the church and who is not for the purpose of voting, decision making, and legal liability.

Much more has been said by others (see some links below). I will stop here. I do pray this is helpful to some.

A Sermon Series:

Sermon Mini-Series: Church as Family, Body, and Building

Some additional online reading:

Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters

Is Church Membership Biblical?

Helpful Books:

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus

Stop Dating the Church

Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church


Baptist Autonomy Can’t Mean Each Church is Free to Do Anything

The following is my March article for my regular column, “Minority Report” in the Baptist Magazine.

This is a big topic and the space allowed for this article is small. Therefore, I am not pretending to say all that could be said here, but I do intend to stimulate thinking on this very important question.

A discussion that has arisen from our “debate” regarding same-sex marriage, homosexuality and Baptist Union churches/pastors participation in such is that of local church autonomy. Can one church or the majority of churches in a union of churches give direction to other churches on what they can or cannot do in areas of practice?

Here, I just want to ask a simple question, do we see any precedent in the New Testament for this practice?

In scanning through the New Testament one only makes it to Acts 15 before we find an example of a group/church giving direction to other Christians/churches. Here we have the Jerusalem council debating questions regarding the nature of the gospel and giving a letter of direction to other churches.

Secondly, I would simply point out that the majority of the letters in the New Testament (certainly Paul’s) are written to churches providing direction and correction – in some cases to churches the author has never even visited.

By way of a passing observation, one can’t help but notice how often the subject of sexual purity comes up in these letters (even the letter to the churches in Acts 15!).

Now, here is what I am not saying. I am not saying anyone today carries apostolic authority as did Paul or the leaders of the Jerusalem church in Acts 15. I am not saying any one church or even the Baptist Union leadership holds inspired authority like the council in Acts 15.

However, I am saying that those who claim that autonomy precludes the possibility of sister churches within a union of churches correcting each other over areas of doctrine and/or practice are without warrant. The New Testament itself along with all of church history argues otherwise.

We as member churches individually and as a union collectively have a responsibility, New Testament model, and historical precedent to stand up and seek to correct those churches that are in error.

If your general position on the issue of same-sex marriage is, “I wouldn’t perform one myself, but I don’t think we should tell others they cannot” you are, but your silence condoning this practice. By condoning this practice you are saying an open, active homosexual lifestyle is pleasing to God and something that the Baptist Union of Churches in New Zealand should welcome. You are also, by your silence, affirming the view that an active homosexual lifestyle is pure and therefore is not a sin and there is no need for repentance. You see this isn’t just about marriage; it is about the definition of sin & repentance which gets at the heart of the gospel itself. And if there was every anything churches ought to be vigilant at in providing clarity, direction and even correction over, it is the gospel.

This is not a time to stay silent. This is a time to speak. Speak compassionately, graciously, lovingly yes, but speak nonetheless. Even more so for those in positions of leadership. If leadership if anything, it is standing for truth and speaking compellingly for those who do not have a voice. As leaders, silence speaks volumes. Silence communicates to those we lead, that this issue isn’t important, that we have nothing to say or even more critically for Christian leadership, God has nothing to say on this topic!

In the December issue of this column you will find a succinct statement regarding the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage. It is time for those in the leadership of Baptist churches and Carey Baptist College to speak out publically in defence of the clear Scriptural teaching on this vital issue. This is not the time for a “conversation” but a declaration. Simply declare the whole counsel of God on the subject of sexuality and marriage and call all those who reject the Scriptures on this to repent – for the purity of the church, the glory of God, and the beauty of Christ.


Jephthah’s Vow was Rash, but not a Burnt Offering

Earlier this morning I saw a link to this blog post by David Murray: Jephthah’s Perfect Vow

I very quickly posted the following on Twitter:

“This has been my understanding & what I’ve taught for years –…. Glad to see others discussing this view.”

This is a perfect example of doing too many things at once, not reading carefully, and tweeting too quickly!

I do agree with Murray, Jephthah probably did not offer his daughter as a burnt sacrifice, but rather dedicated her to a life of perpetual virginity as a temple servant. However, I disagree with some of Murray’s reasons along with whether Jephthah’s vow was rash or not.

So, I do believe his vow was rash, yet I do not believe the daughter was offered as a burnt sacrifice. Here are the reasons I have given for this interpretation for nearly 10 years as I have taught OT Survey, Conquest & Settlement, and preached from Judges.


The word Jephthah uses in 11:31 that is generally translated “burnt offering” literally means simply, “wholly dedicated”. A form of the same word is used in the Sampson account (chapter 13) to describe Sampson being “dedicated to the Lord” – clearly Sampson was not offered as a burnt sacrifice. Context must determine if the word means wholly dedicated in the form of a burnt offering or wholly dedicated in some other way.

— A Friend pointed out a problem with the above —

It is the noun form which is used in 11:31 and in fact this form is not used in chapter 13 referring to Sampson. Moreover it is only used one other time in Judges (6:26) where it clearly refers to a burnt offering.

Even more, the noun form, according to HALOT (the generally accepted comprehensive Hebrew Lexicon) attributes the noun form to only those uses meaning burnt offering.

— Therefore linguistically the weight is in favor of “burnt offering”. I am still in favor of my conclusion for the following reasons. However, I am thankful for this correction.


Clearly in the passage the emphasis is on the daughter’s virginity and lack of marriage, not on her death. Within the flow of the text one is left to understand the terrible thing this girl is experiencing is the lack of opportunity to marry and have children. This would be an odd thing to mourn over year after year (vs. 40) if this girl was burned alive.


Verse 34 seems to go out of the way to emphasis this was Jephthah’s only child! To have her killed or to dedicate her to perpetual virginity in the temple would be genealogical suicide. Jephthah would have no descendants to carry on his name, no one to receive his portion of the land inheritance (and yes, God had provided a way to daughters to receive the land inheritance from their father when there were no sons). As a result Jephthah’s vow was terminating his family from the genealogical records of Israel! Regardless of how the vow was carried out this was rash indeed.


The books of Judges is structured in such a way that the character and actions of the judges go from bad to worse. Jephthah is no hero himself to be sure, but Sampson is coming and he is far worse. The book ends with a depiction of the Levites doing things that are almost unmentionable (except they are in the Bible). So structurally the books isn’t yet to a level of depravity where one would would expect to find something so horrific as a child sacrifice. (BTW: I would suggest we don’t see child sacrifices in Israel until much later in their history as this is something God so seriously hates – Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:31; Ez. 16)

I’ll also say here, this is why I don’t find Murray’s “filled with the Holy Spirit” argument helpful. Even Sampson was filled with the Holy Spirit on occasion. It seems clear that, in Judges, the Holy Spirit “came upon” (probably a better translation here than “filled”) for occasions of power and authority and then departed. This is why we see people who have the Spirit on one occasion doing magnificent things, and then the same person later doing horrific things.


God provided a payment to redeem oneself from a vow of this type – Lev. 27:1-8; 28-29.

Many have observed God’s silence in the rest of chapter 11 regarding the outcome of this event. Based on God’s very loud and powerful statements regarding his hatred for human (and child in particular) sacrifice elsewhere, it is difficult for me conclude that He would be silent if that is what is going on here. I certainly cannot see how one can conclude that God would have “accepted” a human sacrifice here as fulfillment of this vow. From my reading of the passage it seems like God does indeed accept Jephthah’s payment – his daughter’s whole dedication unto the Lord in temple service resulting in her perpetual virginity and the end of Jephthah’s family line.

A couple of years ago I was at a conference where someone was preaching from Judges. He happened to preach the Jephthah narrative. In his sermon is essentially said, “Oh, yeah there are some who think maybe Jephthah didn’t offer his daughter as a burnt offering, but that’s nonsense and silly, they just have weak stomachs.”

Not only in that attitude uncharitable and unhelpful. It also shows an ignorance of the arguments others have put forward for this interpretation, at best, and, at worst, an arrogance in one’s own view.

It is far better when teaching/preaching a passage like this to give the arguments on both sides clearly & helpfully, then conclude with which view you hold and why. As a result people are not just taught to think what you tell them, but they are taught how to think and how to think carefully from the text.

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