Archive for July, 2022

I don’t know how this book ended up on my book shelf. Perhaps it was a give-away from a previous General Assembly. I spent time reading it over a cigar today while smoking some pork butt and wish I had read it years earlier. It is only 60 pages long. I have to trust God’s providence in the timing of reading the book.

I thought it was a book on men’s ministry. I wanted to improve how I minister to our men and thought it would make great sabbatical reading. It is about far more than men’s ministry, and it was a great book to read on my sabbatical.

The book in question is With Him: A Biblical Model of Discipleship for Men by Ken Smith. While there are plenty of Ken Smiths in the world, this is the Ken Smith who befriended Rosaria Butterfield, led her to Christ and discipled her. As you read her books, you can see the influence of this book in how she goes about ministry.

Ken’s book is nothing new or novel. It is quite old as a matter of fact. It is material he learned initially from Dawson Trotman and then from LeRoy Eims while LeRoy and his family lived with Ken before he was married. It is a principle practiced by Jesus, and by others in the Old Testament that Ken points out in his book.

Discipleship is relational. It takes place most effectively in a relational context. While his focus is on men, it applies to women as well. He mentions this at the beginning.

Smith had been watching his denomination shrink. They had biblical doctrine but they were not making an impact. Perhaps this situation sounds familiar to you. It does to me.

And because I was with him (Eims), I could both observe and also participate with him in his ministry as he reached other men for Christ.

The “With Him” Theory

The idea of apprenticeship or internship seems to have fallen by the wayside. Trotman (who founded The Navigators)would keep asking “Where’s your man?”. He wanted to know who you were discipling. As a pastor we teach lots of people (and that is an essential aspect of discipleship), but we don’t often spend as much time as we should in one-on-one discipleship, and in TRAINING people by bringing them with us so they learn how to apply truth and communicate it to other people in evangelism and discipleship.

His focus is on men (again, not to neglect women) because of the biblical pattern we see. Smith points us to Noah who involved his sons in the great project to deliver humanity (in part) from the flood. They worked with Noah to build the ark, and they (and not Noah) would be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth with God’s image once again. We see in Hebrews 11 that, “By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family.”

Moses had a young man he trained, who was with him all the time, who would take Moses’ place and lead the people into the promised land: Joshua. King David’s army was led by the men who were with him in the wilderness seeking refuge from King Saul. They learned about leadership from their time with David. Elijah didn’t simply anoint Elisha to replace him but Elisha left everything to be with Elijah before taking up his mantle as the prophet of God to the northern kingdom.

Jesus, of course, did the same thing with His disciples. They left all to be with Him. They didn’t just learn how to interpret the Bible for Jesus, but how to care for people and communicate the gospel in word and deed as they followed Him around Galilee and Judea. They learned in the context of gospel ministry.

Men are important because studies indicate that when you win the men, you generally gain the family. The household principle we see in the OT, and in Acts, is biblical. There are many books about the problem of father absence which results in poverty, sons involved in crime and violence, and not learning how to be a man who cares for his wife and kids. Men, in God’s economy, are important to disciple due to their incredible impact for good or ill on generations.

The principles here are applicable to women, in keeping with Titus 2. Personal ministry among women is best done by women in conjunction with the foundational public ministry of the Word. Faithful women finding faithful women to teach how to follow Jesus and serve His people. Where are their women?

He is encouraging you to be with your mentor to learn not only good theology but how to conduct yourself with people in the process. Ministry is caught, not simply taught.

I am thankful for the men (Bob Grosso and Jim Beattie) who invited me into their lives by inviting me into their homes to watch their marriages and parenting. They taught me Scripture, but they lived as Christians in front of me as we worked on roofs and other parts of homes.

I’m thankful for Tom Shoger for the hours with him as an intern. He didn’t just give me projects to do, but brought we with him. We plunged toilets in the church facility. After discovering me sleeping on the floor of the office one morning (it was a 45 minute drive from where I lived), I began to sleep in a spare bedroom getting to know his wife and 2 youngest kids in the process. He shocked me when he told me one day that he was praying that God would make some people miserable. But he explained that he wanted them to learn that their disobedience to God was a big problem. He was exercising a form of discipline intended to bring repentance and renewed faith.

It was being with them that mattered in the long run. I didn’t just need a book, I needed to see and do with them. It opens doors for questions, like “Why do you want them to be miserable?”. It opened doors for them to see where I was lacking and needed further instruction.

It’s a simple concept. From the perspective of Christian discipleship, we do not minister alone. We imitate Jesus and take another or others with us.

This is what is so lacking in so many of our churches. With busy schedules this can be hard to do, but we should work to find a way.

As I prepared for my sabbatical, one of our members passed away leaving a wife in a memory-care unit. Family was thousands of miles away. I need to regularly visit. While I was on sabbatical, I wanted her cared for: regular visits, reading her the Scriptures (she loves to hear God’s Word), and praying for her. I brought an elder with me to see what I do so he could meaningfully visit her in my absence.

I should make a more concerted effort to bring others when I do hospital visits, at times letting them take the lead. I’ve done this. I’ve brought an elder to bring communion (and the Word) to someone dying of cancer at home. I’ve brought elders to help me find and reclaim erring members. I should see this as the norm, not the exception.

Finding Men

Smith begins with prayer, as Jesus told us. We are to ask the Lord of the Harvest for more laborers. Then he watches for men. He looks for men ready to deny themselves by altering schedules to be with other men in learning how to follow Jesus. He, as Paul told Timothy, looks for faithful men: men to act on what they are learning. Those faithful men are to then pass on the faith and life to another generation of men. They will reproduce themselves in others as disciples.

You then come alongside them. In his experience, many men are looking for this. They need to know we are calling them to spiritual action. We need to be proactive in this. There will some men who prefer to remain on the sidelines, but brings our ministry to them to the question of “Why do you prefer to remain on the periphery when Jesus calls you to join Him in this process?”

Many men have not experienced this. Many pastors as well. I am fortunate. So many feel ill-equipped to do this. Smith notes that men are like big boys, you need to get them alone to get to know them. Too often our vision for ministry does not include involving the men in ministry, something I’ve been working on doing more consistently. Another book I began to read today shared something similar. Pastors are not to do the work of ministry but equip others (men and women) to do the work of ministry. Our role is to help them thrive in ministry, not control it or keep it all for ourselves. This means we have to train them, bringing them with us and giving them opportunity.

In all this we are combating culture when focuses on man-time as a selfish endeavor. They are content to golf and fish (certainly ministry can happen as we do them IF we bring men along to talk). We invite them to hike, fish or golf with us. This builds relationships with them, and provides time to talk about life and faith. But we also need to include times of training.

Many may be reluctant due to their idols: comfort, pleasure, money etc. We can use this as part of our diagnosis. Men are full of pride, and seek self-reliance. They hide due to sin and shame. The gospel calls them to repent and believe, and that includes confess their sins to someone else so you can pray together. We are to offer them gospel hope, not condemnation.

Smith shares prior struggles with this principle, or rather the lack of it implementation. Too many churches struggle because they reduce discipleship to programs and information transfer. It includes that, but is not limited to that. People need to be engaged personally with the gospel in terms of their sins and struggles and who to live out their union and identity in Christ. Seminaries tend to focus on the public ministry of the gospel, not the personal ministry of the gospel.

Applying the “With Him” Principle

We want to train Christians to think biblically, to eat solid food, and obey everything Jesus has commanded us. Doctrine is the “what” of ministry, and the principle is the “how”. As Ken Smith notes this is “common sense” but is so rarely practiced.

We should be teaching people God’s truth. We aren’t simply spending time with people, but there is time for instruction. We teach them to study the Bible and to pray. We encourage them to then teach others. We are to be looking for disciples regularly.

Covid ruined so much. Prior to Covid I was discipling a new Christian. It has been hard to re-connect in the last year. It was good for me, not just for him.

Applying it involves living as a faithful example. You have to strive to apply the teaching of Scripture yourself. Lack of character ruins competency. Sometimes it only takes a moment, sadly. Your faithfulness over months or years can be ruined by a rash moment. This means you also live by the gospel, and own your failure. You need to be a trusted person as well.

A faithful man in terms of the Christian faith is a man who is totally committed to follow Christ’s call on his life for as long as he lives.

Applying it involves friendship. Older generations of seminary training discouraged this. Jesus certainly didn’t. Yes, it means you can get hurt, deeply. How can you teach people to love one another when you refuse to love them? Camaraderie is part of the process: meals together, catching a game, hanging out as a family.

The goal is maturity in Christ. We help them to feed themselves from Scripture, to obey the Scriptures, to pray and living in loving fellowship with fellow Christians in church. We train them to serve others in church.

As the author noted, this is not rocket science. This book is a helpful reminder, however. It serves as a great give away in conjunction with The Vine Project and its emphasis on a culture of discipleship. It is similar to The Master Plan of Evangelism without all the guilt and connotations with the “Shepherding movement” and abusive discipleship (a cult I stumbled upon/into for a short time as a new Christian used it). It can serve as a call to the leaders of ministry to begin to reproduce themselves. It can serve as a call for the church to regain its sense of mission, according to Jesus.

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Sabbatical reading can offer some difficult choices. I was encouraged not to focus on doctrine. I chose a few books for “personal development”, books that may be the means for growth in Christ rather than better understanding a doctrinal conflict.

One book I chose was Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up Is Down by Christopher A. Hutchinson. It is an important topic, though there are not many books written on this subject. Perhaps no one wants to pretend to be an expert on the subject. Hutchinson is a PCA pastor, and doesn’t try to present himself as humble. He doesn’t pride himself on his humility, but very much sees himself as a work in progress.

In his presentation of the material, he introduces humility in the first 3 chapters and then as 3 sections rooted in the triad of faith, hope and love: humility found, embraced and applied, respectively. The largest section is the final section, humility applied. It is a good, logical presentation that reflects our heritage.

The book begins with a forward by David Wells who ponders why books on Christian virtues are so rare today. We no longer live, he says, in a moral world. There are no goals, only choices. In a non-moral world there are no virtues. Christians exist in a world in which Jesus has come because we are immoral and wicked in order to forgive our guilt and sin. Jesus, the perfect Man, has come to restore the image of God in His people. He, among other things, makes us moral or virtuous. Apart from Christ, and our union with Him, we cannot become virtuous. We cannot stop thinking about ourselves (either our greatness or our failures). We are self-absorbed and He comes to free us to think greatly about God.

Humility Introduced

Each chapter begins with a quote from Scripture, and one from a person from the past. Hutchinson is rooted in both Scripture and history. They are his primary and secondary sources, not personal experience. He uses the latter to illustrate his points at times.

He begins with a lament of sorts wondering whatever happened to humility. Ours is a culture that doesn’t appreciate, foster and approve of humility. Ours is a culture focused on pride as the gospel has been eclipsed by secularism and pluralism.

Even in the Church, pride has displaced humility. The mainstream church takes pride in its progress, its tolerance of worldliness, and activism. The conservative church takes pride in it growth, purity and morality. It fails to recognize its worldly pride as evidenced by “marketing” bigger and better. The focus is on success, not character.

Hutchinson is not kind to the conservative church. Not as an enemy, but as one of us. He sees that we’ve been squeezed into the world’s mold with our mission statements, glossy brochures and self-promotion. Too many churches want a pastor with a “prove track record of success”. Normal men need not apply!

Christians often become self-focused, wondering whether they are doing enough for God.

He then discusses the Lure of False Humility. We tend to settle for band-aids over surgery. The road to humility is long, and often painful. The flesh resists all movements toward godliness, and humility is not exception. Proud Brother Ass (as Francis of Assisi called the flesh) brays loudly at any movement toward humility.

Hutchinson honors our Christian heritage by placing pride at the center of sin, as spawning a multitude of sins in our lives. Pride even moves us toward false humility. Pride likes to hide among other virtues, corrupting them. Pride is like bad breath: what you notice in others is imperceptible to one’s self.

In all this he exposes me: self-deprecation, is not humility. It is one of the places humility hides.

Having exposed pride for two chapters, he moves to advocating for humility. He sees humility as fundamental, characteristic of the whole Christian life. Calvin viewed self-denial this way, and the two are inter-related. You can’t really have one without the other. They are supposed to define us and guide our decisions.

Humility Found- Faith

Humility, he argues, is an important element of saving faith. The gospel humbles us by exposing not only our sinfulness but our inability to resolve that problem on our own. The gap between God and ourselves is great. Greater than we realize.

The contrite have sinned greatly and know it. The lowly in spirit are oppressed by their personal guilt and need of a savior. These are precisely the people with whom God comes to dwell and upon whose doors He knocks.

He turns to the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisees were similar to many evangelicals: Bible-believing, evangelizing, moral people. The Publican, or tax-collector was quite worldly. He thought of self only, and collaborated with Rome to make a living. They didn’t take their heritage, including their religious one, seriously. The Pharisee was thankful he wasn’t like the Publican. The Publican humbled himself as the sinner and asked for mercy.

Jesus evaluates these prayers in terms of self-exaltation and humility. He rejects the prayer of the Pharisee, and notes that the humbled Publican will be exalted. The humble receive grace (God opposes the proud), and will be exalted on the last day.

He then moves to Ephesians 2 to show how salvation is a gift, and no cause for boasting. We see similar ideas in Romans and Galatians. Since it is by faith, there is no room to boast. Since we are chosen to believe, we can’t even boast over our better choice. The utter graciousness of our salvation is meant to foster humility. Hutchinson brings us to 1 Corinthians 1 to again establish this point. It is because of Him that we are in Christ. If we are to boast, it is in the Lord and not ourselves. 

We can see the influence of Sonship as he concludes this chapter:

As believers truly grow in Christ, the more the gap will appear between God’s holiness and their sinfulness- a gap the cross always fills.

He then takes us the connection between Humility and Truth. Humility recognizes the reality of truth, but also that one may not know all of the truth at a given point in time. Postmodernism makes truth unknowable. Christianity rejects this false humility. We can know truth, but not comprehensively. We seek truth upon which to chart the course of life through our decisions. In faith we believe Truth, and in repentance we turn away from the lies we believed.

Humility, recognizing our limitations, has a healthy distrust of oneself. We seek verification and good counsel. This distrust is born of the reality of the noetic effect of sin, that my reasoning is imperfect as well as limited in scope. I have blind spots as well as sinful predispositions. I need God and others to help me see, and reason, more clearly.

As Christians we hold forth truth humbly, not arrogantly. We recognize, or should, that we only know truth because God revealed it to us and helped us understand it. We may have thought upon these things, but God has granted understanding (2 Tim. 2:7). Graeme Goldsworthy addresses much of this in his book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics.

Hutchinson also notes that we can embrace mystery (not to avoid thinking) and allow others to disagree with us. Mystery refers to the things we can’t know unless God reveals them. The secret things do belong to God (Dt. 29:29). We affirm that not all doctrines and passages are as clear as we want them to be. There will be earnest disagreements. Some doctrines, being less clear, should be held less dogmatically. For many years I argued for credobaptism, dogmatically. I now argue for paedobaptism, but do recognize that unless God’s opens someone’s eyes, they just won’t see it. They want proof texts for an argument, as Sinclair Ferguson says, of good and necessary consequence.

Discipleship is a function of humility as well. In order to learn, one must humbly admit there are things one does not know, or know how to do. Discipleship places oneself under the yoke of another, Jesus and one who is more mature in Christ. Jesus alone is the Master. All mere humans who seek to disciple should also be disciples since they have not arrived.

Discipleship is pursuing humility (among other things). It is the tone and a primary goal. We cannot seek to become like Christ without becoming humble because Jesus was meek and yet humbled Himself in the Incarnation and death on the cross (Phil. 2:3-11). He notes that Paul speaks of this daily dying in places like Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:7, 10; 1 Cor. 15:30-32 and others. This downward trajectory differs from person to person. It looks different based on your calling and vocation. But down we go through self-denial, loss, affliction and failure. We both choose to humble ourselves and find ourselves humbled.

In this section Hutchinson BRIEFLY discusses Christ’s humiliation in terms of His office: the economic Trinity as opposed to ontological Trinity. This is an important distinction to make. Jesus submits to the Father as Mediator for our salvation as well as our example. Though He fulfills three glorious offices, He humbles Himself as the He becomes subject, sacrifice and servant for us and our salvation. First the cross and then the crown; suffering and then glory. 

Humility Embraced- Hope

Faith is humbling since you only receive, not earn. It is the beginning of the path to consistent humility. Hutchinson continues with the connection between humility and hope. He begins with our humility toward ourselves.

In this chapter I saw “forthwith” for the first time. This is a word used primarily in Blue Bloods.

Better than that is the discussion of humbling yourself instead of giving yourself honor (he looks at Luke 14 and 18). Humble people are not seeking to advance themselves. This makes job interviews quite the challenge as you are supposed to “sell yourself” rather than provide honest assessments of yourself. This is why many who get the job aren’t actually good at the job, just getting the job. Many who are good at the job aren’t good at getting the job, because they aren’t good at selling themselves.

He returns to Genesis 3 to discuss the role of pride in the fall of Adam and Eve. Pride, as well as death, entered the human race and curses us all. Only Jesus, the Second Adam, can reverse the curse through His humility and then make us personally humble in sanctification.

Pride is the doppelganger that is only uncovered by great spiritual effort and discernment.

Pride hides in virtues. It often masquerades as virtue. He quotes Thomas Watson who said, “Better the sin that humbles me, than the duty that makes me proud.” This is a hard concept for many to grasp, and I see many PCA pastors who haven’t grasped it yet. At least it seems that way when they speak of particular sins, as though God isn’t using them to humble the sinner. Maybe they aren’t used to being humbled by their on-going sin problems.

We need to do hard work to ferret it out, confess it and turn away from it. This means, in a sense, judging ourselves. We are not condemning ourselves, but owning up to the pride that seeks to ruin us (and others). We also give thanks for all good things instead of taking credit for all good things. We don’t fight pride alone, but God’s Spirit is at work in us to expose our pride, point us to Jesus to see God’s mercy, repent and walk in newness of life. We live as fully forgiven failures, the pardoned prideful and at the same time just and sinners. This is part of the wonder of the gospel. Jesus is patient with us on the road to humility, more patient that we are with ourselves and others.

Hutchinson then shifts to eschatology and the city to come. His focus on eschatology is not millennial positions but glorification. We don’t arrive in this life, but have hope and recognize God’s gracious rewards for the holiness infused during sanctification (see Westminster Larger Catechism #77). Our impatience often lies with forgetting this future orientation. We seek what Luther called a theology of glory rather than the theology of the cross.

WLC Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuses grace, and enables to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

When we fail to keep our eyes on the city to come (see Heb. 11) we begin to focus on this life for our hopes, and this often opens the door to Christian nationalism as a form of idolatrous patriotism (an unbalanced, immoderate form of patriotism). He wrote this years before the 2020 elections. Hutchison relates the shift in Richard Baxter’s orientation after the restoration of Charles II as king of England and subsequent persecution of Puritans. As Peter declares, we are strangers and aliens in this world, sojourners and exiles. Our citizenship is in heaven, and the city that matters is the one whose Builder and Architect is God. Affliction, suffering and persecution drive this message home to us. God providentially brings them into our lives to humble us, and to wean us from this earthly life.

He returns again to sin and weakness humbling us, but also leading us to depend on God’s power. The humble aren’t bereft of power, but of their own. Like Paul, they boast in their weakness that the power of God may empower them. Humility keeps us from trusting in the present so we begin to hope for the new earth and the new Jerusalem whose glory is the Lord and the Lamb.

He then shifts to humility towards others. He begins with a quote from Richard Sibbes which ends with “The best of men are severe to themselves, tender over others.” He encourages us to follow the example of Jesus to serve one another in menial tasks. These gain us no glory, but meet real needs. We consider the interests of others (Phil. 2) and defer to others. This can be frustrating at times. When a group of people continually defer to one another, you’ll never pick a restaurant. I know this from personal experience. I’m usually the one who breaks first and picks a place so we can eat- but feel (false?) guilt because I wasn’t trying to get my will over theirs. This is particularly frustrating when I’m trying to be a “good host” to visitors from other cities. Of course some people really don’t care about where they eat, but I love good food and like to have local fare, not franchises, when I visit a city.

We are also to forsake glorying in successes. The disciples were tempted to rejoice when demons obeyed them, and when the sick were healed. We have similar temptations when the plan becomes reality. We are to rejoice, instead, that our names are in the Book of Life (due to God’s gracious work, not meritorious works). We should speak to bless, not simply to be heard. We are to remember that we’ve been forgiven much and begin to forgive much. We are to be more grieved by our sins than angered by the sins of others against us.

He sort of returns to the menial but encouraging us to care for the needy. More than care, but invite them (and their messiness) into our lives. This is so taxing at times. Small congregations can be consumed with a few needy people. And yet, humility reminds us that we are not to focus on the influential and rich that we might gain advantage, but to help the needy as a picture of the gospel (James 2). He was rich but emptied Himself to make us rich and now invites us to do the same.

Humility doesn’t eliminate class and station. Humility leads us to not glory in our class or station (or despair in our lack of them). Focusing on the present can lead us to think we are to restructure society, overturn these distinctions, but that will not be accomplished until Jesus returns. It will be accomplished by Jesus, not us. Yet we can already stop oppressing others instead of going with the status quo. The gospel changes how we relate to one another, and those outside the church, but it isn’t a massive societal reconstruction or reform (yet).

Humility accepts one’s station in life, knowing that in God’s sight, social status in this life is far secondary to the matters that will last into eternity. … We can look to those above us and try to impress them or we can look to those under our care and try to do right by them.”

Humility Applied- Love

This is the longest section of the book, and for good reason. He wants to unpack humility’s effect on us in the now in love toward God and one another. He begins in our life together which too often is an assembly of egos. The path to humility goes through the local church where we have to learn humility to live together in the bond of peace. Paul speaks of the church as Christ’s body and each of us as members of it. Unity flows out of union with Christ and one another, but is maintained by a humility that says I need you as much as you need me. There is no place for individualism, self-reliance, power-plays, factions and other works of the flesh driven by pride. Church membership challenges the flesh and continually points us to love.

In the church that humility includes a submission to the means of grace: Word, sacrament and prayer. We are dependent on these means of grace. Humility recognizes this and embraces them. In extreme cases we are called to humbly submit to church discipline with repentance and faith.

One thing he overlooks here is our vows as members (and officers) to submit to the government of the church (not just in discipline cases) (and in the case of officers their brothers). There is a place for protest, complaint and appeal in the PCA government but our default posture is to be submission unless sinful. This is hard, and the immature seek to run when they don’t get their way- even if officers.

He then moves to humility in leadership, not towards leadership. Church officers are to be mature men and therefore growing in humility. They are not exempt from humility but are to be characterized by it. So many problems in leadership are traced back to pride. Elders that can work together are exercising humility.

Prideful leaders will cultivate prideful church bodies.”

He spends a great deal of time here in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians who were characterized by pride and the resulting divisions. Godly leaders are like Timothy and Epaphroditus who consider the interests of others and risked their own lives for others (Paul uses them as examples of men following Christ’s example in Philippians 2). He also brings in Sosthenes, a synagogue leader in Ephesus who came to faith and was beaten by the rioting crowd in the place of Paul. He was likely the same man who Paul mentions as writing to the Corinthians with him. Paul and Sostenes suffered together and served together. This is a model of church leadership.

A humble church enforces a plurality of leaders and insists that its leaders submit to one another.

He then moves to the connection between truth, humility and unity. Unity requires both truth AND humility. Unity is preceded by love, a love that considers the interests of other rather than the self-seeking pride that destroys churches every day.

He addresses the ways the church as sought unity over time (via Francis Schaefer): organization, a state church, uniformity of worship, comprehensive creeds/confessions, minimalist confessions (no creed by Christ), political causes, heroes or culture. Each of these has been tried and found wanted for a variety of reasons.

In our denomination, some think that our common confession should produce unity. It helps. But we differ as to what is essential and what is secondary at times. We disagree on the application of our common doctrine at points. In our pride we think that anyone who believes what we do will also do as we do, worship as we worship, and build a culture like our culture. This is pride. Humility recognizes that I am not perfect and my applications of our theology are not the only ways to apply it, or the best in other circumstances. Humility gives others the freedom to disagree on many (not all) applications of common doctrine. We rip each other apart because we confuse uniformity with unity.

Hutchinson digs into Ephesians 4 at this point. Our unity is accomplished in Christ, but Paul tells them (and us) to maintain our unity. The Spirit creates the bond, and provides the fruit of humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness to do so. In this he uses Packer’s distinctions by the Puritans of trunk doctrines, branch doctrines and twig doctrines. Some, unfortunately, seem to treat all doctrines are trunk doctrines. Unity is fostered by agreement on trunk & branch doctrines, and humility and bearing with the differences over twig doctrines. Humility is mindful that we all have doctrinal error, and don’t know which errors. The more important a doctrine, the more clear it is in Scripture. Humility recognizes that the twigs are least clear and offers more charity over differences. Some of these differences have to do with maturity requiring patience for others to mature.

In conflict, humility is also important to owning your portion of the blame-pie. It is also important to forgiving others as you recognize your own sins and need for forgiveness.

He then turns his attention to afflictions and church image. He points to need for humility in evangelism so we aren’t talking down to people. Scribes and Pharisees had a merit-based religion (earning grace) and so were judgmental toward those who were clearly sinners. When we are humble, we recognize that we too need grace and will not outlive our need for it.

He also brings us to 1 Cor. 9 in that we become like them to win them, rather than demanding they become like us to be won. We preach and live grace. Hutchinson notes that in this text there is no companion with to weak, as with Jew and Gentile. We don’t become strong to win the strong. The sin that keeps the strong from faith is pride. We invite them to own their weakness before God.

Humility is valued by God in worship and piety. He draws near to the humble, those who are contrite and tremble at His Word. Humility is focused on the inner man, and not the external, ritual and superficial. True worship and piety begin in humble hearts that love and fear God.

As he addresses culture, he warns us against engaging in the culture war. He is not arguing for antinomianism. He is recognizing that God’s people are called to be holy, and unbelievers are called to believe- not simply practice biblical morality. Fighting the war alienates people, not on the basis of the gospel, but public morality and political intervention. This doesn’t mean you don’t vote, and vote for candidates that affirm more biblical values than the other, but that you use the methods of evangelism to win hearts than the methods of politics to gain power and influence.

The last chapter in this section is Turning Factories into Gardens. He’s speaking primarily of how the Church goes about her business. We are not a factory creating disciples according to a blueprint. We are like farmers or gardeners who nurture plants. He argues for smaller churches that plant churches rather than building megachurches and multi-site churches.

Hutchinson covers lots of territory in this book. This necessarily means that he is brief, not exhaustive, or this would be as think as Baxter’s Christian Directory. He maintains a great blend of Scripture, history/heritage and personal experience. He does take the topic of humility in different directions than other authors on the subject. As a result, this makes a good addition to your collection of books on humility. You do have books on humility, right?

In reading this, your pride will be unearthed at times. There will be opportunities to repent. He does bring us back to the gospel frequently. He needs to, or exposure of our pride will be as dangerous to us as the pride itself. Humility will see that our only hope is Christ and that He is willing to receive us, always and forever. It is about how great He is, not how great, or evil, we are.

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America is at a very strange place these days. As we come into the 4th of July and Independence Day we find the polarization means that there are some who hate our country, and some that unquestionable love our country. How is a Christian supposed to think about the nation in which they live?

I was asked to speak at our family 4th weekend and turned back to a text a preached on in 2015. While I found the sermon on our website I couldn’t find my notes on my computer. So, I decided to “wing it”.

The text is Jeremiah 29, and my aim wasn’t to be exhaustive but to address what Jeremiah said and how it applies to us upon whom the ends of the ages have come in Christ (1 Cor. 10:11). God wasn’t addressing us directly, but provides and example and instruction for us about His faithfulness and our responsibility in similar circumstances.

The Problem of Place

“This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining exiled elders, the priests, the prophets, and all the people Nebuchadnezzar had deported from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah, the queen mother, the court officials, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metalsmiths had left Jerusalem. He sent the letter with Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The letter stated: …” (CSB)

Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem after the horrific siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchanezzar. The royal family, elders, wealthy and craftspeople were deported to Babylon. The useful people were taken away but the farmers, shepherds and others deemed unimportant were left in the land. Jeremiah was among them.

He sent a letter to the leaders and people Nebuchadnezzar had deported. He wants them to know how to live as exiles apart from Jerusalem, God’s promises and the temple for worship. They are not where they want to be. They likely feel forgotten by God. They are in a land that is very different, filled with temples to foreign gods, a ruthless people who weird and even wicked customs. They would likely be tempted to despair, to give up.

Pursue Shalom

This is what the LORD of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.” (CSB)

People in that place and time would have seen the defeat of Jerusalem and Judah to include the defeat of YHWH by the gods of Babylon (see 2 Kings 19:12 for an example). But YHWH speaks as the LORD of Armies. He was not defeated by is all-powerful. To make it clear, twice He says “the city I have deported you to”. We see the doctrine of concurrence. Both Nebuchadnezzar and YHWH deported them there, but for very different reasons.

God did this as a fulfillment of the covenant curse for persistent, unrepentant disobedience (Dt. 28:64). God said He’d do it, and was faithful to His word when Judah was unfaithful. They were not in Babylon by accident. They were there by God’s purpose and intention.

They were not to be filled with despair but to build, plant, marry and multiply in this strange land. Life as normal was supposed to continue, or resume since it ceased during the siege and deportation. Get back to living, Judah. Don’t want until you return to Jerusalem to live again!

I’m sure they were tempted to live for revenge. Perhaps form a resistance movement, a terrorist group to force their way back to Judea or to bring down this oppressive, ruthless regime.

But God said to pursue or seek the well-being of Babylon. Babylon! Well-being or shalom! Not its destruction, but its prosperity and peace. They likely felt like Jonah when he was told to go to Nineveh, a citadel city of Babylon. He, and they, did not want God to have mercy and compassion on their enemy. They didn’t want to pray for God to bless them! They wanted to open the Psalter to the imprecatory psalms and pray for God to judge and curse Babylon. God’s purpose is the opposite: blessing.

Perhaps it was these prayers that was behind the mostly peaceful transfer of power as the Medes and Persians quietly invaded Babylon and took over. The people were not devastated, just the Babylonian rulers.

Pursue Patiently

For this is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: “Don’t let your prophets who are among you and your diviners deceive you, and don’t listen to the dreams you elicit from them, for they are prophesying falsely to you in my name. I have not sent them.” This is the Lord’s declaration. (CSB)

Just as the false prophets had wrongly declared a victory for Judah over Babylon, the false prophets were now predicting a quick return to Judea. Having been deceived before, don’t be deceived again. The LORD is disavowing these wicked men claiming to speak in His name.

10 For this is what the Lord says: “When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.” (CSB)

God’s good plan and intention is to bring them back on 70 years. He will prosper them in Babylon, they will seek Him and He will bring them back. This is also a fulfillment of God’s promises in Dt. 30-1-10. It will come to pass in about 70 years, 2 generations, rather than in the immediate future.

In Daniel 9, as the 70 years are coming to an end it doesn’t seem like it is going to happen. Daniel receives a clarifying vision. Judah was not yet seeking God with all their heart. It would soon be accomplished in the Cyrus Edict after the Babylonian Empire had fallen.

They were to live by faith in this foreign land! God’s promised sanctions had been fulfilled. They were to trust that His promised deliverance would happen as well. But in the present they were to live, build, plant, and pray for the shalom of Babylon.

That’s great but we aren’t Israel and we aren’t in Babylon. Right?

The Adjustment

Israel, representing God’s kingdom, was scattered among the nations. The kingdom wasn’t identified with those other countries, and Israel was no longer a country. This anticipated the New Covenant Community, the Assembly, the Church as representing the kingdom of God scattered among the nations, and not identified with any of them.

This should remove the temptation to Christian nationalism. The interests of the kingdom are not the same as the interests of the kingdom. We live in both, and often they are at odds with one another.

Peter called us “elect exiles” in 1 Peter 1:1. He returns to this idea of sojourners and exiles to frame how Christians were to think of one another. Paul reminded the Philippians that the citizenship that really mattered was their heavenly citizenship.

We have been saved by the blood of Christ and spread in particular nations. You have been placed where you are by the will and purpose of God. We are at odds with the world’s values, mores and purposes.

Jesus, in whom the kingdom had drawn near, lived in the Roman empire which had conquered most of the known world. It too was oppressive. Jesus didn’t rail against Rome. Surely people like Simon the Zealot and the Pharisees would have loved a sermon like that. But He didn’t.

Neither did the disciples. Paul and Peter argued that we should submit to and obey the authorities God has placed above us, unless they command us to disobey God. We see this in Acts when they were prohibited from preaching Christ. They needed to obey God, not man, and were willing to suffer the consequences time and again.

In America, abortion is permitted. It is a wicked practice and should exist. Christians are not permitted to get an abortion because it is legal. In China, an abortion can be commanded. Here the Christian must obey God, not the state. These are different situations. An unjust law doesn’t mean you have the right to rebel, unless you are forced to obey a command contrary to God’s revealed will.

The Revelation

The Revelation reveals the Dragon, that great Serpent that deceived Eve, as the great opponent of the saints. He makes war on them. He does this through the Beasts. The Dragon is a counterfeit Father, the Beast from the Sea a counterfeit Son and the Beast of the Earth a counterfeit Spirit who works so people obey the Beast from the Sea. Government has a beastly quality, forcing the obedience of the people and persecuting the faithful people of God.

Here we also see Babylon, particularly the Whore of Babylon, representing a counterfeit church focused on material prosperity that seeks to seduce the true people of God.

As exiles, we live in nations representing the Beasts and the Whore. We live in Babylon! If we refuse her advances, we will likely experience the persecution of the Beast.

It is hard for us to view where we live as the Beast or Babylon. Yet, it is true.

People have a tendency toward polarization. Some hate their country, in this case America. Some idolize it.

On the left we see people who see only the sins of America (and they are many): slavery, genocide, capitalism run amok. For instance, the Democratic Party of the county I live in is having a “F-ck the Fourth” celebration. And they are not along. All they see what is wrong with America and hate it. They are blinded to what is good, and only (apparently)see the good and not the evil of other nations. Which nation “knows how to act”? None, just spend 15 minutes and you’ll dig up their genocides, relationship with chattel slavery, oppression and more.

Don’t worry, some of the right hate America because of abortion and the movement toward socialism. Hatred for one’s country isn’t only from one side.

When you focus on in the sin in a relationship, like marriage, it goes toxic and won’t last long. Even the good is distorted by your animosity.

Others idealize and idolize their country. It commits no wrong.

Help from Lewis and Keller

How can we get out of this polarization? In The Four Loves C.S. Lewis discusses love of country, patriotism. Keller builds on this in his book on Jonah. An honest love of country admits it successes and failures. It loves the good of your country and hates the bad. It wants better for your country, but isn’t trying to destroy it.

This is possible for us as Christians in a way that it isn’t for secularists. We believe in forgiveness, not simply retribution. We believe God can redeem and change a society (to a degree) and that “burning down the house” isn’t the only answer. We saw that the French Revolution replaced one oppressive government with another. There is no earthly utopia. We must await the coming of the New Earth at the return of Christ for the kind of society we all long for. The gospel means our hopes aren’t for earthly societies which enables us to love them despite, not because of, their sin.

How to Live as Elect Exiles

It has taken us awhile, but let’s get back to Jeremiah 29.

Pray for shalom in America (or whatever country you live in). Shalom comes in reconciliation with God, and one another. This means praying for renewal among Christians and repentance among the unbelievers. Their changes hearts will bring a measure of change.

Preach for shalom in America (or whatever country you live in). God will use the ordinary means of preaching to bring shalom. Our preaching should not so focus on sin that we offer no hope for salvation. It should not so focus on hope that none recognize the need due to sin. We must articulate God’s good creation of the universe, man’s rebellion in sin which brings the curse, God’s work of redemption in Christ and the coming consummation where the curse is removed, the wicked judged and the righteous (by faith in Christ) vindicated.

Practice humble, honest love with neighbors. Don’t ignored differences but don’t demonize either. Love your neighbor who doesn’t share you worldview, mores or values. Show them that disagreement isn’t hatred by positively loving them. Recognize the positive traits of your neighbor and not just their sins. Give them a glimpse of God’s mercy in Christ by your neighborliness and friendship.

Don’t opt out of life in the hopes of the near return of Jesus like so many cults have and do. Build, plant, marry and multiply. Don’t withdraw from society but engage it in a loving fashion. Pursue its shalom!

Recognize your country’s need for Christ, AND that Christ will be merciful to those who repent. Pray for it, not against it.

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