What Do You Pray For?

“Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical and totally focused on physical needs inside the church or on personal needs of the people present.  But frontline prayer has three basic traits: a) a request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves, b) a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church, and c) a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.”

Tim Keller, “Kingdom-centered Prayer,” Redeemer Report, January 2006.

"Predestination isn't true."

How would you respond if you heard a professing Christian say those words to you? Would you feel confident in your ability to answer that statement from the Bible? As I prepare to preach this Lord’s Day from Ephesians 1:3-6 on the topic of predestination, a few thoughts come to mind to help God’s people think about engaging in conversations about this difficult subject.

  1. Practice humility in all situations. The knowledge of truth is a gift of God, but it’s very easy to allow knowledge to lead to pride. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 8:1-2, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Paul is not denying that we can have true knowledge of the truth, else he wouldn’t have written any of his letters at all. But he is saying that it’s possible to “know” something, yet have no love in your heart for other people. True knowledge always remembers that it doesn’t know everything, and so remains humble. And we must remember that it is possible to love God in sincerity, to have been born again and granted saving faith, but still to be ignorant of aspects of God’s truth. In fact, it’s not just possible, it’s guaranteed - none of us knows everything fully. Humility, patience, gentleness must mark us as we contend for the truth of God, especially in the area of the doctrines of grace (aka “the five points of Calvinism”).

  2. If a person claims to believe that the Bible is God’s word and therefore true, but then claims not to believe that predestination is true, it is not inappropriate to point out gently that the word “predestine” or “predestinate” occurs in the Bible (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29-30; I Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11). So predestination or election must be true, and every Christian must believe in predestination - that is, they must believe something about predestination, because it is a biblical word that must mean something, it is an action in which God has engaged. The question is, what does the Bible teach about predestination? What does God mean when He says He has predestined events, or predestined people to salvation? This is the level on which you should seek to have the conversation.

  3. At root of a denial of the truth of predestination is almost always a denial of the doctrine of total depravity. Usually people say predestination isn’t true because they don’t want to believe in a God who doesn’t choose everyone, or they want to believe that people are basically good who have the ability to choose God or to do good things to make it into heaven. So it’s important in conversations about predestination to make sure you talk about sin. Talk about the reality that none of us deserve to be chosen; that the Bible teaches God doesn’t choose us based upon anything we do (Romans 9; Deuteronomy 7); that all of us deserve judgment, and if left to ourselves we would all go willingly to hell; that God would be righteous to send everyone to hell, but graciously chooses to choose some for salvation in His Son; that His ways are higher than our ways, and past finding out.

  4. Aim to show the unbiblical nature of the “defeaters” - that is, those stereotypes about what predestination “always” leads to. “Predestination always leads to arrogance” - no, it leads to the deepest humility, as we realize that we can take no credit for our own salvation (I Corinthians 1). “Predestination always leads to apathy in Christian living and in evangelism” - no, it leads to a passion for holiness and a passion to share the gospel with the lost (Ephesians 1:4; Matthew 11:25-30). It alone gives confidence that the God who has chosen us for holiness will sanctify us, and that the God who chosen us has chosen other sinners, and will call them to Himself through our words. “Predestination always leads to dry intellectualism” - no, it leads to heart worship and adoration of a sovereign God who acts according to the good pleasure of His will to do what we could never do for ourselves (Ephesians 1:3-14). To be sure, believing in predestination has and can lead some toward arrogance, apathy, and dry intellectualism. But it ought not. And so don’t only show from the Scriptures how these defeaters are wrong-headed, but show in your life as well that the truth of predestination changes us from the inside out.

2 Resources That Have Changed My Devotions

Is it hard for you to “get anything” out of your devotions? Is it frustrating to understand the Bible? Is it difficult for you to apply the Bible for your life today? Why is it often difficult to set aside time for our devotions? For many of us, the lack of familiarity with what the Bible says and realization of how the Bible applies to us is often what hinders us from growing in our devotional lives.

There have been various seasons of life where I have come across a resource that has greatly aided me in studying the Bible during my morning devotions. I remember my mother purchasing for me a copy of Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible that I began to eat up during my college years. I remember coming across the commentary series called “God’s Word for You” (whose writers are Tim Keller, Tim Chester, Steven Lawson, Al Mohler, and others). I also have recently come across my new favorite commentary series from Banner of Truth called “Let’s Study” (whose writers are Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas, Derek Prime, Mark Johnston, Iain Hamilton, Dennis Johnson, and others) which seems to be a perfect portion of reading for morning devotions. All of these resources have greatly helped me grow not merely in a knowledge of the Scriptures but in a devotional heart for the truth of Scripture while seeing it applied to real life.

If you’re anything like me, you often go through different phases of using different resources to aid your devotional studies. For much of my years since being a Christian, I have done more study of Scripture focusing on shorter sections at a time. I have not done so well of a job about reading bigger portions alongside that. Recently, the iPhone app “Read Scripture” from The Bible Project has helped me do just that. It has been the best big portion Bible reading structure for me. Other people have found better use out of other structures but for several reasons the “Read Scripture” app has worked well for me. It is easy to access and helpful to go at one’s own pace. The short video overviews of each book and some of the biblical themes in Scripture also help me to “see” the truth of Scripture better.

But, there is often a lingering thought that I have after reading massive portions of the text. How am I supposed to sink this reading into my heart more effectively? The last thing that we should want from a Bible reading plan is to get in the habit of merely completing the reading and checking off the section. Our Bible reading must go from head to heart. This leads me to the second resource that I recently discovered at the RTS Jackson bookstore that has become one of those studies that has changed my devotions.

Reformation Heritage Books has produced one of the best and most unique resources out there called the “Family Worship Bible Guide”. If I am honest, the title makes the resource sound more limiting than what it really is. This resource is an aid to applying the Bible to our lives. In very short reflections, with only 1 to 3 reflections per chapter in the Bible, the writers show what the point of the chapter is and how it affects our lives today. It is way more than merely a family worship guide, although certainly a phenomenal resource for family worship, but it is also a great resource for your own personal Bible study.

The Family Worship Bible Guide seeks to show how the teaching of Scripture changes your life. What it is trying to do is to show how the Bible reaches out and grabs the realities of life today. It has been a great way for the big chunks of Bible reading to sink into my heart more on a daily basis. For example, here is what you would read if your devotional reading this morning was on John 1:

1. When John called Jesus “the Word,” he implied that Christ not only brings us a message from God but is Himself the Message. Jesus is God in the flesh, the infinite glory and grace of the Father dwelling among men in the tabernacle of a human body. Therefore, to believe in Christ is much more than trusting Him to teach us or help us; saving faith is receiving Him as our God, our very life. What difference does it make to the Christian faith that Christ is God?

2. John the Baptist shows us that a preacher’s calling is to point away from himself to Christ and to lift the Savior high before men’s eyes. A minister can do this only by having a low view of himself and a high view of Christ. A Christ-centered ministry is particularly a cross-centered ministry, focusing regularly (though not exclusively) on Christ’s death as the Lamb of God. How can you pray for your ministers that they would be more like John in this manner?

3. To find Christ is the most wonderful discovery of all. It is too good to be kept to oneself. How can you become more like these early disciples who eagerly told their family and friends about Jesus?

Ed. Joel R. Beeke, Family Worship Bible Guide (Reformation Heritage Books: Grand Rapids, MI 2016), p. 718

That is one of the longer portions of what you would read for one chapter. Most are one to two insights for each chapter. It is a small book and easy to carry around with you anywhere you go (it is like a small Bible). It is also very reasonably priced considering what you would get from it (only $14-17 depending on where you look). In my opinion, it has been one of the best resources I have ever bought and certainly one that will aid in my devotions, sermon prep, counseling, blogging, and Sunday school. I would highly encourage you to consider using this resource for personal and/or family devotions.

The Sovereignty of God in the Loss of a Child

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

A few hours before my sonogram, I had spoken at my Bible study about how we can trust God no matter what happens to us. Everything that comes to us has already passed through His hands, and it’s all for His glory. It was a fantastic discussion about God’s sovereignty in our book of Romans study that day. The women in the group were excited for me to find out the gender of my baby that afternoon and they all wanted updates. The waiting room at the doctor’s office was testing my patience; we couldn’t wait to find out that we were surely having a girl and we could use our girl name. We didn’t have a boy name yet.

“I’m sorry...” We found out our baby had passed away some time the day before and I had no idea. Suddenly I was plunged into the shock and fumbling darkness that only sudden tragedy can bring upon someone. Upon delivery the next day, we saw he was a boy. Our third little boy. We didn’t have a name for a boy, and we were too overwhelmed to think of one. We decided God already knew his name and was calling it even now. One day we—his parents—would see him and learn his name too. We named him Baby Boy, held him, and let him go.

It was a darkness I would stumble through for many months—the deep dark valley of the shadow of death. Recovering from childbirth with empty arms. Crying out to the Lord to help me. Help me understand. Help me see. Help me get through to the other side. Repenting of jealousy, repenting of doubting His goodness, numbly reading my Bible, days of silence before God. He never left my side.

A few months later finishing my Bible study, while still very raw, I was able to stand up and say that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever.” I believe it so deeply now. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and I have come out the other side with my arms full of spiritual riches. God was taking me down this sanctifying path to give me something greater than I could have ever imagined: a closeness to the Father, a conformity to the Son, and the comfort of the Spirit. Because “even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You” (Psalm 139:12). There is no depth, nowhere to be found, where God cannot carry you with supreme guidance. Not only did God ordain this, it was to be for my good. He loved me enough to not let me stay where I was. Tragedy doesn’t come to us because God doesn’t love us. This happened to me because God loves me and desires my holiness. This suffering was and still is great, but not greater than the glory that is to come. And so as I approach the one year anniversary of my loss, I do not say lightly, “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

16 Rules of Wisdom for Social Media and Technology

The post is orignally from Kevin DeYoung’s blog hosted by The Gospel Coalition. DeYoung appears to have been reading Senator Ben Sasse’s new book Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How To Heal which is what lead him to re-post some of Sasse’s thoughts. These were so helpful for me to think about for my own home which made me think that you might find these helpful as well.

1. Your thousandth social media friend won’t make you any happier. Your fourth real real friend will.

2. Uninterrupted time is life’s most valuable limited resource.

3. Most news isn’t news.

4. Envy isn’t good therapy. Rage isn’t good therapy. Working out is good therapy.

5. Do something now you’ll want to talk about at the dinner table tonight.

6. Political addicts are weird. (And there aren’t that many of them. They’re just loud.)

7A. I’d rather be with the people I’m with right now than with the people I’m not with.

7B. If #7A isn’t true, then spend more time with the right people.

8. Develop the right addictions. (Another word for addictions is habits. Habits determine character.)

9. Not every bad thing in the world requires a response from you.

10. Not every mean thing said to you requires you to acknowledge it.

11. You’re not omniscient. Don’t assume your bubble of information is the whole story.

12. You’re not omnipotent. Taking in bad news you can’t do anything about doesn’t help anyone.

13. Sports Twitter is infinitely better than political Twitter.

14. Lots more social media is fake bots than social media companies admit.

15. The little old lady on your block probably has an important unmet need today.

16. Social media isn’t great for deep stuff. It’s great for humor. Let’s be known as a family that laughs hard. (p. 199)

Cooking, Cookbooks, and Jesus' Love For Meals

During one of the seasons of life when I was a youth intern under Kurt Cooper at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the evening worship sermon series was titled “Meals With Jesus”. From what I understand, some of the ideas flowed from a book by author Tim Chester (whom I thoroughly enjoy) called “A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table”. Chester is a great author who brings out something that we should see: Jesus loves to share a meal with people.

There are some things that happen around the dinner table that are special. There is an intimacy and a warmth that is often very difficult to duplicate in other situations. The senses of smelling and seeing along with tasting and texture surrounded by a company of friends brings about rich experiences. Often times, meals are a good place for strangers to gather together and get to know each other beyond the greetings. There are few things that match what smoked brisket, spicy gumbo, or a perfect broccoli casserole can do to a gathered group. Stories emerge, laughter is shared, and hospitality is valued when a meal is served.

Sure, we all know of those awkward dinners with family, friends, co-workers, or strangers that we have had but if we examine it as a whole I think we would see some of our friendships were made over a meal. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is one of the reasons Jesus valued gathering in someone’s home over a meal. It’s the place where Jesus brought together His closest friends on the night before He was betrayed. It’s the place where He taught some of His most rich truths. It’s also the place where His enemies seemed least hostile. For these reasons, I think we should also raise the value that we place on sharing a meal with others.

This brings me to my own story of getting into cooking. I’ll put it simply. I played a lot of football. I ate a lot to play a lot of football. I like food. I don’t just like food but I love good food. There are certain dishes that readily come to mind when I think about good food and good memories:

  • My dad’s greens on New Years and freshly caught and grilled Red Snapper with a crawfish sauce on top (My father is a talented veterinarian but he might be even more talented as a cook.)

  • My mother’s homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies (We didn’t eat slices of bread but we ate loaves of bread.)

  • My first tasting of New Orleans homemade jambalaya and a teammate’s home

  • Souffle fries at Arnuad’s in New Orleans

  • Tender brisket that’s been smoked for hours in Belton, Texas (where Grace is from)

  • Gumbo and Turtle Soup at Commander’s Palace

  • Corey Olivier’s honey butter rolls and jambalaya at our weekly Large Group at the BCM house at Tulane (Corey was our campus minister and team chaplain at Tulane. Teammates came running over when they heard he was cooking.)

  • Lobster mac n’ cheese from the New England Patriots’ cafeteria

  • Rabbit and dumblings at Cochon in New Orleans with my wife (a place we visit almost every time we go to New Orleans)

  • Pulled Pork BBQ in Troy, Alabama where you can smell the smoke for about a mile down the road

  • Conecuh County sausage (The 8th wonder of the world in a grocery store near you)

We all have those foods that come to mind that bring back good memories. These were some of mine especially before I started cooking a lot. When football ended in the winter of 2014, I was living with my parents in Montgomery, Alabama while preparing for marriage with Grace later the next summer and interning at Trinity Presbyterian Church. Grace and I both went to Tulane University where we ate a lot of good food. We weren’t cooks; we were eaters. Then we got engaged in the Spring of 2015. Pre-marital counseling didn’t cover the topic of “Who is going to cook tonight’s dinner?” To be honest, we took it for granted at first but then my dad gave us a wedding gift that kept on giving. It wasn’t expected by when we came back from our honeymoon, we received a cookbook from my dad by Donald Link (owner and chef of Cochon and several other restaurants in New Orleans). The title of the book was very appealing when we read, “Real Cajun”. We gave it a try and after strict following of simple instructions out came a giant savory slab of Pork Roast. Please, no knife is needed for this. You would only insult the dish if you had to use anything other than a fork to tenderly pull off the chunks of pork that had simmered slowly in a dark roux with sauteed onions, fresh thyme, and rosemary. It was the type of dish that made me passionately utter, “Aww man! Come on now!” Grace now makes fun of me for doing this so much.

This was the start of realizing that cooking was not a chore but something to be cherished. Let’s be honest, there have been bad meals made (including messing up that same Pork Roast dish!) but there have been few activities in life like cooking. For Grace and I, it was fun to plan something for the weekend. Few things were more comforting than cooking Grits and Grillades from one of John Currence’s cookbooks for some friends when there was heavy snow outside while we were at Gordon-Conwell for a year.

Meals in Boston, Montgomery, and Ridgeland have been shared with many friends and strangers. There have been good ones and ones where someone still graciously compliments you even though you know it was a failure. Every time, God has graciously allowed us to even have food and friends and the opportunity for both of those to come together. Some of you have even dared coming into our home with two barking dogs in order to have a meal. These are good times and isn’t that why we, as a church body, have placed value on something such as Family Night Supper? It seems that I am probably on preaching to the choir on this topic.

This leads me to the next part. Jan Duran and I have had many talks about cookbooks recently whenever I go up to check the mailbox by her office. She has given me so many ideas and revealed lots of helpful resources. Just for the sake of sharing life with you, I thought it might be fun to give a list of some of the cookbooks that Grace and I have found enjoyable to use. Our standards have been the following:

  • Limited ingredients

  • Easy to follow instructions

  • Enough for leftovers (the only thing better than good chicken and rice soup is leftover chicken and rice soup)

  • Easy recipes for quick week night meals

  • Good recipes for weekend meals

We like to say that we are not good at cooking but we’re decent at following instructions. We’re also not trying to break the bank gathering the ingredients but working within a budget. For whatever it’s worth, here is a rough list of some of our favorite cookbooks that you might enjoy as well along with some comments:

  • Real Cajun by Donald Link

    • There are food stains splattered all over this book at home. That’s the sign of a good cookbook. Try the chicken and dumplings, dirty rice, meatloaf (you’ll never be satisfied with another), and especially the chicken and bacon hash (picture a crab cake texture but instead with leftover grilled bbq chicken, potatoes, jalapenos, and bacon. I mean, how can you say no to bacon?)

  • Down South by Donald Link

    • He has a great set of recipes here for big gatherings.

  • The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

    • She is a country cooking legend!!

  • Big Bad Breakfast by John Currence

    • The chef and restaurant owner in Oxford. The cinnamon rolls with sausage filling, shrimp and grits, and blueberry muffin tops will make you want to wake up early on Saturdays.

  • Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey by John Currence

    • Got to see his Grits and Grillades.

  • The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer

    • This is one of the classics that most of the other people on this list say influenced them. What better compliments could I give to it?

  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

    • This book is awesome in teaching you how each of these work! She has some great recipes but the best part is that she teaches you how to take your cooking to another level. She also has a Netflix documentary series too.

  • The Flavor Bible by Karen Page

    • This book is not a book with recipes but rather a massive list of ingredients showing what works well with each other. I was once in a restaurant in Orange Beach, AL where I spotted the chef studying this book before closing time and I immediately went to look it up. It has been very helpful to see what works well with garlic, onions, tarragon, bacon, and many other things.

  • My New Orleans: The Cookbook by John Besh

    • One of the best chefs in New Orleans. He knows how to cook for several kids which means plenty leftovers at times. My dad has worn out his copy of this book.

  • My Family Table by John Besh

    • Best snickerdoodle cookies out there. Not only that but he shows you have to make some of the classic dishes like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, slowed cooked beef chuck roast, pork and sausage jambalaya.

  • Baking by Dorie Greenspan

    • Try the World Peace cookies, the snowy brownie top cookies, and the classic chocolate chip. You’ll always keep these in your diet.

  • Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan

    • If you have instagram, give Dorie a follow. She often reposts people baking her cookies.

  • Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless

    • Seriously, this is THE book on mexican cooking. His enchiladas are the best I’ve had anywhere.

  • How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

    • There are 2,000 recipes in here and you would be surprised how many of these you have actually had or tried cooking already. So simple, clear, and tasty.

  • Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

    • Like Bayless, many people consider this THE book on italian cooking.

  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

    • My comments on this book and Julia Child would be underselling how good it really is. She’s a legend.

  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime by Ree Drummond

    • Awesome for midweek meals especially for families. Her lasagna, chili, wild rice pancakes (Oh, you’d be very surprised at how awesome this is for dinner), and buffalo chicken salad are great. Her salads have made me want to eat more salads as a main meal and not just an appetizer.

  • A Southern Gentlemen’s Cookbook by Matt Moore

    • His wife’s white chicken chili is a frequent visitor in the Van Hooser household.

  • Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

    • She is one of the best pastry chefs in the world. Netflix’s renowned documentary series “Chef’s Table” has featured her on one of their documentaries that is so much fun to watch. Two words: Funfetti Cake. Sprinkles doesn’t have to be only for the kids anymore. This cake is phenomenal.

What are some of your favorites? I’m sure I am forgetting some that are at home right now that I’ll be mad are not on here. Hopefully, some of these can be used for your own meals with friends and family. In an age with much hostility, it’d be beautiful for the church to show hospitality in the name of Jesus Christ.

New Research Survey Shows Why Youth Are Dropping Out Of The Church

Before you read the new research survey from LifeWay ministries, there are some foundational thoughts we must have going into the survey:

  1. Not every child who leaves the church in college is a Christian (this should be an obvious realization). Often, college is what shows who is and who isn’t a Christian. This means that all the children in our youth ministry are probably not Christians. This means that we should preach, teach, and counsel for conversion and not merely sanctification.

  2. We live in an age of “biblical illiteracy”. It is not surprising that some want to leave the church because what they have grown up with has not been immersed in the biblical teaching but more so in merely cultural issues or felt-need issues. Let us not forget that it is the Word which changes us (John 17:17).

  3. Some of the “reasons” actually can be used as a “cop out” (in other words, they are merely an excuse) to leave the church. Referring back to #1, non-Christians sometimes use these reasons at times to throw blame on others rather than outright saying they don’t believe. I say this out of my own experience from when I was an unbeliever in my early college years and from seeing former students in my years in youth ministry.

  4. The Church (notice I put a Big “C” for Church) has not done as well of a job integrating the youth ministry into the entire body and the youth ministry has definitely not done a good job at showing the importance of the church. We should absolutely point our students to campus ministries and certainly the campus ministers but we are failing if we do not show them the importance of the local church and submitting to the local pastors, elders, and deacons (which is often the youth directors’ faults).

  5. It is no surprise that children who grow up in “solid” biblical churches drop out of church or go to more “seeker-sensitive” churches because we often fail at applying the Bible to their lives. The Bible is first a foremost a book for real life. God is a God who moves towards mankind. Doctrine is not doctrine unless it is practiced. We should seek to bring our students into the depths of doctrine clearly, relevantly, engagingly yet while always showing how that doctrine changes the way you live and demands a change of life.

  6. We should be very grateful for surveys like these and for ministries like LifeWay who would put so much effort into collecting this data BUT we should not get over-concerned about statistics. They can be very helpful and informing about cultural trends but we need to be cautious about how much weight we put on these statistics (not questioning the integrity of any researchers but merely realizing that there is no perfect survey that can accurately take all people into account). Surveys at their best make us aware and urge a response but at their worst can overcome us with fear or pride. No matter how good a research team and survey is, they all have their limits.

  7. Surveys like these should bring us to pray for more than physical well-being for our children and families (often a weakness of today’s evangelicalism in a prosperous culture) but certainly for their spiritual well-being. When is the last time we have seen something like this and began earnestly imploring the Lord for revival? Do we lose hope or seek the Lord after reading something like this?

  8. Lastly, students leave the body of Christ because they don’t love Christ. We should decide to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified as the main tenor of our churches and families. Anything, any feeling, or anyone other than Jesus Christ will ultimately lead us away from Him and His Bride. People who love Jesus love His Bride even when she looks messy.

Without further delay, here are some of the statistics. For the full article, please see the link below:

The 66 percent who said they stopped attending church regularly as young adults cited a variety of reasons for leaving. The survey listed 55 and asked them to pick all that applied. On average, they chose seven or eight reasons, McConnell said. The reasons fell under four categories: 

Nearly all — 96 percent — cited life changes, including moving to college and work responsibilities that prevented them from attending. 

Seventy-three percent said church or pastor-related reasons led them to leave. Of those, 32 percent said church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical and 29 percent said they did not feel connected to others who attended. 

Seventy percent named religious, ethical or political beliefs for dropping out. Of those, 25 percent said they disagreed with the church's stance on political or social issues while 22 percent said they were only attending to please someone else. 

And, 63 percent said student and youth ministry reasons contributed to their decision not to go. Of those, 23 percent said they never connected with students in student ministry and 20 percent said the students seemed judgmental or hypocritical.

For the full survey, click here. For the article summary and commentary, click here.

Tips for Reading the Bible

Every Spring semester, our youth ministry puts on a reading challenge in which the entire group is divided up into teams where they compete against each other by seeing who can read the most. The winners come away with some sort of prize (and obviously immortal glory!). In years past, we have mixed it up with reading all kinds of books but this year we are focusing merely on reading the Bible. One of the categories of Christian experience that middle schoolers and high schoolers need to grow in is in their reading of the Bible (especially in a biblically illiterate age). One of the encouragements that I wanted to give our students were some tips for how to read the Bible. I thought that this might be helpful for even ages beyond the youth ministry. So, here are 23 tips for reading the Bible:

  1. Get you a hard copy Bible that you will make “your” Bible.

  2. Think about getting a “Journaling Bible” from Crossway in order to write down your reflections on the side.

  3. Download the “Read Scripture” app and follow its Bible reading plan. It’s free!

  4. Remember where each book of the Bible is in the entire story when you are reading it. (Ex: It is helpful to know that Daniel was written during Israel’s period in exile. Or, it is helpful to know that Esther is towards the very end of the Old Testament time period even though it’s not placed at the end of the Old Testament books.)

  5. Choose a book that your passionate about reading and start there.

  6. Read the introductory notes of the book before starting (if your Bible has those).

  7. Read all of the Bible in order to understand the books better.

  8. Ask these questions:

    1. What does this say about God?

    2. What does this say about us?

    3. What does this say about our need for Jesus?

    4. What does this about how we are to live?

  9. Read John Perritt’s booklet “Bible 101” to understand better how the Bible works.

  10. Don’t just think about what the Bible is saying but think about why God wants you to know this.

  11. Talk about what you read with someone else.

  12. Use helpful resources to go alongside your reading, such as:

    1. “God’s Word for You” series

    2. “Let’s Study” series

    3. Matthew Henry’s Commentary (easy to read!)

  13. Set aside time in the morning, afternoon, or evening that you protect and prioritize.

  14. Turn your phone over and the TV/computer off.

  15. Pray before you read and ask God to open your eyes to see what’s really there and to hear what He is saying.

  16. Pray afterward and ask God to sink this truth into your heart.

  17. If it is in the morning, grab your coffee to help you wake up.

  18. Set aside 15-20 minutes of undistracted focus.

  19. The more you read, the more it’ll make sense and the more you’ll want to read more.

  20. Use a Study Bible and read the notes at the bottom to help you understand what the text is saying. Try these Study Bibles:

    1. ESV Study Bible

    2. Reformation Study Bible

    3. Biblical Theology Study Bible

    4. Gospel Transformation Study Bible

  21. Read other good Christian books in order to understand the Bible better.

  22. Practice what you read.

  23. Don’t rush through your reading. Think about it.

What Duties Does The Congregation Have Towards Its Pastors?

The following is an excerpt from one of Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermons entitled “The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister”. At the very end, Edwards gives a very helpful application of what the congregation’s responsibilities and duties are towards a minister who seeks to fulfill his calling as the local pastor. When the pastor seeks to teach the truth and walk in the truth, he is worthy to be followed.

It would be very helpful for anyone in our church to read and think about Edwards’ sermon in order to get an accurate picture of the high calling that our pastors are called to. This section, in particular, is worth relaying to you via the blog. I can say from my brief witness of our church that there is such great warmth, respect, and love that you have for your church staff that I commend this reading not out of rebuke but as an encouragement to see the work of the Spirit in your lives and especially in the lives of your elders and deacons who set the tone for the church.

And as it is your duty, to pray that your minister may…become such a blessing to you, so you should do your part to make him so, by supporting him, and putting him under the best advantage with a mind free from worldly cares, and the pressure of outward wants and difficulties, [in order] to give him wholly to his work. And by all proper acts of respect, kindness, and assistance, to encourage his heart and strengthen his hands [rather than to live in such a way as to] obscure and extinguish the light that would shine among you and to smother and suppress the flame by casting dirt upon it… And particularly when your minister shows himself to be a burning light, by burning with a proper zeal against any wickedness that may be breaking out among his people, and manifests [this zeal by speaking out against it] in the preaching of the word or by a faithful exercise of the discipline of God’s house, [then take it] thankfully…submitting to him in it, as you ought, [in order] to not raise up another fire of your unhallowed passions, reflecting upon and reproaching him for his faithfulness. [Here is how] you will act very unbecoming a christian people, and show yourselves very ungrateful to your minister, and to Christ, who has bestowed upon you so faithful a minister [that if you fight against your minister] you will fight against Christ and your own souls. If Christ gives you a minister that is a burning and shining light, take heed that you do not hate the light, because your deeds are reproved by it; but love and rejoice in his light… Let your frequent [attitude and action] be to your minister for instruction in soul cases and under all spiritual difficulties; and be open to the light and willing to receive it and be obedient to it. And…walk as children of light, and follow your minister wherein he is a follower of Christ (as a burning and shining light). If you continue to do so, your path will be the path of the just, which shines more and more to the perfect day, and the end of your course shall be in those blissful regions of everlasting light above, where you shall shine forth with your minister, and both with Christ, as the sun in the kingdom of the heavenly Father.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2 (Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, UK 2009), p. 960

Meditations on the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42)

Some of the best advice I have ever gotten for preaching preparation has been from Dr. Elias Medeiros and Dr. Guy Waters at Reformed Theological Seminary here in Jackson. Both of them give the suggestion that the beginning and most important part of all preparation must be to meditate on the verses before jumping to any commentary, sermon, or other helps. Dr. Waters specifically has given us assignments that tell us to give five “insights” for each verse that we go through. This is more than just “Jesus tells Peter to do _____.” This is more so thinking more deeply about what the text means, what it tells us about God, us, our sin, our hope, and the person and work of Jesus. This is the format that these meditations take on. Hopefully, this can be a tool for your own devotions and also something, although greatly flawed, of a model on your own devotional and Bible study/preaching preparation practices. In order to prepare for the sermon preached last night, I tried to give 2-3 meditations per verse in bullet format.

v32a

  • Gethsemane is literally “the oil press”. Certainly, many olive trees were in this area. Even without adequate knowledge of how olive oil is made, the meaning of Gethsemane no doubt tells us that olives are “pressed” in order for the juices and oils to come forth. This would be the type of soul anguish Jesus would begin to feel as He would be the one who would be “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53).

    • How strange this must have felt in that just a day earlier, Jesus was speaking on the Mt. of Olives about how He would be coming with the clouds of heaven with great power and glory (Mark 13). The temptation for Him here would be to take that glory without a cross.

  • It is the first time that Gethsemane is mentioned in the gospel. The Mt. of Olives is mentioned many times prior to this but not Gethsemane. Surely, we can presume somewhat that the gospel writers wanted to keep Gethsemane, “the oil press”, for the opportune time. The Mt. of Olives is a reminder of a fruitful and pleasant place but Gethsemane is a reminder of temptation, darkness, and the cup.

  • Imagine the familiarity that Jesus felt here. Often He came here to pray to the Father. Often the Mt. of Olives was a vivid reminder of the eternal dwelling He had with the Father prior to His incarnation. What tribulation it must have been to Jesus that in the hour when He most wanted His intimacy with the Father to be known that He then felt the foreshadow of the wrath of God that was to come on the cross.

  • It is also worth remembering that Jesus had just instituted the Lord’s Supper here. Earlier, He had just held up the cup which symbolized His blood (14:12-21). What was going on in Jesus’ mind and heart as He held up the cup? As He held it up before His eyes and the disciples’ eyes, what was going on in His mind? Certainly, it must’ve felt like a haunting dream waiting to come true as He uttered the words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The cup that we would drink out of joy as a means of grace must first be a cup of wrath for Him on the cross. Gethsemane was the foretasting of this cup. Surely, as Jesus held up that cup, He must have had some inward anxieties and tremblings about that which was to come. It would have been like a prisoner sentenced to death by electric chair seeing a replica of it the day before going. It would have been like a man sentenced to death by guillotine shuddering as he saw someone slicing a vegetable the day before.

v32b

  • We should notice here that Jesus is enacting that of a High Priest in this moment. He comes the Great High Priest with the other future priests. He comes to meet with the Father through prayer, no doubt should be a reminder of the priestly duties, and He tells most of them to wait in the outer parts of Gethsemane. We will see in the next verse that Jesus tells the other three disciples to wait in the inner circle while Jesus alone goes before the Father to pray. The other three disciples are to be praying as He prays.

  • Prayer for Jesus was a private thing says RT France. Jesus did not pray in pomp and showmanship as the Pharisees did. Jesus prayed from the heart. It was an intimate moment for Jesus. No doubt, He did not object to public prayer but He certainly believed in private prayer and the necessity of it.

    • It is also worth noting too that the disciples heard just enough of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden to record the main portion of it. They were no doubt within listening range and yet it is as if they are only allowed to here the beginnings of the prayer before the sleepiness overtakes them. What else did Jesus utter in that prayer? Surely He said more than that during each of the hours that He prayed. We had the prayer of Jesus in John 17 graciously overheard and recorded for us. We know too that the disciples often prayed with Jesus and heard Him pray. They asked Jesus if they could be taught how to pray surely because they heard how He prayed. Yet, we are not giving access into this prayer. This was enough for us. Our sinful minds could not comprehend the battles that the Sinless One had with the temptation to take glory without the cross.

  • It is a good question to ask, “Why does Jesus pray?” Maybe it is the question that we must ask if we understand who He is. He does not pray to Himself but He prays to the Father. It is simply this, He is the dependent one. He is the Submissive Suffering Servant. He is the one that Isaiah prophesied of. This Jesus is the one who fulfilled all righteousness and did what Adam failed to do.

33-34a

  • This just needs to be mentioned that He took the other three with Him a little bit closer. This should remind us of the tabernacle and temple. Only the High Priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place. It could only be Jesus who could bring us into the presence of God.

  • This is also a reminder of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-11). There Jesus was showing His Divinity and here He is showing His humanity. There the disciples saw Jesus’ resurrection glory but here they would see His humiliation.

  • Jesus begins to feel greatly troubled, terrified, distressed. This word for  “greatly distressed” is used for seeing something remarkable that has suddenly come upon you. This is a shuddering fear. This is not too unlike a panic attack. If something it is more than that. For surely His suffering is beyond anything any man has ever felt. It is His response to something that is utterly overwhelming. Fear pulses through His body. His heart rate would no doubt have sped up. His mind flooded with thoughts and the temptation to run from the moment. “Just forget about it. Just go back to heaven. Take the glory without the cross. Take the crown without the thorns.” Satan is coming back to tempt Him at the opportune time. Jesus was said to come under extreme anguish, mental and spiritual turmoil. Jesus was so sorrowful that He could’ve died. Literally, “my heart is ready to break with grief.”

  • What a stunning scene. Here is the God of Glory in fear. Here is the one who never blinked in the face of evil and persecution nor flinched before His enemies and yet now here, in a familiar garden going before the One who is most familiar to Him, He is totally turned upside down. Yet, He is sinless, perfect, and obedient.

34b

  • He asks Peter, James, and John to remain there and watch. This watching certainly involved praying. Jesus had just told the disciples earlier, on the same Mt., to stay awake for the Lord’s return (Mark 13). How much harder would it be to stay awake for the Lord’s return if they could not stay awake amidst the Lord’s presence? Oh, how they would need more than physical strength to stay awake but they needed the Spirit of Christ to come and abide in them to enable them to stay awake.

  • Why would Jesus ask for this? What would they add to Him? Once again, I think we see more of Jesus’ desire for company. We see here His desire for close friends to intercede for Him. But, why would they need to watch if Jesus was determined to give Himself over to the Pharisees and to Judas? It is most difficult to stay alert and to watch in the middle of the night. It had been a busy week for them and it was getting late. Jesus asks His closest friends to stay alert and to be like the watchmen in the night. Certainly, their actions were a great contrast to what Jesus was about to do. The disciples, especially the three who said that they would suffer alongside of Jesus (Mark 14:29-31), fail to do that which He does. It is only Jesus who is capable of doing the work of the High Priest. What a moment here where we see the ultimate failure of all other priests before Jesus! There is no one who fears God. There is no one who does good. No not one. All have sinned and turned aside (Romans 3:10-18).

35

  • Here goes our Great High Priest before the presence of the Father. Here goes the One who will intercede for us by giving Himself up for us. Here goes the Lamb who is also the Priest. Here goes the Temple embodied who is also the sacrifice. Here goes Jesus by Himself for it must be only Him who goes.

  • It is interesting that Jesus here falls to the ground. He does not graciously kneel before His Father. There is a weight upon His shoulders. It is as the one who tries to lift too much weight who then collapses underneath. It is a picture of what happened when He would carry the physical cross on the way to Golgotha. It is also interesting to note that Jesus here falls on the ground in distress of the cup and in just a moment the soldiers would fall to the ground as He would utter, “I am He.”

  • Here we see Jesus praying. Here is the one who is like the concubine in Judges 19 that falls before the door for help. She begs for help after being abused all night in the square by worthless men. Here, Jesus is awaiting being abused by worthless men. Here, Jesus is awaiting an even greater wrath--the wrath that was poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah and yet even more.

  • Jesus prays that the hour might pass from Him. This hour is the hour of the cup. It is the hour of the crushing the serpent but it is also the hour of the serpent striking His heel (as prophesied in Gen 3:15). Jesus sees here the cross in vivid colors. The Spirit gives Him a vision of the weight of the cross. And what happened on the cross? The wrath of God is poured out on Him. The wrath of God is that righteous and just separation of sinful man from the all-glorious God for eternity. It is a just repayment of what they desire and deserve. Jesus, who only knew eternal communion and infinite pleasure at the Father’s side for eternity is here tasting what He has never tasted before. He is feeling the wrath from His Father. He is feeling the enmity and separation. Yet, there is no one but Jesus who has such a desire to be with His Father and to worship His Father. He longs to give honor and glory to His Father and yet He gets a foreshadow of the wrath to come instead. Imagine this, what father among you, you who are evil, will give him a serpent when he asked for a loaf of bread (Luke 11:11-13)? Will not your Heavenly Father give you much more? The Heavenly Father gives much more to us than our best earthly fathers and we are sinful! Why then does the Heavenly Father here give His perfect Son a serpent (The Serpent!) rather than a loaf of manna from heaven? There is no injustice in the Father here and no rebellion in the Son. This is why the Father sent the Son and this is why the Son obeyed the Father. The mission, should He accept it, was to crush the serpent in order to redeem His elect. What love!

36

  • Jesus is never said to have uttered “Abba” until here. Surely, He did at earlier points in His life but not in the recordings of Mark. This is nowhere else in the gospels but only in the writings of Paul in Romans and Galatians. “Abba” is a very familiar term used only for a very familiar and intimate relationship with a father. It is an informal, yet not irreverent (as is often communicated in the Church today it seems), term that only a child would have the privilege of using. This is almost the picture of an orphaned child walking around a city market amongst all the men searching frantically for his daddy. In a way, there is no “Abba” here. It is only the Judge of sinful men. Jesus cries a familiar title to a familiar person in a familiar place and yet is met with only a foreshadowing of what it means to be disowned by God and abandoned by Him on the cross. Here is Jesus taking on Himself the punishment that was due to the children of Israel who abandoned God. Here is the deportation of Israel to Babylon beginning to happen to the Son. He is about to be thrust into the hands of unclean Gentiles rather than taken up into the hands of a loving Father. The gore must happen before the glory. The cross must happen before the crown. The blood must be spilt before the body is risen from the dead.

  • All things are indeed possible with the Father but not all things are permissible. It is possible surely for Jesus to remove the cup from Himself, for the Spirit to remove it from Him, and for the Father to remove it from Him but this was the eternal plan of God. The Son voluntarily decided and was determined to take the cup even amidst the height of this temptation. Now, some say that He asked for the cup to be delayed here until the cross for remember He told His disciples that He was sorrowful “unto death”. Maybe Jesus was worried that His frame would not enable Him to make it to the cross and that He would die in the Garden.

  • This is what the culmination of world history has boiled down to. This is exactly where God has sovereignly brought all things. This is the moment of all moments and all three persons of the Trinity have agreed passionately upon this plan as a perfect union. Yet, here is the Sinless One feeling the weight upon His humanity to take the cup.

  • Jesus does not ask the Father to take away the cup. He uses an imperative. Peter obviously hears Jesus say not only “if it is possible please take it away” but he also hears Jesus pleading with the Father in the imperative tone. What anguish Jesus must feel here! He is praying according to the attributes of God. Jesus understands that He must be the One to take away the wrath of God. He knew from reading the Scriptures that He was the Messiah and that He has come to drink the cup and to take away the sins of the world. So, what is this statement here that Jesus makes? Here is the height of all temptation. Here is the apex of every strategy of Satan culminating here in the face of Jesus asking Him to take the glory without the cross. The temptation is to be the King without being the Suffering Servant. Here, in the height of this temptation, is Jesus fulfilling all righteousness. This prayer is not a weak point of Jesus’ obedience but rather is exactly what He must have gone through in order to give us His perfect righteousness. What wonder this is!

  • Derek Thomas has us imagine the utter silence of all creation after Jesus utters this sentence: Remove this cup…All eyes turn to the Father. What would He do? Would He say, “Come Home Son! These wretched vile sinners aren’t worth it. They are only our enemies (Rom 5:6-11). They add nothing to our glory! Retreat from the moment. Let my just wrath come upon them for rejecting me.” God would remain God and gloriously God if He did so. He would still retain His infinite beauty and goodness if He called His Son away from the moment but this is not an arbitrary decision that the Triune God came up with in the moment but rather this was a covenant made. God bound Himself by His Word that He would redeem worthless men and women. The moment could not be denied. It must be fulfilled. What did all of heaven do during the pause between this sentence and the next? Had Satan won? Had God relented? Had Jesus given up? Did God really love us enough to die for us?

  • Yet…. Oh, what a wonderful word! How all of heaven must have gained so much adrenaline and the hearing of that word. “Yet”! Amidst all the temptation Jesus was facing to walk away from the wrath that He did not deserve… “yet”. What faith He had in His Father even amidst the Father’s silence. What gracious courage the Spirit gave Him to pursue the eternal plan of salvation. This is the epitome of faith. Against all logic, all feelings, all temptations, all persecutions, all sufferings, all evil assaults, Jesus here gives His life into the hands of His Father out of love for us. Love moves Him. Love for His Father and love for us moves Him. It’s “go time” now. It’s time to move from the locker room and to the playing field. Pre-game warm ups are over and the moment has indeed come. Here is the Lamb led to the slaughter now approaching the cross like a Lion. His soul is distressed and troubled beyond we can ever imagine yet here is faith. Here, we see His body come up off the ground. Here, we see the drops of blood that He sweat be wiped from His face. Here, we see Jesus glorifying His Father. What a Savior!

37

  • What a disheartening feeling this must have been. How much this added to the distress. He had gotten some courage back to face the cup and then it seems to go away from Him as He sees His disciples sleeping for “again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.” These were His closest friends. These were the ones who said that they would never leave Him nor forsake Him. These were the three who said they would suffer alongside Him yet the two who surrounded Him on the cross were thieves not disciples. Jesus had asked them to work and stay alert but they had decided to rest. They had acted like the first Adam in the garden when Jesus was acting the way the first Adam should’ve acted in the garden.

  • Notice that Jesus looks to Peter and calls him Simon. Why? It is because this sleeping man is not acting like a sturdy rock but more like his old self. Jesus had given Peter his new name which meant rock and yet here he is looking more like a sloth. It is also significant because here is Peter acting more like his old sinful self than the one who mightily confesses that Jesus is the Christ.

  • For one hour they could not watch. This means that Jesus prayed for at least one hour. One hour is not a long time to watch but it certainly can be when it is late at night. The disciples couldn’t endure one hour and yet Jesus was about to suffer for the next 10-20 hours. Once again, Jesus is the only one who can perform the atonement for us. He alone is the substitute. He alone is the submissive one to the Father.

38

  • What is the temptation that they would enter into? Would it be to betray Him? Certainly this has got to be the closest to it. The temptation that they were facing might have been very similar to the temptation that He was facing--take the glory and not the suffering. This after all is what they wanted. They had asked Jesus to sit at His right hand in heaven (Mark 10:35-45). They had desired Jesus to take the kingdom in an earthly way. They wanted glory but not the suffering. Surely, this temptation had it’s similar root with them as well. Again we see that all others will fail. Only Jesus can withstand the devil’s temptations.

  • Surely, Jesus knew first hand about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak. He was experiencing it in the moment. His sinless soul greatly desired to glorify the Father in redeeming His people and yet the human flesh felt all of the temptation to flee from the wrath of God to come.

39

  • Again, Jesus went to the Father no doubt wrestling again as Jacob had wrestled with the Angel of the LORD in Genesis. Again He goes and asks about the cup. Again He pleads according to who God is. Again He submits and says, “Yet.” Again, He sets His face towards Jerusalem and to Golgotha.

40

  • Again Jesus found His best friends failing as disciples, failing as friends, failing as worshipers of God. Again, His soul is no doubt filled with anguish. There is no one to help Him. It must be Him alone. This is not like the movies where there is always another person who is eager to stand by someone’s side or to go instead of someone else. No one else wants this job. No one else wants this position. There is only One who is capable of doing this. There is only One who can take in an eternity’s worth of wrath in a matter of hours. There is only One who can reconcile God and man. There is only One who can love sinful man like this.

  • Oh, how sin leaves us in a position where we are unable to give an excuse to what we have done. How our own sin leaves us in a position unanswerable to God! All those who do not trust in Jesus will not be speaking back to Jesus on that Great Day. No one will have an answer back to Him. All will be silent as He opens the books. All will be silenced in hell. Jesus is the only one who answers for us in our place before the Father if we trust in Him.

41

  • Again, the third time He found them sleeping but this time it was enough. The hour had indeed come. No matter how much we try to delay the time, it inevitably comes our way. The moment is so fixed before His eyes. There is nothing but a Cross ahead for our Lord. It is time to wake up the disciples for the last time. It is time to give Himself over to His enemies. The hour would not be passing away. It was there in that moment. This is the moment why He came. This is why that precious baby, the gift to the virgin and the gift to the world, came. He came to die. He came to give His life up for us. He came to extinguish the wrath of God upon Himself rather than to let His loved ones die. It is for these sleepy ones that He would die. Ironically, it is for these sleepy ones that the Lord of the Sabbath would experience eternal unrest so that they might enter into into His eternal rest.

  • The Son of Man has gone willingly but His will was that He be betrayed by yet another close friend. He had chosen Judas to be His friend and disciple and yet Judas here is a picture of all of us. God chose to create us. He chose to have fellowship with us and every day we rejected such fellowship. Every day we sold the infinitely worthy one for the price of a slave. Here goes Jesus into the hands of sinners and of the unclean ones.

42

  • A moment ago, Jesus fell before the Father but now it is time to rise and go to the cross. They cannot stay in the Garden forever. They must be thrust out from the Garden in order to enter into the New Garden. He came not to be served but to serve.

The Joy of the Incarnation - What One Great Hymn Teaches Us

This past Sunday evening I had an opportunity to comment upon one of the hymns we sang after the Cherub Choir pageant, Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart This Night Rejoices.” This hymn is not as familiar as some, yet its words richly repay our contemplation and meditation. Gerhardt begins by declaring his joy in the birth of Jesus:

All my heart this night rejoices
as I hear far and near
sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
till the air ev’rywhere
now with joy is ringing.

In the next six stanzas, Gerhardt give us several reasons why the incarnation of our Savior brings us such great joy.

1 – Because the incarnation was an act of war. Gerhardt sings in the second stanza,

Forth today the Conqu’ror goeth,
who the foe, sin and woe,
death and hell o’erthroweth.

 We probably don’t often think about the incarnation in this way (Herod certainly did when he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem two and under; see Matthew 2:16-17). Yet we see the connection between the incarnation of the Word of God and His conflict with His and our enemies all the way back in Genesis 3:15, and even more particularly in Hebrews 2:14-15 – “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Jesus became a man to deal the deathblow to Satan, sin, the woe and misery of sin, death itself, and the pains of hell forever.

2 – Because the incarnation is permanent. The second stanza continues,

God is man, man to deliver;
His death Son now is one
with our race forever.

Jesus’ incarnate state did not cease with His death, or His ascension to glory. He remains a man, and the dust of earth sits upon the throne of glory. He knows intimately what it is to be human still, and so can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. When the eternal Son of God took on human nature, He was affirming the goodness of our humanity, and He was assuring us that we too will live an embodied existence for all eternity. Though the intermediate state is disembodied, our souls being with Jesus while our bodies rest in the grave till the resurrection, yet for eternity we will walk on a new earth with our Savior.

3 – Because the incarnation was for the purpose of substitution. The third and fourth stanzas are rich indeed:

Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
who, to save, freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, he hath given
His own Son, from the throne
of His might in heaven.

He becomes the Lamb who taketh
sin away, and for aye [forever]
full atonement maketh.
For our life his own he tenders;
and our race, by his grace,
meet for glory renders.

We must never separate the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus. He was born in order that He might die. He became a man not only to be like us and with us, but also to die for us, as our substitute. The incarnation is for the purpose of atoning for the sins of His people. The wages of sin is death, but God cannot die. So the only way for God to reconcile sinners to Himself was to become us them in our humanity, so that He might obey and suffer in our nature. Because Jesus has died, the beautiful truth in stanza three is ours: we have no need to fear the displeasure or anger or wrath of God, for He has poured it all out on His beloved Son in our place. He gave His greatest Treasure for us, to make us wretches His treasured possession.

4 – The incarnation meets our deepest sadness. The fifth and sixth stanza ring out,

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
soft and sweet, doth entreat,
“Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you,
you are freed; all you need
I will surely give you.”

Come, then, banish all your sadness,
one and all, great and small;
come with songs of gladness.
Love him who with love is glowing;
hail the star, near and far
light and joy bestowing.

Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He carried our griefs and sorrows, so that we might be freed ultimately from them forever. Because Jesus was born, we have hope, joy, gladness, and light. In this world we have sorrow, for Jesus has not returned. But by His incarnation, and all that flowed from it in His ministry on earth and in heaven, our sorrows are overwhelmed by the joy He gives us. We are called to banish our sadness from our hearts, for He has freed us from the penalty and power of sin, which cause our deepest sorrow, and promises to give us all we need for life and godliness – even the gift of gladness in times of distress.

5 – The incarnation gives us hope beyond the grave. Gerhardt closes his song with these words:

Dearest Lord, thee will I cherish.
Though my breath fail in death,
yet I shall not perish,
but with thee abide forever
there on high, in that joy
which can vanish never.

As those who trust in Christ Jesus the incarnate Word of God, we have absolute confidence that when we die, we will be with Him forever. And beyond that, as we have already mentioned above, we too will have a resurrected body on the last day. “He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body or His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21). And so with this confidence we rejoice with exceedingly great joy, now and forevermore.

Was John Chau A "Fool For Christ's Sake" or Merely A Fool?

If you have been watching the news, you have noticed the recent death of the Christian missionary John Chau. There has been much said about Chau and his mission, motives, and preparation. There have been several people who have written about him and my thoughts would do nothing to turn the tide nor add much to the discussion. What is unfortunate, in my opinion, is the amount of articles and responses that have come out so quickly before we have even looked into the entire story. Whether we would be justified in our opinions or not, our social media and immediacy age has warped how we critically think about events in the world. How often we develop our own theories and opinions based on hearing only a fraction of the story and background which can be blown out of context. There has even been one article that I have read recently from a very solid evangelical writer and ministry who wrote more scathingly about Chau and his mission. If one reads the article, you would come away thinking that we should never take any risks whatsoever in missions and that we should only do so if it makes total logical and logistical sense to us. I came away thinking, “This author doesn’t want me to leave the 99 sheep to go and find the 1.”

Yes, there are many things that need to be thought about and learned from this situation. Jesus Himself tells us to count the cost for following Him and certainly this should be our thoughts for the mission field as well. There is a grand difference between being a missionary for your own glory and truly desiring to serve Christ and His kingdom. Nevertheless, who are we to discern Chau’s motives from afar (from very far) especially when we have very little information nor have talked to people who knew him and helped him prepare. We need to see also the many positive lessons to be learned. If we are honest, some of our reactions against Chau might be because of our idolatry of comfort and only wanting Jesus to be apart of our resume and reputation rather than our Sovereign Lord and Infinitely Glorious King. What both “sides” (this article is certainly another example of our polarizing and side-taking culture that we have in America and in American evangelicalism) need is to learn from Chau. Through all this, let’s remember, this is a man who died. From all accounts of Chau’s walk with Christ, this is a man who we will delight to be with in heaven to come. This is not a lab rat for our Christian culture.

That brings in Ed Stetzer’s article at the Washington Post. Stetzer has written the best article by far, that I have come across in my very limited research, that gives us careful considerations and also challenges us. You might have your own reactions to the mission and death of Chau but I would encourage you to read Stetzer’s article before coming to your own conclusion. And when you do, and when you pass it on to others, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it mean to be a wise “fool for Christ’s sake”?

  • How much do I idolize my comfort?

  • Do I seek to evangelize only on mission trips or am I doing so in my everyday life?

  • Was this a tragedy?

  • How has my own culture shaped my view of missions?

  • How has my own culture shaped my view of what it means to be a Christian?

  • How do we take this and use it to teach our children and grandchildren about missions (whether to learn from mistakes or to learn from good example or both)?

  • Are we remembering that this is a man (and a Christian on top of that!) that has died and not merely a missionary lab rat for us to talk about?

  • Do we think of heaven or are we consumed with this life?

  • How does this prepare us to live and raise children in our own culture that is beginning to persecute Christianity more and more?

  • What can I learn from the rest of Christian history and other biographies that might help me grow in wisdom and passion for missions?

The following is an excerpt from Stetzer’s article and the part that I think we need to hear most. For the full article, click here. Stetzer will challenge both “sides” and leave us thinking more humbly about John Chau.

There are certainly differences between [Jim] Elliot and Chau, but what has really changed is our culture. People are much more negative about missions, partly because of mistakes that missionaries have made, such as colonialism, a lack of cultural awareness and more. But, for many critics, it is the core goal of conversion itself they object to.

I grieve for John Chau and his family. He made his choices because he loved the North Sentinelese. You might see it as a waste. You might point out his mistakes, even after learning that he had worked hard to prepare for his mission.

But, as I write this, less than 100 feet away is a letter Jim Elliot wrote. As a Wheaton College graduate, he has a special place here. As Elliot wrote (and Chau experienced), “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Here at Elliot’s alma mater, we still believe and train missionaries. To some, that makes us the fools. But we pray our students will engage in their culture and others well and in appropriate ways, with care for the health and well-being of all, and with others in partnership.

If that makes us fools, we will be “fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10).

Youth Ministry Sermons

Since this past Spring, we have been recording our sermons from the Wednesday Night Large Group sessions in our youth ministry. The purpose of recording them is for the benefit of the church for those who miss, to listen to again, or for those who would like to pass them on to a friend or family. Currently, we have our entire sermon series on Judges, Mark, Jonah, and The Gospel & Sexuality. This coming Spring, we will be preaching through the book of Exodus and in the summer we will be preaching various sermons on Prayer. Lord willing, we will begin our series on Romans in Fall 2019. There are other sermons from chapels, FCAs, and youth retreats as well. To access the sermons, visit the "Resources” tab and then click on “Other Audio Messages” or you can just click here.

Where Do You Find Yourself on this Idolatry Chart?

Stephen Speaks, the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, recently shared with me a chart he developed based on material from Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Idolatry Chart from Stephen Speaks.jpg

On the left hand side four broad categories of idols are listed: comfort, approval, control, and power. These idols are at the root of our sinful choices, feelings, and words. Along the top six categories unpack the idols in their practical outworking in our lives.

These idols so often go unrecognized in our lives because they masquerade as good qualities in our hearts and lives. Someone with an idol of comfort can often present themselves as a laidback, easygoing person. Likewise, someone with an idol of control can come across as very competent. In each case, the idolatry tends to be hidden by the genuine good character trait(s) that we can possess when enslaved by the idol.

The next column shows the price we are willing to pay to serve our false god. Those worshipping power are willing to bear enormous burdens and responsibilities to get their lust fulfilled. Those who long for approval will tend to sacrifice independence if only they are accepted by others.

The third column is the inverse of the second - what is it that we most fear when we are ruled by these idols? What do we not want to happen? This column can be most helpful in identifying which idol(s) has captured your heart.

The fourth and fifth columns speak to how our idolatries affect us and other people. What are the emotional manifestations that we will struggle with, and how will others be impacted by our functional idolatry? The person living for control will typically be filled with anxiety, and will make others feel condemned. The person living for the approval of man will be filled with fear and cowardice, and will make others feel smothered. In neither case will we actually get what we want, either in relation to ourselves or others.

The final column of the chart depicts the gospel reality that each idol counterfeits. Our idols promise us what only can be found through faith in Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Recognizing this truth day by day, moment by moment, moves us from idolatry to repentance and trust in God’s mercy.

Spend time meditating on your own life in relation to this chart, and pray that the Lord would expose and root up the idols of your heart.

20 Quotes on Corporate Prayer

The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally posted by The Gospel Coalition featuring 20 quotes from John Onwuchekwa's new book Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church (Crossway, 2018). The reason why I wanted to repost this is not merely to recommend what seems to be a resource that would be worth our time but also to inspire us with these quotes. As you read these, you might be struck with many thoughts about your prayer life as an individual and own prayer life as a corporate body. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a seminary class on Ecclesiology. The professor was pointing out to us some of the earliest mentions of the Church in the Bible. He took us Genesis 4:26 where it says, "At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD." He then said something like this (which I am paraphrasing to the best of my ability), "What makes the Church the Church? It is a corporate body of people who pray or call out to God. When we withhold prayer from God we withhold worship from God." Essentially, what he was saying is what Onwuchekwa will expound on in a greater form  in his book. So as we read these quotes, here are some of my own questions for us to reflect on:

  1. Do we pray (not do we just say our prayers)?

  2. What does it look like to have a life of prayer with our family and church family?

  3. If I did not pray for a week, would anything change about me?

  4. If we as Pear Orchard did not pray for a month, would there be any difference?

  5. Do we pray only or mainly for physical needs or do we pray for the ability to live the Christian life, conversion of unbelievers, protection against temptation, deliverance from sin, or anything that involves the spiritual aspect of life?

Here are 20 quotes from John Onwuchekwa:

“Of all the books that have been written on prayer, this one has a very specific purpose: examining how prayer shapes the life of the church. So much has been written about prayer as an individual discipline. Not much has been written about prayer as a necessary and communal activity that shapes local churches, either by its presence or absence (though Megan Hill’s Praying Together is helpful [Crossway, 2016]).” (15)

“It’s so much easier to read about prayer than to actually pray.” (16)

“Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.” (23)

“Prayer was never meant to be a merely personal exercise with personal benefits, but a discipline that reminds us how we’re personally responsible for others. This means that every time we pray, we should actively reject an individualistic mindset. We’re not just individuals in relationship with God, but we are part of a community of people who have the same access to God. Prayer is a collective exercise.” (41)

“This prayer for God’s presence to be seen and enjoyed is quite startling to a world that prefers for God to be an absentee Father that just sends a big child-support check each month. Because we’re sinful, we would prefer God to give us our demands while demanding nothing in return. We love to set the agenda. But Jesus teaches us here that God’s presence precedes his provision. His agenda is far better than ours.” (48–49)

“The Lord’s Prayer is supernatural. Sure, anyone can parrot the words, but only those who have been internally changed truly desire what it asks for. The words are not a magical incantation. Saying them out loud isn’t the goal. Slave owners probably recited the Declaration of Independence’s ‘All men are created equal’ hundreds of times. Parroting words does no good. Jesus isn’t creating parrots, but pray-ers.” (51)

“The local church is the best way to define the ‘us’ in our prayers. . . . The Christian in covenant with a local church is never alone. As long as the church endures, which will be for all eternity, the Christian is always part of an ‘us.’ The local church takes the theory of Christianity and makes it tangible—in love, deed, and especially in prayer.” (62)

“Jesus stared death square in the face, knowing his fate was inescapable. How did he face it? On his knees in prayer.” (70)

“While prayer may start with believing God can do the impossible, peace is never found there. If we only imagine what God can do and then judge his goodness by how often he does the impossible for us, we’ll never find true peace. His ability should cause our hearts to soar and ask for the impossible. But his sovereignty and wisdom should keep us grounded. They remind us that although God can do the impossible, he doesn’t have to—and we can trust him regardless. Peace is found here and only here. Any other arrangement ends only in discontentment, especially if we hold God hostage to an outcome he’s never promised. We’ll always lack peace when we judge God’s love for us by how many of our prayers are answered with a ‘yes.’ False hope is the most fertile soil for a crop of discontentment.” (71–72)

“The story of Gethsemane is as much about the power of prayer as it is about the inevitable failure that comes from prayerlessness. . . . Jesus’s faithfulness to do God’s task is directly tied to his prayer. The disciples’ faithlessness is directly tied to their prayerlessness.” (75)

“You can’t shout about God’s forgiveness if you’re stingy with your own.” (83)

“God wants a deep relationship with his people. And the deeper the relationship, the more varied the communication. We explore the wonder of who God is during our prayer of adoration. We embrace the mercy he provides during our prayer of confession. We reflect on all he’s done for us during our prayer of thanksgiving. We lean on him and feel his strength during our prayer of supplication. By including these prayers in our Sunday service, we display the width and depth of our relationship with God.” (88)

“A church that practices prayer is more than a church that learns; it’s also a church that leans. . . . We learn dependence by leaning on God together.” (92)

“Prayer is mentioned no less than twenty-one times in Acts. Furthermore, these prayers are inherently corporate. Whenever prayer is mentioned, it overwhelmingly involves others.” (95)

“[A prayer meeting] is different from praying during corporate worship, but it’s just as necessary. Prayer during corporate worship is the potatoes to the steak of the preached Word. In the prayer meeting, the roles are reversed. Now our prayer with one another becomes the main dish. We care for each other best as we lean on God together.” (96)

“The prayer meeting isn’t meant to be a theme park. It’s more like a storage facility, and we’re all cars without trunks. We were never meant to store up our concerns within ourselves (see Ps. 13:2). We were meant to offload those things to God. The prayer meeting isn’t a place of attraction, but a place of necessity. It’s a place where people come with burdens and leave without them because they’ve been placed in God’s hands. Here, we come together to lean on God with each other, for the sake of each other. Where’s that space for your church?” (96–97)

“The prayer list—not the Sunday service elements, not the preaching style, not even the ethnic makeup of the leadership of the church—is often where the battle for diversity is won or lost. What makes the prayer list is often a reflection of who’s praying and whose problems are seen as real, relevant, and important. A friend of mine was a part of a church that refused to pray for anything related to Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Gardner, Laquawn McDonald, or any other African American who was killed at the hands of law enforcement, because those issues were ‘too politicized’ and would cause division in their church. This frustrated her. She didn’t want her church to march on Washington or hang a Black Lives Matter flag from the steeple. She simply wanted them to pray corporately on these matters because she knew they were deeply significant to many of the minorities in the church. . . . The battle for diversity is still won or lost here today. Diversity is more about priorities than programs. And a church prays for what it prioritizes. Your prayer lists essentially serve as price tags on current events and church concerns—assigning value or diminishing it. Therefore, don’t populate the prayer list in isolation. Populate the list with the concerns of all the flock. The honorable strides toward diversity are maximized when we pray together to our Father who has no favorite children (see Acts 10:34).” (101–02)

“As we pray for salvations, we realize that God’s sovereignty diminishes only our anxiety and apathy, not our activity.” (113)

“When it comes to singing, everybody wants a composed song. But when it comes to prayer, many insist on improvisation. Preparing prayers beforehand isn’t the enemy of authenticity. It’s an ally of clarity and an expression of love, not just for God but for others. Writing prayers beforehand and offering them up to God in the presence of his people isn’t any less authentic than writing a letter to your wife and giving it to her the next day. The words of the letter are heartfelt. She might even be more appreciative that you took the time to clarify your thoughts and put them down on paper. Preparation is a helpful way to communicate your heart clearly.” (123–24)

“The power of our prayers isn’t found in the number of people praying, but the willingness of the One to whom we’re praying.” (126)

For the full article, click here.

 

John Donne's Holy Sonnets Are A Rich Feast for the Soul

Poetry probably isn’t the first thing we rush to read every morning, and yet we all know the power of a poem. What is a song, but a type of poem set to music? And which of us has not been impacted deeply by the lyrics to some song?

If you’ve never read any of John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” you’ve missed out on a rare source of spiritual nourishment and soul-formation. Here are three that set forth Christian truth in such a memorable and vivid way - make sure to read them slowly (even out loud), and more than once, to taste the full sweetness of Donne’s imagery and word choice.

Wilt thou love God as he thee?

Wilt thou love God as he thee? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne'er begun—
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath's endless rest.
And as a robbed man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stolen, to unbind.
'Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more. 

Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 

Batter my heart

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you 
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; 
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend 
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. 
I, like an usurped town, to another due, 
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end; 
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, 
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. 
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, 
But am betrothed unto your enemy; 
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, 
Take me to you, imprison me, for I, 
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, 
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 

Why Do Youth Stay In Church When They Go To College?

Former Youth Minister Jon Nielson writes an article for The Gospel Coalition about why some of his students stayed in the church when they went to college and why some of them didn’t. I couldn’t agree more with him on this. To read the full article, click here. Here is an excerpt:

“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I'm a high school pastor, but for once, they weren't talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church's youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn't want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers' ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn't strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about churchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries? It's hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.

Article: "Technologists...are increasingly wary about exposing their kids to screen time"

I am no technology expert nor am I a cultural expert but merely a mailman delivering documents from the experts. Nevertheless, this is an article, and a topic, that we need to heed. We should never do something just because the masses are doing it as well. How would you react if I suggested the following:

Students should not have a phone until they can drive. OR Students should not have a smartphone until college.

We believe in Christian freedom but can our resolve for Christian freedom with technology actually enslave us? I wonder how many of us, even myself, read the comments of this article and shrink back from it. Here is an excerpt:

Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video.

Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: "Hashtag 'products we didn't buy'." Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg's philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: "I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children." Ms Chavarria did not let her children have cellphones until high school, and even now bans phone use in the car and severely limits it at home.

She said she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins. Her daughter did not get a phone until she started ninth grade.

"Other parents are like, 'Aren't you worried you don't know where your kids are when you can't find them?'," Ms Chavarria said. "And I'm like, 'No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day'." For longtime tech leaders, watching how the tools they built affect their children has felt like a reckoning on their life and work.

For the full article, click here. For a previous post on technology by Caleb Cangelosi, click here.