Posts in Rabbits Chasing Tangents
Give Yourself Away

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom 1:11–12, ESV).

Impart a Spiritual Gift

Writing to believers in a church he did not establish, in a city he had never visited, Paul communicates that he longs to see them, so that he might impart “some spiritual gift.” This phrase is curious. I cannot find an approximate match anywhere else in Scripture. Some have argued that the spiritual gift is the message of the gospel, charismatic gifts (e.g. tongues, prophecy), or perhaps, the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 19:6). The problem, of course, is Paul does not say this. He says some spiritual gift, and as Jewett rightly comments “the particle τι (‘some, some kind of’) leaves open the question of precisely what Paul seeks to contribute within the parameters of a charismatic gift.”1 One thing we can conclude, however, is that the giving of the gift is tied to Paul’s visit: he is the conveyer of the gift, and it cannot, therefore, be given by letter or via proxy.

Using The Clear To Interpret The Unclear

One passage that may help shine a light on this esoteric gift is 1 Thessalonians 2:1–16. There, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his ministry among them. In v. 8 Paul tells the church that they were “affectionately desirous of you,“ translated differently: they longed for them. He goes on to say, ”we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thess 2:8, emphasis added). Additionally, in v. 17 Paul laments being “torn away” from the Thessalonians (“in person not in heart”), and tells them that he “endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess 2:17, emphasis added). This, I think, is the key to understanding what Paul means by “some spiritual gift” in Romans 1:11.

Perhaps the reason Paul does not specify the nature of the gift, and why it cannot be received apart from his visiting in the flesh, is because he, himself is the gift. Stott elucidates, “there is ‘an intentional indefiniteness’ about his statement, perhaps because at this stage he does not know what their main spiritual needs will be.”2 Paul’s ambiguity as to the form of the spiritual gift is due to the fact that he does not at present know what they need. Willing to become all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22), he will wait until he arrives in order to determine how best to serve the believers in Rome.

No Substitute For Physical Presence

We have to ask, why does embodied presence even matter? What’s the difference between a text message and a face to face conversation? In our burgeoning digital age, this is a terribly relevant question. I believe Paul knew the answer to this question, for he understood the importance of face to face interaction. Allow me to explain.

As the saying goes, it’s not the quantity but the quality that really matters. Frank Bruni, however, disagrees. In an op-Ed piece entitled “The Myth of Quality Time”3, Bruni praises the integrity in acknowledging the havoc our rat-raced busyness has caused, but admonishes our attempts to remedy this with dedicated pockets of quality time. He argues that quantity (of time) is the key to enhancing quality (not the other way around). And nothing works better to bridge the gaps in intimacy than extended time in each other’s presence.

Bruni describes his family’s (extended family) ritual of blocking out an entire week every year to rent a house where they can all stay together. He confesses that for years he purposely showed up a day late, or ducked out two days early, because he “appreciated his private time.” But in recent years, he was determined to stay the entirety of the week. He recounts what he has learned:

With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.

There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence. We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

Those who believe that they do not have time to do something like this attempt to substitute quantity time with carefully planned opportunities to spend quality time. To this line of thinking Bruni retorts:

But people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.

Some of our most treasured memories took place almost serendipitously on some seemingly mundane day. As Bruni succinctly puts it, there’s simply no real substitute for physical presence. Deep down, I think we all know this—and so does Paul.

Bruni goes on to write:

Sustained proximity is the best route to the soul of someone; that unscripted gestures at unexpected junctures yield sweeter rewards than scripted ones on date night; that the “I love you” that counts most isn’t whispered with great ceremony on a hilltop in Tuscany. No, it slips out casually, spontaneously, in the produce section or over the dishes, amid the drudgery and detritus of their routines. That’s also when the truest confessions are made, when hurt is at its rawest and tenderness at its purest.

I know how my 80-year-old father feels about dying, religion and God not because I scheduled a discrete encounter to discuss all of that with him. I know because I happened to be in the passenger seat of his car when such thoughts were on his mind and when, for whatever unforeseeable reason, he felt comfortable articulating them.

And I know what he appreciates and regrets most about his past because I was not only punctual for this summer’s vacation, but also traveled there with him, to fatten our visit, and he was uncharacteristically ruminative on that flight.

It was on a run the next morning that my oldest niece described, as she’d never done for me before, the joys, frustrations and contours of her relationships with her parents, her two sisters and her brother. Why this information tumbled out of her then, with pelicans overhead and sweat slicking our foreheads, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that I’m even more tightly bonded with her now, and that’s not because of some orchestrated, contrived effort to plumb her emotions. It’s because I was present. It’s because I was there.

Conclusion

The author and book escape me at present, but I remember recently reading a line that said, “It is God’s job to get people through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. As Christians, it is our job to sit with them in it.” We serve an incarnational God (cf. Jn 1:14), who has charged us with an incarnational mission. Paul textures the Christian life in anatomical terms by referring to the church as members of Christ’s body (cf. 1 Cor 12; Eph 5:30). Therefore, we are charged with being the physical manifestation of his invisible attributes.

If I was in the hospital, it would mean more to me if you took the time to come and pray with me over sending a get-well-soon email. I would prefer a hug, an encouraging word, and a prayer of blessing on my birthday, over an “HBD” on my Facebook wall.

Make yourself available. Be present. As Jim Elliot was fond of saying, “Wherever you are be all there.” Inconvenience yourself for the sake of others, and in so doing you will, like Paul, be mutually comforted (cf. Rom 1:12).

  1. Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006),, 124. ↩︎
  2. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001), 57. ↩︎
  3. Frank Bruni, “The Myth of Quality Time,” The New York Time, September 5, 2015. ↩︎
Salvation by Soundcheck

There was a particular instance in young Spurgeon’s life where God used him as an instrument of salvation, though he was not cognizant of the fact. Spurgeon was invited to preach at the Crystal Palace, a facility that seated 24,000+ attendees. The day before the service, Spurgeon decided to inspect the acoustics of the facilities. He walked around the stage looking for the auditory sweet spot for the placement of the pulpit. His test consisted of belting out in one loud forceful sentence, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Out of all the amazing stories on the ‘Prince of Preachers’, why do I relay this story above others? Because what makes this story amazing is God’s pursuit of sinners. “Years later [Spurgeon] learned that a workman in one of the galleries, heard the words, could not escape the power of such an admonition, and was converted.”[1]

I love this story because it succinctly showcases the beauty of God’s salvific activity around us. Unbeknownst to Spurgeon, God used his soundcheck to procure salvation. From the very beginning, God has sought out sinner. After his direct disobedience of God’s law, Adam should have openly cried out to God in repentance. Instead, he cowered, covered, and condemned. God came searching for him, walking in the cool of the day, calling on him to come out. For this is proleptic of God’s sovereign pursuit of all lost sheep: “God comes to man; man seeks not his God.”[2] In the same way that God called Lazarus to come forth, he first called Adam from his death to offer him the promise of life in abundance. Thanks be to God for his faithful pursuit of those who reside in the valley of the shadow of death.


  1. Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 98. Story cited in Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography, revised edition (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973), 1:534. ↩

  2. ––––, The King’s Highway (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1989), 11, 12.  ↩

Can doubt be proof of our salvation?

We often forget that believers should have genuine confidence concerning their standing before God. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Daniel, Peter, and Paul all make assertions similar to Job's bold proclamation:  "I know that my Redeemer lives" (Job 19:25). The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells permanently in those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God (Rom. 8:11). The Father has given the Spirit to the Son (John 3:31-36) so His love would be poured out in the hearts of those whom Christ won (Rom. 5:5). And, through the Spirit, gives believers assurance that they may be certain that they are children of God (Rom. 8:14-17). Praise God that He has given us this great gift of assurance! But it doesn't always feel like that, does it? Sometimes doubts creep in. Sometimes we begin to question our salvation. Does that mean we are not saved? The Scriptures call us to use these doubts to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12-13) and to "be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election" (2 Pet. 1:10). But some, constantly discouraged by plagues of doubts, worry that if they were truly a believer this wouldn't happen to them.

That's not necessarily so...Have you ever considered that doubting your salvation MAY actually be a mark of assurance? 

In part two of what is arguably Jonathan Edwards' most popular treatise, 'On Religious Affections', Edwards spends a great deal of time teasing out affections we experience that do not necessarily prove or disprove that their origin is of the Lord. Section XI it titled "It is no sign that affections are right, or that they are wrong, that they make persons exceeding confident". There Edwards argues that it is not the one who experiences doubts who should worry, but the one who doesn't. He writes:

"The devil does not assault the hope of the hypocrite, as he does the hope of a true saint... A hypocrite may retain his hope without opposition, as long as he lives, the devil never disturbing it, nor attempting to disturb it...But there is perhaps no true Christian but what has his hope assaulted by him. Satan assaulted Christ himself upon this, whether he were the Son of God or no: and the servant is not above his Master, nor the disciple above his Lord." - JE, On Religious Affections, Works 1:257.

Andrew Fuller on Jonathan Edwards

In a personal letter to his friend, John Ryland, written on April 28, 1815, Andrew Fuller gave full vexation to his spirit in response to some critiques he and others had received concerning their high esteem for one Jonathan Edwards. He wrote:

“We have some who have been giving out, of late, that ‘If Sutcliff and some others had preached more of Christ, and less of Jonathan Edwards, they would have been more useful.’ If those who talked thus preached Christ half as much as Jonathan Edwards did, and were half as useful as he was, their usefulness would be double what it is.”

What he said ^.

Letter can be found in Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 101.

Jonathan Edwards Wants Us To Sing New Songs

My church is hosting a songwriting workshop this Saturday and that encourages me greatly. I am so incredibly thankful to be a part of a church that incorporates the arts and takes seriously the imperatives to sing to Him a new song (Ps. 33:3; 96:1; 98:1;149:1; Is. 42:10; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But what of the Psalter? Shouldn’t we prefer to sing the inspired words of Scriptures rather than traversing the pages of the Bible to songs composed by mere uninspired men? I will allow Jonathan Edwards answer this objection:

But what is more especially found fault with, in the singing that is now practiced, is making use of hymns of human composure. I am far from thinking that the book of Psalms should be thrown by in our public worship, but that it should always be used in the Christian church to the end of the world: but I know of no obligation we are under to confine ourselves to it. I can find no command or rule of God’s word that does any more confine us to the words of the Scripture in our singing, than it does in our praying; we speak to God in both. And I can see no reason why we should limit ourselves to such particular forms of words, that we find in the Bible, in speaking to him by way of praise, in metre, and with music, than when we speak to him in prose, by way of prayer and supplication. And it is really needful that we should have some other songs besides the Psalms of David. It is unreasonable to suppose that the Christian church should for ever, and even in times of her greatest light, in her praises of God and the Lamb, be confined only to the words of the Old Testament, wherein all the greatest and most glorious things of the gospel, that are infinitely the greatest subjects of her praise, are spoken of under a veil, and not so much as the name of our glorious Redeemer ever mentioned, but in some dark figure, or as hid under the name of some type.

Jonathan Edwards, “Thoughts On The Revival” from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1:396.

UPDATE: 2013 READING PLAN

books-06Last year, I found myself growing restless with the ubiquity of the neo-reformed pop-theology books. While I was thankful for the thrust of the gospel-centered writing movement, I hoped to be able to process theological thought through filters other than Piper and Driscoll, though I am incredibly grateful for their ministries. I wanted to broaden my horizons. How was I to accomplish this? I concocted a Reading Plan. Read wider. Read deeper. Read imaginatively. Read historically. Read about people.

And that’s exactly what I did. Although I deviated slightly from the intended course (Kant is hard to understand), by God’s grace I was able to read a majority of the originally planned books plus a few extras. No, I didn’t read 500 books this year like Carson. But I set a goal which I felt was tenable. I read what I felt to be a challenging amount of books that broached an arduous yet enjoyable spectrum of topics.

Without further ado, here’s my final list.

Theological Classics:

Alternative Worldviews/Philosophy/Apologetics/Ethics:

Fiction/Classic Literature/Poetry: 

Productivity/Leadership:

Biographies

Languages:

Theology:

If you see page numbers beside a title, it indicates that this is the selected portion I read from that volume. Additionally, I have included links to any books I had the opportunity to review over the course of the last year. If you would like to see my ratings of all of these titles (1 to 5 stars) you can follow this link to my Goodreads profile here.

10 Questions to Determine if Your Pastor is a Calvinist

c0fe5b299ba3a96fd09b066e05d8377ead33696c57d6da73608210cf6eb2f358Do you have a hankering that your pastor is a Calvinist? Here are ten diagnostic questions to determine whether he is, in fact, one of the frozen-chosen.

  1.  Does your pastor's profile picture feature him in front of a bookshelf, with a Bible in his hands, or in a suit standing at a pulpit with his hands in the air, signaling that the field goal was good?
  2. Did your pastor name his children, regardless of gender, after a minor prophet, a less known Reformer, or a Greek word (e.g. Obadiah, Melanchthon, Karis)?
  3. Does your pastor often share Spurgeon's quote about how having a beard is a godly thing?
  4. Does your pastor drop phrases in Latin (e.g. coram deo, sola gratia) even though he doesn't know Latin?
  5. Does your pastor say, "Well, like the Bible says, 'Some are chosen and some just aren’t'," when a person isn't picked for the church softball team?
  6. Does your pastor use the phrase Gospel-centered to describe everything? Example: Wow, that was a Gospel-centered cheeseburger.
  7. Does your pastor smoke a pipe and have a bottle opener on his key ring?
  8. Does your pastor say things like, "We will be worshiping God for all eternity and you can't meditate on the glory of God for just a little while?!" when someone complains about his 100 minute sermon?
  9. Does your pastor reference more commentaries in his sermon than Bible verses?
  10. Is his favorite holiday Election Day?

If the answer to three or more of these questions is yes, then I'm afraid  your pastor is more than likely a Calvinist. Respond accordingly.

I Just Wanted a Donut.

Walking to the counter of the local coffee shop, I experienced the soft tinge of hunger.  “Small coffee?” the barista asked (as is my normal order).

“That would be wonderful," I replied, “and I'll actually take that donut over there as well.”

That’s it. I was not allowed another word. Little did I know that by asking this guy for a donut I would intimate a whole lot more than I ever dreamed possible.

The barista's face contorted, causing me to wonder if I said something wrong, clearly I must have struck a nerve.

“Donut? Why not this bagel?”

Before I could mutter a response, it was too late; the inquisition had begun.

“I suspect your decision to order the donut was racially motivated. Do you hate Jews? I've had my suspicions about you before, but now I'm certain. Under that full head of hair, I bet there's a shaved head dying for this cool fall air to run its contours, you nazi sympathizer!”

Startled by the raucous accusation, I tried to speak up, but again fell victim to the midwest’s quickest draw in this mouth duel.

“Since you have an affinity for all things German, do you also bow to the fathers of higher criticism? Do you deny biblical inerrancy?”

I tried to answer, I promise I did, but a crowd had assembled and they were buzzing, wondering what I had said to earn such a scolding from this young barista. As my mouth opened to retort, he started again.

“If you don’t believe the Scriptures are wholly true, how can you have any objective knowledge of God? You can’t!”

I wanted to agree, but he wouldn’t let me.

“Jesus said that He was the only way to the Father, but since you deny inerrancy, you don’t believe Him. I bet you’re an inclusivist!”

Hold on a second, I thought. What’s going on here? I put my hands up to protest, but to him it was as if I was holding up a card signifying another round in a boxing match (of which I was losing, in case you haven’t been keeping score).

“You are a fan of Karl Rahner, aren’t you?” he interrogated.

Truthfully, I was kind of impressed by his theological prowess.

“From your vantage point, is every atheist just a believer in disguise?”

Was he mocking me? I mean, I’m an M.Div. student and barely know who Karl Rahner is, and this guy is tying him to me.

He dug in some more, “It makes sense, really. I figured you for a liberal Catholic. But even liberal Catholics hate women and homosexuals! That’s why you probably voted against Obama: your racism and disdain for women fueled your hate mongering!”

At this point, there were probably ten people in line, and twenty mobbing around me. By means of whispers, they were filling in the newcomers on the breadth of my leanings. Then round three commenced.

“What do you think about the Affordable Care Act?”

I was trying to trace the conversation back to the beginning in hopes of figuring out how in the world we ended up on healthcare reform. I attempted to draw a mental map but pictured a map of Middle Earth instead. Then, in lieu of defending myself, I thought of those memes where Boromir says, “One does not simply _____,” which caused me to smile. Big mistake.

“Oh, you think healthcare for indigent people is funny?”

I felt this question was rhetorical, so my silence here was voluntary.

“I bet you’re one of those people who couldn’t care less if the marginalized are denied coverage due to preexisting conditions because you’re more concerned about saving $100 a month on your own premium.”

So there I was, an inclusive sympathizer of the Aryan nation who denies inerrancy under the umbrella of liberal Catholicism, while propagating my right-wing views from my Republican hate machine, stomping on any who get in my way (especially marginalized minorities), as I attempt to extinguish the fires of the feminist and homosexual movements, all because I ordered a donut for breakfast…

Note to self: Don’t leave the house.

[This is the satirical musing of a productive procrastinator and is not based on real life events.]

What I am Listening To: Psalm 126

This song has been a wonderful tool to help me tune my heart to the rhythm of God's grace. The lyrics are almost entirely Scripture, and the music has a natural crescendo that helps me see past pain and suffering in this world and moves my mind to ruminate on the consummation: when our Lord and Savior will come and "reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20). Please listen, reflect, and be restored.

Psalm 126 by Bifrost Arts Music

Our mouths they were filled, filled with laughter Our tongues they were loosed, loosed with joy Restore us, O Lord Restore us, O Lord

Although we are weeping Lord, help us keep sowing The seeds of Your Kingdom For the day You will reap them Your sheaves we will carry Lord, please do not tarry All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy

The nations will say, “He has done great things!” The nations will sing songs of joy Restore us, O Lord Restore us, O Lord

Urgency Extinguishes Excuses

George-Whitefield2“Last night I was called to sacrifice my Isaac, I mean to bury my only child and son about four months old,” wrote George Whitefield in a letter to a friend. As one who has experienced the excruciating pain of losing a child, I can empathize with the late Whitefield. After recounting how his “flower was cut down,” Whitefield confesses to his friend his temptation to take a sabbatical from his very active evangelistic ministry. Whitefield was an open-air preacher. Haykin writes, “He would preach in fields and foundries, in ships, cemeteries, and pubs, atop horses and even a hangman’s scaffold, from stone walls and balconies, staircases and windmills.”[1]

In the 34 years between his conversion and his death, it is believed that Whitefield preached around 18,000 sermons.[2] Understandably, this man who made 13 transatlantic trips in hopes of seeing lost souls saved, wanted time to grieve. He did not, however, take that time. So gripped by the call to make disciples, Whitefield understood that every day he did not tarry to preach the good news was a day where someone may not hear the gospel.

He continued in his letter:

All joined in desiring that I could decline preaching ‘till the child was buried; but I remembered a saying of good Mr. [Matthew] Henry, “that weeping must not hinder sowing,” and therefore preached twice the next day, and also the day following, on the evening of which, just as I was closing my sermon, the bell struck out for the funeral. At first, I must acknowledge, it gave nature a little shake, but looking up I recovered strength, and then concluded with saying, that this text on which I had been preaching, namely “all things worked together for good to them that love God,” made me as willing to go out to my son’s funeral, as to hear of his birth.[3]

After the death of his son, Whitefield and his wife, Elizabeth James, mourned through four miscarriages, and yet he did not cease to preach the gospel.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:37-38).


[1] Michael A.G. Haykin, The Revived Puritan: The Spirituality of George Whitefield (Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, 2000), 30.

[2] Ibid., 32.

[3] Ibid., 169.