Wilson Van Hooser

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

The Gospel and Sports (RYM Youth Leader Podcast)

Last week, I was able to record a series of podcasts with John Perritt on the issue of sports and youth culture. We discussed my testimony in the sports world, the good aspects and blessings of sports, the bad aspects of sports, how the prosperity gospel has affected the sports world, and finally about some tips for parents who have children who play sports. Each podcast is around 15 minutes on average that is a good resource to listen to in the car. To listen to the podcasts, download the “Podcast” app from the App Store on your iPhone, search “The Local Youth Worker Podcast”, and look for the podcast label that has the RYM logo on it. There are five episodes, one for each day of the week, and they are episodes 231-235. If you prefer to listen to them online, click here to listen to them.

Quote of the Day

This quote from Francis Grimke (1850-1937) comes from Caleb Cangelosi’s compilation of Grimke’s “Meditations On Preaching”. This is not necessarily about preaching but rather it is a quote that I think strikes at the heart of our culture today.

The man to be respected and held in high estimation is not the one whose home is expensively furnished but the one whose soul is arrayed in the beautiful garments of righteousness, however meager his material resources may be. It is the man of upright character, of sterling worth, that is to be respected and honored.

What Is Missing In Much Of The Church Today?

The fruit of the Spirit is not love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. That’s right. This is not what the fruit of the Spirit is. There is something missing in this list. Did you catch it? It is often one of the most overlooked character qualities that we miss today in America and in the Church. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Gentleness is not something we typically gravitate towards in the American Church today. We often think that a church needs to be strong, loud, relevant, loving, wise, but not gentle.

Dane Ortlund has written a great piece on this theme of gentleness. Ortlund sees the undervaluing of gentleness, especially in men, as he writes, “As we picture what it means to man up and be a leader in the home and in the church, gentleness isn’t, for many of us, a defining element of that picture.” When we think of raising our boys into real men in an age that has redefined what manhood is, do we emphasize gentleness? Here is a larger excerpt from Ortlund’s article:

The way forward isn’t by choosing gentleness over against manliness, but by rightly defining manliness according to Jesus Christ. After all, if anyone was ever a man, a true man, he is. And while he could drive money changers from the temple, he also delighted to gather up into his arms the little children whom his disciples tried to send away (Matt. 19:13–15). He dealt gently with outsiders. He wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35). He welcomed healthy, manly physical affection with his dear disciples. The apostle John, for example, was (to translate the text literally) “reclining . . . at Jesus’s bosom” (John 13:23—the very relationship said to exist between Jesus and the Father earlier in John 1:18).

The supreme display of Jesus’s manhood, however, was in his sacrificial laying down of his life on behalf of his bride, the church. When the apostle Paul defines what it means to be a husband, he can speak simultaneously of the husband’s headship and also the husband’s sacrificial, Christlike laying down of his life on behalf of his bride (Eph. 5:25–33). Such sacrifice isn’t unmanly: it’s the supreme display of masculinity.

Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving “leader.” Only a true man can be gentle.

This article is definitely worth a read. For the link, click here.

How Much Are Teens Bullied On Social Media?

There is no doubt that students are facing a world of trials in today’s world but one of the more common trials is the presence of bullying on social media. I have learned more and more about the presence of bullying on social media the more I have heard from our students. To be sure, we need to constantly ask our children about their presence on social media. Much of the social lives of youth today happen on the Internet which is hidden from plain sight of parents and mentors. The following is a brief excerpt of this article from The Atlantic:

No app is more integral to teens’ social lives than Instagram. While Millennials relied on Facebook to navigate high school and college, connect with friends, and express themselves online, Gen Z’s networks exist almost entirely on Instagram. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of teens use the platform, which now has more than 1 billion monthly users. Instagram allows teens to chat with people they know, meet new people, stay in touch with friends from camp or sports, and bond by sharing photos or having discussions.

But when those friendships go south, the app can become a portal of pain. According to a recent Pew survey, 59 percent of teens have been bullied online, and according to a 2017 survey conducted by Ditch the Label, a nonprofit anti-bullying group, more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds experience bullying specifically on Instagram. “Instagram is a good place sometimes,” said Riley, a 14-year-old who, like most kids in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only, “but there’s a lot of drama, bullying, and gossip to go along with it.”

Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies.  

For the full article, click here.

New Resource: RYM Student Podcast

Our very own John Perritt has launched a new podcast for RYM aimed at students. Parents and mentors can use this resource to listen to with their kids, small groups can use this to launch into a good discussion, and students can listen to it in the car on the way to and from school. These short podcasts will answer such questions as:

  • Who is Jesus?

  • What has Jesus done for us?

  • What is my purpose in life?

  • What is mercy?

  • What is the Bible?

  • How do I know God?

For more information and to listen to the podcasts, click here.

Youth Culture (October 2018)

The following is a greater list of links to articles and blog posts about Youth Culture for the month of October. Each month, I do my best to send out an email to parents about what is going on in youth culture. In order for the emails to be shorter and more concise, I am adding a more exhaustive list to the blog so that they can be more accessible.

The following are articles that are concerned with the trends and opinions of youth culture at the moment. Not every article is a endorsement of opinion but rather there will be several statements in many that I disagree with. The point for this list is NOT to promote a certain opinion (which other blog posts are for) but rather to give you a feel for what is going on in our children’s lives and their culture. This is to promote further discussion in our church body about how the gospel can change our children and their culture.

"6 Ways to Ruin Your Children" by Jeff Robinson (TGC)

The following is a helpful article by pastor Jeff Robinson. Robinson is a Senior Editor for The Gospel Coalition and pastors Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Robinson gives us six ways in which we can radically shape our children for the better (or the worse). The following is an excerpt of the article:

Those early days of parenting often involved paralyzing paranoia. Every time his pacifier hit the ground, we’d boil it for 30 minutes. Every time anyone even looked sick at church, we’d keep him home. The first time he projectile-vomited, I was certain he was dying. There were so many questions: Would he ever get over his deep anxiety at the very sight of bathwater? Was that our fault? Would he ever potty train? Did he suffer from numerous permanent phobias? Would his Christology be orthodox?

If you’ve been a parent for very long, you know of what I speak. There’s a lingering fear, a virtual psychosis, that we will permanently ruin our four children. As a father for 16 years now, I’ve come to realize that a germy pacifier or an irrational fear of thunderstorms are not signs of acute parental failure.

But there are ways you can ruin your children—subtle ways that tend to show up over time. As a parent, I’d grade myself at about a C-minus. (My wife is definitely the valedictorian between the two of us.) So here are six ways—all of which I have been guilty—that you could ruin those who bear your last name, who will someday appear on your auto insurance policy.

For the full article and 6 ways, click here.

Quick Thoughts: Prayer

I am going to begin a series of short blog posts on various subjects of the Christian Life. My goal is to give you some short, concise answers to basic, and often forgotten, questions to these various subjects. Lord willing, this will help us come back to a basic understanding of why we do certain things, to what end, and simply how to do them. In this first post on “Quick Thoughts”, I want to address the topic of Prayer. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, here we go:

  1. What is prayer? Prayer is the breath of a soul that is alive to God; if we are alive unto we pray. Prayer is overflow of the heart to the God who cares for you. Prayer is the cry of a dependent child for a powerful and sufficient Father who desires to provide abundantly for His children. Prayer is when we bow, not simply in posture but in the heart, to the one true God who hears us when we call out to Him in the name of Jesus. Prayer is the burden that the Holy Spirit places in the Christian in order that they might live unto God. Simply put, prayer is voicing adoration, confession of sin, thanksgivings, and needs of all kind to the Almighty God. Prayer is not speaking to the open sky or talking to ourselves in hope that someone somewhere with some omnipotence might hear us. Prayer is addressing God in faith that He hears, responds, and gives us what we need. Prayer is the response of the heart of faith to the promises given to us in Christ. Prayer happens after we read the Scriptures. It is when we read the Word of God that we then respond to Him. True prayer happens after reading the Word. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Matthew 6:6 tells us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Again we see in Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

  2. Why pray? Prayer is the heart of dependence on God. We see the curse of sin manifest itself in our pursuit for independence. In our pursuit of independence, we are like a flower trying to live without roots. We are like a newborn baby refusing her mother. We pray when we realize that we need help. God created man in order to live in dependence upon Him and this dependence was part of what was good in the Garden of Eden when there was no sin. Prayer brings us back to who we were meant to be—creatures living in dependence upon their Creator. Prayer brings joy to the saddened soul. Prayer brings hope in the face of despair. Prayer brings intimacy when loneliness prevails in the world. Why pray? Because in prayer we draw near to God. Maybe the question could be restated this way: Why draw near to God? Prayer, at its core, is the sinner drawing near to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit with the confidence that this Triune God will satisfy my deepest longings. Prayer is not calling out to a genie in order to be satisfied merely in what he gives me. The goal of prayer is to have God Himself as my chief joy. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 also says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

  3. To whom do we pray? Primarily, the model that Jesus gives us is to pray to the Father but certainly the entire Trinity is always involved. Matthew 6:9 begins, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and to bring us to the Father by His person and work. We certainly pray, and should pray, to Jesus Himself and to the Holy Spirit. All persons of the Trinity are equal yet distinct—nevertheless, they are One God, not three. It is a helpful reminder that Jesus tells us to primarily address the person of the Father.

  4. In what manner should we pray? We should pray with reverence and awe. Let us beware of beginning prayer flippantly with, “Hey God!” Let us also, even, think more of beginning prayer more so with the thought of our Father being Holy. It is the knowledge that we have of God that drives how we pray. Let us not forget that our God is a consuming fire and that He is Holy, Holy, Holy. If the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the LORD (Prov 1:7) then let us not abandon the beginning of knowledge with that activity which we should attend to most in the Christian life. We must have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace but that throne of grace never extinguishes the attribute of God’s Holiness. The throne of grace should give the weakest child boldness and joy to approach his heavenly Father in prayer but that child must still remember that God is God. Confidence in Christ and Fear of the LORD are not butting heads in prayer like two brothers fighting over the last chocolate chip cookie. Neither one is competing against the other but rather they work together like how salt can enhance the taste of the sugar on a chocolate chip cookie (can you tell what I’m craving for a snack right now?). Prayer should be in dependent fear and love for God. Whenever God showed people His glory in a more manifest way they fell down. Even when Peter recognized who Jesus was in the boat he fell down and asked to be away from His presence. Yes, they loved God and God loved them but this love of God is so holy that it should bring us redeemed sinners to our knees in humility and fear of the heart. God is the One who runs towards us and we should run towards Him but this never negates His Holiness and Majesty.

  5. What should we pray for? Let us take an inventory of our prayers individually and corporately. What percentage of our prayer requests primarily focus on the bodily and physical needs and how much focus on the needs of the soul? To be clear, we are made up of body AND soul. The needs of the body are real and constant. We must pray for the physical needs around us but we must not ONLY pray for the physical needs around us. It does not make someone “extra spiritual” if they never pray for physical needs. Rather, one might question that person’s understanding of the image of God. Nevertheless, we can say the same for those who neglect the matters of the soul.

    When we have a prayer meeting, how often do we pray for the following: conversion, revival, growth in holiness, richer devotional lives, patience, love for others, understanding of the Scriptures, more of a desire to pray, zeal for evangelism, protection against false teachers, more earnestness to repent of the idols of the heart? Are we so earthly minded that we totally neglect the primary need for sinners to have faith and repentance? Our prayer requests, as an individual and as a congregation, will reflect the priorities of our hearts. Do we only pray for the physical because we want life to be comfortable? Brothers and sisters, we must pray for the things that concern the body but never at the expense of praying for souls to be saved from the eternal wrath of God, for exponential growth in holiness amidst an evil age, greater fruit of the Holy Spirit, richer community in the church, and certainly (although one of the most neglected) the need for true God-centered revival. We must pray for the preaching of the Word as much as we pray for safe travels. We must pray for the lost in our neighborhoods as much as we pray for the healing of the body. We must pray for endurance amidst persecution as much as we pray for good grades, politics, injuries, upcoming tests and meetings, healthy children, and the other often brought up items (which are NEVER too small to pray for).

    Please hear me, our lack of praying for the small things shows our misunderstanding of a God so sovereign and caring that He notices the way ants work and lilies grow. We must also understand that our lack of praying for the Holy Spirit to powerfully attend the preaching of the Word every week shows our great misunderstanding that our greatest need is to hear the words of the gospel of God by the power of the Spirit and that if we do not hear then it matters not if we gain the entire world because we will lose our soul. Pray for all things, body and soul (for both are important), but what a grave danger we fall into when we never pray for the soul.

  6. When should we pray? Maybe a better question could be: When can we pray? We can pray at all times. Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). We can pray before we eat and we can pray before surgery. We can pray in the middle of having a tough conversation with someone and we can pray while putting our children to bed. We can pray in business meetings and we can pray during a commercial break. We can and should pray at all times for that is what a praying life is. It is not literally only praying at all times but rather it is having a life of communication with God throughout the day. We should pray much spontaneously (for God does hear and loves these prayers) but we should never neglect the practice of “still” prayer. What I mean is that we must set aside some times in order to be still and know that the LORD is God. In our busy times, this might be the most neglected and the most needed spiritual discipline. We should put things to rest, turn over our phones and silence them, gather our thoughts and lift up our concerns to God. Leave the busyness of life for a period of time and come before the LORD to find rest. Find this time in the morning before the kids get up, first thing when you walk in the office, on your walks, when you put the kids down for a nap, before bed, or during lunch (don’t forget that it was in 19th Century that New York had a true Spirit-sent revival all surrounding the lunch time prayer meeting). You will not find time unless you make time. If prayer is the breathing of the soul that is alive unto God then prayerlessness is the evidence of the soul that wants to commit spiritual suicide or the evidence of the soul that is not alive in the first place. Let us not fool ourselves here: Christians pray. Some pray more than others and that makes no one more special and loved by God more than others. Beware: those who think that prayer earns their righteousness before God are in danger for their soul. But let us not fool ourselves, especially in our Southern context, that we can believe the gospel and not pray. Indeed, what is the first movement of the redeemed sinner towards God but that of prayer? The Spirit produces living water in the soul of the man or woman, and church, that is alive unto God. Water that flows into any pipe system must find its way out or the pipes will burst. If there is not water exiting the pipes and no bursting of the pipes then there is no flowing water.

  7. What are some practical ways to develop a life of prayer? This could be an endless list but maybe some of these suggestions will help or spur on some thoughts to other ideas:

    1. During devotions, prayer before starting and pray after finishing.

    2. Take a car ride a day to turn off the radio in order to pray.

    3. Pause to pray between meetings, classes, assignments, chores.

    4. Designate a prayer “station” or a prayer “closet” so that there can be a regular place in which you pause to only pray.

    5. Set your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier. As you wait for the coffee to finish brewing, open your Bible and pray a certain Psalm.

    6. Don’t neglect praying before meals. Let it remind you and those around you that greater tastes and satisfactions are in the Lord.

    7. Pray with your spouse and/or children before bed.

    8. Read good books on prayer. Here are some very helpful ones:

      1. Tim Keller “Prayer”

      2. David Mathis “Habits of Grace”

      3. John Bunyan “Prayer”

      4. Michael Reeves “Enjoy your prayer life”

      5. Andrew Murray “With Christ in the School of Prayer”

      6. Banner of Truth “Valley of Vision”

    9. Keep a list on your phone or notebook of things to pray for.

    10. Keep a journal that records the answers to prayer.

    11. Read prayers (such as Valley of Vision)

    12. Sing prayers. Remember, the greatest hymns were often first prayers.

    13. Put reminders on your phone or calendar. Schedule your prayer time.

    14. Pick a prayer partner.

    15. Attend evening worship where we pray as a congregation after voicing the needs around us.

    16. Start a prayer meeting (not a prayer request meeting or a Bible study about prayer where you only briefly pray at the end) where you actually spend the majority of the time praying.

    17. Remember, there are no prayer professionals. This often hinders people from praying.

    18. The Spirit is wise enough to sort out your jumbled thoughts so do not be afraid to pray for things as they come to mind.

    19. Remind yourself of the promises of God—primarily the promise that He hears you.

    20. Read good stories and books on revival. Revival is never separated from prayer.

How Porn Affects Missions

As a church that sends, supports, and prays for several missionaries, it is worth asking the following: Does pornography affect the mission field? Is the widespread use of pornography “sidelining” potential missionaries (and even local missions in our neighborhood)? Greg Handley, church planter and writer for the International Mission Board, seeks to address this question in his article. The following is an excerpt:

I know the statistics point to how pornography isn’t merely a male problem. I understand, but I also have worked among young men enough to know this problem has reached epidemic proportions. Years ago, John Piper coined that paradigm-shifting statement about missions in Let the Nations Be Glad: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Among young, Christian men who don’t show concern for the nations, I’ve come to wonder if it could be said that porn lurks where missions doesn’t.

Here is my plea to porn-strugglers: not merely for your sake, for their sake—for the unreached nations of the world—get help. Pornography sidelines you when the nations need you. I want to help you realize the soul-conditioning effect of pornography in a way you may not have seen it before, particularly as it relates to missions. My aim is for this brief article to be a healing wound that sets a new trajectory in your pursuit of purity.

For the rest of the short article, click here.

Are Selfies Really Harmful?

A fellow youth worker in Mississippi sent me this article earlier this week about selfies. Naturally, I had my gracious wife read me "the important parts" so that I could digest it on my own in quicker time. Even from her brief skims and my bad listening, this was a confirmation of what we already knew. 

The following is a brief part of the conclusion to the study about selfie and young women. "This is the first study to show experimentally that selfie posting on social media is harmful in terms of young women’s mood and self-image. Being able to retouch or modify their photo did not result in women feeling better about themselves after posting a selfie to social media. Future research should look at the longer-term effects of posting photos of oneself on social media, which is an increasingly common aspect of contemporary media use."

Read the about the study here. Warning: this is not for the weary readers (aka it's long but you can skim it for the "good stuff").

Dear POPC, May I Encourage You?

It has been two full years since my wife and I arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, after spending the previous academic year in the greater Boston area during my first year of seminary at Gordon-Conwell. We came to Pear Orchard not just because of a job but because of the reputation of the church community. We went through a little bit of a tough season in Boston and what we desired most was to find spiritual refreshment in the means of grace among a loving and welcoming congregation. After two years, we have realized that we have found that in Pear Orchard.

One of the aspects that tend to stand out in Christians who believe in a robust and Reformed, biblical doctrine of sin is that of conviction. We are skilled in the art of finding out what is wrong about us. Yes, there are many ways in which we do not realize the extent in which our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9), but there is certainly a solid belief in the need to feel conviction. This often leads us to reflect critically and thoughtfully on how we do as a church. Are we welcoming to our visitors or are we stand-off-ish? Do we go out of our way to have deeper conversations with fringe attendees or do we stick to the typical, "How are you doing? I'm doing just fine; how about you?" type conversations?

I have heard many comments that sound like the following:

"We need to make sure we do _______ better."

"What we're really missing at POPC is _____."

"I think we are really slacking off in [insert this aspect of the church]."

While these are very helpful and needful reflections that we need to have as a congregation, we also need to remember to bring up that which we are doing well. It might be easier for me to do because of the fact that my wife and I are still relatively new to the Jackson-Ridgeland area. Although I surely consider this church "home", I also think I can still give helpful feedback as a newer member. There are plenty of times that Paul encourages his congregations as he writes to them. In his fantastic book, "The Heart is the Target," Murray Capill writes about the importance of encouraging people in our sermons and not merely exhorting, teaching, and convicting them. After commenting that "the greatest aid to progress is genuine encouragement," Capill says:

"If we take our lead from Paul, then, we will at times tell our congregation how much we love them and how we miss them when we are away; we will tell them of how encouraged we are by their gospel work and how thankful we are for their ministry; we will tell them about what we pray for them; we will tell them of ways in which we see them as wonderful examples to others; we will publicly praise God for them and for his work of grace among them."

So please, let me encourage you.

The moment that we stepped into the doors of POPC, the pastoral staff and congregation have bestowed upon us the type of hospitality that only grace-filled believers could exhibit. You did not know us or our families. We did not go to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Mississippi College, or [insert you college here] with any of you but you took us in as if we were closer than friends, as if we were family in Christ. We are not from Jackson or Mississippi but you welcomed us as citizens of a greater land. We came in as total strangers seeking refuge in Christ with a like-minded community.

We have been blown away at the frequent invitations from you for meals, Bible studies, and community. There have been gifts to help us move into Jackson and get settled in. There have been texts, calls, and emails that have encouraged us. There have been jokes, hugs, and prayers for us when we needed them. One would think that maybe this was merely a temporary welcome to us POPC and to the Jackson area, but we would find out over time that this was not the case. 

It seems to be that there is real fruit of the Spirit here at POPC. Genuine fruit is tested whenever visitors become members and regulars. Ever since we have become members and regulars, there has been no shortage in the amount of outreach that you have extended to us. There has been no "They have had enough of our love" attitude among you. Rather than your love having a big, bright, but short flame, your love to us has only steadily grown towards us. We do not feel like we have been kept at arms length but rather have been brought in as a father brings us his newborn child. 

Dear Pear Orchard, we have seen your love, your grace, your fervor, and your desire to grow. We have witnessed your zeal to welcome visitors. We have noticed your urgency to reflect the kingdom of heaven in its diversity. We hope you see them as well.

As an athlete who has been through two surgeries to repair bones and ligaments, it is often very difficult to see your own progression. Often times, it is the physical therapists and the surgeons who notice it in more detail as they examine you. I hope this is a helpful and encouraging perspective for you.

Do not lose your zeal. Do not fail to extend bread to the hungry. Do not give up on the wayward. Do not desert your prayer closets. Do not close your Bibles. Keep going. You are bearing fruit whether you realize it or not. Grace and I are not the only ones who notice your fruit. Often times when I am at the seminary, on youth retreats, or at conferences, we are not the only ones who brag about you but rather your reputation has extended further than we go and the people we meet praise God because of you. So please, keep standing out as Christians - people who love others in the name of Jesus. 

Coming to Jackson has been fresh balm to our souls. It has been cold water after a hot season. We have both been strengthened in the call to ministry and certainly the call to minister at POPC. Love begets love and that has certainly been the case here. Today is an age where we shy away from others when things get messy. We live as if others' mess is red paint and we only wear white shirts. You have witnessed our mess and have embraced us in response. We have been counseled, fed, taught, mentored, helped, supported, prayed for, and taken in. 

We are blessed to minister the gospel to you and be ministered to by you. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Let us keep this as our motto. Let it be a banner for us in the days to come. 

Dear Pear Orchard, please be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.

Should Kids Have a Smartphone?

The following video is a re-post from The Gospel Coalition website that features Russell Moore, Scott Sauls (PCA), and Trevin Wax in a discussion about whether Christian parents should give their children a smartphone. These discussions can help us think about things that we normally do not think about and help us come to our own wise conclusions about what is most fitting for our children.