What Is The Greatest Need Of The Church Today?

The following quote is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his sermon on Acts 2:42 which says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The following sermon was delivered in August 1969 in Pensacola, Florida.

They also continued in prayers. The old preachers always used to say that the way to test a church is to examine its prayer meeting. They said, '“That’s the powerhouse. The thermometer by which you can measure the warmth of the life of a church is the character of its prayer meeting.” What are the prayer meetings like in our churches? Are they powerhouses? Do you meet with others to pray? Pray for what? Pray for your preacher. Pray for your pastor. Here is a man weak in the flesh, as we are reminded by the apostle Paul: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). Do you pray regularly week by week that the Holy Spirit may come upon him? I have a fear that the members of our churches are beginning to think that only certain people can evangelize. They will prepare only for some special effort. But do you pray daily and week by week for your own minister? The Spirit can come upon him at any moment. Do you pray that He may do so? That is the only hope. We need revival. We need the Holy Spirit’s power upon us. Nothing will avail until we get it. Are you praying for this?

Is Jordan Peterson the "Priest of the Secular Age"?

If you don’t know about Jordan Peterson then it’s a name that you should be aware of. His book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has sold more than 3 million copies. His YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers. He is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. He is quickly becoming one of the most influential voices in the world. Whether directly or indirectly, the masses of popular culture are being influenced and challenged by what he says.

In light of this, Bruce Ashford wrote a helpful reflection on how evangelicals should view the influence of Peterson. Should we look out for him or look up to him? Should we draw away from his writings or draw near? These questions and more are answered in the blog post. Here is a brief excerpt:

In our secular age, Peterson’s status as a social scientist gives him the effectual status of a high priest. As religious authority has been diminished and decentered, social science has moved to the center. Economists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists—each uses “hard data” to draw their conclusions about human beings, personal identity, and social order. As a clinical psychologist, therefore, Peterson’s life-coaching combines the cultural authority of the social sciences with the spiritual appeal of vague religious intimations.

Peterson’s disposition adds to this mystique. He is a deep reader who is able to penetrate to the essence of ideologies such as Marxist intersectional identity politics or alt-right ethno-nationalism. But he is also a deep listener; his interviews and Q&A sessions reveal him as one who listens, sympathizes, and communicates in a way that often fosters genuine respect and dialogue. Indeed, commentators often note Peterson’s resemblance to a religious prophet, priest, or pastor.

Thus, it’s unsurprising to learn of Peterson’s popularity among 20-something males and other disaffected castaways of secular modernity. These are the people who hunger for the security of meaning and significance. And they seem to sense that Peterson has found it.

The irony in all this, however, is that unless Peterson buys wholesale into the Christian faith, his solution is insubstantial; metaphysically, it is little more than a banquet of crushed ice and vapor. Indeed, even though Peterson wisely taps into the power of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the West, he guts it of any real power when he treats it as functionally helpful rather than transcendentally true.

For the full article, click here.

A Thank You from Joe Deegan

Two Sundays ago, we were privileged to have Joe Deegan, the RYM Music Resources Coordinator, accompanying our morning worship service. We received this week a thank you note from him, and we wanted to pass it along to you. Please note the Bible study he has written. Continue to keep the ministry of RYM in your prayers!

Dear Pear Orchard Presbyterian,

Thank you so much for having me at your church a couple weeks ago to sing and lead worship! It was such an honor and privilege for me to get to be there with you. I sing and play at several churches and events throughout the year, but I felt more at home at Pear Orchard than I have at almost any other church I’ve visited. There was a genuine warmth there from everyone I met, and I would love to come back again sometime soon if y’all would have me.

I’m also grateful for the love and support you gave to me after the service and the interest you showed in the music of RYM Worship. I wanted to write and tell you where you could find the music in case anyone else is interested. It’s available on iTunes, Spotify, and Apple Music under the artist name “RYM Worship.” The album title is “Promised Land.” Just search for either of those, and the album should pop up.

I also wanted to let you know about a 12-week Bible Study curriculum that I wrote to go along with the album that is available for free on RYM’s website: https://www.rym.org/bible-studies_1/posts/promised-land-bible-study. The study is intended for youth groups but could be used by anyone. It walks through the Scripture and stories behind each of the songs on the album, and it’s set with small group questions and takeaways for discussion.

Again, I just wanted to write and say how grateful I am for the love and support you showed me. I would be honored to come back again sometime and visit. You all made my family feel very welcome, and most importantly, you showed the love of Jesus in your worship, preaching, liturgy, and hospitality. I appreciate all you’re doing for the kingdom at Pear Orchard.

In Christ, Joe Deegan

Youth Ministry Sermons & Chapel Messages Now On Podcast

I have learned that there are fewer people who sit down to listen to sermons on their computer than there are people who download them on their phone to listen to them while they drive, walk, or workout. Knowing this, I have decided to start uploading all the youth sermons, chapel messages, FCA talks, and anything that is recorded onto this podcast. I have given the podcast an overly simplistic name to keep it simple and to make it distinct from Pear Orchard’s normal sermon podcast for the Sunday sermons. When you download the Apple “Podcast” app (which is free), you then can search for “Wilson Van Hooser” or “Wilson Van Hooser Audio” to find the audio recordings. Hopefully, this will make these recordings easier to access and also easier to pass along to others.

I will give a slight warning to all listeners: Since I am speaking primarily to youth, sometimes I make loud noises. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy.

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Elizabeth Holmes and Our Need For Repentance

If you have found yourself in a conversation with me in the past two weeks, there’s a good chance I’ve brought up the Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos story. After listening to an 11 hour audiobook and a six episode podcast about her rise and fall in silicon valley, I’ve asked myself why I’m so intrigued by this story. If you haven’t listened to me ramble on about it and you’re asking yourself, “Who in the world is Elizabeth Holmes?” here’s a quick summary:

Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos' founder and CEO, dropped out of Stanford University at age 19 to launch Theranos in 2003 as a cheaper, more efficient alternative to traditional blood testing. After serious allegations about the legitimacy of the company’s technology, Theranos’ valuation of $9 billion collapsed, and Holmes along with a former COO were indicted on federal fraud charges in June 2018. The podcast (The Dropout) and book (Bad Blood) seek to tell the story of Elizabeth’s demise through first hand accounts of former employees, investors, and journalists.

Now, I’m about to ask something from you. Instead of hearing this story and thinking, “Wow what a shame someone could go to such great lengths just for money and fame,” I want you to ask yourself, “In what areas of my life am I like Elizabeth Holmes?”

Sin has a sneaky way of revealing itself to us when we have gone much too far than we ever intended. The World, The Flesh, and The Devil want us to think we are doing just fine until suddenly we are in uncharted waters wondering how we got so far from shore. Listening to Elizabeth’s story has made me reflect on where she went wrong, and how we can apply steps in our lives to keep our souls from going where we never intended on going in the first place.

1) You cannot serve two masters - Elizabeth’s technology was a healthcare device that would give blood test results. The catch was, it never worked consistently well, and she knew it. In some very real instances, this caused patients to take medical care steps for illnesses they didn’t even have. Elizabeth put the money she would gain from partners and investors before the lives of patients.

We cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24) just like she could not serve money and patients. The Bible makes this so clear through several parables spoken by Jesus (Luke 16:13). We must rely on the Lord for our provision and sustenance - our daily bread (Matt 6:11). When we serve money over God, we are serving an idol made in the image of man. When have you treated others in a sinful way because the stake of money was in the balance?

2) Put yourself around others who will hold you accountable - Elizabeth ran a company of 700 employees including scientists and researchers who were working on her technology. There was very high turnover of employees. Why? When someone would question the product or the process of the technology, they were fired. If someone suggested the quality control was skewed, they were fired. She didn’t want to hear someone tell her she was running her business unethically. Elizabeth may not be facing criminal charges today if she took some of these critiques to heart and slowed down the roll out of her devices to stores.

We must not run away from loving and wise rebuke (1 John 1:8-10). When we only surround ourselves with friends who “only lift us up and ‘support’ us” and not those who love us too much to leave us in our sin, we are not pursuing holiness and will find ourselves in very deep sinful patterns before we realize they even started.

Elizabeth convinced herself, along with many others, that she was doing a revolutionary work for humanity while in reality she was lying about the legitimacy of her device in order to keep cash flowing. Have you sought a seemingly good end through self-justified sinful behavior? Have you closed off relationships that convicted you about a certain sinful behavior?

3) We must have a repentant heart - Elizabeth still hasn’t pleaded guilty to defrauding investors. According to a former employee, he saw Elizabeth this past January and she didn’t apologize or even act like there was a wrong doing on her end for his firing. It is also alleged she is pursuing another technology venture while she is still on trial for her time at Theranos.

When we see our sin, it is the grace of God and the Holy Spirit that gives us eyes to see and brings us to our knees with a contrite heart (again, see 1 John 1:8-10). When we have this posture, we can come to the ones we’ve hurt and ask for forgiveness (Matt 6:14-15). We can do this because we have seen that we have fallen so short of the glory of God, yet he still pursues a relationship with us and still covers us with his mercy. This allows us to battle our sin patterns and have freedom from them - the freedom you can only receive through being In Christ (Rom 8:1).

It is one thing if we sin and then quickly come to the Lord through repentance, but it is another thing if we live in a perpetual sinful pattern with no returning to the Lord with a contrite heart. Is there something in your life that you are living in sinful bondage to? Have you sinned against God and others and have yet to reconcile either? Do not hope that time will fix all, but run to the cross where mercy is given.

So what was Elizabeth missing that we could be missing too?

What draws many of us to stories like Elizabeth’s is that we think this could never happen to us. That we are so separated from this story that it is entertainment. We may never defraud investors of upwards of 700 million dollars in our lifetime, but we may slip into a sin pattern that leaves irreparable damage to relationships, jobs, or even the view of all Christians to others. But lift up your faces, there is good news for us and even for Elizabeth Holmes if the Holy Spirit lifts the veil from over her eyes:
No matter how small or big our sin may feel or look, God is Bigger. God is Sovereign. God is Merciful. God is Just. He has known before time every sin you will ever commit, and Jesus paid for every bit of it on the Cross (John 19:30). He knew you intimately before the beginning of time, and still chose to love you like He loves his perfect son (Eph 1:11). Will you take this love over Money? Over Power? Over an Affair? Over Comfort?

Dear Local Church Member, What Can You Do To Support The Youth Ministry?

I was recently at a lunch with someone and he asked me a great question that not many people ask. “What can I do to support the youth ministry?” The interesting part was that this was not a youth parent who asked this question. This person was primarily asking as a church member on how to be a good fellow church member. Instead of asking him to volunteer, although we love volunteers, I gave him a quick two-fold answer that I will expand here. These answers are primarily a response to someone who would be a parent.

  1. To be a church member who supports the youth ministry, teach your family to love Jesus.
    This might sound obvious but I wonder if it is obvious to the people who are around us a lot. In other words, is Jesus our primary love? Yes, insert here all of our failures because we all mess up and we all ruin our witness at some point. Still, this should not deter us from pursuing this. If you want to support the youth ministry, love Jesus in such a way that people know this about you. Fire begets fire. Passion begets passion. Have you ever been around someone who cheered for a certain sports team too much that you were enticed to cheer for them too? Have you ever been tempted into peer pressure because someone tried passionately persuading you to do something with them? Peer pressure never works if the person “selling” the argument is boring or unpassionate. Eeyore would be a terrible “peer pressurer”. If passion tends to entice and persuade people, how much more so would our youth be enticed to love Jesus if they see what Jesus means to you, how Jesus has changed you, and what hope Jesus gives you (1 Peter 3:15)? Why would anyone want to become a Christian if all they know are people who only like Jesus on Sunday morning? Without a love for Jesus, how can we expect to send students off to college who won’t get sucked into the culture of binge drinking, constant sexual hook ups, temptations for unbelief amidst an atheistic world, and peer pressure for substance abuse? How can we really expect students to go to bed on a Saturday night to go to church Sunday morning if they don’t love Jesus? How can we encourage someone to keep pursuing holiness if they don’t love Jesus? We need to make sure we come back to the most basic of foundations. What our youth need now more than ever is not all the correct answers to every apologetic, philosophic, and theological questions they are asked (although we should keep pursuing these!). Rather, what they need is to be surrounding by a church who loves Jesus in such a way that they are wooed, enticed, and persuaded to love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But, how can we expect our children to love Jesus if we look exactly like the culture? How can we expect our students to love Jesus if He isn’t a significant presence in our lives? How can we expect our students to love Jesus as He deserves to be loved if we don’t love Him the way He deserves? You fail. I fail. We all fail. I know that I have lived in such a way before where I was not the most attractive Christian and I made Jesus to look more ugly than more beautiful. We have all been like Peter before and epicly failed. But, here is the grace that Jesus gives us: He tells us to get back out there and keep pursuing Him and keep preaching Him. What a Savior! He isn’t looking for the healthy but for the sick who know how to keep running back to the doctor. Jesus didn’t call the rabbis and religious teachers of His day to follow Him. Jesus called the weirdos, the uneducated, and the ungifted. Jesus does not tell us to do this under our own strength but rather He empowers us to do this! If the almighty God empowers us to do this then why should we not pursue this? I briefly conclude with the first half of the answer by saying that if you want to support the youth ministry then love Jesus and teach your family to love Jesus. Without Him, there is no eternal life.

  2. To be a church member who supports the youth ministry, teach your family to love the church.
    One of the biggest growing statistics is that more and more students who grow up in the church are leaving the church when they go to college. Why do they leave the church? First, they leave the church because they don’t see the importance of the church. The church, for them, is another party competing for their schedule. As long as the church is seen as just another thing to do, why should they go to church when they have homework, fraternity and sorority parties, dates, campus ministries, friends to hang out with, and class to go to? If the church is just another thing that their family did “just because” then how can we expect them to go to church when they become in charge of their own schedules? This is even seen already when students are in middle school and high school. For the most part, they don’t show up on a regular basis to youth ministry because the church is not important to them. Besides, there are games, homework, practices, Netflix, projects, hobbies, friends to be with, video games to play, rest to catch up on, and even para-church ministries (as helpful as they can be!). Of course they won’t show up when they don’t think church is important because who wants to come listen to someone preach for 35 minutes, hang out with fellow believers, and support and be supported by others going through the same struggles as you? Sure, there is an argument that can be inserted about a past history with the church, bad relationships, bad youth workers, or because the preaching stinks. Nevertheless, this is the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. This is a community that is still learning to repent! But again, why would I want to come listen to someone talk to me about somebody name Jesus and about my soul for 35 minutes when I could be catching up on homework or staring at a screen playing Fortnite or watching another episode on Netflix if the church is not important and no one has shown me that the church is important? If my parents (or even other church members) don’t act like the church is important, why should I act like it? Secondly, they leave the church because they don’t have an accurate view of the church. The church is not important because they don’t rightly and biblically understand the church. It’s the same when students neglect youth ministry in their own local church. A lack of understanding of the what church really is shows in its being neglected. Parents, pastors, and youth workers should be teaching our children an accurate “ecclesiology” (the study of the church). You don’t have to teach an exhaustive doctrine of the church but we should teach them a robust and healthy doctrine of the church. Only when our students see the beauty, majesty, plan, purpose, identity, mission, and the worthiness of the church will they then prioritize church. The only reason why a student in college goes to class is because her teacher told her that if she doesn’t go to class then she will fail her class. In other words, the teacher showed her that there was a lot riding on her showing up to class. In much the same way, unless we show, teach, and remind (a good summary word for this is catechize which is a lost form of teaching in the Church today) our children and youth the importance and value of the church in this world, in our lives, and for the glory of God then they will not prioritize church. For the most part, our students will not go to church in college if they don’t love Jesus and if they don’t know the value of the church. The goal is not merely to go to church; the goal is to worship God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit as the Church which is expressed in the local church. In my own experience of being a college student and working for 5 years in youth ministry at some level, the children who grow up in a home that has not taught them the value of the church (no matter how many times they went to church or were apart of some ministry) are most likely not going to go to church when they go to college. This does not mean everyone who grows up in a family that undervalues church won’t go to church in college but there is typically a pattern. There are also children who grow up in a home where church is valued and parents love Jesus and yet they still don’t go to church. For the most part, this is my story and I am sensitive to the fact that this does happen. Nevertheless, when Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”, it cannot mean anything less than these two answers. It certainly would imply more but it never implies less and never gets beyond this. Once again, Jesus is not calling the perfect parent who is also the perfect church member to produce the perfect child. Jesus is calling the repentant sinner who belongs to a community of worshippers of God to depend on the Spirit in order to faithfully raise up children to love Him and love His Bride. Jesus doesn’t want perfect parents; He wants repentant parents and a repentant church. You and I might have failed our entire lives up to this point but as long as He has given us His Spirit we can get back up and pursue this by His power. Dear church member, if you want to support the youth ministry, love the church in such a way where others are attracted to the church.

Why Should I Be a Member of a Local Church?

Many Christians today question the necessity and propriety of membership in a local church. Some even challenge it as an unbiblical concept. They wonder why Presbyterians declare that people must be members of an evangelical church to partake of the Lord’s Supper. They wonder why they should join a local church. Why can’t they just attend worship whenever they want to, or float around to various churches?

Here are a few thoughts on this question, certainly more suggestive than exhaustive:

1. People who doubt that church membership is a Biblical mandate often fail to understand a key tenet of Biblical interpretation – the Bible does not necessarily have to teach something explicitly for it to be a Biblical truth. The Bible also teaches things implicitly. The Bible expects that its readers will use their rational minds to draw conclusions from the text. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (WCF I.6). There is no verse that we can go to that explicitly tells a person to join a church – just like there is no verse that teaches explicitly that infants should be baptized, that women should receive the Lord’s Supper, that the Trinity is the true understanding of God, or that the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath. The Bible is not an encyclopedia or a topical guidebook, and so we must use logical thought to deduce truth from various streams of teaching in narratives, poetry, and epistles. Just because there is no verse that says expressly, “Thou shalt join a church,” does not mean that the Bible does not teach the necessity of church membership.

2. The Old Testament clearly teaches the concept of membership (and non-membership) in the covenant community. In Genesis 17:14, after commanding Abraham to circumcise his male descendants as well as his servants, God makes this statement: “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” The whole notion of being “cut off” from the people of God implies that there are boundary lines to the church (to use Stephen’s name in Acts 7:38 for the people of God under the old covenant). That is, there was such a thing as not being in the visible church, not being a member of the covenant community. As redemptive history progressed, the sign of being a member of the covenant community changed from circumcision to baptism. If someone claims to believe in Jesus, but refuses to be baptized, they are rejecting the outward sign of initiation He has appointed for His people, and ought not to be recognized as members of the visible church.

3. Some people will argue that if they have believed in Jesus Christ and have been baptized, then they are members of the invisible/universal church, and therefore do not need to be a member of an particular local, visible expression of the “big-C” Church. This is a misunderstanding and misapplication of the notion of the invisible/universal church, which our Westminster Larger Catechism defines as “the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head” (WLC #64). To be sure, some of God’s elect are not at this time either converted or members of the visible church. And it is possible for someone to profess faith in Jesus Christ and be baptized and be a member of the visible church, yet not be truly converted; “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6); “he is not a Jew [or Christian] who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision [nor baptism] that which is outward in the flesh…” (Rom. 2:28-29). But where in Scripture do we see any warrant for being a member of the invisible church and not being a part of the visible church? When the Bible speaks of the church, it is most frequently speaking of a visible entity, with officers, discipline, structure, organization, etc. Boundaries, definition, and limitations are presupposed. Jesus is building an institution that the world can see. When our Westminster Confession of Faith declares that outside of the visible church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation,” it is not guilty of a Roman Catholic view of the church, that mere membership saves someone, but is affirming the biblical truth that we cannot love Christ without loving His bride, and that it is in the church where the means of saving grace (the word, the sacraments, prayer, fellowship, and discipline) are manifested and provided.

4. Hebrews 13:17 tells us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” This verse (and others like it) presupposes that the people of God know who their leaders are, know to whom they must submit, know who is keeping watch over them. How can Paul tell the elders of Ephesus to shepherd the flock of God, if they don’t know who is in that flock? Which elders do you call when you’re sick (James 5:14)? How do elders know who has been allotted to their charge (I Peter 5:2)? Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-18 about church discipline mean nothing if there are no parameters as to who makes up the local church. Paul’s words concerning the offending brother make no sense if there is no such thing as being a member of a local church (I Corinthians 5:1-5; II Corinthians 2:6-11).

5. If you claim to be a member of the invisible/universal church, the body of Christ, then you should want to be in a position to function as a member of the body – to use your gifts, to edify your brothers and sisters, to “one another” the saints (I Peter 4:10; I Corinthians 12:7). If you are a sheep in God’s fold, a brick in His building, a member of Christ’s body, a branch of the vine, etc., then you must be connected to His people in a tangible way. Certainly, there are exceptional situations, and seasons of transition, but as a rule every Christian should be under the care and oversight of elders, and involved in the vital life of a local family of believers. When a move from one city to another occurs, the first thing one should do, perhaps even before finding a place to live, is finding a church to transfer one’s membership into, to join, to worship in, to serve, to be served and to be held accountable. The big question, as Brian Habig and Les Newsom put it in their book The Enduring Community, is this: Why in the world wouldn’t a person want to be a member of a local church?

Creation and God’s Magnificence

Dr. Robert Waltzer is a Professor of Biology and the Chair of the Biology Department at Belhaven College in Jackson, MS, and a ruling elder at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. 

I have greatly appreciated our church’s recent sermon series on Genesis, particularly the sermons on Creation. In his March 10th sermon on Genesis 1:28, Pastor Carl said that all of the music and other forms of art will never be completely created this side of heaven. He also mentioned that electromagnetism, light waves, and other physical entities would never be fully fathomed. I began thinking about how this applies to biology. I agree with the conclusion that Carl made about the physical realm and will lay out my thoughts related to the biological.

In this article I’d like to make 3 points and then some application.

  1. Even if it were possible to achieve all knowledge in biology, we would have difficulty knowing we’ve arrived.

  2. There seems to be a bottomless pit of technical knowledge to be learned about biology.

  3. Focusing on the brain, there are mysteries that may be beyond the realm of science.

Regarding point one, what would it look like to know everything there is to know about a branch of biology? It is not clear that scientists would know that they have arrived at this point. By what criteria would they assess that they have exhaustively understood any particular field of biology (or any area of science for that matter)? This is a deep thought and something to consider as one assesses the limits of knowledge.

On the second point, there is an explosion of knowledge in every area of biology. Each area (dozens) has a professional society which has an annual meeting where thousands of scientists give thousands of presentations on new research. Each presentation will have specialized knowledge, concepts, and terminology. It will address only part of its topic and will raise many more questions than it answers. Knowledge is increasing exponentially, but the answers to questions are only approached and not reached. Scientists are filling up entire libraries every year with new information. Not only is there this expansion of new knowledge, but in a limited world one must prioritize which areas should be studied. In other words, there are areas that could be studied but are not because of limited resources. There are not enough people and resources to study all that could be studied. What does this say about God’s “unbounded capacity of His understanding” (John Ray, Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of The Creation [1714], p. 25)? It is absolutely overwhelming regarding how much knowledge is available but even more so how much more knowledge there is yet to discover!

On the third point, there is a category related to science which I would define as “mystery”. In thinking about neuroscience I have in mind self-awareness and choice, but there are other areas related to the brain and biology. How can one build a system from raw materials that will be aware of itself and have an ability to choose? I have studied cells my entire life. I can see how they can be made into pumps, filters, metabolic processors, gas exchange organs, and many other things. But self-awareness is an entire order of magnitude beyond those things. Choice is also a mystery in a system that is wired so that one action leads to the next, which leads to the next, etc. just as in a circuit or a computer. Secular scientists dismiss these issues in a variety of ways – likely because they don’t have any idea how to answer them. As hard as science is to understand, it’s almost as if God has reserved an exclusive portion for Himself where He is saying, “Don’t even try because you will never understand this”!

Science is a gift from God. He has gifted certain individuals with tremendous insight and understanding (even as they deny the existence of God). What a gracious God who allows humans to understand what He has made in order to improve their lives (and glorify Himself)! We can respond in different ways to God’s Creation. One sinful response will be, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). A godly response is complete and total awe about what God has made: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).[1] A second right response is a contrite heart leading to repentance. This is seen in the words of Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2, 3b,3c). May God open our eyes to see how we should respond to His world.


[1] While the context of the doxology in Romans 11 is God’s plan of salvation, one could apply it to all that God has done, including the work of creation.

Some Recent Stats On Youth Culture

Stats are not everything but they are something. We should look at statistics with wisdom and discernment without over-relying upon them nor over-dismissing them. It is wrong to read this and go into a “hyper-worry” state of mind and it is also wrong to say, “Well, this is only true for those not in our church or not in our city.” Take these as they are and use them to look to our need for more of Jesus. The following stats are taken from recent works by Jean Twenge, James Emery White, and other recent surveys.

  • “There are more than four former Christians for every convert to Christianity.”

  • “The pattern is indisputable: The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is.”

  • At 25.9%, Gen Z is the most populous generation. “By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40% of all consumers. They will not simply influence American culture; they will constitute the culture.”

  • The average teenager in Gen Z averages 9 hrs/day absorbing media.

  • 91% go to bed with the device that opens the whole world up to them.

  • Only 41% of Gen Z attend weekly religious services.

  • 70% struggle with anxiety and depression (highest by 15%).

  • This generation is also known as Gen “Me”; FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) Gen; iGen (compare to iPhone and iPad).

  • There is a considerable portion who are more afraid to live than to die.

  • Sexual fluidity is a standard for high morality.

  • Massive sleep deprivation is prevalent in many of Gen Z.

From an experiential standpoint of speaking with our youth, these seem very accurate and even too low at some points. The greatest need of this generation is for parents, pastors, mentors, coaches, teachers, leaders, and youth directors to overflow with a deep love for Jesus onto this generation so that they might love Him and follow Him. Without Jesus, there is no hope for change which means that if we seek to “fix” this generation with anything or anyone other than Jesus then we will only lead them astray even further.

Don't Waste Your Mind (CCS National Junior Honor Society 2019)

This morning, I had the privilege of speaking at the award ceremony for Christ Covenant’s inductees into the National Junior Honor Society. The audience was made up of upper elementary and middle schoolers plus several of the parents and faculty. This audio is only 11 minutes long which means that you could knock it out on a lunch break or on a car ride. Below the audio, I have included the manuscript that I tried to follow along but (as some of you might laugh at) I went “off script” at some points.

First off, I would like to say thank you to Cheri Creel for asking me to deliver this charge to those of you inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. Secondly, I want to congratulate those of you who are being inducted today and those of you who have been inducted already. Just to give you a fair warning, all of you have already achieved more academic awards than I have and I only know of there being one award which you have achieved.

But, what I do know is that those of you who have been inducted and are being inducted in the Society have done so mainly in two ways: Hard work and thoughtfulness. Interestingly enough, these are two of the biggest qualities that seem to be lacking in the world today. You are growing up in a society that no longer treasures wisdom and discretion but rather places value on what’s trending, following your heart, and finding your own inner peace.

Your generation, Generation Z, is the largest generation in America and in twenty years you will not just be the biggest influences in the country but you will control the ideals and values of the country. This could be tragic because the average teenager spends an average of 9 hours online every day. These 9 hours are not filled with much wisdom and discretion but rather they are filled with things like Fortnite videos, Kylie Jenner’s Instagram, sports highlights, Snapchat pictures, Spotify music, and more group texting than you can keep up with. If you lived for 60 more years and spent only an average of 5 hours online or on technology a day, you would spend 12 and a half years on your technology. If you stayed with the average hours of today then you would spend 24 years on technology. The problem with this is that very little of we look at today adds wisdom or discretion to your life.

Now, why do I say all that? You are all around 10-14 years old right now. The average American lives 78 years. If you lived to the average age, you would only have 65 or so years left. But none of you are guaranteed to live that long. Your clock is ticking and you only have a few years left to live this life before you meet your Maker at your death day. You will have to answer to God on that last day what you did between now and then. God has given you one life to live and that life is meant to be lived for His glory at all times and in all ways.

The fact that you are being inducted into this society shows us that God has given you a mind to think, a work ethic and drive to pursue more knowledge, and a desire to discover truth. What a tragedy it would be to spend 12 years or 24 years of your life wasting away before your phone looking at things that have no eternal value when the God of all glory and beauty and majesty offers you a life to glorify Him in the world He has made.

God created this world. He created your mind. He created your personality. He created the era and culture into which you were born and He purposefully put you in this age at this time for a specific purpose. Your ultimate purpose for being on this earth is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. One of the ways you must pursue this is in the offering of your mind to God.

God has given us right thinking in order to produce right living. He has shown us His glory in the world and in the Word and given us minds to think about each one so that we might live out our purpose in our lifetime. When we waste these gifts that God has given us, we don’t just look bad in front of others. Rather, we reveal in our hearts that we could care less about glorifying God and we would rather ourselves get the glory. The fact that God would even allow you to receive this honor is for the purpose of reminding you that you have the capability and responsibility of pursuing Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. For, we also need to remember this: What does it matter if you gain the entire world and yet lose your soul?

Wasting your academic gifts can happen in several ways. First, you can immerse yourself in all the studies in the world and yet never seek to know God. Second, you can go a little season of your life reading about God and staying in His Word to only then get busy with other things and go on as if your fine because of your past experiences. Third, you can even seek to know everything God says in His Word and yet never submit to Him in your heart. All of these are a tragedy and far too common in the world and the Church today.

Now, why do I say all that in this way? There have been few things that have discouraged me more than to see students grow up in the church and in solid Christian schools to only grow distant from God in high school, abandon the church in college, and deny the faith altogether. It is also a tragedy, and maybe even a bigger tragedy, to see students who have all the mental capabilities in the world and yet to never open their Bibles to dig into the deepest knowledge that the world has ever known.

God has given us logic for the sake of loving God and loving others. God has given us reasoning skills for the sake of rejoicing in His glory and His gospel. God has given us the ability for reflection and meditation for the sake of gazing upon His beauty. The head is meant to serve the heart. There is no subject so beautiful, so amazing, so majestic, so worthwhile, so jaw-dropping, so gripping, so astonishing, and so breathtaking as the good news that Jesus, very God of very God, became just like us in order to take God’s wrath so that we could actually live a life of glorifying and enjoying God. Jesus died so that He could redeem your mind and mental abilities in order to see and savor His infinite worth and glory. If you are a Christian, you don’t only have the entire world open to you to study but you have all of heaven opened up for you to study! Jesus died in order that you might think, meditate on, reflect on, be challenged by, have your worldview shaped by, and become convicted by the glory of God and your life in this world. You were meant for more than binge watching Netflix, endless Instagram scrolling, and Fortnite marathons.

What this world needs now more than ever is a generation of Christians who use their minds to become enamored by the glory of God. We need a generation who have some sense of the infinite weight of the glory of God and the brokenness of their own sin and the grace that is found in Jesus Christ. We need teenagers in this room to be known as people who are influenced by the greatness and majesty and the glory of God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. We need people who use their minds to think about how God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We need people who know how to think about Christ as the universal ruler over all creation. We need humble students who understand what it means to live all of life for the glory of God at all times. We need people who understand the weight of responding to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and that those who don’t respond will have to be banned from His presence forever. We need teenagers who would use their minds above all things to see that the brief little life that they live on this earth will either end in everlasting joy or everlasting pain based on their response to Jesus Christ in His gospel. We need teenagers who will turn this world upside down with the gospel-centered thinking. We need teenagers who will take this gospel into the homes, schools, neighborhoods, churches, and even to foreign countries. We need people who are passionate to use all their mind to pursue knowing God and making Him known.

I challenge you to be this. I challenge you to not take your life lightly. I challenge you to see that even in an award like this God is calling you to a greater life of devotion to Him and for you to go out and call others to devote their lives to HIm. This is what you’ve been made for.

Suffer From "Screen Addiction"?

Cal Newport. He’s an influential writer and researcher whose name is getting more and more popular. He is someone who you should at least be familiar with when you hear people talking about him or his works. He is most widely known as the author of Deep Work where he passionately makes the case that to accomplish the best work we can we must limit our distractions. Now, his newest title is about taking the next step to limiting the biggest distraction in our lives right now—our phones.

Here is an excerpt from a recent article that interacts more deeply with Newport’s newest book:

Newport’s case against digital maximalism is based on a familiar but important observation—many tech users feel anxious, distracted, and frustrated, but seem unable to do much about it. As he writes:

“The source of our unease . . . becomes visible only when confronting the thicker reality of how these technologies as a whole have managed to expand beyond the minor roles for which we initially adopted them. Increasingly, they dictate how we behave and how we feel, and somehow coerce us to use them more than we think is healthy, often at the expense of other activities we find more valuable. What’s making us uncomfortable, in other words, is this feeling of losing control—a feeling that instantiates itself in a dozen different ways each day, such as when we tune out with our phone during our child’s bath time, or lose our ability to enjoy a nice moment without a frantic urge to document it for a virtual audience.” (8)

If you see yourself in this paragraph, take a number and get in line behind me. Many of us know painfully well what it’s like to feel that our digital habits don’t even help or entertain us; they just exist, immovable, swallowing up time and attention as quickly and mysteriously as vanishing Christmas money . . .

In a world that is flooded with technology, including the technology that you’re using right now to graciously read this blog post, we need to learn how to steward our devices more faithfully. If the secular world is seeing a growing need for this, how much more so should the Christian world? In a recent survey, I saw that the average teenager spends 8-9 hours online every day. Seeing our youth up close, there are times when I think that number is too low. Newport has introduced his newest book at a time we need it most. I highly recommend you taking a look at it and the rest of this blog here.

The Most Overlooked Mission Field In America...It's In Our Backyard

The following is written by Dean Inserra concerning Christianity in the Southern “Bible belt”:

I felt like a sellout. It was time to leave seminary and begin pastoral ministry, and I was taking the easy road by moving back to my hometown in Northern Florida. My seminary neighbor, I thought, was the true missionary, heading to plant churches in Northern California. I had “missional insecurity,” the way Christians feel when they plan a spring break trip to some resort before learning their friends are going on mission trip. All of this good education and knowledge about the urgency of the gospel . . . and I was going to be a pastor in the Bible Belt?

I tried to make myself feel better by letting my neighbor know how much I admired his boldness. I threw in some self-deprecating jokes about sweet tea, but he quickly interrupted my pity party. “Where I am going,” he said, “people know they’re not Christians. The starting point is clear, whether unbelief, secularism, or some sort of humanistic spirituality. But where you’re going, everyone thinks they’re a Christian. It’s like you have to get people lost so they can see they need to be saved.”

That was all I needed to hear, and he was right.

My neighbor described the largest mission field where I live. It’s called cultural or nominal Christianity. This mission field is primarily made up of people who’d quickly answer “yes” if asked whether they are Christians. But ask any questions about their faith, and you’ll soon realize you’re hearing something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you asked a nominal Christian why he is a Christian, Jesus Christ himself would likely have little bearing on the answer. For many people, good standing with God is related to heritage, rites of passage, or general morality. Jesus just happens to be a nice mascot.

This disparity requires our attention, because it isn’t unique to the American South. Across the nation, the most dominant religion doesn’t show up on a census, poll, or survey—it’s impossible to detect by those methods. The most common practiced religion in America today is a generic theism that mingles biblical concepts with a hope that one is a good person—all while maintaining autonomy over personal decisions and lifestyle. In this religion, good people go to a “better place” when they die. Going to this better place doesn’t depend on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet somehow these beliefs still get classified as “Christian.”

In this way, thousands of people are overlooked in outreach efforts because they may already be sitting in pews. Yet their lives show no evidence of saving faith. Whether the disconnect is the result of poor gospel communication by churches, fear of telling the truth, or a general misunderstanding of what the Bible says, the need is there, and it’s urgent. It can be easy to conclude that cultural Christians just need to get more serious about their faith, and so problems with cultural Christianity are declared discipleship issues.

I don’t believe this to be the case. I believe cultural Christians need evangelism before they need discipleship, since they may be unsaved altogether.

Inserra is a rare bird making an obvious point in our day today in the Bible belt. I have seen by experience that many of the schools that I have been to are filled with “Christian” students who have tried to live a Christian life without any relationship to Jesus. Jesus is not a passion. Jesus is not a model. Jesus is a sidekick. Jesus is a means to a greater end.

This is certainly something that would be wise for us to reflect on in our church, parenting, work relationships, schools, and wherever we interact with others in our lives. Is our mission to bring other people to know the glory, majesty, grace, and love of Jesus and to be devoted to Him in every aspect of life (which is what it means to be “holy”)? Is our “gospel” detached from Jesus or is Jesus the gospel? Is heaven glorious to us because Jesus gives us all we want there or is heaven glorious because it is there where we experience Jesus to the full for eternity? When we ask these questions and more, we might begin to see more of a dividing line in our cultural Christianity and therefore evangelize and disciple more effectively.

For the full article from Inserra, click here.

God vs Pharaoh (Sermon by Dr. Mike McKelvey on Exodus 7-11)

Last month, the youth ministry had the privilege of having Dr. Mike McKelvey come to preach one of the sermons from this semester’s sermon series on the book of Exodus. Dr. McKelvey, Old Testament professor at RTS Jackson and a frequent favorite of seminary students, preached on Exodus 7-11 on the Ten Plagues. Some of the responses I received afterward from students were:

Best sermon I’ve ever heard.

That rocked me.

The Bible was so clear tonight.

I’ve never seen Jesus like that before.

I would encourage you to listen to this sermon on God vs Pharaoh.

TGC Blog Gives Good Response To A Bad Book

Recently, author and blogger Rachel Hollis has gotten very popular with her new books titled Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. Both of these books are, unfortunately, popular in evangelical circles. Both promote self-esteem and self-centeredness rather than Christ-esteem and God-centeredness. This may sound harsh but there are times when we must communicate in black and white what some authors say in a very persuasive way. Thankfully, people with more knowledge and writing ability than me have written about this. Here is what a recent article from The Gospel Coalition has said:

In her latest book, Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals, Hollis has gained momentum. She wants you to believe in yourself, to take great pride in your hard work and accomplishments, and to do so without shame and with gusto. She wants you to go hard and unapologetically after your dreams.

Hollis’s message this time around is, “All that really matters is how bad you want those dreams and what you’re willing to do to make them happen” (83).

For a woman who claims Christ, I’m afraid this is in direct opposition to his words:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23–25)

This article is very much worth your read especially since there might be several of us who have been influenced by Hollis or have friends who have been influenced by Hollis. Someone might ask, “Is this worth splitting hairs over?” I would wholeheartedly answer yes.

For the whole article, click here.

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.”