The Fading Lamp Shines Brightest (John 3:22–36)

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

“He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John.”

—John 3:30; 5:35–36

O what paradoxical glory! As this lamp fades, he shines brightest. John was not the Light, but he was a lamp. It is when the lamp exclaims “I am not the Light” that it shines brightest. When John says “I am not the Christ” it is then that he radiates with Christ-like glory. Edward Klink comments, “It was only at the point of his ‘not’ that the Baptist could truly be who he was supposed to be, a messenger for the message and a witness to the true ‘I AM.’”

When a loyal herald announces the coming of the King, he isn’t downcast when people then move to the side and look down the street. That’s the point! If John were a fish, this is water. John, as one sent before the Lord, heralds, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And when the crowd then turns their eyes from him to the bridegroom, he “rejoices with joy.”

When all eyes look down the street for the king, that is when the herald is greatest and gladdest. Saints, this is oxygen, to use our lungs to say, “We are not! He is! Do not look to us. Look to Christ! We are just a voice. Jesus is the Word.” Saints, do you truly want to live? Then fill your longs with John’s exclamation, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The Bishop: Wycliffe’s Banner

“The importance of this great principle can never be overrated. It lies at the very foundation of Protestant Christianity. It is the backbone of the Articles of the Church of England and of every sound Church in Christendom. The true Christian was intended by Christ to prove all things by the word of God, all churches, all ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons, all writings, all opinions, all practices. These are his marching orders. Prove all by the word of God; measure all by the measure of the Bible; compare all with the standard of the Bible; weigh all in the balances of the Bible; examine all by the light of the Bible: test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible, receive, hold, believe, and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away. This is the standard which Wycliffe raised in England. This is the flag which he nailed to the mast. May it never be lowered!” —J.C. Ryle, “John Wycliffe” in Light from Old Times

The Bishop: No Half Imitations

If we say with Paul, ‘O wretched man that I am’, let us also be able to say with him, ‘I press toward the mark.’ Let us not quote his example in one thing, while we do not follow him in another (Rom. 7:24; Phil. 3:14). —J.C. Ryle, Holiness

A Profession Not Worth a Button

“The doctrine of the Trinity! That is the substance, that is the ground and fundamental of all, for by this doctrine and this only the man is made a Christian and he that has not this doctrine, his profession is not worth a button.” —John Bunyan

Objection: “Everyone’s profession has worth.”

Argument #1: Self-Defeating

Without any qualifications being made, the objection is self-defeating. If Bunyan’s profession has worth, then you cannot speak against it. If you do speak against it, then not everyone’s profession has worth.

Argument #2: What Is Really Being Said

What such an objection is really saying though is that everyone else’s profession has worth. All other professions are true. The historic Christian profession claiming the exclusivity of Christ is not. 

Or, put another way, it is to say that all professions that do not claim to be exclusive have value. The problem is that Christianity is not the only exclusive religion. Judaism and Islam are also exclusivistic, as well as many expressions of Hinduism and Buddhism. This means the statement that “everyone’s profession has worth,” speaks contrary to the majority report of at least three of the world’s major religions. This cuts a huge chunk out of “everyone.” So what is really being said turns out to be not much of anything.

Argument #3: Pluralism is Exclusive

Again, making the claim that all professions have value, the religious pluralist not only stands contrary to historic Christianity, but against Judaism, Islam, and many expressions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Religious pluralism fails in its aim. Rather than welcoming in, it too excludes most other world religions and judges them for their exclusivity claims.

Argument #4: Both Statements Are Judgment Statements

An implication, and more often an outspoken accusation, is that in claiming the exclusivity Christ, Christians are being judgmental. But the objection itself is a judgmental statement. 

“You’re being judgmental!”

“Hmm…didn’t you just judge me?”

Again, the objection cuts off its own legs. Both Bunyan’s claim and the objection are judgment statements. The Christian is perfectly fine with others making judgment statements. The question is, which judgment is true? What standard is being used? This is a conversation I welcome. It is the one I’m trying to have.

Argument #5: Which Is Really More Arrogant?

An implication of the former implication is the charge of arrogance. “You’re being judgmental, ergo, you’re arrogant.” But consider that Christians make their profession in subjecting themselves to a standard outside themselves. Those who say all professions have value do so based on their own subjective thoughts and observations. The stance of a Christian is one of submission to an outside authority. The stance of a religious pluralist is to act like a god declaring truth, namely, the truth that all professions have value, save those that make exclusivity claims. Religious pluralism is judgmental, and it makes this judgment as a judge. It assumes a position of authority.

Argument #6: Argument, Truth, and Tolerance

G.K. Chesterton once said that we quarrel because we have forgotten how to argue. There was a time when two men who disagree could sit down at a table and argue, knowing that the other guy had their best interest in mind. This was because both of them came to the table believing that truth was something outside themselves. Because this was so, at best, the two men could admit that the other guy, in arguing for truth, was seeking what was best for the other and for humanity. This is true tolerance.

But today, many say all professions have worth. Truth is thought to be subjective. “If it makes you happy… If you believe it…” So if ever there is an argument, I’m no longer attacking ideas. I am attacking you. It is not that we are both going after truth. Instead, we are going after one another. Counterintuitively we must then say that all opinions have value. We must never object. This is the tyranny of pluralism. It silences all other voices. All debate and argument is ended. This is the intolerance of those who preach tolerance.

Argument #7: All Professions?

But, no one really believes that all professions have value.

Did Hitler’s professions concerning the Aryan race and the Jews have value?

Did Jim Jones’ profession have value?

Did the profession of the Jihadists who slammed jets into the Twin Towers have value?

Did the profession of worshippers of Molech who sacrificed their children have value?

Did the profession of Stalin’s communist Russia and Mao’s communist China have value?

Does the profession of your bank have value when they fail to register your last deposit?

Argument #8: Why?

“If they want to believe it, if it makes them happy, why speak against it?” 

When your child wants to put a toy in the light socket, why stop them? The answer is love. If the child says they believe that electricity won’t kill them because they’re Thor, the parent still insists. Lies harm.

To allow a soul to walk through this world believing a lie isn’t kind. If Christianity is true, to be indifferent to people’s profession isn’t kind. You may argue that Christianity’s claims are false. You can claim that all souls will go to heaven. But when you do so, you are making a truth claim. And then you must answer upon what standard you make such a claim? At this point we are in agreement. Not all professions are of equal value. True ones are. Which are true?

What one cannot say is that all professions have value, because that statement is self-refuting. Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As Lewis famously observed, “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”*

Of course you could argue that Jesus never said that. But should you do so, you’ve discounted many a profession as not being worth a button. You’ve made a truth claim. And upon what standard?


*Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. HarperOne, 2001.

Unity Doesn’t Float (Philippians 2:1–4)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” —Philippians 1:27, 2:2

Unity isn’t a collection of helium-filled balloons, held together only by strings in a hand swinging playfully about. Unity is like the wall of a stone fortress, rooted in the earth, prepped for battle. Unity isn’t a thing you play with; it is something you fight with. I fear that when the church preaches and pursues unity, she goes for fun and floaty balloons rather than an anchored and strong fortress, and balloons are so easily popped.

Mark Dever has said that what you win them with is what you win them to. A self-evident corollary of this, though perhaps not as catchy, is this: what you unite your people with is what they are united by. That’s a bit of a tautology, but unfortunately the obvious is only obvious to us as an equation. Weak glue is easily broken. “Man” as a glue is like using Elmer’s for mortar in a stone cathedral. Much church “unity” is nothing more than children gathering around some shiny new balloons. If you want to break it up all you need is a pair of scissors. Further, Helium is faddish. As the balloons fall the crowds disperse. Cue the creative clowns to continually twist things to the people’s delight.

The major problem is that man is trying to create a unity instead of working out and living according to the unity that God has created. Richard Philips has said that perhaps the best way we can deal with the alleged problem of unity is to deny that there is one. The saints have long confessed that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” After commending the Ephesians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” Paul goes on to say that “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:3–4, emphasis mine). God is the only glue that can hold the church together. By Christ’s blood we are mortared.

It is critical then, that as you read Paul’s call for unity in Philippians, you realize that these commands don’t float. They are anchored. The gospel is their source, the gospel determines their shape, and the gospel is their purpose. Unity is by the gospel, in the gospel, and for the gospel.

To me of the major tragedies of the hour, and especially in the realm of the church, is that most of the time seems to be taken up by the leaders in preaching about unity instead of preaching the gospel that alone can produce unity.

If all the churches in the world became amalgamated, it would not make the slightest difference to the man in the street. He is not outside the churches because the churches are disunited; he is outside because he likes his sin, because he is a sinner, because he is ignorant of spiritual realities. He is no more interested in this problem of unity than the man in the moon.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The Doctor: Grace the Fount, Peace the Sea

“‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ No two words are more important in the whole of our faith than ‘grace’ and ‘peace’. Yet how lightly we tend to drop them off our tongues without stopping to consider what they mean. Grace is the beginning of our faith; peace is the end of our faith. Grace is the fountain, the spring, the source. It is that particular place in the mountain from which the mighty river you see rolling into the sea starts its race; without it there would be nothing. Grace is the origin and source and fount of everything in the Christian life. But what does the Christian life mean, what is it meant to produce? The answer is ‘peace’. So there we have the source and there the estuary leading to the sea, the beginning and the end, the initiation, and the purpose for which it is all meant and designed. It is essential for us, therefore, to carry these two words in our minds because within the eclipse formed by grace and peace everything is included.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 36, 37

The Don: Improbable? Nay.

“The fitness or credibility of the Grand Miracle [the incarnation] itself cannot, obviously, be judged by the same standard. And let us admit at once that it is very difficult to find a standard by which it can be judged. If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about. Since it happened only once, it is by Hume’s standards infinitely improbable. But then the whole history of the Earth has also happened only once; is it therefore incredible? Hence the difficulty, which weighs upon Christian and atheist alike, of estimating the probability of the Incarnation. It is like asking whether the existence of Nature herself is intrinsically probable. That is why it is easier to argue, on historical grounds, that the Incarnation actually occurred than to show, on philosophical grounds, the probability of its occurrence. The historical difficulty of giving for the life, sayings and influence of Jesus any explanation that is not harder than the Christian explanation, is very great.” —C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (HarperCollins, 2001), pp. 174

Don’t Settle for Falling in Love

Originally posted February 22, 2012. Lightly edited October 12, 2020

Don’t settle for “falling in love.” Stand back up. Get your balance. There is so much more to love. The problem with falling in love is that it says too little about love. It relegates love to one specific aspect of our being, namely, the emotions. I remember watching a special with Bethany about how those who are twitterpated are actually measurably stupider. Their euphoric emotional high resulted in lower test scores and decreased their ability to reason and think logically. While on such an emotional high, one is loving their beloved with less of their being. Dear newlywed, turn to your beloved and tell them not to  worry. Soon Cupid’s toxins will wear off and you’ll come to my senses and love them more.

Some overreact against such an Epicurean smelling concept of love and go Stoic. They relegate love to the faculty of the will. Love is a choice they say. Well, yes and no. They are as equally reductionist as the person who makes love to reside wholly in the affections. But we are whole beings, and true love, the deepest love, engages the whole of us. Stoic “lovers” (a genuine contradiction) may cite Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 as a defense, but notice two things. First, one can choose (an act to the will) to give away all they have, and make the ultimate self-sacrifice by giving their body to be burned and not have love (1 Corinthians 13:3). Pure will and act alone do not constitute love, something is missing. Second, love rejoices in the truth. Love has affectional as well as volitional aspects.

I am called to love God will all of my being, none of me is exempt (Deuteronomy  6:4-6). So in a very real sense, you must “fall out of love” to really love someone, to love them with more of who you are. And this means discovering deeper, truer, and stronger affections as part of that love.

But let me offer this last caution in regard to loving God: this does not put a governor on how high the affections may soar. In loving God my heart, mind, and will need not be at odds. Yahweh is infinitely glorious so my mind is never disengaged; and if I truly perceive Him in my mind, my affections, no matter how intense, are never an overreaction; and when guided by truth and motivated by joy my actions can never be too radical. In other words, loving God with all of our being does not mean that any capacity (emotional, mental, or volitional) is limited, but rather liberated to soar to infinite heights.

Don’t settle for a honeymoon “falling in love” with God either. And when the euphoria fades, don’t thinking you’re necessarily forgetting your first love. Perhaps, you’re falling deeper into a mature kind of love, like that of the couple who sits in the pew across from you that just celebrated their golden anniversary.

To Mask or Not to Mask?

“I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” —C.S. Lewis

anshu-a-yAXbfq1wI7I-unsplash.jpgTo mask or not to mask? This is not the question we should be zealous to answer. To be charitable or to condemn, that is the question. In the first instance, God has not spoken; wisdom is called for. In the second, an authoritative answer is readily available—show charity.

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:1–12).

Concerning days and meat, Paul laid down guidance elsewhere in his letters to guide the weak in conscience into maturity. Still, Paul was zealous not to cause a brother to sin against their conscience in such matters where there is liberty. Now if Paul did this, in areas where God’s truth does give guidance, how much more charity should we display in an area where God has not spoken.

Wisdom and lies can be found on both sides of the question we are not asking. Who is sufficient to answer that question? Let each soul research for himself. May each soul feel liberty to do so without condemnation. What is not sin should not be judged as such. If either side thinks itself superior, they have assumed a God-like omniscience. Our father Adam may have eaten from the tree of knowledge, but he thereby plunged us into ignorance. He desired to be like God, but the apple fell far from the tree. Let us not add sin to sin by thinking the eating had its desired effect. We are far from perfect knowledge.

Even more concerning, is that by seeking to bind your brother’s conscience to your own, you have established yourself as the standard by which to judge. We crooked twigs shouldn’t try to play as though we were the official and standard yardstick by which all measurements will henceforth be made. We should not even advocate for a particular collective twig position as though that were the standard. If every ruler in the world were shaved down to eleven and a half inches, a foot would still be twelve. We don’t measure up. And concerning masks, God gave no measurement. Be your head masked or not, your nose shouldn’t be upturned toward your brother, but bowed before your Maker.

Feel free to point out how you believe the government is making a totalitarian play and warn of the dangers of being a lemming. Feel free to speak of how concern for your brother and respect for the established authorities are strong grounds for wearing a mask (where masks have been mandated, a separate conversation is necessary). But above all of these, wherever you may land, eschew demonizing your brother and prioritize charity. And farther up still, shout loudest about that which is most worth joyfully shouting—the gospel of Christ. And though one brother do so with a mask, and another without, may both do so praying for one another. Though these brothers may socially distance themselves out of respect, may they be spiritually united, longing that the good news prove graciously contagious, for therein lies the ultimate cure for all that ails us.


*Mere Christianity, (HarperCollins, 2001) p. 186

Offline Church

internet-3471739_1280.pngLet’s begin with some qualifications, that is, my presuppositions. I’m not wanting to miff everyone at the same time. This particular argument (meant in the old sense of setting forth reasons) is intended for those friends with whom I agree more. It’s worth recalling Chesterton’s observation that, “People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.”

Many pastors, and many of them better than I, have satellite campuses where the sermon is taken in by video. Some refer to these campuses collectively as a church. On a lesser but related level, others live stream their services so that those not present can participate in church. I am not a fan of multisite, multiservice, or multimedia for the purpose of virtual participation as a way of doing “church.” I think these multis contrary to nature of what it means for the church to gather as the church. So before I go on to miff others, to my multiple friends who do multi-church, to you with whom I agree less on this topic, I am not arguing with you here. I want to argue with those with whom I agree more. If you don’t think my premises valid, there’s no point in me pressing you with my conclusion.

Perhaps this quarantine has me itching to make less friends, but I don’t believe that to be my true intent. I don’t want to make less friends; I want to make better friends and I hope my friends will return the favor and seek to make better of me. Lord knows I need it. So then, for you who share my quibbles with the multis, I want to give a word of caution concerning “online church.”

When a father wields the rod, his children shouldn’t stuff their pants. When God disciplines His children, we shouldn’t try to mitigate the pain. In years past, when the saints were incapable of meeting, they sharply felt the loss. Such privation should drive us deeper into lamentation, contrition, and petition for mercy. If God has acted so that the assembly cannot assemble, let us not fool ourselves that we are. Instead, let us feel profoundly the sting.

Dear brothers, with whom I agree more, if you don’t believe church can be done by means of the interwebs, don’t try now. I don’t doubt many of you are better shepherds than I and that your motives are sound and your hearts full of love, but words matter. Use technology to shepherd your flock, but not to redefine. Offer supplements, but not substitutes. If you, as a shepherd, offer something to your scattered flock, don’t give them the impression that they are assembling when they are not. Don’t call non-church “church.”

As there is no substitute this side of glory for the assembly that will then take place, so there is no substitute for the foretaste of it in special work and presence of our Lord when the saints assemble in covenant faithfulness to receive the grace of God by His ordained means of word and sacrament. Corporate worship is a promised anticipation of this future glory. Bonhoeffer realized the glory of this and that it is a glory that some saints longingly go without.

“So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Chris­tians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this bless­ ing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They re­member, as the Psalmist did, how they went ‘with the multitude… to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday’ (Ps. 42:4). But they remain alone in far countries, a scattered seed ac­cording to God’s will. Yet what is denied them as an actual experience they seize upon more fervently in faith.”*

The darkness is meant to create a longing for the light. While it is dark, let us long. When the sun rises, let us sing. In all things, let us express gratitude. Yes, the mature can receive even the rod with thanksgiving, knowing it it the rod of our perfect heavenly Father.

In closing, know this post is intended from one shepherd to other shepherds; but for those sheep listening in, a word of caution: better to submit to your elder across the street than rebel with another across the country. He’s likely a far better shepherd than I. If your conscience is bound as mine is, respectfully and lovingly let him know, and then watch with the acknowledgement that whatever you’re doing, you’re not doing church.


*Bonhoeffer, D. (1978). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (pp. 18–19). Harper Collins.