Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Humility (Page 2 of 6)

Thankfulness for Everything

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **


Recently we moved east. I’ve always been a west-end guy, so this is totally new for me. But I’ve enjoyed getting to know the area. The other night I was out roller-blading on a path near our new home. I stopped at one point by the lake and sat for a while to gaze out over Lake Ontario.

beachAs I looked down the shoreline to the right and to the left, as far as my eye could see, all that I could see was beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. The beauty of God’s creation preserved through the fall and the curse, now available for me to experience right near our new house. And the wonder of it is that I didn’t even know this place was there when we bought the house.

That got me to thinking: Isn’t this just like my whole life?

I’ve never known where to go, what to do, who to meet, or what to look for in any given situation. But God has always led me to ‘green pastures’ despite my ignorance. My life has been and continues to be full of blessing.

That night I thought about my life: my beautiful wife, precious daughters, good health, new home, amazing church, wonderful extended family… the list goes on and on. In every realm of my life, God has richly blessed me. Not because I deserve it. Not for a second. I’ve never felt less worthy than I do right now. But I’m freshly humbled, and thankful.

I’m thankful for my family who always steered me in the right direction; for friends current and past; for the good schools I was able to attend to get an education; for random people who have blessed me by helping me get and keep jobs; for living in Canada; for living in the 20th & 21st centuries; for growing up in a family where I learned the Bible from a young age; the list goes on and on.

When I think about all that I have to be thankful for, I’m amazed that I ever complain about anything. I’m amazed that I would ever be proud about anything. I’m amazed that I’m not more thankful. When I think about all that I have to be thankful for, I realize the truth of the saying, ‘Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.’

When I pause to give thanks for thirty years of God’s abundant kindness to me–first and foremost in the gospel, but then over-flowing to all of my life–I’m reminded that it is good to be thankful. Thankfulness makes less of me, more of God, and more of his goodness to me through the people he has given me in my life.

I pray that after thirty more years (God willing), I’ll be able to look back and see that I’ve grown in my quickness to give thanks. I want to know more and more what the apostle Paul knew: That being filled with the Holy Spirit means living a life that is full of ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph 5.18-20).

Reducing to One Practice

I am so thankful for churches like Covenant Life Church who are faithfully teaching the gospel, not only as the way to be saved, but also as the foundation for living in the world here and now. They do not only teach by words, but by the actions of the leaders, what it means to continually be challenged and changed by the Spirit of God as he works through the word of God to bring the gospel to bear on our lives in this fallen world.

At a recent members’ meeting, Josh Harris, the lead pastor, shared some areas with the church where God has been calling the leaders to repentance and to change — and to lead in the changing of the church culture. Josh walks a fine line of appreciating God’s grace and faithfulness to them through their history, but also acknowledging where patterns have emerged that have become counter-productive to gospel-living and gospel-fellowship.

You can read the whole statement he made to the church here.

In particular, I found this section compelling, because it puts into words what I’ve seen in so many churches (not just Covenant Life), but haven’t been able to express nearly so well. Here is their confession, with an explanation of how they’re striving to ‘reduce to practice’ without ‘reducing to one practice.’


Reducing To One Practice

For several years now C.J. Mahaney, who was one of the founding pastors of Covenant Life and now serves as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has been leading the pastors of Sovereign Grace to recognize the difference between principle and practice. A principle is a clear teaching or imperative from God’s Word. A practice is a specific action or decision that seeks to apply a principle.

So for example, Scripture clearly teaches that husbands should love and cherish their wives (Eph. 5).

But how two Christian husbands put this same principle into practice can differ. One Christian can apply this principle by taking his wife out to dinner every Wednesday. But another husband might find time to communicate with and express affection for his wife with a walk around the neighborhood each night. They’re both honoring a biblical principle, but their practice is different.

One of the historic strengths of Covenant Life has been in putting principles into practice. We want to be, as James 1:22 says, not just hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word. May this never change! May we be a church community that takes God’s Word seriously and applies it to our lives.

Having said this, a strength in application can also be a weakness if we’re not careful. Here’s what I mean: if we elevate a single practice and invest it with the authority of biblical principle, we can place a rule or burden on people that isn’t actually commanded in God’s Word. For example, it wouldn’t be helpful if we said that the Bible teaches that couples need to go on a date every Wednesday. It’s a fine idea, but it’s not a scriptural command.

C.J. shared something with me recently that turned the light on for me. He quoted J.I. Packer who wrote that the Puritans were known for their ability to “reduce to practice”—in other words, they took biblical principles and reduced them to specific choices and decisions in their lives. This is a good thing. God’s Word, handled rightly, leads to humble and skillful application.

But C.J. pointed out that there can be a problem when we “reduce to only one practice”—and give the impression that there is only one godly way to honor a given principle.

Here are a few categories that members of the church have shared with us where they felt a single practice was over-emphasized in an unhelpful way:

  • Dating and courtship
  • Going away to college
  • Girls and college
  • Women’s Bible studies
  • Women working outside the home

In each of these areas Christians can have differing practices and yet honor biblical principles. But in various ways I think we “reduced to only one practice,” and at times that brought the unintended consequence of people feeling the pressure that there was only one truly godly way to do things.

So for example, to honor biblical principles of purity, you had to practice courtship according to ideas in my books. Or to love the local church you shouldn’t go away to college but stay local. Or to value the leadership and teaching of the pastors, you shouldn’t attend outside Bible studies. Or to practice biblical femininity, you shouldn’t pursue higher education or work outside the home.

All this is a disservice to you for several reasons. First, because it doesn’t teach you to grapple with God’s Word for yourself. We want you to study God’s Word yourself, see the biblical principles clearly, and put them into practice based on a clear conviction, not the conviction of someone else.

This is also a problem because it can lead to a legalistic environment where some people are more concerned with what other people practice than with the sufficiency of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Reducing to only one practice has also resulted in people feeling judged by others for not having the same practice.

One of the realizations we’re coming to as pastors is that we can do a better job in teaching the principle of Christian liberty taught in passages like Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8-9. The principle of Christian liberty is that as followers of Christ we have freedom to make decisions about matters that are not revealed or mandated in Scripture without fear of sinning against God.

We can do a better job of teaching that one person’s or one pastor’s practice of wisdom is not God’s law and shouldn’t bind another person’s conscience.

We all need to wrestle with questions of wisdom. We all need to humbly seek to practice biblical principles and then discuss our differences with each other charitably and humbly. But we cannot as a church make everyone adopt the same practice. No matter how wise we think our practice might be, we can’t invest it with the authority of God’s Word.

We want to do a better job of teaching the principles of God’s Word and encouraging you as individuals and families to apply the Word as you see fit before the Lord. We still want to encourage each other to put God’s truth into practice. But we also want to emphasize the freedom we have as individuals and families to have different practices of the very same principle. We want to cultivate an even greater culture of grace even as we strive for holiness.


Amen! And may God make Grace Fellowship Church such a church, which seeks to be practical, but not legalistic, led by leaders who are humble enough to admit their mistakes and strive to do better for the sake of the kingdom!

The ‘New’ Calvinism: Stupid, Salvation, or Save-able?

It is interesting to me that there in the last couple of weeks I have happened across several different takes on what is commonly being called ‘the New Calvinism’. The range in perspectives has been interesting to observe.

In one article, David Fitch suggests that the New Calvinism is perhaps nothing more than a new fundamentalism. It’s a place where people who think alike (and who alike think they alone know truth) can gather to feel safe as they exclude others in their arrogance. If this is true, the New Calvinism is stupid. Fitch doesn’t say that, but if that is what the movement amounts to, then it’s the obvious conclusion.

Another writer, Craig Carter, suggests that the New Calvinism is the best kind of theology, most ‘capable of sustaining a vigorous Evangelicalism’ over the long haul, preventing an evangelical slide back into liberalism. At the January Theology Pub here in Toronto, Dr Carter will lead a discussion with the heading, ‘Why the Young, Restless and Reformed will Save Evangelicalism in the Next Few Decades. From that view, the New Calvinism sounds like salvation (at least for evangelicalism).

Somewhere in the middle of those two positions, I think, lies two particularly helpful cautions. One is the video I recently posted, where John Piper warns the New Calvinists about ‘dangling, unconnected wires’ in their lives which hang between doctrine and practice, between the sovereignty being preached and the sanctification of those preaching (see the video here). Piper reminds the young Calvinists that while their ‘movement’ has the potential to do great things, if their practice doesn’t match their preaching, the whole movement will fall apart.

Just this morning I read a brilliant little article on a similar vein from Tony Reinke, called Young, Restless, Reformed, and Humbled. There we are reminded of the absolute necessity of humility (especially!) in those who claim to be Calvinists of any sort. To believe in the doctrines of grace, but not be humbled by them and your ability to live them is profoundly inconsistent. Reinke writes, ‘First, look at the depth of your theological convictions. Thank God for that–it’s a gift. Second, compare those convictions with the shallow daily decisions that are made totally uninfluenced by them.’

What I appreciate in what both Piper and Reinke are saying is this: The movement in and of itself is nothing; but it may be something, if we let the gospel do its full-orbed work of changing us from the inside out. If we are changed by what we preach and live like what we preach is really true, then maybe this movement is save-able. Maybe God really will use it to do great things for his great name in our day, in our part of this world.

That’s my hope, anyway.

Hey Calvinist, Play Nice!

A friend of mine sent me this article by Abraham Piper the other day. I found it profoundly humbling and helpful. (When is humbling ever not helpful??)

Anyway, I thought I’d pass this along because even though it’s three years old, it’s always relevant.

My wife and I were fighting—the kind where after 30 seconds you forget what you’re fighting about and you just end up being mean. It doesn’t take long in an argument like this to feel hopeless.

I wanted to call someone to come over and mediate. Actually, I didn’t want to, but I knew I needed to do something. Our close friends who live near by and our small group leaders were all out of town, so I called a pastor who lives in the neighborhood and asked him to come over right then. I think he could tell by the tone of my voice and the unusual request that we really did need help immediately. He cancelled his Saturday plans and came over.

Sitting at our kitchen table, he helped us figure each other out. Soon we were getting to the heart of the matter. Molly turned to me and said, “You never treat me like you appreciate me.”

I looked at her. I looked at our pastor. And then I listed three ways that I’d shown appreciation for her that morning. As far as I was concerned, things were taken care of. She thought I didn’t act appreciatively, but I just showed her (definitively, I might add) that I did. …

… Read the rest of the article here!

Abraham Piper: Be a Kinder Calvinist

Jonathan Edwards on Spiritual Pride & Humility

Nick Hill posted this back before Christmas, but I reads it tonight and thought it would be worth posting here again. I can never think enough about how to kill pride and cultivate humility.

Spiritual pride is: “the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those that are zealous for the advancement of religion…. Spiritual pride disposes us to speak of other persons’ sins, their enmity against God and His people, the miserable delusion of hypocrites and their enmity against vital piety, and the deadness of some saints, with bitterness, or with laughter and levity, and an air of contempt; whereas pure Christian humility rather disposes, either to be silent about them, or to speak of them with grief and pity. Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others; whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself; he is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they be, and crying out of them for it; and to be quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies; but the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with others’ hearts; he complains most of himself, and cries out his own coldness and lowness in grace, and is apt to esteem others better than himself”

[Jonathan Edwards as quoted in D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 264].

Tired Isn’t Always Bad

It is a Monday. When I first conceived of writing this post it was a Monday morning. Monday mornings are tired times, generally speaking, for preachers.

This morning, I was tired.

As I was going about my morning routine, I thought to myself, I should have some coffee when I get to work. That will help make me alert. But as I was driving in to the office I began to think about it a little more. I think I’m afraid of being tired. I didn’t know why that was.

There are times when I definitely don’t want to be tired; times when I want and need to be firing on all cylinders, and so I thank the Lord for the gracious gift of coffee or sugar or whatever else helps restore mental alertness. But I didn’t need coffee this morning. The jobs I’m working on currently are more mundane jobs of scheduling, planning, catching up on e-mails, etc. and I can do those just fine without any stimulant… even on a Monday morning!

So why would I be want coffee? Why would I be so upset at the thought of being tired? I think the answer lies in what CJ Mahaney so astutely points out in Humility with regard to tiredness and sleep:

The fact is, God could have created us without a need for sleep. But He chose to build this need within us, and there’s a spiritual purpose for it. Each night, as I confront my need again for sleep, I’m reminded that I’m a dependent creature. I am not self-sufficient. I am not the Creator. There is only One who will ‘neither slumber nor sleep’ (Ps 121:4), and I am not that One.

Sleep is a gift, but it’s a humbling one. It’s a matter of only hours, at most, before you’re ready to again receive God’s gift of sleep. When that time comes, let me encourage you to pray something like this: ‘Lord, thank You for this gift. The fact that I’m so tired is a reminder that I am the creature and only You are the Creator. Only You neither slumber nor sleep, while for me, sleep is something I cannot go without. Thank You for this gracious, humbling, refreshing gift.’

What CJ says about preparing to go to sleep can be applied to being tired throughout the day as well. If I use my tiredness right, it’s not something I should be afraid of; rather it has become an opportunity to grow in humility.

So why am I afraid of being tired? Because I’m proud. Because I live a in a self-created illusion that I am somehow self-sufficient. Rather than seizing this opportunity to thank God for the physical reminder that he is God and I am not, I try to mask the symptoms of my creatureliness, my weakness, and my limitations and pretend that I am God… that I will not grow weary.

So this morning… I drank no coffee. I’m glad that I’m tired. I’m glad that God never is. I’m thankful for this reminder and I pray the Lord uses it in an ongoing way to stretch me and grow me in humility.

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