“The ‘stumbling block principle’ is often erroneously invoked to place limits on the behavior of some Christians whose conduct offends other Christians with stricter behavioral standards. For example, it is argued that if drinking alcohol or dancing or dressing in certain ways might cause offense to more scrupulous church members, we are obligated to avoid such behaviors for the sake of the ‘weaker brother’s conscience.’ The effect of such reasoning is to hold the entire Christian community hostage to the standards of the most narrow-minded and legalistic members of the church. Clearly, this is not what Paul intended. He is concerned in 1 Corinthians 8 about weaker believers being ‘destroyed’ by being drawn away from the church and back into idol worship. Therefore, in applying this text analogically to our time, we should be careful to frame analogies only to those situations in which the boundary-defying actions of the ‘strong’ might actually jeopardize the faith and salvation of others by leading the weak to emulate high-risk behaviors” (Hays, First Corinthians, 145).
Mark Gignilliat, a former professor of mine at Beeson Divinity School, has written an excellent article in Christianity Today. The title of the article is, “Not Just a New Testament God,” and the tag line says it all: “the cranky, severe, Old Testament God is not just an opening act.” Here’s a taste:
The one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals himself to us in the Old Testament as both severe and merciful. The Bible leans against our tendency to construct a god after our own image. We cannot approach the delicatessen of God’s person like we approach a buffet—taking a heaping of this and a dollop of that, while passing over what we deem unpalatable. Neither God’s severity—”Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” (Nah. 1:6, ESV)—nor his mercy—”Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression?” (Mic. 7:18)—can be diminished or pitted against each other in our reading of the Old Testament. As Habakkuk pleads, “[I]n wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). C. S. Lewis described Aslan as good but not safe. The same is true of God. Just ask Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:7).
You can read the full article here. I highly recommend it!
Here are the closing words of Phil Towner’s very helpful article, “The Function of the Public Reading of Scripture in 1 Timothy 4:13 and in the Biblical Tradition.”
In view of the diverse media with which modern societies spread their messages today (e.g. television and internet), and in view of the ready access most believers have to these media, the need to ensure that measures are taken in the church to reinforce Christian identity is all the more urgent. We are also called to live out a distinctively Christian witness within the world, not separate from it—so, putting distance between us and the competing messages and values is not an option. But where within the maelstrom will the church find its solidifying and anchoring sense of identity as God’s people? It must come through a shared participation in the symbolic and spiritual activities that we practice when we gather for worship. The lesson to be learned from 1 Timothy 4:13, and the background that informs the exegesis of this text, is that the deliberate public reading of Scripture (according to a schedule or plan of some sort) is one way of rehearsing the acts of God in behalf of his people and his creation and finding and renewing our identity-center in that story over and over again. It takes only a minimal amount of honest reflection to reveal how easily we are attracted to other competing stories (and value systems) for our sense of identity.
The full article can be found here.
There was a poor young wife, Mary of Nazareth, among the dwellers of the town, so little esteemed that none noticed the great wonder she carried. She was silent, did not vaunt herself, but served her husband. They simply left the house. Perhaps they had a donkey for Mary to ride upon, though the Gospels say nothing about this, and we may well believe that she went on foot. The journey was long, and they took very little, for Joseph had thought, “When we get to Bethlehem, we shall be among relatives and can surely borrow everything we need.” A fine idea that was! Bad enough that a young bride could not have her baby in her own house! How much worse that when she arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for her! The inn was full. No one would release a room to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall and there bring forth the Maker of all things… No one regarded this young wife bringing forth her first-born. No one took her condition to heart. No one noticed that in a strange place she had not the very least thing needful in childbirth. She was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness… Think, women, there was no one there to bathe the baby. No warm water, nor even cold. The mother was herself midwife and maid. The cold manger was the bed and the bathtub. Who showed the poor girl what to do? She had never had a baby before. I am amazed that the little one did not freeze (adapted from Bainton, Here I Stand, 364-367).
Over at TGC, Jared Wilson has some important things to say about Mark Driscoll. Personally, I’ve been concerned about Driscoll’s operation for a number of years now. Wilson says:
This is not merely about lazy writing (or lazy supervision of someone else’s writing). It’s about what this one latest incident in the accumulating evidence of Pastor Mark’s empire-building says to us, his brothers and his customers. Pastoral leadership is difficult, not least because it demands the cross-taking humility of taking responsibility. To take responsibility for books that have your name on them, sure, but also for a public ministry sadly increasing in image-projecting, publicity-stunting, and gospel-obscuring. This latest episode is just the latest example indicating an evident lack of accountability and personal responsibility. All along, I’ve trusted that Pastor Mark had the right people around him, speaking the hard truths to him. I assumed those voices were there and authorized by him to keep him honest. I no longer believe this.
Your dad has been gone ten years now. What’s one of your favorite memories?
When his eyesight was about gone, I would read the Bible to him, mostly the Psalms and the Book of Job. He loved it because he was such a great reader his whole life, and he couldn’t read anymore. His books were all around him in his study, and I remember he said, “This is a room full of regrets now.” It just broke my heart. So I would go down to Nashville and read to him, and then I would read to him on the phone when I was back in New York. One time, we had arranged a phone time to read the Psalms, and I was up at my country house in upstate New York. I looked all around, and I had no Bible. I went, “Oh, my God, he’s going to be so disappointed.” And he called, and I said, “Dad, I don’t have a Bible. I only have Shakespeare.” He went, “Hmmm, Shakespeare, huh? Let’s just let it go until you get back to the city.”
I can see why this wonderfully encouraging part of Scripture was so dear to Cash. After all, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.
Some great thoughts, as per usual, from Kevin DeYoung:
I have no problem with Christian publishing houses trying to make money. They have bills to pay. They can run a business on good will and pious aspirations. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with authors—even pastor authors—being paid for their work (more on this in a moment). It doesn’t even bother me that some authors would write mainly to make a living. But if we are talking about pastors, then surely our writing must be an effort to serve others. If you are in ministry and want to get a book published so you can “arrive” or can be “somebody” or can speak at the top conferences, you better check your heart.
Read the full article here.
Here are a few excerpts from a sermon I preached recently at Owaka Grace Presbyterian Church (otherwise known as Owaka Grace Fellowship), New Zealand. The primary passage is 1 Pet 5:1-5, and the topic is church leadership. The full manuscript is provided below.
A fellow once told me that there are two kinds of leaders: 1) own and command leaders, and 2) coach and play leaders. Basically, an own and command leader is a boss who thinks he is better than his workers. His workers, or church members, are his property, and he tells them what to do. On the other hand, a coach and play leader leads by example. Like a coach, he provides instruction, encouragement, and motivation for the team, but he also rolls up his sleeves and trains with the team. He doesn’t ask the team to do anything that he is not willing to do. That’s what Peter is saying here. He’s getting ready to instruct elders, and before he does so he wants to establish the fact that he is striving to be a faithful elder.
Interestingly, Peter doesn’t say that elders are to be CEOs, savvy businessmen, sharp dressers, dynamic speakers, brilliant minds, or charismatic personalities. He tells us from the very beginning that elders are to be shepherds.
To read the full sermon, download the following PDF: Shepherding the Flock of God (1 Pet 5:1-5)
The following sermon was preached at Owaka Grace Presbyterian Church (otherwise known as Owaka Grace Fellowship), New Zealand, on October 13, 2013.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” I’ve probably quoted that verse fifteen times in the last fifteen weeks or so that we have been studying 1 Peter, because the verse captures the message of the whole letter. This is a letter about hope. Hope, you have heard me say again and again, is more than some weak wish that tomorrow might be brighter than today; it is the confidence that God is at work now, and the confidence that God will be at work in the future, both for our good and, ultimately, for his glory. Peter says that we have a “living hope,” meaning that our hope is based on a living person. Our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ is alive! Christ is present with us always! And not only that, but, as we will discover in our passage for today, Christ is powerful over all!
Peter’s first readers needed to be reminded of the presence and the power of Christ, because they were experiencing trials—they were suffering. We learned last week that these early Christians in Asia Minor were “suffering for doing good.” They were committed to Christ, and this led to them being shunned by society. “Elect rejects,” I have called them. Last week, Peter told these early Christians, and us, how to respond when we find ourselves suffering for doing good.
Today, in 1 Pet 3:18-22, Peter is going to continue telling us about “suffering for doing good.” We know that our passage today is primarily about suffering because of the context. Look at the bookends of the passage. In 1 Pet 3:17, we read: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” And then in 4:1, Peter writes: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…”
I point this out because this is a very complex passage and I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees. I want us to understand the big picture here. In our passage this morning, Peter is going to tell us that, as we find ourselves suffering for doing good, we must remember that we (believers) have no need to fear, because Christ has suffered for us and he has secured victory over all evil forces. As complicated as this passage is, the main idea can be stated simply: Christ is victorious!
Now, before we walk through the passage together, you need to know that Martin Luther, the great Reformer and hero of church history said this about 1 Pet 3:18-22: “That is as strange a text and as dark a saying as any in the New Testament, so that I am not yet sure what St. Peter intended.” We come today to what is probably the most difficult text in the NT. You’re going to need to “role up the sleeves of your mind,” as Peter told us earlier in the letter (1 Pet 1:13), because today we are going to do some heavy lifting. We’ll do the best we can with the passage in the thirty minutes or so that we have this morning.
The question to keep in mind as we look at the passage is: how do I remain strong when I suffer for doing good? Based on the bookends of the passage, I think these verses function primarily as encouragement for suffering believers. The way Peter encourages us is by taking us on a journey, a journey with Jesus. This passage places us on the path of Christ, the path from the crucifixion to the ascension, the path from suffering to exaltation. On this path, we find three encouraging truths.
To continue reading, please download the following PDF. Traveling the Pathway from Suffering to Exaltation (1 Pet 3.18-22).
Thirty. It’s the speed limit on Back Beach Road here in Port Chalmers, New Zealand (which is about as fast as I feel comfortable driving on any New Zealand road!), and it’s now the number of years I have been alive. Such a monumental occasion calls for a blog post. On this first of (hopefully) many days as a trigenarian, I would like to reflect on a few of the things in my life for which I am thankful. In the fashion typical of a Type-A individual, my reflection takes the form of a list. The list is in fairly random order.
1. I am thankful for God’s grace. By grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I have no right to boast (Eph 2:8-9). Before the foundation of the world, God chose me (Eph 1:4). For this, I am so very thankful. As Charles Spurgeon says, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with such special love” (Defense of Calvinism).
2. I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Jamie. For eight years now, Jamie has been by my side. We’ve become parents, moved house–from Alabama to New Zealand–and experienced numerous other adventures together. Since Jamie and I met, I have been involved in both pastoral ministry and theological education (as a student, teacher, or both). Without Jamie’s unselfish concern for the advancement of the gospel, my work would not be possible. I am truly blessed to have such a loving, supportive, talented, and beautiful wife. (Seriously, what in the world is she doing with me?)
3. I am thankful for my rambunctious boys, Aidan Thomas and Cullen Timothy. I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in truth (3 John 4). Nothing makes this Reformed dad happier than to hear Aidan and Cullen name their stuffed animals “Augustine the Hippo” and “Luther the Lion,” and to hear both boys respond to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Plus, I love having two little fishing buddies.
4. I am thankful for my parents. From childhood I have been acquainted with the sacred writings (2 Tim 3:15). I have my parents to thank for this. As the fellow once said: “When your son asks you how long he has to go to church, just tell him that he has to go until he wants to go.” That’s about how it was in our house growing up. Our family worshiped together. Our family read Scripture together. The first time I heard about Jesus, I heard about him from my mom and dad. For this, I am thankful.
5. I am thankful for my grandparents. My grandparents are some of the greatest people I know. When I think of the one who has passed away, and the three who are still with us, I think of Paul’s words in Gal 5:22: ”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Faithful saints. That’s my grandparents.
6. I am thankful for my two brothers and their families. They may make fun of me for wearing the same sweater every year to the family Christmas party, and one of them may call me “Pope Dillon,” because I am not currently serving in a Baptist church (and apparently for him all non-Baptists are Roman Catholics…), but I have many memories of great times with my brothers. Some of these memories involve a Chinese buffet, a .22 caliber rifle, and golf clubs (but not mixed together). This is not the place to provide the details.
7. I am thankful for my extended family. My extended family get-togethers are always entertaining. Many of us have started our own families now. And some of us live far away, so we are not able to fill our spot on the stairs for the yearly family picture (I’m still in mourning about this). But folks in my family are always there for one another. For this, I am thankful.
8. I am thankful for my father-in-law and mother-in-law. They have loved me and supported me in so many ways since we first met in freezing-cold Wisconsin eight years ago. They set a great example for their grandchildren by using their talents for the glory of God. And they have officially gotten me hooked on Disney World.
9. I am thankful for my brother-in-law. Who else would be crazy enough to climb the foothills of Aoraki/Mount Cook with me at such a ridiculously rapid pace?
10. I am thankful for the churches I have served in through the years. I think of my years at Bellview, Hunter Street, Flint Hill, New Beginnings, and now my time at Owaka Grace Fellowship, and I remember all the wonderful people in each of these churches who have made such an impact on my life. I hope and pray that, despite my many weaknesses and failures, I have been a faithful shepherd of the portions of God’s flock that he has temporarily entrusted to my care.
11. I am thankful for my call to pastoral ministry. How grateful I am that God summoned and gifted me, an obviously plain man, to proclaim the excellencies of the one who called me out of darkness and into the marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). While there is in our day no shortage of “philosophies of ministry,” I appreciate John Calvin’s approach. In his commentary on 1 Timothy, Calvin writes: “Men often set before them some other aim than to approve themselves to Christ; many seek applause for their cleverness, eloquence or profound knowledge, and that is why they pay less attention to the basic necessities which are apt to produce less popular admiration. But Paul tells Timothy to be content with this one thing, that he should be a faithful minister of Christ. And we should certainly regard this as a far more honourable title than being called a thousand times over seraphic and subtle doctors. Let us remember therefore that it is the greatest honour than can befall a godly pastor to be accounted a good servant of Christ, so that during his whole ministry this should be his only aim.”
12. I am thankful for the professors who have trained me for ministry. I think especially of Beeson Divinity School, and the world-class academics/front-line churchmen and churchwomen who taught me so much. My three years at Beeson were some of the best years of my life thus far. I also think of the University of Otago, and my superb supervisor, who has influenced me tremendously.
13. I am thankful for my colleagues in ministry. For friends ministering in the name of Christ Jesus all over the world, I am thankful. I thank you especially for your prayers and the encouraging words you send my way from time to time. Continue to hold me accountable. I will do the same for you.
(Note from the Narrator: At this point in the post, a terrible case of writer’s block set in, and Dillon could no longer think of serious things for which he is thankful. But he simply could not allow himself to make a list of thirteen items. There are two reasons for this. First, the number thirteen is considered by many to be an unlucky number. Dillon does not really believe in luck, but, as he is getting older now, he figured it was not a risk worth taking. Second, Dillon has obsessive-compusive disorder, and odd numbers make him uneasy. Thus, the list continues, but without the sincerity that characterizes the first part above.)
14. I am thankful for our adventures in New Zealand. New Zealand is a beautiful country. The grass is always green. The water is always blue. You can surf and snow ski in the same day. There is no traffic. There are no snakes. And there are more sheep than people. What more could a guy ask for?
15. I am thankful for the sun. I suppose I’ve always been thankful for that great big ball of heat in the sky, but I am much, much more thankful for it now that I live in New Zealand. When the sun is shining in the winter, you see, the temperature in our house rises to a blistering 55 degrees fahrenheit, which is so warm that I can’t even see my breath when I exhale. Aidan is always deeply bothered when this happens. He usually cries out, “Dad, where did your smoke go?”
16. I am thankful for central heating. The central heating I once had. See # 15.
17. I am thankful for coffee. According to my latest tally, I’ve had 1,092 cups since I started working on my doctoral thesis. Coffee is my lifeblood. Tea is fine, and I’ve tried to start drinking more of it since we moved to New Zealand. But coffee… well… it completes me.
18. I am thankful for Johnny Cash. I once read his autobiography, Cash, and I have been hooked on his music ever since. He’s the only guy I know who can follow a song about a drunken Native American with a song about the crucifixion and get away with it. Read the autobiography and you’ll understand.
19. I am thankful for Netflix. The watch instantly feature is the best invention since sliced bread. It’s television shows with no commercials and no waiting until next week to see what’s going to happen. It gives you the chance to get caught up on all the old shows you never got to watch when they first aired. Like Arrested Development. How did I miss this show the first time around? Never again will I be able to keep a straight face when someone calls me a chicken.
20. I am thankful for Felonious Gru. If you don’t know Gru, he’s the main character in Despicable Me and in Despicable Me 2. Steve Carell does the voice, and he’s hilarious. He has a Russian accent (even though, according to an interview, he comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico), is the adoptive father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes, and the current boss of the Minions. He has been given a knighthood, once had his own cooking show, and can hold his breath for thirty seconds. Both my boys love the character, and pretty much everything about the films. And even if my boys didn’t love the films, I would probably still watch them. You’re never too old to laugh at a Russian with a long nose.
(Note from the Narrator: I warned you.)