FROM THE ARCHIVE: 3 REASONS TO ATTEND CHURCH REGULARLY

In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.

But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.

But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:

SERVE & BE SERVED

First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.

HEAR THE WORD

Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.

It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.

In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.

OBEY THE LORD

Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply.  It is in our best interest.

God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.

Prayer and Surrender

Think about surrender.

Defined, surrender means a yielding to, a giving up in favor of another, or giving yourself over to some kind of desire. This is why the synonyms for the word surrender are submission, renunciation, and relinquish. When surrender is thought of in relation to prayer, we can say that prayer takes us to a deeper level of surrender. Meaning that, when we know how great the love of God is toward us in Christ, we will not only trust Him, we’ll surrender our lives entirely to Him.

Tim Keller similarly says, “Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become big and sweet, moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart.” In other words, what happens in the believer when God is sensed upon the heart? The heart surrenders to God, yields to Him, and gives up rebelling against Him.

There’s something about this that is very gospel centered.

And that is fitting to point out because Christians are a gospel people and everything in our lives should ultimately come back to, revolve around, and inflame our devotion to the gospel. How does prayer work like this in relation to what we’ve been talking about tonight? It has everything to do with surrender. In Luke 11 we read, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Keller continues on at this point saying, “…there’s never been a parent who desires joy and pleasure and good for their children as much as God. There has never been a parent who desires to hear and answer their children’s heart and requests as much as God. And there has never a parent who desires to shower blessings on their children as much as God.”

This passage not only means these things. It also poses a question: how does God give us joy, how does God hear and answer our heart and requests, how does God shower blessings on us when we deserve the opposite? The answer is the gospel. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, made a request of His Father in Gethsemane and received the serpent and scorpion in return so that all those who believe in Him would never receive the serpent or scorpion. Jesus’ prayers were rejected so that our prayers would be received.

This gospel love, once seen and tasted as sweet and beautiful changes the heart and redirects our prayer away from trying to get God to submit to our requests toward our surrendering to His gracious and wise sovereign plan.

Prayer and Trust

Prayer not only requires trust but takes us to a deeper trust in God.

To illustrate this I want you to think of a young boy walking along the street with his father. The two are having a wonderful time together and suddenly the father stoops down and swings his boy into his arms holding him high in the air. He then kisses him and tells him that he loves him, and puts him back down on the ground. Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin once spoke of this and then asked the following question. “Tell me this, was the young boy more a son in the father’s arms than he was down on the street?” Do you see why he spoke of this and then asked that question? His answer was that objectively there is no difference, the boy is always his much beloved son. But subjectively there is all the difference in the world, for when the boy was in the arms of his father he was experiencing his father’s love.

Prayer is like this.

Objectively all believers are owned and adopted sons and daughters of God, this is true, beautiful and praiseworthy. But subjectively we can feel the warm embrace of our heavenly Father’s arms. How? Certainly through reading and meditating on His Word, sure. But when the reading and meditating over the Word is coupled with prayer the heart is drawn heavenward to God and we experience subjectively what is already objectively true of us. We experience being lifted off the ground by our Father’s arms. Didn’t Jesus say in Luke 11:11 and following, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Because our heavenly Father loves us so, we can come to Him with anything on our hearts just as a child can come to their father. Think of some of the examples in Scripture we see of the gutsiness people had with God in prayer.

-Abraham asking God to save Sodom and Gommorah (Gen. 18:16-33)

-Moses pleading with God to have mercy on stubborn Israel (Ex. 33:12-22)

-Habakkuk and Job boldly questioning God’s purposes.

There are many others. In all of these moments God not only heard the prayers of His people, He answered. Lesson? God responds when His own adopted children cry out to Him. Yet, if this gutsiness in prayer isn’t coupled with a deep trust in God we could go very wrong in prayer thinking that we can muscle down God’s arm in prayer. This is why the image of the child with his father is so helpful for prayer. That young boy knows his father loves him. Therefore he trusts and knows can ask his father for anything, but that’s not all he knows. He also knows he can trust his father in however he answers that request.

Do you know these things? In prayer you’ll be reminded of these things, and through prayer these things will increase in you.

Depression and the Church Community (Part 3)

Encouragement for Depression in the Local Church

Friends, whether or not you battle with depression, the encouragement we need to hold fast our confession comes from the Triune God and the word of his grace. The one true God alone—Father, Son , and Spirit—is the God of all comfort. Yet look at how Paul writes to the Corinthians here; notice how plural it all sounds. We comfort others; we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings and comfort; we are afflicted for y’alls comfort and salvation. The same goes for our text today, and the other passages we read.

Scripture is clear that the context in which we receive the encouragement of our Triune God is in community with others. Like the early chuch in Acts 2, we are strengthened in the faith as we not only devote our selves to the word and prayer, but to fellowship and the breaking of bread. It’s not in isolation, in the comfort of our homes; it’s not on social media, behind the comfort of our screens. No; we encounter the God of all comfort in gospel community. It is in the fellowship of a local church that we find the strength we need to suffer well.

This afternoon, who are you? Maybe you’re a bit like Eutychus: weary, worn out, exhausted after a hard week’s work. You’re eager to hear the word of God’s grace in Christ but you’re tired and running on empty. Maybe you feel a little bit like Paul: burdened beyond your strength and despairing of life itself. Despite all God has done for you and who you are, secure in the love of Christ, you still feel like you have received the sentence of death. Maybe you feel a bit like the church of Acts: afflicted, troubled, persecuted. Even though we’ve been saved in hope and know that our Savior King will one day make all things new, you still battle with anxiety, discouragement, unbelief, sinful doubts, and the temptation to call it quits.

If you are any one of these people today, then hear the good news : Our God is good and does good. He loves you. He sent his only Son into the world to live among us, to suffer like us, and to die for us. And he raised him from the dead so that in him by faith we might have life. Remeber that our God is faithful to his promises. The word of God will never fail. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have a sure and living hope—as sure as the empty tomb! But don’t just be encouraged yourself; be eager to encourage, exhort, and comfort one another.

If you suffer with depression, know that a church community is not a pain-free remedy, a guaranteed quick fix for your suffering. Simply going to a church or being actively involved will not automatically relieve you of all the pain that comes from living in a broken world. But rest assured, for those whose hope is in God, and are trusting day by day in Jesus and the promise of resurrection, a church community will help you suffer well. Whatever the cause of your depression, you need the encouragement that comes experiencing God’s grace in community, gospel fellowship with others.

As we speak the truth in love, as we minister God’s Word to one another with patience and humility, the Spirit of Jesus will strengthen our faith. The risen Lord Jesus will build up his church. And the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort, will hold us fast.

Prayer and Self Knowledge

Self knowledge is a curious thing.

It once was a fixed truth. You are who you are and there’s no changing it. But in our day and age who you are has become a thing of choice. We can choose who we want to be, what we want to be, even if that goes directly against who God has genetically and physiologically made us to be. One current example is that when one signs up for a Facebook account there are now 71 gender options to choose from. I don’t think we need to linger long on this to see that we are a confused people, laden with incorrect and often exaggerated views of ourselves.

John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying “The whole sum of our wisdom – wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured – broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” The way we get a true knowledge of God is from His holy and inspired Word. But an often overlooked implication of this is that when we gain a true knowledge of God we also get along with it a true knowledge of ourselves.

This true self knowledge comes to us in the Word also, but we experience our true selves in prayer. Why does this come to us in prayer? Because when prayer is done truthfully, reverently, and humbly it is near impossible to have an over exaggerated view of oneself. Rather, we gain an honest sense about who we truly are and who we’re truly speaking to.

Seen in this light prayer and our relationship with God is dramatically different than any other relationship we have in this life. Whether the relationship be with a friend, co-worker, stranger on the street, our children, or even our spouse you and I can be very good (and perhaps more sneaky than we’d like to admit) at presenting ourselves in a certain manner that doesn’t honestly reflect who we really are. You can put on a face before friends without much effort, even more so with co-workers who really only sees you during work, even more with strangers on the street who’ll only see you once, and though I think it’s very difficult to do with your own children and husband or wife it is sadly possible, though no one has a closer relationship with you, to deceive even them. People can function like this for years without truthfully allowing anyone to know them for who they really are. It’s a sad and lonely story but a true story nonetheless.

In contrast to all these relationships think about our relationship to God. When our relationship with God is in view, the deception does not easily continue. For God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He knows everything about you, and therefore with Him and in relating to Him it is impossible to present yourself as someone you’re not. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Or as many have said, “The scrutinizing gaze of the omniscient God completely exposes us.”

All this to say, prayer does not allow us to deceive ourselves, and so in it we learn and in a real sense acquire our true selves. Where is the first place prayer takes us? To a true self knowledge.

Depression and the Church Community (Part 2)

So, as we hope in God and believe the gospel of his beloved Son, we still suffer, but we don’t merely suffer. Our God has promised to graciously supply us with all we need to suffer well.

For those who suffer with depression, this is what I want to ask: how can we suffer well? The most important question you can ask is not “How can I get rid of my depression?” but first, “How can I be saved, forgiven of my sin and justified?”; and then second, “How can I continue to trust my Savior Jesus while struggling with depression? How do I rely on God’s abundant grace to suffer well?” Let us continue to answer this as we journey through Acts 20.

The God of Encouragement (Acts 20:7-12)

With Paul and company together in Troas, we find them worshiping with the church “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). This is the first reference to the church meeting for worship on Sunday! While Christians did meet daily, the church came together especially on the Lord’s Day because of Jesus’s resurrection and also to avoid conflicts with synagogue gatherings on Saturday.3 Since many worked during the day, meetings often took place during the evening. And since Paul was intending to depart the next day, the meeting lasted quite a long time, until midnight.

But notice the purpose of their gathering. They were gathered together to break bread—presumably for both a fellowship meal as well as the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 2:42-46)—but also for encouragement through Paul’s ministry of the word. Paul talked and conversed with them. Back in verse 2, he gave the churches “much encouragement,” which is literally encouragement “with many words.” Here, in verse 7, he “prolonged his words”; he “extended his message.” And this church was hungry for the word! They were willing to gather late and listen to Paul preach and answer their questions for hours on end. These believers knew that without the water of the Word, they would wither away.

The Death of Eutychus

But this brings us to a specific incident that Luke records in verses 8-9 that took place during this late-night meeting of the church at Troas. A young lad name Eutychus—most likely between 8-14 years old—was overcome by sleep and fell out of the window in which he was sitting and died.

Now, in my experience, I’ve always heard this story told to make humorous points: to illustrate the dangers of a long-winded preacher, and to warn those who fall asleep during the sermon! But is this really why Luke chose to record this specific incident in his history of the church, the awesome story of the Acts of the risen Lord Jesus? Is he really taking time to describe the tragic death of a young boy during a worship service to make a funny or humorous point? No!

First, Luke isn’t suggesting Paul was rambling on and on; he was seizing the opportunity to encourage a church whom he would presumably never see again. They were enjoying their fellowship together, conversing about their King, and their precious time with Paul. Second, I don’t believe Eutychus is guilty of apathy or inattentiveness. It was unusually late and, from the way Luke describes the whole scene, he was simply “overcome by sleep.” So why record the death of Eutychus? Imagine being there that night, worshiping the Lord. This would be horrifying, absolutely devastating! What if it was your child? Imagine the pain! So what does Paul do? He raises him from the dead (Acts 20:10-12).

The Comforting Presence of Jesus

There are only seven resurrections performed in Scripture: the OT prophets Elijah and Elisha each raised a woman’s son; Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus; and Peter raised Dorcas.4 And each of these is a tragic story of the loss of a dear loved one. And this resurrection is supposed to be funny? I think not. Rather, this extraordinary miracle is showing the life-giving power and comforting presence of Jesus at work in his church.5 This would have been a sign that their risen King—who had conquered death—was with themandwas fully approving of their worship! It was an utterly remarkable token of his love.6 The same Jesus who died and rose from the dead was still at work to care for his weary people.

But did you notice what happened after he raised him? They continued to break bread and Paul preached until the morning! And then we see, in verse 12, that they were greatly comforted. Not astounded, amazed, fearful, or awestruck, but comforted.7 This is the exact same word found at the beginning of our passage (Acts 20:1-2). This text begins and ends with the encouragement of the Triune God through the ministry of Paul. But also notice where Luke places this word: not simply after Eutychus was raised, but after the conclusion of their Lord’s Day worship. Their comfort wasn’t just because of a miracle; it was the result of Paul’s ministry of the word and their gospel fellowship together. That night in Troas, they powerfully encountered the God of encouragement in community.

Beloved, we are not in any way lacking because we don’t have prophets like Elisha or apostles like Paul performing resurrections today. The same Jesus who defeated death, who raised Eutychus from the dead, is the same Jesus still at work today by his Spirit through his Word to strengthen his church. This is because God the Father is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-10). God the Son is the consolation of Israel, our Comforter. God the Spirit is another Comforter sent by the Father and Son to encourage us, his people, even those battling any and all forms of depression. One pastor explains it like this:

The ultimate answer to anxiety, loneliness, and depression isn’t a pill or a program or even a pastor. It’s God in three persons: our Father, who cares enough to carry the full weight of our cares (1 Pet. 5:7); his Son, ready with timely mercies for each moment of our need (Heb. 4:14–16); and his Spirit, who walks with us step by step, turning the wasteland of a worried mind into an orchard of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22–23).8


Endnotes

  1. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 20:7.
  2. This is not counting Jesus’s own resurrection and the bizarre accounts of Elisha’s bones reviving a dead man (2 Kgs 13:21) and the saints in Jerusalem who were raised when Christ died (Matt. 27:52-53).
  3. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), Ac 20:10.
  4. Chung-Kim, et al., eds., Acts: New Testament, 279.
  5. Schnabel, Acts, Ac 20:11–12.
  6. Gunner Gundersen, “How Can I Counsel Those with Anxiety, Loneliness, or Depression?,” 9Marks; May 15, 2020, https://www.9marks.org/article/how-can-i-counsel-those-with-anxiety-loneliness-or-depression/.

Depression and the Church Community (Part 1)

When suffering comes our way, many often turn to religion or spirituality for quick relief. In our desperation, we will believe or do anything if it will ease our struggles. We want an instant remedy for the pain. But there are no such instant guarantees when it comes to the Christian faith.

Now, while it is certainly true that our God is able to miraculously heal and to deliver, that he has conquered death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that one glorious day he will make all things new, trusting in him for salvation is not the answer for a pain-free life. Rather, the Bible teaches that we have been saved in hope. Paul writes in Romans 8 that, for those who belong to Christ, we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23-24). Until that day when faith turns to sight, we often cry out: “How long, O Lord?”

So, as we hope in God and believe the gospel of his beloved Son, we still suffer, but we don’t merely suffer. Our God has promised to graciously supply us with all we need to suffer well.

For those who suffer with depression, this is what I want to ask: how can we suffer well? The most important question you can ask is not “How can I get rid of my depression?” but first, “How can I be saved, forgiven of my sin and justified?”; and then second, “How can I continue to trust my Savior Jesus while struggling with depression? How do I rely on God’s abundant grace to suffer well?”

There are several ways to do this. The two most basic means of grace are the word and prayer. Our God has promised to strengthen us as we encounter him in his word and in prayer. But there’s another means of grace that is essential if we are to struggle well, and that is community. We must be in the word and prayer with others. Believers must be devoted to the fellowship of a local church community, for this is vital for our encouragement in the faith.

You see, the devil is always looking for someone to deceive, to discourage, and to devour; for someone to lose sight of the glory of Christ. And both anxiety and depression can all too easily become an occasion to doubt God, to reject his gospel, and to fall away from promised grace. Thus, believers must be encouraged if we are to suffer well and hold fast the confession of our hope. To be strong in the Lord, to stand firm in the faith, we need to put on the whole armor of God and pray always. But we don’t stand alone; in Christ, we stand arm in arm with others.

Over the next few weeks I want to look at what the Bible has to say about depression, to do this I want us to look at a rather unusual story found in the book of Acts, chapter 20. In this passage, the author (Luke) provides us with a seemingly unimportant travel summary and an often-misunderstood miracle. But here, we will see that we encounter the God of all comfort in gospel community. It is in the fellowship of a local church that we find the strength we need to suffer well.

The Ministry of Encouragement (Acts 20:1-6)

In the first three verses of Acts 20, we get an incredibly brief summary of Paul’s travels after a riot that took place at Ephesus. He travels around the Aegean Sea through Macedonia and into Greece—visiting the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and others—and then back through these regions again. During this time, he writes 2 Corinthians (v.2), and his epistle to the Romans (v.3).

But notice what Paul does in each of these places: he encourages the disciples in Ephesus before leaving (Acts 20:1); he goes through Macedonia and gives them “much encouragement” (Acts 20:2); and he spends three months in Greece to encourage the Corinthians and even the Romans by letter (Acts 20:3).

This word “encourage” has a range of meaning. It can mean “to urge or exhort,” encouraging someone to action; it can also be the sense of instilling someone with courage or cheer, bringing comfort. In essence, biblical encouragement is strengthening someone to continue in the faith and bringing comfort in the midst of affliction. It’s to have our doubt-filled minds recalibrated, to have our hope set fully on the grace in store for us when Jesus Christ returns in glory.1

Watering the Church with the Word

So, far from being just a routine travel summary that Luke reports often in Acts, these verses imply a rich ministry of encouragement—Paul’s labor of shepherding, teaching, bearing burdens, prayer, and enduring suffering. Why? All to strengthen and comfort the churches. One 16th century pastor put it like this:

“The church is like a garden or a vineyard. A garden must be watered . . . otherwise it will go to ruin from heat and drought. In the same way Christian congregations also wither through tribulation, affliction and persecution. So then, they must be watered and sustained with the water and consolation of the Holy Spirit.”2

Now, the encouragement we’re talking about here is not some kind of motivational pep-talk to boost self-confidence, with shallow phrases like “Hey, you look great today!” The kind of comfort we’re talking about is not just a few kind words to those suffering such as “I’ll be praying for you.” No, we’re talking about a supernatural strength that comes from the ministry of the word. If the church is to grow and bear fruit, then we need the water of the word. We need, as Romans 15:4says, “the encouragement of the Scriptures” to hold fast our hope. The encouragement we need is that which only comes from the promises of God held out to us in the gospel. Biblical encouragement begins with reminding one another of promises such as

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

Encouragement and Exhortation for Depression

But having been reassured of our hope, comfort turns to exhortation as we urge one another to walk in step with the truth of the gospel, to live as though Jesus really is the King of the world. Paul does this often in his letters. After the good news of Romans 1-11, he writes “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, [ I urge, I exhort you] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). After the sound doctrine of Ephesians 1-3, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge [exhort] you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

But who’s responsible to do this? Who’s responsible to speak the truth in love, to build up the body of Christ, to give counsel, to encourage and exhort to the weak? First, It’s the ministry of elders. Paul tells themto Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). But encouragement is also the ministry of every disciple of Jesus. Paul tells the Thessalonians to encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11). The author of Hebrews says: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13).

Encouragement is Verbal and Relational

Don’t miss what all these verses imply: The ministry of encouragement—strengthening the weary, comforting the afflicted, including those suffering with depression—is both a verbal ministry and relational ministry. It’s a verbal ministry in that it requires proclaiming the word, speaking the truth in love to one another. But it’s a relational ministry in that it requires fellowship and community! Look how the author of Hebrews sums it all up in Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.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.”

In fact, this idea of mutual encouragement is something I think we see inActs 20:4-6.Notice the list of Paul’s companions. Most likely, these men were representatives of the various Gentile churches assisting Paul in bringing the offering to the Jerusalem church. But I think there’s more going on. From what we see in Acts, we know Paul always preferred travelling with others on his long and difficult journeys. But was it simply for physical help and support? guys to carry his bags? I don’t think so. If you consider the extensive greetings found in several of Paul’s letters and how often he expresses his love for those who labored alongside him in the work of the gospel, I think it’s clear that Paul himself needed these brothers for encouragement and comfort! He was often discouraged, afflicted, burdened beyond his own strength, despairing of life itself, weak and weary. But he always sought the fellowship of the believers, whether he was going or staying. His heart needed to be encouraged just like theirs did, and just as all the churches did.

These verses are a brief but powerful proof of the believer’s need of encouragement. For those who suffer with depression or anxiety, it’s especially easy to lose sight of the love of God in Christ, the empty tomb, and the hope of our salvation. This is why the ministry of encouragement is so vital. We need to remind one another of God’s loving faithfulness. We need to remember what Jesus has done to forgive our sins and make us acceptable to the Father. We need the encouragement of his gospel word to find strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

  1. 1 Peter 1:13.
  2. Johann Spangenberg “Der Apostel Geschichte, 181v, 182v” in Esther Chung-Kim, Todd R. Hains, et al., eds., Acts: New Testament, vol. VI, Reformation Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 275.

How Big Is Your God?

I’ve never read the book Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips, but I resonate with the title. Each of us are hard-wired from the fall with a smaller view of God than we ought to have. Indeed it’s entirely possible to hold to a “big God” theology, while actually having a small god mentality in the nuts and bolts of everyday life. This reality hit home to me recently while preparing for our weekly church prayer meeting. We’re in a series on the prayers of Scripture in which we study a Bible prayer or teaching on prayer and then pray accordingly. We were to begin with a brief look at James 1:5-8, which speaks of the importance of faith when we pray, then spend some time praying big prayers to our big God. As I studied the text, however, I realized that I was acting as the double-minded man James described who is unstable as water and shouldn’t expect anything from God. I had secretly (unconsciously?) carried anxiety over a few “major” issues in life, ministry, family, etc. and had not been casting these burdens God’s way because I foolishly treated these issues as bigger than Him. I had a “big God theology,” but a small god mentality when it came to these. I realized that I needed to cling in faith to the big God revealed in Scripture. The following is my attempt to work through this in my own heart and I think it will be of help to some of you. 

Scripture is full of texts referring to how incomparable our God is. I noticed these “Who is like you?” verses popping up all over the place in my Bible reading and the following is my attempt to help myself and you grapple with them… 

  1. BEHOLD YOUR GOD

What follows here are a list of the Scriptures that speak of God’s incomparability. Read them each through prayerfully and ask the Lord to give you a bigger vision for who He is from His Word.

There is none more powerful 

Exodus 15:11- “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”

Jeremiah 10:7, 10- “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you….But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.”

Jeremiah 49:19b- “For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me?”

Ps. 86:10- “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”

Isaiah 37:16- “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.”

His power is also revealed in the fact that He alone can claim the title of Creator:

Neh. 9:6- “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”

Isaiah 40:25- “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.”

Isaiah 44:24- “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself”

Jeremiah 10:16; 51:19- “Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the LORD of hosts is his name.”

There is none more helpful 

Deuteronomy 33:26- “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.”

Psalm 35:10- “All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?””

Isaiah 44:7- “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Micah 7:18-20- “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

There is none more trustworthy 

1 Kings 8:23; 2 Chron. 6:14- “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart;”

There is none more righteous 

Psalm 71:19- “Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”

Luke 18:19- “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Revelation 15:3-4- And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

There is none more exalted 

Psalm 113:4-9- “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!”

There is none more sovereign

Isaiah 46:5, 9b-11- “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?…for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

As you come to God in prayer and worship, consider how incomparable He is and let His majesty and glory overwhelm you. Then think on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The God who stands alone in power and glory has come down in weakness and humility to endure the agony of the cross for sinners. Jesus has risen in power and now lives to intercede for His own. There is no other God and there is no other Savior like ours.

  1. BELIEVE YOUR GOD

Now for the hard part. God gives us these words of His grandeur not only to stimulate our thinking, but to transform our daily living. The next step in responding to these texts is to confess and repent before God of your small view of Him. I love the scene in Mark 9 where Jesus comes to heal a man’s demon-possessed son, and the man says to Jesus, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24). Even a prayer confessing one’s small view of God is a prayer of faith, because it acknowledges His power to overcome our unbelief. Another way to overcome our fear of man or love of self or spiritual laziness is to memorize and meditate on Scripture. Put some of the above texts to memory and pray them back to God every time you find yourself growing anxious or tempted or prideful. There is nothing that will cut the head of the Goliaths of sin in our lives like remembering just how colossal our God truly is. When God sent the twelve Israelite men to spy out the land, there problem was that they compared their enemies with themselves and not with God. They were comparing the wrong way and so the result was that they concluded, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33b). They should have compared these giants to God. Then they could have said with Isaiah, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). Another helpful way to overcome our problem of comparisons is to jot down all the “big” issues in your life that seem impossible to change (marriage/singleness issues, lost family members, stubborn sin patterns, anxiety about the future). Grab a stack of sticky notes and fill your desk or table with the big ones in your life. Now read back over those Scriptures above and hand them over to the God of all creation, asking Him to help you see them in the right light. There is a reason Jesus spoke of mountains being cast into the sea with only mustard seed faith! When we are regularly comparing our problems to our infinite God, we will then move into behaviors that exalt Him and deny self. We will move past our sinful idleness and anxiety into serving and helping real people whom He created for His glory. 

So, how big is your God?  

The Gospel that Binds

For my monthly contribution to the Publican blog I’d like to share a blog that my wife, Rachel Noble, wrote a few years ago that is still very relevant today. Enjoy!


“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The early church just fascinates me.   Here in Acts 6 the apostles are working relentlessly for the furthering of the gospel.  However, there arose a complaint about the widows being neglected.  If this complaint happened in today’s church I can see a lot of pastors feeling guilty, stopping whatever they are doing, and addressing this personally.  This, of course, would come from a heart of compassion and a desire to make the widows feel loved and valued (which is honorable).  However, this was NOT the response the apostles had.  They were not about to put the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and prayer on the back-burner in order to “serve tables”.  This may seem strange and perhaps arrogant, but if we look at this text, that’s simply what we see.

The apostles do take care of this issue, but in a way that did not neglect their primary duty which was the teaching of the Word.  The apostles call for men of wisdom and good reputation to carry out this task of serving.  The serving ministry is what we call the office of deacon as seen in 1 Timothy 3.

I once knew a pastor who was “faulted” with being “too theological” and perhaps not relevant enough.  This saddens me immensely because it’s literally impossible for a pastor to be “too” concerned with studying God and His Word!

Today our culture (even within the church) finds theology boring, preaching irrelevant, and Biblical knowledge for those of some “higher level” of Christianity.  Funny jokes, games, sports, and having coffee together have become more important than the true study of God’s Word.  This should horrify us!

I recently spoke with a woman who told me that she had trouble finding a youth group for her children to attend.  Her kids hated and were bored with every youth service they attended.  At first, we would think it was the child’s fault, but the reason they hated it was because there was no actual Bible study going on.  It was all fun and games, watching movies, and hanging out.  There was about 5 minutes of Bible study taught by a “youth leader” who had no Biblical knowledge whatsoever.  This should sadden us.

The study of God’s Word must be at the forefront of what we do as a local church.  Our pastors (and any person who has a teaching or leading position) should devote themselves to the study of God’s Word and to prayer just as the apostles did in the early church.

I’m not saying that pastors shouldn’t serve or that various ministries of the church shouldn’t have fun and games, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the teaching and preaching ministry. Deacons were established in the early church with the primary responsibility of serving.   Fun, games, and Christian fellowship are certainly important and should come as an outflow of a community of people who are centered around God’s Word and the gospel.  The gospel holds us together. Enjoying the same games, watching the same movies, or having the same friends is not what binds us as Christians.  The gospel binds us.

Let’s be the people of God who focus on the Word of God for the glory of God!

Reflecting on Amen or A-women.

For a reason I cannot explain (I only ever watched the film once), I vividly remember ardent Angels’ fan Roger Bomman gazing into the heavens and asking God for victory for his team on the baseball diamond. He concluded his prayer with the words: “Amen… (then with a shrug) or A-woman.” Watching as a middle school student in 1994 I took the phrase for how it was intended in the movie: a falling-flat stab at humor veiling the rather obvious reality that Hollywood would refuse to assign gender to a god that may or may not (most likely not) exist. Fast forward twenty-six years and a US Congressman opens the 117th Congress with the same benediction. Yet now, Christians are losing their minds.

There are two issues that must be quickly addressed – the stupidity of the statement and the carelessness of Christians. Don’t be offended. Hang with me.

To utter in prayerful conclusion “Amen and A-woman” as Representative Emanuel Cleaver did in Congress last weekend reveals a glaring and undeniable ignorance. Cleaver claims that the phrase was a pun – a kind of shout out to all the new ladies in Congress, which would offset the accusation of linguistic ignorance that has flooded his way (the designation “Amen” is from the Greek ἀμὴν meaning “this is truth” or “may it be so” and has no gender specification to it). Only a kid praying for his baseball team should be led to think that “Amen” means “a man.” But the linguistic ignorance is not what I am speaking of, after all Rep. Cleaver has multiple degrees, and despite the cries of my right-wing friends, he is not an imbecile. He is though, ignorant on a more significant level. Cleaver’s entire Congressional prayer (which many have missed) called for the death of tribalism and a restoration of unity and peace. The sentiments, however genuine or disingenuous from the orator, should be shared by true followers of Jesus. After this prayer for unity though, Cleaver concludes with a phrase, that had he been truly thinking of unity and peace, he would have known would disrupt and defeat the very message of his prayer. If harmony is something one desires, then prudent care and consideration should be shown to bring this about. The Congressman is now “shocked” that his prayer has received so much critical backlash and laments that Americans failed to hear the sum of his petition. This should come as no surprise to the politician. That level of ignorance is sad.

But the ignorance of politicians – even would be reverends – should not surprise the true church either; and this is what unsettles me most. From everything I have found on the faith and theology of Emanuel Cleaver, he certainly does not seem to be a man with a deep faith in the singular message of hope and unity – the Gospel of Jesus. Therefore, if he is not trusting and preaching Christ alone as Savior and Lord, then he is not a true Christian. It is that simple. And for far too long we have, as the true church, demanded that unbelievers behave and speak as believers are called to behave and speak. That, my friends, is careless and ignorant on our part. The Christian has the Spirit of God within, has fellowship with the risen Christ, and walks (or should) in submission to the Scriptures. The non-Christian has none of the above. Clearly, this does not mean that we shouldn’t preach the truth to the perishing – only that we should not assume righteousness from the depraved. The god of this world has blinded minds and we should not be shocked when we witness unintelligible or deplorable groping by those without eyes.

Many Christians are appalled by what is unfolding across our nation today but perhaps we should take the blame for a moment. We have stood as “conservatives” in our proclamation while we and our children have been swept up in most, if not all, cultural tides. We despise that prayer has been removed from various settings, but we forget our direct access to the Father and neglect the disciple of prayer regularly. We pine for religious liberty – for the right to gather and the right to speak uncensored truth – but then refuse to do either. We hear from the Word that we are not to place our faith in humanity, yet then worship at the feet of a President whose policies have, at least to some degree, been Christianesque, but whose behavior and personal confession has not. We are believers; yet if we are honest, we fail to live according to the very standard we erect for unbelievers.

I know we don’t like to hear it, but repentance is called for, friends. Revival is an antiquated term, I know, but we desperately need a revival within Christianity of prayer, truth, devotion to Jesus and to His church, Biblical unity, submission to authority, and evangelism. Be saddened by the blind depravity that swirls through our nation, but don’t be shocked by it. Instead, may we be shocked and repulsed by the sin of our own souls – repent and purpose to be the light of Christ in this miserably dark world.

Semper Reformanda. 

The A2 Podcast

For those who have been reading the Publicans for a while now we wanted to make you aware of Andrew & Adam’s weekly podcast: A2. https://sonrisecity.wordpress.com/category/a2/ Each week we tackle different topics ranging from questions we have been asked by church members to issues happening in the world around us. The goal of this podcast is to be another point of instruction for those who call SonRise home as well as those who follow us here on the Publicans Blog. In the coming week we will highlight a few other podcast’s you may wish to follow.

The Death of My Father & the Hope of Christ

Not every man can look to his father and say, “I am proud to be your son.” I can.

On the Lord’s Day, March 7th 2021, Dennis Carpenter drew his last breath with his sin-plagued, cancer-ridden body & opened his sin-freed, wholly restored eyes to embrace his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Instantly, he was in the presence of God Most High, engaged in the angelic chorus of praise, singing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing…To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (Revalation 5:12-13)!

What a glorious Truth and the Comfort of my hurting heart!

My father was a man of integrity and character. He was honorable in an age when honor is rejected and shame has been abandoned by the masses. He embraced justice, devoted his life to promoting it, he served & protected his community, as the Chief of Police, with honor. He served the Lord in his local church with the talents and gifts the Lord had given him. He loved his family; and we love him!

He was not a perfect man but he was a faithful man; faithful till the end.

Hebrews 9:27 reveals a painful Truth that we know in all too familiar ways. The authors pens, “…it is appointed for man to die once…” Death is a reality, a pain-filled reality, for the one who is dying and for those who love him. But, for those in Christ, death is not the end of life. In fact, the Psalmist tells us “Precious in the sight of the YHWH is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). And as strange as that sounds to those outside the Church of Jesus Christ, the death of those saved from the penalty of their sins is indeed precious to the Lord and a delight to the deceased!

Octavius Winslow (1808-1878) explains these twin realities, why the death of the saint is precious to the Lord and a delight to the deceased, masterfully when he encourages his hearers to…

Approach that chamber where the saint of God is departing…The Triune Jehovah is there—the Father watching the child He adopted, the Son upholding the soul He redeemed, the Holy Spirit strengthening the heart He had made His temple. Is this the chamber of death—this the last enemy, the final conflict, the closing scene? Surely this is not dying! What! This mental calmness, this spirit-joy, this soul-sunshine, this victory of faith, this stupendous glorious triumph of the immortal over the mortal—is this death? Hark! What angel sounds are those? Whence this melody? It is the voice of the departing one…And then all is still! The silver cord is loosed (Eccl. 12:6), and the panting spirit, borne on the wing of song, has swept upwards into the beaming presence of God and rests in the embrace of Christ. Call not this death—it is life! Call it not destruction—it is the renewal of vigor of the soul, the moment when it renews its youth and expiates amid the wonders, glories, and sublimities of its newborn creation. All this triumph, all this glory, all this joy, we owe to Jesus’ death and resurrection…

The Lord, in His Goodness, gave my father a peace, concerning his certain death, that caused his family question, “How does he have such peace?” His peace came from the certain knowledge that though his sins were many Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient; that though his death was imminent Christ’s resurrection guaranteed his eternal life; that though his heart was breaking that he was leaving his family his Savior awaited him. This is peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and it is only available to those who, by faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, have taken Refuge in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Psalm 61:1-3).

“It is appointed unto you”, reader, “once to die and then face the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27) and “unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). You need not fear death or the judgement that follows it if you turn from your sin, trust in the Lord, and serve Him all your days for “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” (John 3:36). As a matter of fact, in Christ ALL are set from “the lifelong slavery to the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).”For God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Surely, in Christ, man has found his Sabbath. Rest in Christ, O Reader, “for He is gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul” (Matthew 11:29).

From my youth, my father pointed me to the Cross of Christ, taught me to honor the Lord, to honor my mother, to love and serve my family, and encouraged me to serve the Lord faithfully in Eldred; surely, this is all of life to love the Lord my God and love my neighbor as myself. No greater gift has ever been given to a son from his father & no greater legacy could ever be passed from one generation to the next.

Thank you, Lord, for my father.

Soli Deo Gloria!

10 Things You Should Know about R. C. Sproul by Stephen Nichols

Original Post: Crossway

1. Had R. C. not been a theologian, he would have been a baseball player—for the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course.

R. C. Sproul played baseball for a sponsored team. He was traded for three players. The announcement made the papers. But the sportswriter added these words, “Sonny Sproul”—as he was known before he became R. C.—“lacked a potential bat.” At the time he was in the sixth grade playing against mostly early twenty-somethings. His first time at bat after the trade, he ripped off a sharp single. Next time at bat, he pounded a home run. He had an actual bat. He was offered a baseball scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh, but went to Westminster College on an athletic scholarship.

2. R. C. met Vesta, the love of his life, when he was in the first grade and she was in the second grade.

Vesta Voorhis moved to the next street over from R. C.’s in the Pleasant Hills community nestled to the south of Pittsburgh. In between Vesta and R. C.’s home was the elementary school. That is where he first saw her. She was in the second grade, and he was in the first grade. From the first time he saw her, he knew he was going to marry her.

3. R. C. always loved music, and at the age of 63 he started violin lessons.

Dr. Sproul often said that in addition to caring about and pursuing truth and goodness and justice, we should also pursue beauty. He loved art, architecture, literature, and film. He especially loved music. He took piano lessons when he was young, but always admired and aspired to the violin. In 2004, Saint Andrew’s Chapel (the church where he served as founding pastor) opened the doors of the Saint Andrew’s Conservatory. R. C. was one of the first students—for the violin.

4. R. C.’s conversion verse was Ecclesiastes 11:3.

As a freshman at Westminster College, R. C. stopped by the cigarette machine in the dorm lobby, put in his quarter, and received his pack of Lucky Strikes. He was on his way to Youngstown, Ohio for a night out. Sitting at a table was one of the captains of the football team. He was studying his Bible and motioned for R. C. to come over. He was reading Ecclesiastes and showed R. C. this verse: “If a tree falls to the north or to the south, in the place where the tree falls, there will it lie” (Eccles. 11:3). That verse ricocheted in R. C.’s head. He forewent his trip and returned to his room. He saw himself as a dead tree, rotting on the ground. He called out for God to save him.

5. R. C. wrote his bachelor’s thesis on Moby Dick.

To R. C., Melville’s Moby Dick is the great American novel. In his bachelor’s thesis from 1961, he referenced how Ahab vainly thought that by charting the Great White Whale, he could control it and eventually kill it. Then R. C. delivers this line: Ahab represents “the shallow religious views of mankind.” The seed for Dr. Sproul’s classic text, The Holiness of God, was sown.

6. R. C. went to the Netherlands for doctoral studies not knowing a single word of Dutch.

The first day of his studies, he spent 12 hours getting through one page of one of his textbooks. He looked up each word, recording it on a 3×5 inch card. And the next day, he did it again. And then again.

7. R. C. had the vision for Ligonier Ministries while teaching a Sunday School class on Christology.

In 1968, Dr. Sproul was teaching philosophy and theology at Conwell Theological Seminary on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia. He was bored. But on Sunday mornings he taught a class at Oreland Presbyterian Church comprised mostly of adult professionals. The course was on the person and work of Christ. The deeper he went, the more they listened. He began to think of devoting his life to teaching outside the formal academic classroom.

I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.

8. R. C. first preached a series on the holiness of God at a Young Life camp in Saranac Lake, New York, in 1970.

The first time Dr. Sproul read the Old Testament as a new Christian he came to the realization that God is a God who plays for keeps. That was in 1957. He had been gripped by the holiness of God. At Saranac Lake in 1970, he offered a five-part series on the holiness of God. Later, it was one of the first teaching series recorded for VHS tapes at the Ligonier Valley Study Center in the mid-1970s. In 1985, he published the book. The holiness of God is central to Ligonier Ministries, which R. C. Sproul founded in 1971. The mission statement for Ligonier is “to proclaim the holiness of God in all of its fullness to as many people as possible.” It was the central theme of his teaching. He believed that people both in culture and in the church did not know who God is—that is, who God is according to God’s self-revelation. As he said, there is only one attribute of God raised to the third degree (Isa. 6:3).

9. R. C.’s heart’s prayer was for awakening.

Of Dr. Sproul’s many heroes from church history, Jonathan Edwards stands out. One of Edwards’s sermons, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” had a particular influence. In 2014, he led a Ligonier study tour through New England. The tour reignited his desire to preach for awakening. R. C. emphasized the theme of awakening throughout his life. He prayed for awakening daily. In the final years of his life, his zeal for awakening intensified.

R. C. Sproul preached his final sermon on Hebrews 2:1–4 on Sunday, November 26, 2017. His final sentence was this: “So I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.” By Wednesday of that week, he developed a cold that continued to worsen. He entered the hospital on Saturday, December 2. Within two weeks, he was in the presence of God.

10. R. C.’s tombstone reads, “He was a kind man redeemed by a kinder Savior.”

Few have a wider smile than R. C. Sproul had. He loved to laugh and was always quick to deliver a one-liner. He enjoyed people. He truly knew the generosity of God, and that propelled him to serve people. He was known for standing for the truth. Over the course of his lifetime he took many such stands for the truth. He endeavored, however, to be kind. He was acutely aware of his own sin and of God’s mercy and grace in forgiving him. This was the cause of his desire to be kind. Most Sundays on the short drive home from church, R. C. would ask Vesta if he had been kind to people in the sermon.

Stephen Nichols is the author of R. C. Sproul: A Life.

Little Seeds that Split Great Rocks

Below is a short and needed post from Tim Challies. As a pastor I see the signs of division all over the place, and was greatly encouraged by his warning. I pray you’re encouraged as well.

In the warmth of a Canadian summer, in the reaches of a distant forest, a maple seed falls from the sky. This seed, called a samara, is a masterpiece of design that looks and behaves much like the blades of a tiny helicopter. As it falls through the air it spins, and this spinning action generates lift, and this lift keeps it aloft long enough to fall far from the smothering shade of its parent tree. As that seed helicopters down, a gentle breeze nudges it so it lands upon a nearby outcropping of rock. For a day or two it lays there, exposed to sun and rain, until a sudden gust of wind pushes it into a tiny fissure. And there the seed germinates, there it finds just enough soil to put down its first tentative roots, there it becomes a sapling, there it begins to grow into a tree. As the years pass, as the maple grows, its roots drive deeper into that crack, they push with steady and unrelenting force, until finally they break the mighty rock in two.

Many churches have been split and broken apart by what began as something little bigger than a seed. The dispute was to the church as the seed was to the rock—tiny, weak, insignificant by comparison. Yet it contained within it all the potential to eventually split the congregation in half. As time passed, as relationships grow distant, as groups were formed, as battle lines were drawn, the dispute pressed harder and harder against the foundation of unity. And then came that final inconsiderate word, that final thoughtless action, that final misunderstood decision, and as a rock breaks apart from the force of the roots, the church was split in two.

From the moment that little maple seed landed in the fissure and began to put down roots, it was only a matter of time before it broke the rock. It was inescapable as long as the sapling remained healthy, as long as it was fed by sun and soil and water, as long as it was able to continue its growth. Sooner or later its roots would be big enough to generate the pressure that would drive the rock apart. The rock’s only hope was for the tree to be torn out while it was still young, while its roots were still shallow and weak. But as long as the roots remained, the danger remained. And one day, inevitably, the rock gave way. 

And just so, each Christian must be on constant watch against little seeds of dispute that fall into little fissures of disunity. For little disputes have their ways of growing into big disputes, their ways of becoming far greater than we would ever have thought, would ever have imagined. How good and how lovely it is when we dwell together in unity; how sad and how ghastly when we allow ourselves to be driven apart. Little foxes running amok can ruin an entire vineyard, little weeds left unpulled can choke out a great harvest, tiny seeds can sprout to split the greatest rocks, and even little disputes, when allowed to grow, can drive brothers from brothers and sisters from sisters.