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Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God

Of all the pursuits that come with the Christian life, is any more constant, any more consuming, and any more difficult than the pursuit of humility? Surely nothing cuts harder against the grain of our natural, sinful humanity than to be humble before God and humble before our fellow man.

Yet God calls us to display humility. He warns that he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So how do we become humble? Or, to say it another way, how do we humble ourselves? Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it! Give me a course I can take, a list I can check off, a procedure I can follow, and I’ll keep at it until I’m properly humble! But as David Mathis points out in his new book Humbled: Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God, such an attitude is all wrong because it elevates us too much. “In contrast to this attitude, the humble-self theme in Scripture turns our human instincts and assumptions upside down. Yes, this is indeed a biblical directive. And at the same time, it’s not something we can just up and do. We cannot humble ourselves by our own bootstraps.” There is no simple plan to follow, no course to take, no step-by-step procedure. That’s because …

… we humans are not the drivers of our own humility. Our God designs the humbling way in which he forges the virtue of humility. He takes the initiative. He acts first. Our humility happens on his terms. He sees. He knows. He moves, with sovereign, omnipotent, meticulous care. He is intimately engaged with his created world and with each of his creatures. He is the one who humbles us with his mighty hand, and when his humbling hand descends and we’re cut to our knees or flat on the ground, then the question comes to us: Will you humble yourself and embrace God’s humbling hand, or will you try to fight back?
Will you receive his humbling providences, or attempt to explain them away?
Will you soften to him in humility, or harden with pride?
True self-humbling is not our initiative, but it does require our doing as we learn to welcome the uncomfortable work of God.

That uncomfortable work, and our response to it, is the theme of Mathis’s book. In its eight brief chapters he offers a study of the Bible’s humble-self language. Specifically, he follows the lead of the “humble-self” texts “for what we might discover not as much about humility in general, though that’s not unimportant, but specifically (and practically) about what it means to pursue humility, and especially to humble-self, when God is the one who initiates our humbling, not us.”
So he asks first “How do I humble myself?” and explains how God humbles us through our response to his Word and his work. He shows the importance of providence, Scripture, prayer, fasting, and local church fellowship in God’s working out of our humility. He explains how we can think less of ourselves and think of ourselves less. He shows how most ultimately, humility is the means through which we admit to ourselves, to others, and to God himself, “I am not God.” In that way, it is “a posture of soul and body and life that acknowledges and welcomes the godness of God and the humanness of self.”
All-in-all, Humbled is as helpful a book as you’ll find on the essential but oh-so-difficult task of becoming humble—of responding appropriately to God’s pursuit of our humility. I highly recommend it.

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A La Carte (October 22)

The Lord be with you and bless you today.

Westminster Books has a really good deal on a really neat set of books.
Remembering Don Lewis
“Dr. Donald Munro Lewis died Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in Vancouver, BC, of cardiac arrest. He was seventy-one. A beloved and respected historian, professor, mentor, friend, and parishioner, Don will be mourned and missed around the world. He was a wise and steadying presence from Vancouver to Cape Town.” Don was also the man who led my dad to the Lord (who in turn led my mom to the Lord).
Identity vs. personhood
This is a really good one from Janie Cheaney. “Anyone over 40 could have a lot of fun with 249 genders, but it’s no laughing matter for young people trying to figure out who they are in a confused and confusing world. The tragedy is, some may be so intent on crafting identities that they’ve let go of personhood.”
The Woke Non-Gospel at the Chappelle Netflix Protests
Rhys Laverty has some interesting analysis of a recent protest. Note that there is a really bad word that comes up in the article, but it is asterisked out. “I awoke this morning to a protest video. A friend had forwarded a video of yesterday’s demonstration outside Netflix’s head office in LA. Employees walked out, joined by plenty of others, to protest comedian Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix standup special.”
Sing When You’re Losing
“The gathered church sings. That’s what we do. It’s not the only thing we do, but it is what we do. … We sing to worship the Lord, we sing to bolster one another, we sing to ‘push back the dark’ by declaring the victory of Christ. But, occasionally, we struggle to sing. Especially I think we struggle to sing—or at least I struggle to sing—when it feels like we’re losing.”
Four Types of Men in Leadership
I appreciate Chopo’s thoughts on leadership here. Focusing specifically on leadership in the home and church, he highlights four kinds of men commonly found in the church and in our society.
What the Lord’s “Imminent” Return Means
This is a helpful look at what it means that the Lord’s return is “imminent.”
The Church Among the Deathworks
I’m committed to linking to pretty much everything Carl Trueman writes. “Hegel writes that the 1820s witnessed a rise in anxiety and despair because cultural symbols and institutions began to lose their meaning, plunging the world into a state of random flux. Of course, this is all the more true of our own world, where old symbols—national flags, national anthems, national narratives—have lost their shared meaning, and have thus also lost their authority. Which flag to fly—Stars and Stripes or Pride? Which anthem to sing—’Star Spangled Banner’ or ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’? Where to date America’s founding—1776 or 1619? These are now serious questions.”
Flashback: Young Christian: Give the Lord a Lot to Work With
The teens and twenties—these are years that can be put to very good use or that can be squandered. These are years that can form the firm foundation of a life well-lived or the unsteady foundation of a life tragically wasted.

Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance). —John Stott

With Friends Like These

The reason why we can be wrong is that God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Does Job have an answer to the question “Why?” No, he does not. But he can lay his troubles at the feet of Almighty God. This is whom we need to direct people to when they are suffering inexplicably.

Perhaps Job wished his friends had remained silent. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar initially didn’t speak a word to Job. His suffering was too great. They remained silent for a week. But Job 4 marks the beginning of their speeches, where they begin to tell Job what they really think.
Eliphaz is the first of Job’s friends to speak. He speaks first probably because he’s the oldest. We pick up in Job 15:9–10 that he’s a gray-headed man, older than Job’s father. Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, beginning in Job 8. He is brasher than Eliphaz. Zophar is the third of Job’s friends to speak, and he is even brasher than Bildad. Job’s friends all share something in common, however: their understanding of Job’s suffering. It can be summarized in a few questions from their speeches:
Eliphaz:_ “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7)_
Bildad: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (Job 8:3)
Zophar: “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? (Job 20:4–5)
Job’s friends each understand the universe as operating according to a certain law. The reason for suffering, in their minds, is very simple. You reap what you sow. You get out of life what you put into it. You are responsible for your actions, and suffering is a consequence of your actions. The implication is that Job has sinned. It may have been a little sin, it may have been a medium-sized sin, or it may have been a big sin. It may be a present sin or some past sin that Job has forgotten about. One way or another, their answer to this predicament—from a philosophical, theological point of view—is that Job is reaping what he has sown. It’s karma. You get whatever’s owed to you.
What do we make of that as a principle, as a philosophy, as a theological way of understanding Job’s predicament?
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That Are Not of This Fold

Written by A.W. Workman |
Friday, October 22, 2021
The good shepherd has been calling his sheep from other, unexpected, folds for 2,000 years now. My own Anglo-Saxon and Celtic genes are evidence of this. The hardest to reach demographics and people groups have and will continue to surrender a remnant at the power of the shepherd’s voice. The flock – in all its unexpected diversity – will be complete. “And there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Yesterday I got to preach to our small local church plant on John 10:16 – “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
We simply walked phrase by phrase through this verse, seeking to understand, wrestle with the importance, illustrate, and apply each line. The phrase that got the most audible reactions was “that are not of this fold.”
I shared with the attendees that Jesus was here communicating to the Jews that the people of God would be gathered from unexpected peoples and places – namely, the gentile nations. “Not of this fold” meant not of ethnic Israel. One of the great mysteries revealed in the New Testament is that God had chosen a holy spiritual nation, comprised of those from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Ethnic Israel wasn’t the ultimate Israel.
This part wasn’t very provocative. After all, my listeners were Central Asians, not first century Jews. However, we then discussed why this point is important for us today. We, like Jesus’ initial Jewish followers, tend to believe that there are certain types of people who believe, and certain types of people who really don’t. Those similar to us almost always fall into the category of “likely open to belief.” And groups we are naturally opposed to often end up in the category of “unlikely to believe.”
This has a practical effect on our evangelism. We end up sharing with those we have pre-filtered, and we remain tight-lipped with others. But what has occurred is that our own experience and cultural categories (or prejudice?) have become the filter, rather than the gospel message itself. Given the logic of Jesus in this passage, this is a mistake.
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Faithful Shepherding In The Midst Of Suffering – Part 3

My dear friends, glory is our reward with the Lord. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of the glory of God rests upon you.” We need to get our eyes off of this earth and off the temporary problems we have, and on the eternal reward day that is coming. The payday is coming. And God is no man’s debtor. whatever you have suffered, however, we have been faithful to him, that will all be brought up at the judgment seat of Christ. Again, eternal rewards are ours. Let us be faithful. 

So far, we have pondered on the reality of suffering in the world, and have seen from the Bible that suffering is to be expected for Christians, especially since we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Remember that we are not only to teach these truths faithfully, but also to model them in our own lives.
The third thing we need to continually teach our people about is the divine perspective on suffering. If you have your Bible, I do want you to see this yourself. I want you to open 2 Corinthians 4. Now, here’s a passage of Scripture, that I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve used it hundreds of times in my life, it could even be 1000! And I want you to use this when we face suffering and when we help other people, because we do not just deal with our own suffering, as shepherds. Along with that, we have to be faithful to help others through suffering. In fact, I think we spend more time helping other people through suffering than ourselves. And we need to know what Scripture text to go to.
I remember I was training this young man in our church about visitation, going to hospitals dealing with people’s problems. And I remember the first time we went out and an issue came up with the people we were talking to, and I took them to this passage. And this young man said to me later, when we left, “You know, I literally had no idea what Bible verse to open to?” He said, “I’m glad you showed me.” I said, “Well, that’s why I brought you along. So you know how to open your Bible and comfort people who are suffering and help yourself.” Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 4. Second Corinthians, is an amazing book. It is the most autobiographical of Paul’s books, and there is no other book in which we get these insights into Paul as a shepherd of the Lord’s people. And you see at one moment his severity and next moment, tenderness unlike anything else So in verse 16, he says, “For we do not lose heart.” Well, my friends, if anyone should lose heart and get depressed and discouraged, it was the Apostle Paul. He had more problems than all of you put together and multiplied. This man had every problem there is. I have never been whipped, I have never been left at sea, never been hungry. I mean, this man experienced everything. He sat in jail, he had people trying to stone him to death, whip him to death. “We do not lose heart!” Oh! I want to find out why he doesn’t lose heart, because I lose heart so easily.
“Though our outward self is wasting away.” Now if you’re over 55 you know what this means. The outer nature is wasted away. Well, you lose muscle, your skin sags, you have to have glasses, you go get hearing aids, some people get wigs (I look better this way!). And then we have knee replacements and hip replacements. Replacements seem to be nowhere near what they can repair in your body. The outward nature is wasting away, and well, it will end in your death. Now, this is my verse for my philosophy of aging. Are you ready? “Although the outward nature is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” If you’re over 50, you better know this verse. Although the outward nature is decaying (you can do some things to slow it down, but it is going to win), the inner man, the new man in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who lives within us, every day he is being renewed. Well, that is an amazing truth, isn’t it? Your inner man is being fed and he is growing, he is expanding, he is maturing. That should be your philosophy of life.
[In fact, I was going to speak to you about this whole thing: About being a growing leader, a maturing leader. Sadly, many stop growing when they get to be about the age of 40 and older. They do not read anymore, they do not go to conferences, they do not have a greater vision for the world. That is a very, very big problem. But this text says, the inner man is being renewed every day. He is growing. He is learning and expanding. That’s what I want to do as I age.]
Now I want you to get the balance hereof words very beautifully balanced. I wish I had a scale to show this but you can imagine a weighing scale. “For this light momentary affliction…”  or  suffering “is preparing for us…” Well, that’s good to know. “An eternal. weight of glory beyond all comparison.” In other words, these are not comparisons. This is what happens. It is an eternal weight of heavenly glory. Here on earth what we face is a light, momentary affliction. That’s the divine perspective. And he says it is not comparable. So in this life, you have many afflictions, sorrows, heartaches, setbacks, losses, and sometimes very severe, and they really can hurt. But the divine perspective says it is light and it is momentary, lasting a very short time. A whole life here on earth is a very short time. But it is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.
Now, if you want to know a little bit more about this glory, you go down to Chapter 5 verses 1-10.
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On Being a Normal Horse

I was struck by the self-pity of Bree, the kidnapped Narnian horse who in the story is escaping homeward from the southern deserts of Calormen. He is a charger, a beautiful white war horse who has fought many battles, even earning acclaim for his feats in this foreign kingdom. But during the flight northwards to his homeland, in one instance he does not appear so grand. Bree and his company are attacked by a large lion and it is Shasta the young boy, not Bree the warhorse, who turns around to face the lion in an attempt to defend two females in their company. Bree continues bolting away from the scene in a dash of panic, leaving the others to a likely death.

I recently read The Horse and His Boy and since I had long forgotten the plot and the conclusion, I enjoyed the whole thing as if it was the first time. What a brilliant, well-constructed story. It takes some time to get going but by the end the story fits snuggly like a glove, resolving every uncertainty and lose end in a work of pure Lewisian craftsmanship. On top of that, I believe it speaks directly to some issues in myself, namely a preoccupation with self with tendencies to self-pity.
I was struck by the self-pity of Bree, the kidnapped Narnian horse who in the story is escaping homeward from the southern deserts of Calormen. He is a charger, a beautiful white war horse who has fought many battles, even earning acclaim for his feats in this foreign kingdom. But during the flight northwards to his homeland, in one instance he does not appear so grand. Bree and his company are attacked by a large lion and it is Shasta the young boy, not Bree the warhorse, who turns around to face the lion in an attempt to defend two females in their company. Bree continues bolting away from the scene in a dash of panic, leaving the others to a likely death.
Later we see Bree in a state of despondency at his failure. He was not supposed to run away, he should have faced the danger and sacrificed himself for the weaker members. He should have acted heroically, but the moment came and went and he was missing in action. I understand this feeling very well. In my mind I both imagine and expect that I will act according to the lofty standards I know I should be able to reach. But I fail! I do not live up to my own expectations. Some things I put considerable work into do not seem to materialize and make an impact. Other times my actions toward my family do not reflect the righteous example I am called to model to them. There have been several what I call “golden opportunities” presented to me over the years to speak up about the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers, yet I remember them as Bree remembers his failure: as opportunities missed.
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Lessons in Artful Argument from C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis understood his times well and responded brilliantly. One of his most substantive rebukes—and one that’s particularly relevant today—was his condemnation of chronological snobbery. This view asserts that what we believe today must be true because it’s most recent. It assumes that we’ve evolved intellectually so our beliefs must be better than those of less enlightened people of the past. 

C. S. Lewis modeled disagreement in a variety of helpful ways. Sometimes, he declared that particular ideas were wrong. Early in Mere Christianity he anticipated the objection against universal morality: “I know some people say . . . different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.” He simply followed with “But this is not true.” Only after drawing this hard line in the sand did he offer support for his strong claim.
Sometimes, he softened his words when others might have sharpened theirs. This works especially well when countering common misconceptions about the gospel. For example, when Lewis addressed the claim that Christianity is just a bunch of rules to follow, he gently responded, “I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”
In some instances, his brilliant reasoning skills allowed him to dismantle arguments before offering the truth. Such was the case when he responded to the claim that Jesus was just a good man but not God: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” He also took on the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God. Some said it was his disciples who invented those statements. Lewis responded, “The theory only saddles you with twelve inexplicable lunatics instead of one.”
Of course, when responding to less-than-sincere objections, he felt no need to mince words:
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.
Does that seem too harsh? It probably is for most of us in most of our situations. But bear in mind the dramatic differences between the contexts we inhabit (usually one-on-one conversations with a friend) and Lewis’s platforms (radio broadcasts, public speeches, or arguments in books). It fits some situations to make sweeping or pointed declarations. Often, though, we should temper the boldness of our rebukes. But even when sitting across the table from a confused friend, our gentle pushbacks need to be both genuinely gentle and genuinely pushbacks.
Reading the Times
C. S. Lewis understood his times well and responded brilliantly. One of his most substantive rebukes—and one that’s particularly relevant today—was his condemnation of chronological snobbery.
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Doubts About William Lane Craig’s Creation Account

Written by Peter J. Leithart |
Friday, October 22, 2021
On the surface, Craig’s argument turns on his non-literal interpretation of Genesis 2-3. He sets up a hermeneutical frame in three steps. First, Genesis shares features with myth. Yet, second, Genesis also has features of history. Therefore, third, Genesis is “mytho-history,” and we determine what Genesis teaches about Adam by mining the nuggets of history hidden under layers of metaphor. Craig warns us to avoid a simplistic antithesis between myth and history, but he ends up with his own antithesis, sorting bits of the creation narrative into baskets marked “metaphorical” and “literal.” 

William Lane Craig (“The Historical Adam,” October 2021) believes that a being corresponding to the biblical Adam actually existed. Paul’s typology of Adam and Christ, he argues, requires an historical, as opposed to a merely literary, Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). But this isn’t your Fundamentalist grandma’s Adam. According to Craig, Adam didn’t exist at the beginning of time, but was preceded by billions of years and many varieties of semi-humans. Adam wasn’t formed from the dust of the ground nor was Eve built from Adam’s rib; our first parents were selected from the ancestors of Homo sapiens known as Homo heidelbergensis. They didn’t live in an idyllic paradise called Eden, nor were they tempted by a talking snake, though they did disobey God, were alienated from him, and unleashed sin and death into the world.
On the surface, Craig’s argument turns on his non-literal interpretation of Genesis 2-3. He sets up a hermeneutical frame in three steps. First, Genesis shares features with myth. Yet, second, Genesis also has features of history. Therefore, third, Genesis is “mytho-history,” and we determine what Genesis teaches about Adam by mining the nuggets of history hidden under layers of metaphor. Craig warns us to avoid a simplistic antithesis between myth and history, but he ends up with his own antithesis, sorting bits of the creation narrative into baskets marked “metaphorical” and “literal.”
Craig is confident. He knows the anthropomorphic deity of Genesis 2-3 shouldn’t be taken literally, nor the garden, nor the trees, nor the serpent. The ages of early men are, Craig thinks, absurdly long, though not long enough to accommodate modern beliefs about the age of the earth. Yet he also knows these men existed: We shouldn’t “imagine that they comprise purely fictitious characters.” He’s capable of seeing through the eyes of ancient Babylonians, who didn’t see “the desiccated flesh and bones of Tiamat” when they looked at the sky, and he sneaks into the head of the author of Genesis to discover that the biblical account of Eden and the fall was “fantastic, even to the Pentateuchal author himself.”
How does Craig know all this? Why preserve the historical reality of Methuselah and Noah while dispensing with their ages? Real persons and events are, he says, “clothed in the metaphorical and figurative language of myth.” But clothes make the man: By what criterion does Craig distinguish one from the other? He offers no argument, relying on readers to share his prejudices concerning plausibility. To which we may ask: Whose plausibility? Craig thinks the ages of early men are too long to be literal; but Augustine might disagree, as might Ussher or the millions of Christians between the two and since who have constructed chronologies from the numbers of Genesis. The account of Eden and the fall is “clearly metaphorical or figurative,” but clear to whom?
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